For my oldest son’s 7th birthday, I bought him a brand new, kid-sized Scott mountain bike. This fast-looking, bright yellow with black trim bicycle was a miniaturized version of the mountain bike that I hit the local trails with a few times each week. It came complete with a suspension fork, wide-gearing range and quality brakes.
Coming in at close to $400, the only thing that wasn’t miniaturized about his new bike was the price. But, he loved it and as someone who eats and sleeps bicycling, I loved giving it to him.
He rode the hell out of it—around the neighborhood, through some trails at local parks, on the National Mall and up on the carriage roads of Acadia when we took our summer trip. That bike was his loyal, dependable companion.
Or it was for about 2 years until he outgrew it. At which point he looked like an oversized circus clown riding around a toy bike under the big top.
The bike was so well built that it could easily last decades — as long as any of the quality bikes in my collection. If only kids didn’t grow so damned quickly.
I learned my lesson though, and ever since retiring the Scott mountain bike to one of his nephews, my son has been on a steady diet of used bicycles.
Unless you’ve got a houseful of kids to pass a bicycle down to, it just doesn’t make sense to buy an expensive new bike for a kid who is still growing like a weed. If you do have three or more kids who will get good use out of the bike, then sure, hit up your local bike shop for a $300-500 quality bike that can be maintained by that shop and passed down. But keep the following in mind:
Your Kid is Probably Going to Outgrow the Bike Waaaayyy Faster than You Think
Proper bicycle fitting is only so flexible and even with a knowledgeable bike mechanic working on your kid’s bike, a bicycle frame of a given size is probably only going to be able to safely and comfortably accommodate them for a shortish period.
If, like me, you want your kids to enjoy riding, then it’s paramount for the bike to fit correctly. When you buy used bikes you can afford to get a new, properly-fitting bike every couple of years instead of forcing your kid to ride something longer than he should so that you can get your money out of it.
Your Kid’s Tastes and Interests Are Going to Change
If your kid wants to try out mountain biking and then a year or so later wants to get a properly fitting used road bike, buying used gives you have the flexibility for them to try out different styles and fits of bikes. Another benefit here is that when they’re old enough to afford buying their own brand new bike from the local bike shop, your kid will be able to speak intelligently about what they like and don’t like about different kinds of bikes.
If they started out on a used BMX bike and moved to a used 20” wheel bike then on to a 24” mountain bike and then a 26” hybrid, they’ll have been exposed to a wide variety of positions and gearing. Compare this to a kid who receives a pricey, new 24” wheel hybrid when they are 10 and have been riding it for 6 or more years. They’ll have no idea what different bikes feel like.
A Quality Used Bike is Better than A New Piece of Junk
A quality used bike that you bring to your local shop for a tune up is infinitely better than a brand new bike from Walmart or some other big box store.
You may be enticed by the sub-$100-200 price tag of that big box store bike that looks just like the name brand bikes you can trust. But in reality that big box bike doesn’t have that much in common. It won’t stand up to the abuse a kid can deliver.
My son’s 24” wheel Trek on the other hand has never once seen a roof over it’s head. It’s been left out in the rain and snow for almost two straight years. Even after all of that abuse it still easily handled 70+ miles of off-road bike camping on the C&O Canal last spring. This, because it’s a quality made bicycle that gets an occasional visit to our local bike shop.
When I see the bike laying out in the driveway in the rain, I want to puff up my chest and yell at my kid for being irresponsible, of course. But seeing as how the bike cost me $100, I’m way less likely to fly off the handle than I would be if I were looking at a new $500 bike laying out there in the rain.
Stop Wasting Stuff!
Seriously, manufacturing a bike requires all sorts of resources. By buying a used one, you’re keeping it out of the local landfill. Quality made bicycles last a hell of a long time, better that they live out their lives with someone riding them then rusting away under a pile of diapers and old televisions.
Yes, buying a used bike is more time consuming then walking into a shop and plunking down your credit card. But start by looking for a local bike co-op. In our area we have the amazing Second Life Bikes. The selection is amazing and the staff and mechanics are top-notch. Plus a purchase from a community-based store like Second Life supports the local community as well as the local bike shop.
If you’re not fortunate enough to have a dedicated second hand bike shop in your area, start with asking friends and family. A quick post on Facebook or an email indicating that you are looking for a used bike for your kid is sure to net you some responses from people who have bikes taking up space in their garage that they would love to get rid of.
If you strike out there, get on Craigslist. Watch for names you’ve heard of like Trek or Cannondale, etc. Make sure that the picture of the bike in the ad is of the actual bike that’s for sale and not a commercial shot from the company’s website (an indicator that the bike may be stolen). Take some basic precautions like having the seller meet you in a safe, public place.
Then when you find one that you like, take it to your local shop for a tune up! A knowledgeable shop will make sure the bike is safe to ride and extend the bike’s life. Maybe buy a helmet or a water bottle or something. These shops need your support so that they’ll be around when your kid grows enough to go shopping for a new bike.