Words & Photos: Sim Mainey
March 22 2018
If you’ve been along to one of our demo days or visited the Orange stand at an event then chances are you’ll have met our northern rep, Adam. When he’s not travelling the country visiting dealers, running demos or manning stands he can usually be found out on his bike - usually with his wife and two little girls in tow.
With years of experience matching riders to bikes, and as a Dad who’s introduced his kids to riding, we figured it was worth asking Adam a couple of questions on how to pick the right bike for your child and how to get them riding.
So, without further ado here’s Adam - Demo Dad.
What should I look for in a kids bike and why should I choose an Orange?
There are a few things to bear in mind when looking at kids bikes, things that will make a huge difference to how much enjoyment your kids (and you) will get out of riding. A lot of them are things you’d think about if you were buying a bike for yourself, so ask the same questions!
Fit and geometry
Making sure your child is on the right size bike for them is the most important point. It’s also the most complicated, so probably worth discussing separately later.
Geometry is important whatever size you are, and while it’s not worth getting too obsessed with numbers it can help with making comparisons. We’ve placed emphasis on geometry that provides a comfortable and confidence inspiring ride - encouraging kids to ride more, ride further and love being on two wheels.
Proportionally a lot of kids bikes are massively overweight - there’s nothing more likely to put them off riding than a bike that weighs as much as they do. We use aluminium frames and carefully selected components on all our kids bikes to keep the weight low and better matched to a smaller rider. We’ve also made sure the bikes are strong enough to take the hard love kids dish out.
Serviceability and adjustability
We’ve made our name building bikes that are reliable and easy to service and we don’t see why that should be different for our kids bikes. We use good quality components that can be easily serviced, increasing the lifespan and value of the bike. For example, we use A-Head style headsets which are durable and can be maintained at home. This also means we use regular stems rather than old fashioned quills stems - offering plenty of scope for adjustment as well as upgrade potential.
We use sensible width tyres suitable for use on and off road. They have plenty of grip and enough cushion to help keep bums on seats for longer. If replacements are needed they are readily available from your dealer.
A good quality kids bike is an investment. By using a well made frame and decent components you’ll be paid back with plenty of smiles during the bike’s lifetime and when it’s been outgrown it will be good to go for the next young rider. Plus, by using our in-house frame painting service you can make the bike fresh for the next owner!
Our dealers are the best at what they do, so establishing a relationship with your local Orange dealer is a great idea. They’ll be able to offer plenty of advice, get your child set up on the right bike for them and make sure it’s just-right when it rolls out of the shop.
Kids bikes get a lot of use and abuse so will need periodic maintenance, the same as your bike does. Your dealer will be able to keep things running smoothly and let you know when it might be time to move them up to the next size bike. They’ll also be able to help you ensure you get the correct fit for things like helmets and gloves.
You mentioned bike fit was crucial so what size bike does my child need?
This is the most common question I get about kids bikes, and the most important one too. As with our adult’s bikes taking some basic measurements and comparing them with on-paper figures is a good starting point but these should only be treated as a guide.
Just as if you were buying for yourself the best way to get the right size bike is to sit on it, see how it feels and take it for a test ride. We sell our bikes through dealers so that customers can get hands-on experience and advice from trained shop staff. As a general guide we recommend:
Bike Wheel SizeAge Range16"3 - 6 years20"5 - 9 years24"7 - 10 years
Kids grow at different rates though, so an inside leg measurement is a much more useful guide for working out the correct size bike. This is straightforward to do:
1. With only socks on their feet ask them to stand straight against a wall.
2. Use a book to simulate a saddle. Place the spine of the book upright between their legs and slide it up until it meets their crotch. Hold the book there.
3. Ask them to step away from the wall. Measure from the top of the book straight down to the floor.
Bike Wheel SizeInside Leg Measurement16"42 - 52cm20"48 - 58cm24"54 - 64cm
Ideally you want to get the biggest bike they are comfortable on without them being overstretched or awkward when manoeuvring. A bigger bike will be more stable but will also mean they can get maximum use out of the bike before it needs to be replaced.
The child's experience also comes into play here. If they’ve spent a lot of time on two wheels they will likely find handling a larger bike easier as they’ll be more comfortable on a bike to begin with and generally moving with greater speed and confidence. This also means they won't be so phased with being further from the ground.
Saddle height is also important. As your child gains experience and grows it’s important the saddle is always high enough to give good balance and leg extension when pedalling. But this needs to creep up slowly, sometimes without them knowing, so they don't feel worried that they can't put their feet flat on the floor.
At what point do I move them onto a bigger bike?
Basically, when the current bike looks too small. If the saddle is at, or almost at, maximum extension or the child looks cramped it’s probably time to get them on a bigger bike.
Although it can be tempting to carry on using a bike which is too small and maximise its life, a bike which is too small can be difficult to pedal and tricky to handle. This can also cause problems when they do eventually move up a size, as they are so used to being on a bike that is too small they don't want to ride a bigger one.
