What 16" Kid's bike should I buy?
April 30, 2005 7:51 AM   Subscribe

Most kid's bikes are crap. I've looked at the bikes sold in the major chain stores and they are poorly designed and constructed. My 4 year old son rides his 12" bike without training wheels, but he has nearly outgrown it. So I am looking for a well designed and constructed, moderately priced, 16" bicycle that can stand up to the abuse that a 4 year old will put it through, and hopefully be in good enough shape for child number two to use it in a few years.
posted by tcskeptic to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total)
What about getting a used bike? Get some good old-fashioned American craftsmanship!
posted by elisabeth r at 8:15 AM on April 30, 2005

I think the best bet might honestly be a generic kid's mountain bike made by one of the major manufacturers like Trek, Specialized, or Giant. They're not overwhelmingly expensive, have good, responsive hand braking, are decently put together, and are tough enough to take a bit of a beating. They can be fitted with training wheels before you leave the shop if your kid doesn't yet ride well. Have a look here for a few options from Trek -- I used to sell these in college, and they're a good bet IMO.

My advice: go to a nice big local bike shop (not a chain store!) in your area that has more of a family than an effete racer vibe, and ask a salesperson to show you some options.

I wouldn't go for an old kid's schwinn or something like that (as elisabeth suggests). These are stylish, but also very heavy, and they tend to have roller or pedal brakes that are harder to operate.

And this doesn't even really need to be said, but make sure to get a helmet for your son that fits!
posted by killdevil at 8:37 AM on April 30, 2005

Oh, and one more thought: avoid Schwinn and Mongoose kids bicycles like the plague. These used to be very reputable brands, but were purchased in the past few years by Pacific Cycles, a maker of Huffy-style department-store-grade bikes. Kinda sad.
posted by killdevil at 8:43 AM on April 30, 2005

We've had a lot of luck with those Trek kids' bikes--with two boys, we're on our third successively larger one. killdevil's suggestion about going to a good local bike store is also definitely right on the money.
posted by LairBob at 8:45 AM on April 30, 2005

having sold kid's bikes and fitted kids helmets for years at a smalltown bike shop i'm compelled to agree with killdevil on all points.
posted by RockyChrysler at 8:49 AM on April 30, 2005

I know this will be redundant, but go to a local independent bike shop, not the metro area REI or god forbid Walmart or Target.

I've been riding Specialized mountain bikes (for occasional urban commuting purposes) for years and they've held up perfectly for me.
posted by intermod at 8:50 AM on April 30, 2005

I would say go for a 16" wheeled bmx bike, built by a major company like Haro, Hoffman, or GT/Giant. Something like this built with real chromoly tubing should be able to take anything a couple kids could dish out and outlast their youth. They probably run around $200-300 but it will be the last bike you buy until they grow big enough for a 20" bmx.

You can find them at any neigbhorhood bike shop, like the others above have suggested.
posted by mathowie at 9:42 AM on April 30, 2005

Look around for a used-but-not-too-abused GT. New ones can be pretty expensive, but you can find used ones more reasonably priced. They're rugged as hell and look sharp. We did that for our son and he was thrilled, even if it did have a few scratches on it. Rode it everywhere.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:18 AM on April 30, 2005

I don't have much to add to the excellent advice given in this thread, but yes, please buy a bike shop quality bike. When my co-workers ask me to fix their kids bikes, they are usually WalMart or K-Mart level bikes,. The components are junk, the frames are misaligned, and the quality is generally poor.
posted by fixedgear at 12:02 PM on April 30, 2005

Bikestore bikes are great, particularly because they've been properly assembled.

I've seen lots of neighbourhood kids' bikes that had simple mechanical problems---badly adjusted brakes, shifters, loose cranks, etc.... In one case, the fork was on backwards. If you do buy a department store bike, get it checked out by a mechanic, or do it yourself---bike maintenance is fairly straightforward.

When you buy, look particularly at the brakes. Make sure that the brake components don't flex---may are made out of almost sheet steel--- and that the pads clamp on the metal rims , not touching the rubber tires.

Also make sure that your little guy has enough grip strength to stop himself. Grip strength can be a problem for young riders---there are no kid brakes, only adult ones on kids' bikes. V-brakes---mountain bike brakes---take the least amount of force. BMX brakes---the U type---take a bit more. Coaster or pedal brakes are also an option, but don't work as well as hand brakes, and some think that they teach the wrong skills for later bikes. I learned on coasters though, and didn't notice any problems later.
posted by bonehead at 1:24 PM on April 30, 2005

Askies (Is that what we call ourselves?) -- Thanks for the pointers to the local bike shop. For whatever reason I had not put together the idea that they would also carry kids bikes. Not only do they, but I am reminded once again of the joys of doing business at the human level. I suppose not being a rider myself I had them categorized in the Serious Bikes for Serious Riders category.

We went this afternoon after reading some comments here and picked up a Trek Jet 16, it is a steel frame, not alloy but seems incredibly tough. Beyond that, we had a full bike fitting and show off session with the mechanics in the parking lot which made my son just glow, and the owner spotted and fixed an apparently long standing helmet fit issue that was a risk and fixed it.

Also, I now know where we'll be getting his next bike as well. Thanks again.
posted by tcskeptic at 3:14 PM on April 30, 2005

That's a shame about Schwinn, killdevil. Sure it's heavy, but I recently gave my seven-year-old the bike I learned to ride on. It's sturdier than my car.
posted by Eamon at 3:33 PM on April 30, 2005

It really is a shame about Schwinn. My niece is now riding my first Schwinn (a Pixie?) which I received 40 years ago.
posted by Carbolic at 3:57 PM on April 30, 2005

mathowie writes: They probably run around $200-300. true. but, in defense of this price, i would add that, if kept in nice condition, most shops are more than willing to give you, as a returning customer, trade in credit for such a kid's bike when it comes time to upgrade to a larger bike... it's yet another benefit to forming a relationship with your local bike shop.
posted by RockyChrysler at 5:53 PM on April 30, 2005

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