March 6, 2005

    I am looking for a bike for my 10-year-old son (4’11", 100 lbs.). Our budget is $200. Any suggestions? We looked in Toys R Us and Wal-Mart and are concerned about poorly made bikes. We have been trying to read about the products but find the info contradicting.
    I am a parent who wants a safe, economical bike. Help!

Mrs. Gordon

Mrs. Gordon:
    Buying a bike for yourself can seem complex enough. Buying one for someone else can make you just wanna stay in bed.
    But we can break the task down into three simple chunks: where to buy, what size to get, and what kind of bike to buy.
    Where should you buy a bike? Chain department stores sell lots of bikes because they charge little, but the bikes they sell have cheap parts that break easily. For what you want to spend you can buy a decent bike at a bike shop, and I recommend that you do. Not only will a good bike dealer make sure your son gets a bike that fits right, they’ll let you bring it back for free adjustments.
    To find a good dealer ask other parents who’ve had a good experience. You can also search for a dealer in your area that belongs to the National Bicycle Dealers Association (NBDA). I think NBDA membership demonstrates a certain level of commitment that can translate to good customer service (tho exceptions always exist).
    What size bike should your son get? First, a little tutorial. In the U.S. bicycle retailers generally describe a bike’s size in inches (and sometimes centimeters, but as Americans we have the right to ignore the existence of the metric system). However, they measure it differently for child and adult bikes. For adult bikes the size equates to the height of the frame as measured from the middle of the bottom bracket to the top of the seat tube. (To see an illustration that shows these click here and scroll down to "Frame.") For child bikes they simply measure the diameter of the wheels.
    Some 10-year-olds will take a bike with 24-inch wheels; taller kids can go with a bike having 26-inch wheels; some shorter kids will fit on 20-inch wheels, with the shortest (4 to 6 years old) on 16-inch.
    Your bike dealer should help fit the bike to your son. When they do, first make sure that your son can stand over the bike without it touching his crotch; if it does, he needs a shorter bike. Next, watch that when your son sits on the bike his feet can reach the ground easily; if you adjust the bike’s seat to its lowest position and he still can’t touch the ground easily, this also indicates he needs a shorter bike. Last, make sure he can reach the handlebar without stetching or bending from the waist; if the dealer can't fix this by adjusting the handlebar you should try a different bike. (All of this says that you should never choose a bike for someone without them present.)
    What kind of bike should your son get? For adults I recommend they get a bike suitable for the kind of riding they do. Kids, tho, often have a different criterion: what their friends ride. If your son has no preference, I suggest an all-terrain or hybrid bike that’ll make it easy for your son to bike both on and off streets—but not a mountain bike, unless he plans to ride mostly on dirt. And in your price range I recommend against child bikes with shock absorbers on the front fork because they end up as one more thing that breaks.
    Last, to encourage your son to use his bike for transportation, I suggest you budget at least $30 for a good bike lock and another $15 for a rear carrying rack. Then he can easily use his bike for going to the store, friends’ houses, and school—all habits that I’d like to see him continue long after he gets a driver’s license.

Mr Bike

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