OK, I’ve got them fitted on the right size bike are there any set up tips, adjustments and things to look out for?
Being able to stop safely leads to greater confidence. Adjust the brake lever reach position so that small hands can pull the levers easily. If you’re not sure how to do this ask your dealer to show you.
Kids bikes have the odd tumble or two so regularly check everything is straight and tightened up correctly. Oiling the chain and checking brake pads for wear, as you would on your bike, keeps things running smoothly and safely.
Run tyre pressures according to the trail conditions. If you’re riding in a park or on hard surfaces run higher pressures for ease of pedalling. If you’re tackling a bit of off-road then lower pressures will increase grip and help confidence. Just remember kids are light so they don't need to run high pressures.
Always keep an eye on saddle height and, as mentioned, increase it as your child grows.
Try and keep handlebars in a normal neutral position rather than rolling them back or forward as handling and the shape of the bike can become odd. As with an adult bike consider a different stem length if it helps with achieving a comfortable fit.
Any tips for teaching them to ride?
Don't pressure them too much. Try and keep riding as play and do little and often to start with, slowly progressing to longer rides. Some days they'll be all smiles and full of energy and some days they just won't be enjoying things or tire of riding quickly. Let them know that's okay - riding is supposed to be fun and if they aren't having fun then there's no pont doing it. Put the bikes away, grab an ice cream, go do something else and come back to the bikes another day.
Pick child-friendly locations for rides - ice cream stops or playgrounds give you a destination to aim for or a break along the way. Traffic-free trail centres and old railway line cycle tracks are great places to get the family riding together safely.
Pumptracks are also great places for children to gain experience on lumps and bumps in a relatively safe and slow speed environment. They also happen to be fun for adults too!
Get some small cones from the supermarket and play games on the driveway if you have room, if not the local park is also always a winner.
The transition to riding a bike with pedals can be daunting for everyone involved. Try holding them gently under their armpits from behind. This gives them a chance to learn to steer and balance for themselves. Then, as they get the hang of it, you can loosen your grip gradually and be ready to catch or let go as is needed.
Are stabilisers a good idea?
In a word, no.
Balance bikes are ace and get kids used to freewheeling and balancing on their own. Stabilisers are a backward step and make everything awkward, undoing a lot of the lessons learned on a balance bike. The speed children transition to pedalling after a balance bike is amazingly quick.
The first time they ride a pedal bike they might find keeping their feet on the pedals tough. The feeling of the bike being bigger than they are used to can also cause some concern. If that happens simply remove the pedals for a week or so, let them ride the bike like a balance bike so they get used to the feel. When you put the pedals back on chances are they’ll be up and off in no time.
What about gears?
For riders who have just learned to pedal gears are more hindrance than help. At this stage they should be focussing on getting the basics dialled - balancing, pedalling and having fun.
When they are a bit bigger and move up to a 20” bike then it’s worth having gears to help with longer rides and getting up hills. Learning which gear is ‘easy’ and which is ‘hard’ is the first step - gear indicators help here. At first they’ll want to stop to look down, see which gear they are in and change gear to suit. Try and get them to change gear while moving, it’ll stop stress on the drivetrain and they’ll learn to feel the difference changing gears makes. Ride circuits round a park with a small hill in it so they get used to working out when they need to change gear and which lever to push. Let’s face it, plenty of adults struggle with working out gears so it might take a while for them to get the hang of it.
Do you have any accessory or clothing recommendations?
First of all a correctly fitted helmet is a must. Again, this is something to get at a dealer so you can try a few and find one that fits well. If it’s comfortable they’ll have no problem wearing it and it’ll become a habit they take with them through the rest of their cycling life.
Mudguards can be handy to keep kids clean but they are not particularly robust so it makes more sense to go down the appropriate clothing route - a waterproof all-in-one is ace for wet and muddy rides and can be just thrown in the washing machine.
Little people tend to get cold and not say anything until they are freezing, so wrap them up and keep them warm - hands and feet get particularly cold. However don't make them wear clothes that will get in the way or impede their ability to ride.
There’s some fantastic cycle-specific clothing out there for kids and the right gear can help them get the most out of riding, as well as help them look the part, but they aren’t always necessary. Common sense is king. If you’re regularly doing longer rides then padded cycle shorts can be good for little bottoms.
Shoes which grip the pedals well are a good idea. Generally wellies are not great for pedalling as they’re not very flexible or warm. Flat soled pump style shoes are a pretty good bet.
Even from when they first get going on a balance bike knee and elbow pads can be a great idea for taking the sting out of learning and stopping little tumbles damaging body parts and clothes. It also stops them becoming scared of crashing and actually makes it fun and funny instead, well most of the time…
Anything else I should know?
Just get out and enjoy riding! Don't worry about tentative starts, confidence and ability will come quickly, and it's all worth it for the look on their face when it all comes together. It’s all about the smiles!