Ladies, I really need your help. I love that I can come here for just about anything and get honest, good answers! I am having all sorts of mixed reviews.
I am not sure if we can afford an aluminum bike. but the steel bikes are SO heavy. We wanted to spend about $100. Reviews are sketchy on schwinn/mongoose/etc.
Any advice? My son will be 5 in April and i really want to give him something special. i think he is ready to learn to ride without training wheels. He is on the littler side short wise, and 38 pounds at 5...but def to big for the 12 inch.
They are a bit hard to find but they do make 14" ones as well, if you discover the 16" is a stretch. The 14" one I remember seeing is a Diego theme. We had a schwinn (the 16" orange one with flames) and it was very heavy. I'd look for a lighter bike if I were doing it again.
Try looking for a used one, maybe on craigslist. Lots of people sell their lightly used kid's bikes for good prices. I'm having a hard time finding an 18" one because it is a less common size but I'm seeing more 16" ones.
try toys r us. that is were i can always find the "odd" sizes.
our problem is once you get on the "odd" schedule you get stuck on it.
as when you buy the 10" you find when you need the next size up that your child is already too big for the 12" and the 14" is perfect, and thus when you need a new size 16" is too small so you go for the 18" and on and on.
luckily, we've have no complaints with tru bikes.
dd1 just bought what i hope is her last bike (went from 18" to 24")
We took DS (3 but tall for his age) to the local bike shop to "try on" bikes and figure out what the best fit was. A 16 inch in one brand didn't work as well for him as a 16 inch in another brand. We ended up going with a 16 inch Haro, which was about $189. It was a little pricey, but not only is this bike very adjustable and likely to last him a few good years, but they also have a buy back policy, and will take it on a trade in when he's ready for a bigger bike. Also, they sell used bikes there too, so you could get a gently used $200 bike for a little over $100. I'd check to see if you have anything like that near you.
We also went to a bike shop to get real help buying bikes. I wanted to avoid training wheels. I was very tempted to get a bike without peddles, something like a skut bike (but not quite). We ended up getting some 20" bikes (boys are 6) that they are learning to use this spring. I felt really good about the help we got at the bicycle garage.
Point is, I feel like we got what we paid for-- the bikes are sturdy, well put together, guaranteed forever... you get the idea.
I recently bought my 10yo dd a mountain bike for $30 at our local swap meet. I'm not sure what it's worth new, but it is in good condition (brakes are good, chain looks new, tires have little wear, etc). I figured for the price, we couldn't go wrong no matter what. It ended up working out nicely. :)
Beyond taking your chances with cheap used equipment, I would go to an actual bike shop to be fitted. The brands they carry at Walmart, etc, are cheaply made and don't last long. You pay more at a bike shop, but you get a professional opinion on size/shape, and you get what you pay for in the quality of the bike.
I also dislike kids bikes in general because of their weight. I rode a racing bike for years, so I'm used to the lightweight build. My kids' bikes are so heavy I can barely lift them. I don't know how they manage to pedal them, but obviously they do fine. I do look forward to a time when they can fit into a good quality adult bike.
I'd try Craig's list -- we just bought dd a decent (not great but decent) bike for $25. She had a 16" bike and she's just outgrown it. But she's not ready for shifting gears yet (she firmly declared that she did not want to). This bike is sturdy enough to be let fall, get a few scratches and I won't care.
For her next bike, we'll go a bike store and get her a good one. (That's what we'll do this year with ds, who's turning 10.) But for a kid bike that's mostly for riding around the neighborhood, I don't know if I'd buy a light weight bike. They take a lot of hard use and I don't want to have to worry about a really expensive bike. I'll let someone else buy the expensive bike and get it from them 2nd hand when they're done.