HOW TO BUY A KID’S MOUNTAIN BIKE
10 Pro Tips from the Coaches at Bike Austria
Bike Austria’s ultimate goal is to give kids the best possible experience on a mountain bike. We want them to love it as much as we do. There are few if any comparable sports that offer the lifelong joy and health of the “Bike Lifestyle”. One of the greatest benefits is that it is a fun healthy outdoor activity that the entire family can do together for many years.
We have seen a lot of bikes in our After-School Training Programs and Summer MTB Camps. There is no question, that having a great mountain bike is an important part of getting kids excited about the sport.
The “be happy with what you have” approach is a tall order when a small child is riding a super heavy, poorly functioning bike. Cheap brakes alone make it nearly impossible for a child to develop the sense of security and self-confidence required for their mountain bike skills to progress.
Based upon our professional experience with training kids on the mountain bike, we have put together 10 Tips to help parents choose the right bike for their little mountain biker. While Bike Austria focuses on the best mountain bikes for kids, the tips below also apply to kids’ bikes in general, whether they be street-oriented or BMX.
Only Buy Bikes Built for Kids
The kids’ bikes coming from larger brands are often simply shrunken down adult bikes. The only thing that isn’t much smaller is the weight. This has started to change, but is still often the case.
Mondraker, with a long history of high-quality mountain bikes for adults, is one of the few companies to develop a team focused entirely on making awesome bikes for kids. The geometries, components, and materials are all designed specifically for the next generation of riders. The result is a lightweight bike that fits and functions perfectly, providing a confidence-inspiring riding experience. Priced more competitively than the likes of Woom and Early Rider, they do utilize the geometries and components necessary for kids to develop their mountain biking skills. Additionally, their Leader 16 offers 6 gears, which should be considered if riding in hilly terrain.
Prepare for the Expense
You are likely reading this because you have recently made two discoveries. First, you have figured out that standard kids mountain bikes are on the market are simply too poorly built to be enjoyable. Second, in researching the best mountain bikes for kids, you have been shocked by the prices. You are now doing more research in an effort to wrap your head around the best choice to make.
Let us just put it out in the open, high-quality kids bikes are expensive when compared to standard kids bikes. Period. The question is, what value do you place on fitness, time outside, adventure, and family memories that last?
Do the Math
The idea of spending over €500 on just a kids bike is for some parents tough to digest. Well, lets shed some light on this for some perspective. The easy targets here are electonics. Parents doll out this kind of money and more for mobile phones and video game consoles. The video games alone cost €30-€60 each and few would argue that any of these items do much for getting kids outside and doing something healthy.
The costs are also completely in line with many other sports like hockey and skiing. The one big difference is that a bike has so many more practical uses. It provides an activity that does not require driving somewhere or needing a fixed time.
When planning the budget for your child’s next bike, be sure to consider one imporant fact: high quality expensive kids bikes, when well cared for, fetch a fair price when sold used.
Correct Size is a Must
A bike that doesn’t fit your kid IS a waste of money.
- The bike was just bought and is too big so that the kid can “grow into it”.
- The bike is a bit older and too small because the parents are trying to get one more season out of it.
Both of these scenarios are terrible if the goal is to have kids develop a passion for riding. Here are the reasons why:
- Most significantly, an improper size reduces rider control, increasing the risk of having an accident.
- A bike that is too small shifts the rider’s center of gravity forward, increasing the risk of going over the handlebars. The child feels this and develops insecurity while riding.
- An improper size is uncomfortable to ride.
- Due to the improper geometry, riding is very inefficient, tiring kids more quickly
- Children are unable to master more advanced riding techniques
Every manufacturer produces recommended sizes based on child height or even better inseam length. Adhering to these guidelines is strongly recommended.
While recommended ages from the manufacturer is a good starting point, the following must be considered when sizing a kids mountain bike:
Stand-Over Height: Regardless of wheel size, your kid should be able to straddle the top tube of the bike with both feet flat on the ground.
Wheel Size: Not all 7-year old kids are the same size, just as not all 20-inch bikes are the same. Geometries can be drastically different. Bigger wheels roll over bumps more easily than smaller wheels. Look for a bike that has the biggest wheels available for your kid’s stand-over height. A bike with larger diameter wheels will be more stable and more efficient for longer rides because they require less effort to keep its momentum going.
Seat height: Your child needs to be able to touch the balls of her feet on the ground while seated on the saddle.
Reach: Your kid should be able to comfortably reach the handlebars with elbows slightly bent when sitting on the seat. Handbrakes should be easily reachable and squeezable while seated. Pro Tip: Brake levers usually come new dialed all the way out. Use the adjustment screw and get the proper lever reach for those little fingers.
