Lately I’ve been getting a lot of questions from parents on where to buy kids bikes. Is it better to shop online or at a local bike shop? The answer is, it depends.
If you need a quick and dirty response here it is: if you are buying a bike with 20” wheels or smaller, you’re probably best off buying online. If your child is ready for a larger bike, buy local.
Why? The best bikes for young children and made by kid-specific bike brands that aren’t sold at your local shop. The major bike brands begin offering nice kids bikes at larger sizes, which you can usually only get at a local shop.
The argument for shopping online
While I’ve always been a strong supporter of local bike shops and shopping locally, when it comes to kids bikes (especially bikes for young kids) it is often best to shop online. There are two reasons for this.
First, most local bike shops quite frankly have a HORRIBLE selection of kids bikes. They are heavy, have training wheels and coaster brakes, poor geometry, and just aren’t bikes that I would recommend to anyone. Sadly, I’ve also found that a lot of bike shop staff aren’t knowledgeable about kids bikes. One mom recently asked me for advice on a bike after a local bike shop sold her a 16” bike for her 3-year-old! (A 16” bike is better suited for a 5-year-old).
Additionally, most of the good kid-specific bike brands only sell their bikes online. Woom, Spawn, and Islabikes are all examples of stellar brands that don’t sell thru local bike shops. One notable exception is Cleary Bikes. Cleary does sell thru local bike shops.
Where to shop online
Full disclosure: Some of these links are affiliate links–meaning if you click on one and make a purchase, I get a small commission.
- Amazon. Everybody loves the ease of shopping from Amazon. They have a good selection of kids bikes but make sure you do your research ahead of time and know what you want to buy because there are a lot of crappy bikes listed on Amazon as well.
- Backcountry. When Backcountry bought out Competitive Cyclist, they became a legit online bike shop with nice bikes. They have a surprisingly great selection of bikes including Cleary, Early Rider, and more…
- Brand websites. If you know what bike you want, most kids bike brands sell directly from their own websites (or phone line). Some fantastic kids bikes, like Islabikes, only sell directly to customers.
The argument for shopping local
A bike, even a kids bike, is a big investment. It’s so much nicer to be able to go see the bike in person and make sure it’s the right one before laying down a big chunk of change. The bike shop (if they know what they are doing, unlike the salesperson in my previous story) can also help you measure your child’s inseam and fit them on the right bike.
Many bike shops will also offer you free tune-ups after purchase and will deal with the manufacturer if anything goes wrong with the bike. The bike will also already be assembled; if you buy online, there is going to be some degree of assembly you have to do yourself.
The major bike brands—Specialized, Trek, etc—only sell thru local bike shops, so if you are looking at one of those bikes, the decision is made for you. While their smaller sized bikes aren’t that fantastic, these brand’s “big kid” bikes begin to get really nice.
Finally, if you buy from a local bike shop, you get the satisfaction of knowing you are shopping locally, the money is staying in the local economy, and you’re supporting a small business. (Although on the flip side, a lot of the “kids bike brands” you’d buy online are small business too).
Where to shop locally
Don’t just head to the shop down the street—unless you already know and like that shop. If you know what bike brand you want, find out first what shops are dealers of that brand. Local bike shops generally only carry a few select brands.
It also makes sense to ask around for referrals. Some bike shops are great for buying adult bikes but ignore kids bikes completely. Head to the local bike park, or a kids race, and ask parents there if they can recommend a shop. Look for people who seem in the know.
We have also compiled a crowd-sourced list of great local bike shops:
What about Walmart or Target?
Um, no. Just no. The kids’ bikes sold at the big box stores are not real bikes, they are toys. These bikes are REALLY heavy, have poor componentry, and awful geometry. If you want your child to bike further than around the block, please buy them a decent bike. If you have a tiny budget, that’s still no excuse to buy a crappy bike. Good bikes hold up well even second-hand and can be found on places like Craigslist or Ebay. If that’s even out of range for you, search for local organizations in your area that fix up and provide bikes to kids at low cost or no cost.
- 5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Buy Walmart Kids Bikes
- Used Kids Bikes: 5 Tips for Finding and Buying a Pre-Owned Bicycle
Do your research ahead of time, decide which bike you are interested in, and then find the most appropriate venue for purchasing it. Chances are, if you are buying for a young child, you’ll need to order your bike online. If the bike you want is from a major bike brand like Specialized or Trek, head to your local bike shop. And whatever you do, stay away from Walmart!