The Best Bikes for Teenagers

By Kevin McLeod
Trail rides are a great way to test new bikes.
Trail rides are a great way to test new bikes.

The best bike for teenagers -- or anyone, really -- is the bike that fits properly. You don't ride a bike that fits right; in essence, you "wear" it. This reflects how well your feet meet the pedals, how your hands reach the handlebars, how easily you can shift gears, and how you feel during long-distance rides. Cost, reliability, safety, dependability and endurance -- these are all important considerations for a teen. The most important quality of all, however, might be attractiveness. If a teen doesn't look cool tooling down the road, all the comfort and durability in the world isn't going to keep that bike from being abandoned. Strike a good balance by steering your teen toward a bike that has it all.

A Tailored Bike

A bike that's tailored for the physique of your teen is always a winner. Seats and handlebar stems should be adjustable. If they aren't, don't let your teen buy the bike. Insist that your teen adjust them until he finds the fit that works. If he can't get comfortable on the seat, don't hesitate to try others. Consider purchasing a different seat; though it isn't free, your teen will thank you once he rides on it for a while. Handlebars can be replaced, too, for a comfy fit. Adjust the seat and stem until the pressure of your teen's hands on the handlebars is light. If he's leaning too hard on the handlebars, he'll tire more quickly and feel every jolt in the road. When pedaling, the knees should be just slightly bent at the bottom of the pedaling cycle.

A Safe Bike

Safety is not optional when choosing the best bike for your teen. Friction brakes are common, but disc brakes offer superior stopping power, especially in wet conditions. If you can fit these into your budget, they're the better choice. Another important consideration is visibility. This is not much of a problem by day, but evening and night riders can be easily overlooked. Take the time and trouble to install good bike lights. In large cities, your teen may not need lights to find her way, but will definitely need them for drivers to see her. For can't-miss visibility and a unique "wow factor" that teens will love, consider adding electroluminescent wire. No matter how cool the bike, though, the single-most important safety factor is the rider. Teens must understand basic rules of safe bike riding, such as keeping the head on a swivel and wearing an approved safety helmet. An awareness of the environment, especially around cars, is life-saving and should be emphasized no matter how much your teen rolls her eyes.

Consider the Biking Environment

Where will the bike be used? How often? Will it be limited to recreational rides on paved trails? Dirt trails? In a rural area, suburbs or downtown in a large city? Some bikes are specialized for specific environments, like mountain bikes for dirt trail riding – a good choice for rural teen riders. Others, such as road bikes, are meant for paved trails and quiet suburban roads. Hybrid bikes are similar to road bikes but are constructed with additional strength to withstand the extra punishment that urban environments deliver. Pick the bike style that matches where your teen will most often use it.

Follow Your Budget

Bikes run the gamut from modestly priced classic used 1970s road bikes to imported, mass-produced bikes from China, to more expensive, practically hand-made carbon fiber works of art. Your budget -- and that of your teen -- will determine what is affordable. The bottom line is ensuring that everything on the bike works properly, especially the brakes. Mass-produced bikes are frequently disparaged, but offer good value for basic use, such as riding to school daily. Mountain bikes are a popular choice for teens because they're built like tanks and can take a lot of abuse. Finally, get a good bike lock to protect the investment and instruct your teen to use it – he won't be happy if someone disappears with his wheels.

About the Author

Kevin McLeod has written about culture, technology, social change, employment and the deaf community since 1985. He has worked with high school students, psychiatric patients and editors, all fine sources of chaos and drama.