23 June 2017

A Bike is for life!

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It's coming up to that time of year where all the bike shops are stocked up for Christmas in anticipation for the rush of well meaning parents looking for that all-important first bike.

It's not just the bike shops either, places as diverse as supermarkets, toy shops, garden centres, mail order catalogues and even electrical shops are touting kid's bikes all at amazing knock-down prices!

These bikes come in all the latest colours and themes, from cartoon characters to super heroes, together with a whole host of other novelty bikes, all squeaking their way along the pavements and pathways all over the country. They look great when they burst out of their packaging on Christmas day, but these bikes are often little more than toys that will usually be in a landfill site within a year. Just what has happened to the good quality kid's bikes that we used to see? And what do you look for if you want a bike that will last?

Well it's all down to economics really, bikes have just got too cheap through mass production, and as a consequence, quality has flown out the window. There are a few bikes around, however, that will last and last, that can be handed down to younger siblings, are appropriately sized, and will not hurt your pocket too much.

Here are some tips on buying your child a bike:
. Sizing and fit: Have a look at the shape of the frame, is the centre of gravity low (the pedal crank axle) - this aids stability. Are the cranks and brake levers proportionately sized for the bike?!
. Will the bike last a few years size-wise? It is always best to buy the biggest size that the child can safely and comfortably handle.
. Check stability by pushing the bike along by the seat, and steering it by leaning, does it go where you want it to?
. On the subject of brakes, are they easy to operate? Many kids bikes come with adult levers and callipers that are designed for strong adult hands, they will not be able to stop the bike in a hurry when used by small hands - scary!
. Despite what some adults may think, back pedal brakes are a good idea for kids. Think about it, your legs are strong enough to pedal you along, they are therefore strong enough to stop you (the Dutch all use 'em and they should know!)
. Gears: we all love to use them but they are very vulnerable when bikes get thrown on the ground all the time. Hub gears are great for kids, or stick to one gear to start with, less to fiddle with means more time to ride!!
. Visibility: Some bikes come with day-glo stickers and loads of funky reflectors, these are great because, let's face it, Boxing Day isn't exactly known for its hours of sunshine is it? On that note, lights are good too.
. Mountain bikes look great but as we live in a predominantly wet country, mudguards are a welcome feature.
. Remember that it isn't a crime to buy second hand, it can be great fun doing up a bike for Christmas.
. That old saying from somewhere does hold true here;
'Buy cheap, buy twice'!
. Buy from a reputable bike shop, they know how to service bikes when they go wrong and should be able to help you with sizing. Electrical shops sell fridges and things and don't know anything about bikes!
. Get something that has serviceable bearings unless you want the young person to think that cycling is always going to be really hard work and a very squeaky business!

These pointers are intended as a guide and there are still some great bikes out there. The best ones tend to come from Denmark, Germany or Holland. Though many of the well-known cycle manufacturers do make kids bikes, these can often be almost an after-thought in some cases.

The first bike is an important thing to a child and will be reminisced with pride and happy memories for years to come, if you get it right. If you don't, it could be the beginning of the end of your child's enjoyment of cycling.

As a last point, a new bike can be an incentive to riding without stabilizers. These are NOT a good idea in the first place and many cycling instructors will tell you that it is harder to get someone to ride if they are used to stabilizers. Take the pedals off, put the seat down and get the child to scoot around for a while. Better still, practise on a scooter and a trike before getting a bike. Even better than that, take the backache out of it all together, and employ a professional!

Ben Sherratt is a Cycle Trainer based at Lifecycle, Brighton.
Tel: 01273 542 425


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