What kind of bike, or specific bike, would be good for an older teenager? In other words, would be cool and kind of fast (not racing fast) but also be able to take teenage boy behavior--jumping curbs, maybe occasional small ramps, tree roots, etc., not mountain terrain but just the stuff boys are going to do with their friends, in the lower LBS price range. Just wondering....
Personally I'm thinking a BMX cruiser (24" wheels) (if he truly wants to sit and pedal and/or needs 26" wheels, a BMX like the 'Volume Sledgehammer' http://volumebikes.com/70026/bikes/sledgehammer/) or a Dirt Jumper bike (like a Haro Steel Reserve 1.1..rigid fork, no need for suspension fork unless he actually dirt jumps..then a 1.3. http://www.harobikes.com/mtb/bikes/Freestyle-MTB/19/). Neither are particularly fast as the best-most respected versions tend to be single-speed but honestly hybrids (except for a cannondale bad-boy (little bias admittedly, but also not insignificant $$$$)) just dont look cool enough. None are best for jumping ramps, hopping curbs, trying AND failing at learning new tricks and stunts and can generally take the punishment of neglect and rough handling that a good strong steel frame can. Mtb kinda suck at jumping compared to bmx and dj, just not designed to hop as good as a "stand and pedal" bmx and djers. Aluminum top and bottom tubes and chainstays in hybrid or mtb form will not tolerate being bashed and used to grind on either.
If he'll be riding about the neighborhood during the summer with his fellowship of heathens I wonder if any of them have bikes geared toward speed and comfort like hybrids and if they do, do they lust after something else (FGFS seem to be getting quite popular and are also built for getting bashed, that is if he is into riding a fixed-gear bike. for example: http://volumebikes.com/70026/bikes/thrasher/) like a BMX?
Honestly I dont see this current generation of kids with mtb unless they are "into" mtbing/trail-riding or otherwise just inherit or have someone buy one for them. MTB outside of a rigid SS come with some measure of maintenance that must be considered. They are not the "It" bike as they once were with kids looking for "the bike style of their generation" like it was in the 1990's when "everyone" had or wanted a mtb. (caviat being that mtb ownership is larger now than it ever has been...go figure..)
Bikes: 2012 Cinelli Saetta, vintage steel cougar, Kona Jake
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Let him decide. He's old enough to make his own decisions. I knew what kind of bike I wanted when I was 10, 15 and bought my first real LBS bike with my own money when I was 17, a early 90's Diamondback (when they still made their own bikes and were still considered a good brand) mountain bike which I still have.
Really let him choose, otherwise it's like letting his mom choose his clothes for him.
I assumed there was some reason why the OP was asking; a surprise present perhaps? But 'Alphav' is right, if at all reasonable and works with your plan have him decide. If not find a way to talk to him about what type of bicycling he favors, check out the kind of bike his friends have and if he likes what they ride. Alas, a tribe of teens tends to ride the same kind of steed..you dont see a horde of 12 bmx'ers and 1-road cyclist hanging at the 7-11 passing about the cigarillos and sippin on the bottle of mad dog.
Going to a LBS does not necessarily find you the right bike, depending on what kind of bike he likes your default LBS might not carry it. If possible figure out the bike type he likes then find the shop that sells it, else you are subject to what the shop you are in at the time has on the floor and their persuasive sales crew that gives you a sensible adult argument as to why 'specialized' is better than 'Eastern' yet that same adult argument holds no credibility for a 16-yr old that simply knows a Eastern NightTrain in Black NOT purple with the argyle fork is "sick". At that age, brand, color and cred can be very, very important.
I hated that my mother picked out a couple of my bikes when I was a young-buck, she ALWAYS got it wrong and I HATED the bikes she chose...woman had no sense on what a 12 year old needs and her efforts were not appreciated by my self-centered...erm..self..
If possible let him pick it out, hopefully he has a simple eye and chooses something cheap and easy else...lookout!
If your the parent, then "small ramps" really is going to mean "big ramps" lol
I like my specialized crosstrail, its in the lower range of $500 and I rode downhills fast! (grass and pot holes) and some curbs, and even some light trails with no problem.
The Borough XC 700 x 45c tires are rugged enough to take some bumps, but smooth enough to make road riding really nice.
But I encourage you to support your local bike shop, they should have something very similar.