The Importance of Bike Weight
The issue of weight was touched on in Tip #1, but is so important, that it deserves its own separate discussion. The first 20″ bike from Trek that Bike Austria owner Tracy Anderson bought for his son weighed more than his adult bike. When you consider the ratio of the weight of the bike to a kid’s weight, many kids’ bikes weigh more than half of what the kids do. Think about that.
Weight makes a bigger difference to the enjoyment and control of a child’s bike than an adults because kids are smaller and not as strong. We recommend buying as light a bike as you can while also considering Tip #7 | Suspension.
Brakes are Important
News Flash, right? Honestly though, with so many different options, parents often lose sight of considering the stopping power of the various types of brakes. Let us quickly discuss each type, starting with the weakest.
- Coaster Brakes work by back-pedaling. They have three major drawbacks and are not found on high-quality mountain bikes. They only function on the rear wheel, are heavy, and do not teach children proper braking technique.
- V-Brakes/Rim Brakes work most by applying mechanical leverage of a rubber pad against the metal rim. They are less powerful than a coaster brake on the rear wheel, but because they also work on the front wheel, where most braking power occurs, they are far superior to coaster brakes. While not as powerful as disc brakes, they do teach children proper braking technique (with proper training).
- Disc Brakes (Mechanical) work just like many brakes in the automotive industry. By applying force away from the rim, they are immune to bent rims and most mud/dirt. They generate much more braking power than rim brakes, which is important for those little fingers. Their greatest benefit is their ease of maintenance.
- Disc Brakes (Hydraulic) are the strongest and best brakes available. As your child starts riding faster and on more advanced terrain, these are the only brakes to consider.
Bike Austria believes strongly in developing solid riding skills as preparation for more advanced riding as a child matures. Rigid bikes are great for teaching bike fundamentals along with the benefits of being lighter and requiring less maintenance. This is why we recommend the Leader 20 and Leader 16 for beginner and intermediate riders.
Pro Tip: A bike with a rigid fork is ALWAYS better than an inexpensive bike with front suspension.
Front suspension and slack geometry starts to make a very big difference once little bikers start to progress. In steeper terrain, especially if rough, the risk of an “Endo” (going over the handlebars) increases significantly, forcing the child to ride more cautiously and holding them back. This is where front suspension starts to offer an element of stability and safety that makes a difference. We spend a great deal of time in our kids’ camps and after-school programs teaching children about proper riding position. This standing position allows the elbows and knees to function as the primary suspension, while also giving them a feel for the terrain. Good line choice is paramount even for a pro rider atop the biggest of downhill mountain bikes. Safety and speed are increased by the correct line choice and is a very important skill for kids to learn.
As a child grows and develops his or her skill on the bike, full-suspension bikes like the Mondraker Factor 24 allow for increased fun and development.
Before 6 years old, single-speed bikes are almost universally the best choice. They are not yet strong enough to ride hilly terrain and longer distances. Single speeds are great for parents because they are easier to manage, lighter, and less likely to need mechanical fixes. For those adventurous kids already starting to ride trails and climbing hills, gears can greatly increase the fun factor.
Pro Tip: Stick with 1x drivetrains. Just as with top-quality adult mountain bikes, the weight and complexity of a front derailleur are not worth it.
Starting at 6 years old, children can reliably manage shifting gears, but that still does not mean it is the best choice. All of the 20? bikes in our shop come with shifting because of our focus on mountain biking and location in the mountains. However, if you live in a flatter area with more rolling trails, a single-speed could be a better option given the reduced weight and maintenance.
Regarding the difference between Trigger and Grip Shifters, they both work great. Your child may have a preference, but this is not a decision to base the purchase upon, given so many other factors.
New vs. Used
-In addition to being a question of budget, New vs Used is also a question of time. Sorting through all of the junk out there and finding a high-quality used mountain bike for your child requires a significant amount of patience. Then comes the challenge of finding one fair price. Armed with time and knowledge, buying used could be a great option for you. Be prepared to do a thorough inspection, as kids’ bikes take a beating. If you are unsure, request that the seller have it professionally serviced.
When budgeting for that new great bike, do not forget about all of the small stuff. Good pedals, a nice helmet, gloves, and possibly elbow/knee pads are all part of a safe riding experience.
Find the Best Mountain Bike for Your Child
Junior Mountain Bike Summer Camp
The Best Mountain Bikes are Nothing Without Great Skills
Bike Austria mountain bike summer camps teach kids the freedom and exhilaration of riding fast and in control. During the 4 day camp, participants as young as 7 will learn to control their mountain bike in many different situations, all while having the time of their life. They will gain confidence in more challenging terrain. Essential basic techniques will be covered, including braking, turning-techniques, jumps, steep downhill trails, rooty singletrack, switchback corners, and more. More advanced, but essential mountain bike techniques, such as the wheelie drop and bunny hop will also be a part of the summer camp program.