My son is 8 and ready for his first gear bike. He's been riding single-speed coaster brake hand-me-downs so far, and has done great, but we live in Pittsburgh where even the flat rides are a little hilly, and he has trouble hanging with us on family rides when things get a little steep. He's hot for gears and, at the moment, there are no great hand-me-downs available from friends and cousins. He needs a 20" wheel, I think, and since he's on the small side, I believe the bike could last him a while.
My question is, what's the best route to go? My LBS carries Jamis bikes and I could get a 2010 or '11 Jamis x.20 and would probably pay around $225 for it. On the other hand, I could go to Target and get him a big box store bike, probably for less than half of that.
I have no concern about the frame, other than it not be ridiculously heavy for him. I know the components on most of the big box store bikes will be very cheap and more likely to break or need constant adjustment, but it seems weird to spend a lot on a kids bike. One other factor is that I love my LBS and want to support it. They take great care of me, and would always handle any maintenance or repairs I can't do, and probably for nothing (they told me I got 6 mos. free maintenance on my bike when I bought it almost a year ago, and they haven't hinted at charging me yet).