Regular movement and exercise – including cycling – has been proven to help kids get fit, stay healthy, and even concentrate and do better in class.
So with the new school year just around the corner, I wanted to go over some important maintenance tips for your child’s bike. Whether they cycle to school or saddle up in their spare time, here’s a few things to remember before sending them on their way.
1. Check the tire pressure
Let’s start with the most simple and effective servicing step – tire pressure! Low tire pressure makes bikes slow, sluggish and downright dangerous when cornering, as the tire will deform and lose grip.
All tires have recommended pressure ratings moulded into the sidewalls of the tire. This information is usually presented in the form of PSI or BAR units.
Most pumps *will have both units outlined on their pressure gauges, and all pumps will have at least one of them.
Overall, it should look like this:
35 – 45 psi / 2.4 – 3.1 bar.
Here, 35psi (or 2.4bar) is the lowest pressure the tires should be allowed to run at, with 45psi (3.1bar) being the highest.
Inflating the tire is as simple as connecting the pump to the wheel’s valve and pumping away. Keep an eye on the pressure gauge, and as soon as you reach the upper limit of the tire’s recommended pressure, stop and disconnect the pump.
Tires all slowly lose pressure over time, as air leaks out through the rubber. You should make a point of checking tire pressure once a month and topping it up when it starts to get close to the lower limit.
2. Clean (and oil) the chain
To keep your kid’s bike running smoothly, you’ll want to thoroughly clean the chain, chainrings and (if your kid’s bike has one) the derailleur:
- The best way to do this is with a bike-specific degreaser and an old toothbrush. The aim is to get the degreaser deep into every nook and cranny, scrubbing off as much gunk as you can in the process.
- Once the degreaser has had some time to work its way through the gunk (10 mins or more) use hot water mixed with bike cleaner, and a rag (or sponge) to clean off the now-dirty degreaser. When you’re happy it’s as clean as can be, rinse it all with warm water and use a clean rag to dry everything out.
- Next, use a light spray oil like GT85* (or similar) on the various pivots and joints of the derailleur, taking care not to spray oil onto the rim or brake pads. While you’re there, apply some to the brake levers and gear shifters (again, paying attention to the rims and brake pads)
- Finally, use a bike chain oil on the chain, as you backpedal the cranks with one hand to get a nice and even coverage. There’s no need to saturate the chain in oil – if anything, too much oil will cause the chain to pick up dirt much more quickly and get gunky. Ideally, use a clean rag to wipe off any excess oil from the chain.
3. Check the brakes
Being able to stop safely is more important than anything else.
First, you’ll want to check how worn the bike’s brake pads are. Brake pads will have grooves moulded into them to help them chase water off the rim. If your pads have worn down to the point those grooves are no longer visible – it’s time to change them.
The cable tension on the brakes may also need adjusting if they feel too loose or too tight. In essence, your child needs to be able to pull the brake lever down so that it almost touches the bars – this should take all their strength. If they can easily make the lever touch the bar, the brake cable needs tightening. If they can’t get there, it needs to be loosened a little.
The front and back brake should also be adjusted evenly. The last thing you want is one of the brakes coming way too strong relative to the other one.
If you notice any of these break issues, it’s best to head to your local bike shop for assistance.
4. Adjust the saddle height
As a rule of thumb, you want to set your kid’s saddle so that there’s a slight bend in the knee as they ride (some suggest a 20-degree knee bend with a pedal at 6 o’clock once they’re adept at riding). During the bottom stroke, your child shouldn’t have to point his toes in order to reach the pedal.
The kids should typically be able to put one foot on the ground while stationary, but if they’re just starting out, it could be a good idea to set the saddle a bit lower. Being able to reach the ground with both feet allows kids to make emergency stops more easily, although riding lower does put more stress on the knees.
Even so, going lower than ideal is still preferable to a bike seat that’s too high for your kid.
Regardless of its initial height, don’t forget to keep raising the saddle as your kid grows and becomes more confident on a bike. In many cases, parents forget just how quickly their child can outgrow their current cycling jig.
Once you’re happy with the saddle height, check that your kid can still seamlessly reach and grip the brake levers. Same goes for the handlebars – many times the child may look perfectly comfortable just sitting on a bike, but can quickly lose control once they actually start turning the handlebars as if to steer round the corner.
In the end, please remember: proper bike maintenance requires both patience and skill. Safety is paramount, so if you don’t feel adequately qualified to perform bike tuneups yourself, there is a better alternative.
If in doubt, take your kid’s bike to a local bike service shop. Faulty repairs can damage or impair the safety of your child’s bike.
Best part? You don’t have to get covered in bike chain oil!
About our Guest Poster:
Hi! My name’s Simon, I’m an industrial designer and lead bike mechanic at Honor Cycles, a London-based bike repair shop. When we’re not fixing bikes, we’re working with local councils and NGOs to help communities in need, and promote sustainable bike shop practices.