By: K. Pearson Brown
It’s an enduring memory for every parent when a child takes off pedaling for the first time on a two-wheeler. That thrill of independence and the rush of the sidewalk under the tires can be the start of a life-long enjoyment of bicycling — that is if the child is ready to ride, according to Santa Monica’s Performance Bicycle store sales associate Jarrin Black.
“If the child is ready, and he or she has the right equipment, then the experience will be a positive one, and the child will want to keep riding,” says Black, who specializes in fitting children for bicycles.
Black recommends the following guidelines for parents who are purchasing a first bike for children and preparing them to ride it for the first time:
1. Safety first. It’s a no-brainer that kids should wear a helmet. In fact, Performance Bicycle does not let children test ride a bike without one. Pick a helmet that fits comfortably and that your child likes, so that he or she will enjoy wearing it. Tip: have them try it on and wear it around the house to get used to it, and enforce a “No helmet, no ride” rule.
2. Color matters. Silly as it sounds, color may be one of the most important factors in selecting a bike, because if junior doesn’t like the color, he won’t ride it. This is where The Performance guarantee comes in handy. If your child isn’t 100-percent happy with the bike, you can bring it back and exchange it in 90 days. Even after the time period expires, if there is a problem, the shop will work with you to find a solution.
3. Go slowly. Tricycles are a great first step, and balance bikes are a huge leap in helping a child gain coordination and balancing skills for bicycling. When children have mastered trikes and balance bikes and seem bored with them, then it is time to graduate to a two-wheeler, with training wheels to start.
4. Don’t Push. Wait until a child shows signs of being physically and mentally ready for a bike, and literally, don’t push. Let the child ease into pushing off and riding when he or she is comfortable, and never give a bike a shove with a child on it and expect them to “sink or swim.”
5. Consider quality. Cheaper is not always better. You may pay a few dollars more when you buy from a bike shop versus a department store, but at a bike shop you can be assured that the bike was hand built by a professional mechanic, and you will get service and adjustments that do not come with bikes sold by mass retailers. Also beware of off-sized parts with mass-produced bikes, as they may require special tools to make adjustments.
6. Get the right bike. Fit is key for a first bike, and the fit may depend on comfort rather than what a chart says is right for your child, though charts like the Grow Up With Performance chart online at http://www.performancebike.com can be a helpful guide, particularly if you are ordering online.
If possible, bring your child with you to choose a bike. Toddler bikes range from 12” (2 to 4 years) to 16” (4 to 6 years), though size is a better gauge than age in choosing a frame size. As a rule, the child should be able to stand over the top tube with at least an inch or two of clearance. Girls’ style bikes generally offer even more clearance. When seated, they should be able to touch the floor with tippy toes or the balls of feet. Arms should be relaxed and slightly bent. Parents should resist the urge to buy a too-big bike so that a child will grow into it. At Performance Bicycle, their Growth Guarantee program offers discounts of 10 to 15 percent when you upgrade your child’s bike to the next size.
7. Keep it up. Over time a bike needs tune ups to maintain it. Another advantage to buying at a bike shop like Performance is that minor adjustments are included in the purchase price for the lifetime of the bike. Parents should check a bike regularly to make sure bolts are tightened, gears and wheels are aligned, and all moving parts are working together smoothly. Warning: use only bike chain grease and not WD-40, as the popular lubricant can actually cause a chain to lock up.
8. Gear up. Make sure your child has all the accoutrements to ride safety. Besides the mandatory helmet, there’s a bell so that she can give audible signals when approaching another bike; a head light and flashing rear reflector, which are required by law after dark in some jurisdictions, including Santa Monica; and for the aggressive rider, consider adding a hand break for extra stopping power and to get little ones ready for their next, more-advanced bike with hand breaks.
Ride Safe and Look Cool with the Toddler Bell Fraction helmet ($39.99), available at Performance Bicycle.
9. Get to know your mechanic. There’s nothing like the service of a reliable mechanic to give you confidence in the quality assembly and maintenance of your bike. At Performance, the man known to all simply as “Jorge” has diagnosed and fixed bike problems of which other shops gave up, and he’s been doing it for 35 years.
10. Enjoy the ride. Equally important as teaching kids the rules of the road (i.e., ride to the right, pass with care, pull over to stop, etc.), is showing them how to enjoy the experience of bike riding. Bike riding together is not only terrific exercise for everyone but also a great family activity. Cruise the bike path from Venice to Santa Monica (avoiding the busiest hours between 6-9 am), enjoy the scenery, and stop for ice cream along the way. Make a day of biking, and make a day of great memories.
Outfitted for Riding with Performance Century Series Boys Shorts (on sale $24.99) and Cannondale Kids Fundamental Jersey ($31.99), available at Performance Bicycle.