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Commuting Bicycle commuting is easier than you think, before you know it, you'll be hooked. Learn the tips, hints, equipment, safety requirements for safely riding your bike to work.

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Old 08-30-10, 06:51 AM   #1
inoshishi
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Advice for 12 year-old riding to school - lots of hills!

Hello! Would appreciate any advice on the following situation:

-My 12-year-old son needs a bike to commute about 1 mile to and from school.
-We live in Southern California, so there are lots of hills on the way route.
-Thinking about a used Trek Mountain bike from CL.

Any ideas about good models for this type of commute? Does he need 21 speeds or is 10 enough? I saw a nice new one Trek 3500 13" at the bike store, but it was $400 out the door. Would like to spend $150 to $200. Are the stock tires (kinda knobby) ok, or do I need to put on "street" tires.

Any idea if the hills will be bad for his knees? He's an athlete and his body already gets a lot of abuse!

Thanks
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Old 08-30-10, 07:05 AM   #2
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Originally Posted by inoshishi View Post
Hello! Would appreciate any advice on the following situation:

-My 12-year-old son needs a bike to commute about 1 mile to and from school.
-We live in Southern California, so there are lots of hills on the way route.
-Thinking about a used Trek Mountain bike from CL.

Any ideas about good models for this type of commute? Does he need 21 speeds or is 10 enough? I saw a nice new one Trek 3500 13" at the bike store, but it was $400 out the door. Would like to spend $150 to $200. Are the stock tires (kinda knobby) ok, or do I need to put on "street" tires.

Any idea if the hills will be bad for his knees? He's an athlete and his body already gets a lot of abuse!

Thanks
With young legs, anything with multiple gears that is mechanically sound should be just fine. Get a good lock.
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Old 08-30-10, 07:09 AM   #3
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With young legs, anything with multiple gears that is mechanically sound should be just fine. Get a good lock.
Pretty much this. I was going to say you may want to swap out the knobbies for something more slick, but for a mile it wouldn't really matter much. Unless there are some pretty nasty hills, I think you'd even be alright with 3 speeds. 10 should be fine.
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Old 08-30-10, 07:11 AM   #4
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If he's riding on the street/pavement I'd use more of a street friendly tire. Knobbys are a little squirrely maneuvering at speed on pavement.
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Old 08-30-10, 07:33 AM   #5
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At 12, I was a fatty kid, and I rode a beated up bmx with half-working rear break and rear "shoe sole break" all over the place, hills and everything. Never had a problem. On one very steep hill I had to walk the bike sometimes. Besides that, I can't remember struggling with anything else.
Also BMX made us feel invincible, curbs, mud, whatever (perhaps knobbie tires are not a bad idea).

At that age I think the "cool" and "fun" factors are more important than performance.
Not saying that you shouldn't look for something practical, but IMO it's much better if the kid has that glare in the eye when he sees the bike.
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Old 08-30-10, 07:36 AM   #6
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Avoid the temptation to get a bike that's too big with the idea that he'll grow into it and it will save you from having to buy another bike in a couple of years. Get one that fits him now. I like Trek because they're one of few makers that uses aluminum frames for their kid bikes. A lighter bike is a nice thing for a kid, especially if they have some hills to conquer.

For his knees: Make sure the seat is adjusted high enough, and that he uses a nice low gear for the hills.
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Old 08-30-10, 07:38 AM   #7
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At that age I think the "cool" and "fun" factors are more important than performance.
Not saying that you shouldn't look for something practical, but IMO it's much better if the kid has that glare in the eye when he sees the bike.
+1

Make sure the bike is something the kid thinks is cool, not you.
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Old 08-30-10, 07:47 AM   #8
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Thanks for the comments!

Wow! So many replies and it's only 6:40 AM. Great forum. Thanks so much.

The hills are very challenging! Long and 45 degrees or steeper. Yes, he can walk the bike part of the way until he get's stronger. I would like to get him an aluminum frame, and the cool factor is big for him. I bought his last Trek new, but he's growing so fast, I'd like to save some money this time. Any thoughts on this bike?

http://sandiego.craigslist.org/ssd/bik/1924628468.html

Thanks to everyone for the help!
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Old 08-30-10, 07:50 AM   #9
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If he's riding on the street/pavement I'd use more of a street friendly tire. Knobbys are a little squirrely maneuvering at speed on pavement.
Yeah, he's going to be riding on pavement through a residential area with lots of driveways. May need to change out the tires. Do you think it's safer to ride in the street instead of the side walk due to lots of people backing out of their driveways on the way to work?
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Old 08-30-10, 07:59 AM   #10
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That Trek definitely looks solid enough - those components are better than my bike! If that passes the kid approval test, go for it.

