I don’t want a brand new bike for my birthday said no kid ever.
Getting that first bike is, for many of us, pretty par for the kid course. Like summer swimming lessons or running after the ice cream truck (ok, maybe we don’t do that one anymore. Ice cream trucks can be creepy.) Many of us rode bikes as kiddos for many reasons — to get to school or to have a sense of freedom years before we could drive (and hey, we never had to ask Mom or Dad if we could “borrow the bike for a little while.”) And you probably still ride as an adult for just as many reasons. I am saving the environment! My legs look amazing! I am the fastest person alive!
With the increase of urban biking, kids are riding out in the community and are riding longer distances. Initiatives to make sure kids are riding safely are cropping up across the country. Events like bike rodeos where volunteers teach kids about bike maintenance are common and bike safety classes are being added to the curriculum in many schools. The bottom line is people are beginning to recognize that before these little cyclists go on to earn their yellow jerseys, it’s important to make sure they know how to ride smart.
If your community doesn’t offer bike maintenance and safety courses for kids, you can put on a DIY bike rodeo in your own backyard. You could, if you should choose to be so ambitious, make it a neighborhood event. Maybe even, for the die hard bike fan, a birthday party. Create an obstacle course and have the kids complete it timed twice — once before a tune-up and again after. They’ll be able to see that with a little bike love, it’s easier to pedal and they can go faster. Now, this does not mean the birthday biker has to turn into mini Evel Knievel. No cannons or car jumping please. A few cones or sidewalk-chalked lanes should do. Even if your version of the French countryside is your driveway, it’s still possible to show kids that after a little tune up their bikes work better. Even if it’s only a way to spend a Saturday morning with your kids, it’s easy and important if you plan on letting the little cyclist work on his individual time trials around the neighborhood.
Now, we know that repairing and cleaning don’t tend to be items that fall at the top of a kid’s “I’ll Spend My Saturday Doing This!” list, but when little ones take ownership of their bikes, they feel proud. They want to show off the bike they’re maintaining. That, in and of itself, is sweet, sweet independence. Besides that, bikes are machines. It’s like having a giant Erector set you can build, fix, and ride. If that doesn’t convince them, tell the kids they’ll finally be able to beat that sixth grader to school if they just clean the bike once in a while.
First things first: Get the kid some tools! When you do buy that first birthday bike, include a tool set. Providing kids with their own tools allows them to use something other than a cell phone to fix a flat. Beside that, it’s just cool to carry around a hex wrench set. You should also include a patch kit, wrench, tire lever, spare tube, and an air pump. An added bonus of bike tools? They’re not sharp or all that dangerous. You should probably hold onto the cable cutters but otherwise, you would have to try pretty hard to poke your eye out with a patch kit.
Here are the ABC’s of bike maintenance for kids — and the rest of us too.
A Is for Air
Tire pressure is important. If your tires aren’t full, biking is more difficult. On the sidewall of each tire there’s a number that tells you how much air your tire needs. Use a tire pump to make sure the pressure is within that range, and add or release air as needed. If bike tires aren’t fully inflated, the bike will be more prone to flats and it’s a little like trying to pedal through wet cement.
B Is for Brakes
Riding with worn brakes makes it hard to stop and can ruin the rims of a bike. If break pads are smooth or if there is wire visible, it’s time to replace them.
Squeeze brakes to make sure they’re grabbing and check to see that brake pads touch the rims, not the tires!
C Is for Chain
Make sure a bicycle’s chain is lubed up and working well. Lubricate the chain by rotating the pedal and squeezing lube onto the chain as it moves, wiping with a cloth. Do this approximately every 100 miles.
We’re going to go ahead and add D too.
D is for Dry (and wash)
Dry off a bike anytime you’ve been riding it out in the rain, snow or if you’ve washed it. Always make sure it’s been thoroughly dried to prevent rust build up. Much of what the expert Tour de France mechanics do is hose down each bike at the end of the day. Any built up dirt and grime can make parts less efficient.
These are things that should be checked before each ride. Make a poster including these basic safety checks and hang it within view of where you keep your family fleet. Have a bike maintenance guide for yourself too. We know, we know, you’re a bike connoisseur and already know how to fix any problem that comes your way but just in case there’s a really good guide here:
Fixing A Flat
Flats happen and knowing how to change a tire is a must.
Loosen the axle nuts of the tire using the correct size wrench for the nut. Some children’s bikes may not have nuts in which case head onto step two.
Press the quick release levers, which can be located on both sides of the tire.
Deflate the tire by opening the valve and putting slight pressure on the tire valve stem.
Remove the tire from the wheel rim by sliding a tire lever under the rubber all the way around the wheel, pulling the tire away from the wheel as you go. In a pinch, your thumb will work too.
Look for any breaks or cracks in the wheel. This may mean it’s time to stop by a bike shop so the wheel can be repaired professionally. If there are no major issues, find the hole in the tube by inflating it and feeling for where any air escapes. Use your patch kit to repair the hole.
Line up the tube with the tire, with the tube valve being lined up with the tube hole.
Fit the tire and tube onto the wheel rim. Be careful not to pinch the tube between the wheel and the rim. This can cause another flat.
Fill the tube with air.
Place the wheel back on the bike. Tighten the axle nuts or replace the quick release levers to hold the wheel back in place.
Book it! You’re late for math class.
So, the choice is yours: You can hire a crack team of bike mechanics to follow your little one around or you can teach them these basic maintenance tips to make sure they stay safely at the head of the school-bound peloton.