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Kid on bike

The proper fit is essential when purchasing a bicycle for a child, local experts say. 

Nothing is more exciting than unwrapping a brand-new shiny bicycle and realizing that it’s all your own.

Many children have “bike” on their holiday wish list and in the mid-valley there are many stores willing to help parents shop smart.

“It’s tough to fit a bicycle as a surprise gift,” said Dennis Day, sales manager at Corvallis Cyclery.

Children’s bikes should be custom fit, with room to grow.

“Shop by wheel size,” Day advised.

A 12-inch wheel is good for beginners to get their balance. Ages 4 to 6 are going to move into a 16-inch wheel and 6-to-7 year olds are going to look at 20-inch wheels. Older and taller children should be at a 24-inch wheel with variations on frame length, handlebar distance and seat height.

Avoid 18-inch and 22-inch bicycles, Day said. These are mostly sold in big box department stores and are the lowest-priced bikes. They are cheaply made and nearly impossible to get replacement parts for.

“You can hardly find wheels, tires and tubes, let alone more complex parts,” he said.

J.J. French, manager at Bike ‘n’ Hike in Albany, also advised parents to buy from a bicycle store.

“Then you will have someone to service and stand by the product,” French said. “It’s a lot safer. The bikes will be better put together. The brakes will actually stop when applied.”

Hand-brake levers should be sized to fit a child’s hand. Pedals should not be too big or too heavy for a child’s foot.

When fitting a bike, have the child stand over the frame. It’s easier for girls to get a frame bigger than their size but boys should be cautious about the cross bar and measure about an inch below their crotch.

Seats should be high enough to straighten the leg when pedaling and the frame low enough so that the child can clear it when standing on the ground. If the seat is too low, the rider’s weight will not be correctly distributed.

“Feet, seat and handlebars carry the weight,” Day said.

More bicycles are made unisex, Day said, with the cross bar sloping down toward the seat. Only coloring implies whether the bike is meant for boys and girls, and even that can be unisex, making it easier to hand bicycles down from sibling to sibling.

BMX bikes are popular with younger boys and teens looking to hit the dirt track. These bikes come in a variety of styles but, Day said, be on the lookout for quality and fit.

Pay attention, Day said, to how far the child has to reach to grab the handlebars. How high or low does the seat need to be to accommodate knees or get weight onto the feet?

Don’t forget a helmet. The law requires children up to age 16 to wear a helmet -- and advised adults to do the same. French said it’s best to bring children to the bicycle shop to get fitted for headwear.

“Their ears should fit into the triangle space on the head strap and should be snug on the chin,” French said. “Helmets at the big stores are cute and a lot cheaper but definitely not safer.”

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