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Kids' Bikes

There are so many different styles -- which one's right for your child?

Is it time to buy your child his first bicycle? Or, is your "little one," not so little anymore and ready for a bigger bike, or one without training wheels? If it's been a while since you've bike-shopped, you're in for a pleasant surprise.

Today, there are more types of two-wheelers available from a wider variety of retailers than ever before. While this means you have a better selection, it also increases the possibility of purchasing the wrong bike or one that is lesser quality or poorly assembled. To help, here are some key tips to ensure that you get a bike your tyke will love.

Size Matters
Adult bicycles are selected according to frame size. Kids' bikes, however, are sized (and referred to) according to wheel size, as follows: Ages 3 to 5: 10- to 12-inch wheels; Ages 4 to 7: 16-inch; Ages 6 to 13: 20-inch; Ages 9 to 13: 24-inch; Ages 10 to adult: 26-inch or 700c.

Fitting a bike is more than determining age and height, though. You must evaluate coordination and cycling experience, too. For example, taller children lacking confidence do much better on smaller bikes because they feel more comfortable and in control. And a coordinated 10-year old with long legs might be ready for a full-size bike.

The most important factor is safety. Don't make the common mistake of buying too big a bike expecting your child to grow into it. Oversized bikes are dangerous and can cause crashes. They're also harder to ride. These things may turn your kid off to cycling. Besides, when they outgrow the bike, you can easily trade it in or sell it in the newspaper or at a yard sale to buy the next-larger one.

When you're checking bike fit, make sure that the child can sit on the seat and place both feet firmly on the ground, which means he'll be able to hold himself upright and get on and off without difficulty. If the bicycle is equipped with training wheels, it's okay if the child reaches the ground with his toes only, because the training wheels support him. As he develops balance, gradually raise the training wheels so he gets used to leaning the bike to turn.

It's also important that children can comfortably reach the handlebars and steer. If the bars are out of reach, steering will pull them forward causing a loss of control. Plus, if the bicycle has hand brakes, it's crucial that the child's hands can reach and operate the controls. If the child doesn't have the hand strength to operate the levers, it's usually possible to adjust the systems to make it easier for them, which a good bike shop will help you with during the purchase.

Bike Types
Today, kids' bikes vary as much as adult models. For tots, there are tiny brakeless "sidewalk" bikes not intended for street use. Once they turn eight, many kids want BMX (Bicycle Moto Cross) models, which are ideal for everything from cruising to school and around town to trick riding, racing and dirt jumping. Also popular are one-speed cruisers, and even mini mountain bikes with suspension.

If your child is very small, you might be able to pick out a bike for them. Once they get a little older, though, this gets tricky. Remember, that it's their bike and keep in mind that they're more likely to want to ride and to get excited about biking if they've got the two-wheeler they like best.

To find out what they want, just ask them. Or bring home some catalogs from a shop, or go online and have them point out models they like. Or, make a day of it and bring them shopping so they can show you the cool bikes.

If the new bike is a surprise gift, check what your child's friends ride. That should ensure that you pick a winner. Also, most professional bicycle retailers will let you return an un-used new bicycle if it turns out that your child had her heart set on a different type.

Where To Buy
While it's true that you can purchase kids' bikes at many department and toy stores, we recommend buying from professional bicycle retailers. You may pay slightly more, however, you get a lot more, too.

Only bicycle retailers have the tools and expertise to carefully assess your child and fine-tune bike fit so that you get the right bike and a safe bike. Plus, because they normally guarantee new bikes, they stock only quality models tough enough to withstand even the most rigorous riding. Bicycle retailers also professionally assemble the bicycles at no additional charge and usually offer a free mechanical check-up in 30 days or so.

Besides superior service, the bikes are superior, too. Where the chain-store models can sport moving parts turning on plastic bushings, the bike-shop models use serviceable ball bearings. Often, department-store bikes feature non-adjustable handlebars, which compromise the fit. Construction is usually cheap steel alloy and plastic parts versus the high-tensile steels and aluminum parts found on bike-shop models. In the long run, these details add value because the bike is easier and more enjoyable to ride, breaks down less often and can be handed down to a sibling or fetch a good price when it's time for a bigger bike.