Bikes don’t need to be expensive, and on eBay or Gumtree you’ll usually find people in your local area who are moving on bikes their children have outgrown.
Wherever you go to get the bike though, make sure you run it through some common sense checks – and if you can, get your child to do the checks with you. This is good practice for them, and it’s even better if you can encourage them to make it a 2-minute routine for themselves, too:
- Do the brakes work, front and back?
It’s easy to find out – and that doesn’t involve having to stop the bike. Simply sit on it, put both brakes on, and see if you can move the bike backwards or forwards freely. It’s useful if you know how to adjust the brakes – but what you’re looking for in a second-hand cycle, is that they’re not worn out, before you start.
- Is the frame straight?
Knocks and scrapes are one thing, but a crooked frame will eventually lead to problems with the tyres – and could make the bike unstable and unsafe to ride. Stand in front of the bike, holding the front wheel between your knees, and look towards the back mudguard. Handlebars are adjustable, so don’t worry if they appear to be out of alignment and need tweaking. What you’re looking for, is one straight line along the length of the bike.
- Are the wheels round?
It may sound like a strange thing to check, but it’s amazing how quickly a bike’s wheels can be affected by bouncing up and down kerbs. If the wheels have had a serious knock, they could make the bike unstable or unsafe over a period of time. There’s an easy way to check. Lift the front wheel off the ground, and let the wheel spin freely. Now hold a pencil close to the wheel – and watch closely to see if the gap between the pencil and the tyre changes.
- Are the tyres in good condition?
If it’s an old bike, check along the walls to see if there’s any sign of perishing. Flat tyres aren’t necessarily tyres that need changing – but new tyres aren’t expensive.
- Is the chain in good condition?
Is it the right tension (will it ‘give’ approximately 2 cms in either direction)? Is it rusty, or are there damaged links in the chain? Poorly maintained chains make it harder to change gear smoothly … and eventually, the chain may slip and break as a result.
- If lights and reflectors are fitted, are they working?
Lights are only as good as the batteries inside them. Reflectors only work properly, if they’re clean and pointing the right way.
- Is the seat the right height?
Bicycle seats are adjustable. Ask your child to sit on the bike. Their feet should reach the ground easily, while the bike is upright – no leaning over to one side. It’s easy enough to ride a bike that has the seat badly adjusted, but it’s not as safe to do so – certainly in traffic.
- Are you putting your children onto the right type of bike?
This is, possibly, the question that’s asked least – but it’s the most important aspect of getting your children onto two wheels safely. In much the same way that an agricultural 4x4 may look good, and offer a very comfortable ride, it may not be the most appropriate vehicle to own if you’re living in a city-centre. Racing cycles, standard-frame cycles, mountain bikes… they all have their ideal uses.
Peer pressure is hard to avoid sometimes, but ask yourself, ‘where are my children going to ride this bike most often?’ If it’s from home to the playground and back, then a mountain bike with 18 gears is less useful than a sturdy basic cycle with a racing frame – something simple.
On the other hand, if you’re getting into cycling as a family, then a bike with a more suitable frame (something like a crossover, if not a pure mountain bike) is probably better. Across the country, you’ll find bike shops that are more than happy to give you advice on which bike is suitable for your child. It’s easy to try a few, there’s usually no pressure to make a purchase, and you’ll get more advice on what to look out for in a second-hand cycle, too.