As for the knobbies - that should only become an issue at pretty significant speeds. I'd wait on that, just in case he discovers mountain biking.

I'd ride in the street, personally - more reaction time and more room to maneuver if necessary.
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Old 08-30-10, 09:03 AM   #11
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Regarding riding in the street:

In a residential area with lots of driveways the street is absolutely safer.
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Old 08-30-10, 09:22 AM   #12
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Yeah, he's going to be riding on pavement through a residential area with lots of driveways. May need to change out the tires. Do you think it's safer to ride in the street instead of the side walk due to lots of people backing out of their driveways on the way to work?
That's a tough call. I'd say it depends on a number of things...including: Traffic, Your son's riding ability/experience, general fitness, and confidence.
I know nothing about your area.

One of the course offered by the League of American Bicyclists (see Kids II at the bottom of the page)
IF the route is on neighborhood secondary road, I'd go for the street. PLEASE don't let him ride contraflow (against traffic). Make sure he is visible, mornings will be getting darker.
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Old 08-30-10, 09:22 AM   #13
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Scope out local garage sales and whatnot as well - I just found a small (14") aluminum frame Raleigh M40 for $40 for my 10 year old, it was ~350 new.

+1 for street being safer as long as he understands the rules of the road, how to turn left, signal etc, and wears a lid.
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Old 08-30-10, 11:21 AM   #14
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That's a tough call. I'd say it depends on a number of things...including: Traffic, Your son's riding ability/experience, general fitness, and confidence.
I know nothing about your area.

One of the course offered by the League of American Bicyclists (see Kids II at the bottom of the page)
IF the route is on neighborhood secondary road, I'd go for the street. PLEASE don't let him ride contraflow (against traffic). Make sure he is visible, mornings will be getting darker.
Great advice. Thanks for the link - looks like the Kids II is perfect for him. I'll try to find where it's offered in my area. Looks like I may have found a nice Trek 3700 for him. Going to run out and take if for a spin now.
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Old 08-30-10, 11:31 AM   #15
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My son will be 12 this week and wishes he could ride to school. Sadly his route is 5 miles and he'd need to cross the river, which only has main arteries crossing it. Not going to happen. That said, he's been riding in to work with me all summer, about a mile and a half, and though it was a bit of a struggle with the hills on the way home at first, he did eventually get there. And on a 20yr old 10-speed. If you can, I'd recommend riding at least to school, and maybe home also, a couple of times with him to get him into it. Stop for water or to walk up a hill, show him the right way to cross a driveway, etc.

Bike aside, make sure he has all of the safety equipment he needs. Front and rear blinkies, reflective stripe on his backpack, helmet, maybe even front and rear blinkies for that. Might not be a bad idea to get him a basket or something for the back to put his backpack in, w/ reflective stuff on that. Get him involved in picking out the bike -- my son and I are planning to "pimp" his bike out. Fresh paint, new tires, maybe a rack and baskets/bags, flame stickers, new handlebars... should be fun
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Old 08-30-10, 01:21 PM   #16
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I agree that a safety class is a great idea.

I wish that these classes were mandatory for kids in school around that age.
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Old 08-30-10, 03:06 PM   #17
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Avoid the temptation to get a bike that's too big with the idea that he'll grow into it and it will save you from having to buy another bike in a couple of years. Get one that fits him now. I like Trek because they're one of few makers that uses aluminum frames for their kid bikes. A lighter bike is a nice thing for a kid, especially if they have some hills to conquer.
Man, my kid's 2nd hand 24" fuji weighs (w/ metal fenders, rack, and chainguard) weighs the same (or more!) as my LHT. My son is past the 33% mark of my own weight, but not by much.
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Old 08-30-10, 03:18 PM   #18
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My 10 year daughter is four foot four and weighs a spec over 50 pounds and rides a vintage Raleigh 3 speed (that must weigh close to 30 pounds) up and down everything and she and her sister (also has a 3 speed) cycle commute almost 10 miles a day... if they are lucky dad will carry some stuff in his panniers for them but this does not always happen.

A mile is nothing and 45 degrees is a 100% grade... the steepest roads out there tend to top out at about 22% / 12 degrees.

They also have 15 speed mountain bikes but they prefer their comfortable old Raleigh bicycles over the lighter and "better" equipped mountain bikes... which are for dirt riding and backup if one of their bikes has a problem like a flat.
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Old 08-30-10, 03:32 PM   #19
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My 12 year old son is riding my old schwinn Mt. Bike, and doing okay; in a perfect world he would have a frame 1 size smaller, but he can flat foot over the cross bar, and ride reasonably comfortably with the seat all the way down. But my son is NOT riding every day.

