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Best Options for Finding a Decent Kid's Bike

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When my nine-year-old son's BMX bike, inherited from a neighbor kid, died a long overdue death, it was time to buy him a new bike. But yikes, what a dilemma. Did I want to drop several hundred bucks on a good quality bike that he'll outgrow in 18 months? Or go against my very nature and buy a cheapie mass-market clunker, hoping it'll last until he's done with it?

It can be hard to find a decent bike for a kid. So what to do? Here are some options for finding that perfect kid's bike.

1. Go Used - Locally: Thriftshops and Pawnshops

Thrift Shop - Kansas City, Kansas
(c) Terra/Flickr

Say somebody is cleaning house and giving away lots of stuff. Maybe it's an estate sale or a downsizing to a condo. What do these people do with these items? Frequently they get donated to charities. That means you can also sometimes find good used kid's bikes at Goodwill and other thrift shops.

It's not as easy or quick as clicking around a website, but if you make a point to pop into the local thrift shops from time to time, you can sometimes find terrific bikes for a song. Same with pawnshops. People who don't know one bike maker from another will slap the same $15 tag on every bike, regardless of the brand.

2. Go Used - Craigslist

Trek Subdude
(c) Bryan Moyer

There are a number of online sources for used bikes. The Craigslist site for your city is an immediate choice, but the trick there is to have the stamina to watch and wait for just the right bike. Be forewarned - you might have to watch a seemingly endless parade of used $25 Huffys before the right one comes along. And when it does, you need to move fast.

Example: I spotted a terrific Trek kid's BMX bike, a 1990's model called the Trek SubDude listed for only $40. Alas, even though I called on it immediately after it was posted at 8:30 pm, some lady had snatched it up by 7 am the next morning. But all's well that ends well. Not long after that, I found an even better bike, a basically brand-new Gary Fisher BMX, for just $50.

3. Go Used - Other Online Sources

Newspaper
(c) Matt Callow

While Craigslist seems to get scoured pretty thoroughly by people looking for bikes, other on-line listings may prove fruitful simply because they don't have the same massive audience. Try the classified section of your local paper - either the print or electronic version. Our local rag has a "bargain box" listing of free ads for items less than $200, and there are always lots of kids' bikes listed there, though often they are the varieties that you find from the big-box retailers. So, it's a matter of finding the gem among the coal.

An additional place to check is the websites of your local bike shops. Many will have a classified section where people can list stuff for sale, though there won't typically be many kids' bikes listed.

4. Work With a Bike Shop to Create the Right Bike

Bike mechanic
(c) Dr. Starbuck/Flickr

If you view this bike as an investment to be used for several years, you can justify spending a little more up front.

David, an about.com reader took this approach for his son.

"After speaking with the great people at our local bike shop we decided to get him an XXS frame Raleigh mountain bike. We then put slick tires on and he uses it as a street bike," says David.

"With the extra tires it still cost about $350 but this way he has a road bike now. When he gets bigger we can put the original mountain bike tires back on and he'll have a mountain bike to go with the road bike he gets at that time. This way, even though we did spend a bit more for his current bike with the extra tires, it is something he will use for years to come."

5. Build Your Own

painting a bike frame
(c) Kate McCarthy/Flickr

If you've got a bit of mechanical aptitude, building the bike yourself just might be the answer. Reader Michael White did this when his son turned eight.

"I customized an old Huffy frame that I found. Primer, flat black spay paint, custom decals from the bike shop, 3 layers of clear coat from a friend at Maaco, tires, rims, brakes, hand grips and seat - Presto! My son has a one-of-a-kind customized dirt bike."

"He loves it still 15 months later and is the envy of all the kids in the neighborhood. It was great father-son project, something he will remember for years. Cost: about $200 but I went topshelf with all the parts (aluminum rims, v-brakes, case of beer for my buddy at Maaco etc.) You can do it a lot cheaper. It's well worth it!!!"

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