Construction Bikes should have consistent welds along the frame; avoid a bike where the welding looks patchy. Shake the bike to check if anything is loose or rattles. Check there are no sharp projections – wires, nuts and bolts should have covers if they project.
Wheels Check they run true by lifting the bike or putting it upside down and spinning the wheels, both front and back. If a wheel is not running true, you’ll see a wobble as you look at it from the front or rear of the bike (see video below). This means it needs some adjustment. Also check to see whether it rubs against anything, including the brakes when they are not activated. If they do or are difficult to turn, this will make your child’s ride harder and less enjoyable, so ask the bike shop to adjust accordingly.
Adjustment See just how much distance there is when you adjust the seat post. There should be a mark showing the maximum movement for the seat; if the adjustment is quite small, your child will outgrow it quicker than you might like and you’ll be up for a replacement bike.
Brakes Look for back pedal brakes where the child can simply reverse their pedalling to stop. Rim brakes (with brake pads on front and/or rear wheels) are common on adult bikes, as children usually don’t have the strength to pull them and, in some cases, are too wide a hand grip for small hands. Before buying, check the brakes work effectively; for back pedal brakes, put the bike upside down and reverse the pedal movement; for front and rear rim brakes, push the bike forward when right side up and test by pulling the hand levers. If they’re not working well, ask for them to be adjusted. Front and rear rim brakes often have very small brake pads, and so wear out sooner.
Value A more expensive bike does not guarantee better quality, as our testing shows. Often a well-known brand commands a higher price when a cheaper brand will serve just as well, and in some cases give better bang for your buck.
Video: Kids' bikes test footage
A short video showing the difference between 'true' and 'not true' wheels.