You don't mention how tall/heavy your son is -- 12 is a tough age, as they're heading into puberty (or already there). My son is 5'2"ish and a little over 100 lbs. His cousin (13) is 4'8" and probably 75lbs. Another nephew (11) is 5'5", 145 or so. For this reason, I would NOT spend a lot of money on a bike at this age... too much chance that he's going to outgrow it, or more likely 'lose' it (to theft). pre-teens just are not that reliable. That said, I would not go with a Walmart or other super cheap bike. Take your time looking for a decent quality, decent fit on CL or garage sales.

Also -- you mention nothing about his riding experience. Has he ridden a multi-speed bike before? Is he familiar with shifting, both the mechanics and the 'why' of it? The first time my son rode the MTB (21 speed -- triple crank (front gears)/ 7 speed cassette/freewheel (rear gears)) We just found a comfortable gear (2 front, 4 rear) for starting and riding, and he left it as he acclimated to the bike. Now he shifts the rear some, but I periodically have to remind him to shift when we ride together (in the sense that it hurts to see him pedaling a million miles an hour on flat ground). To this end: If he's new to multi gearing, he might be better off with a nice 3, 5 or 7 speed (rear gears only), esp. since he will almost certainly need a new bike in a year or two at the outside. He won't need more gears anytime in the near future, though he'll probably want them soon enough.

Definitely agree on the classes - and can't answer the street / sidewalk question without knowing a lot about your neighborhood/ his route/ traffic patterns, etc... Each has its hazards, as indicated above.
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Old 08-30-10, 03:38 PM   #20
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The reason I bring up size and weight is that so often I see kids struggle with bikes that are too big, and it's not necessarily riding them at speed that's the problem. Things like starting out, slow turns, maneuvering it and out of a crowded garage, or just pushing the thing up a hill. That's where they struggle. Sure that's not an issue for every kid, but to me, if you want them to take an interesting in cycling, make it as pleasant an experience as possible.

The other thing I'd recommend is not introducing geared bikes too early. No sense in making things more complicated than necessary. I don't think at 12 it's a problem and something as simple as a 3 speed should be fine to start when they're little younger.
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Old 08-30-10, 04:46 PM   #21
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Quote:
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Wow! So many replies and it's only 6:40 AM. Great forum. Thanks so much.

The hills are very challenging! Long and 45 degrees or steeper. Yes, he can walk the bike part of the way until he get's stronger. I would like to get him an aluminum frame, and the cool factor is big for him. I bought his last Trek new, but he's growing so fast, I'd like to save some money this time. Any thoughts on this bike?

http://sandiego.craigslist.org/ssd/bik/1924628468.html

Thanks to everyone for the help!
My 11 yo rides about 8 km with a few hundred ft of climbing to come home. He uses a Trek 1.2 road bike.

A mountain bike is fine - I echo the need to get a good fit.
Also echo the suggestion to get touring type tires - like Continental Contact or City Ride or Schwalbe Marathon.
Do a few trial runs to make sure he can safely ride in traffic.
I do question you description of the hills "long and 45 degrees or steeper" Come on this is a one mile commute ?
Also figure out how he is going to carry books and school stuff; backpack, messenger bag, pannier etc.
Also make sure there is a secure place to park his bike.
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Old 08-30-10, 04:49 PM   #22
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With young legs, anything with multiple gears that is mechanically sound should be just fine. Get a good lock.
We were doing the Harlem Valley Ride in upstate New York a few years ago with two friends. It's pretty hilly. We were riding mountain bikes. While we were climbing up one hill we slowly caught up with a mom and her young son (less than 10 yo), also on mountain bikes. We were struggling to stay upright at 3mph... and he.... was doing wheelies on his rear wheel going up the hill AND riding circles around his mom!!! We asked his mother what he had for breakfast but she was just as puzzled as we were.
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Old 08-30-10, 04:52 PM   #23
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That Trek looks fine, if it fits him. Slicks will be better than knobbies, but aren't necessary. Don't forget to budget for a helmet, lock, blinkies, and rack or backpack. It's almost always safer to stay off the sidewalk.

Kudos to you and your son!
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Old 08-30-10, 05:49 PM   #24
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45 degrees isn't a hill, it's a mountain... or a set of really steep stairs... honestly i'd be more concerned about him going down them really fast and not paying enough attention to traffic or the ride and having a spill than getting up them at that grade. I'm not sure I'd even feel safe with me riding down something like that, and I'd be looking for the elevator to get up.
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Old 08-30-10, 05:53 PM   #25
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If your local LAB class provider doesn't provide the Kids II class, they may let him take the adult version, Traffic Skills 101. Where I live, they only do the kids versions of the classes as a special class when they have a group of kids like scouts or YMCA or something like that.
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