So I have two boys, one just turned 8 and one just turned 6. They are good little riders, we got them started on strider bikes and the 8 yr old is now on a 20 inch wheel Trek with hand brakes and a 6-speed cassette and the 6 yr old is on a 16 inch wheel single speed REI bike with a coaster brake.
Size wise these are good fits for them and probably will be for at least this year. However overall I'm not very impressed with the quality of these bikes, in particular the weight. My 8 yr old's Trek probably weighs more than a couple of my bikes put together! I realize they are cheap kid's bikes but I'm a cycling enthusiast and I wouldn't mind spending a bit more for decent bikes for them. I want to be able to take them on more adventures. Also since my kids are close together in age and are the same sex, we can get a lot of use out of sports equipment, despite how fast they grow. I.e whatever bike I got my 8 yr old could get 4-5 years of solid use between the two of my sons, so that helps with budgeting. Also if it's good quality, maybe it would retain some resale value.
I'm pretty impressed with philosophy and offerings from Islabike, at UK company which has started selling in the US. http://www.islabikes.com/us/index.html Does anybody have experience with them?
Are there more bikes more widely available in the US that I should consider? I'm handy so I'd consider doing some building up myself, i.e. if you can order the tiny reach brake levers that Islabikes have, I could install them on a bike myself. Need a decent lightweight frame to start with though. I'd like a real crankset, not a crummy one piece Astabula. I'd consider using lightweight friction thumbshifters over low quality twist shifters that seem to go out of adjustment quickly and are stiff for little hands to operate. Friction is probably fine for a 5 or 6 speed cogset.
BTW I don't believe in putting kids on tiny sized adult frames. i.e trying to find a 26 inch wheel bike for my 8 yr old. I think the wheels are two big and they're just too awkward for them to flick around on singletrack. He could be on a 20 inch wheel for a while or maybe a 24 inch starting next year that his brother could use after him for a few years too. I'd like to move my 6 yr old up to hand brakes from coaster brake this summer.
I think mountain bike style makes sense, we do trail riding and they don't need road style bikes with drop bars at this age. I can just put thinner slicks on the bikes for urban riding. A lot of bikes marketed to kids of this age have crappy suspension forks. I think suspension forks are completely unnecessary at this age. They are generally low quality and don't add anything but extra weight to an already heavy bike. A ~50 lb kid doesn't need suspension even for "mountain biking" and will be better served by lightening the bike's weight as much as possible. A rigid CrMo fork will be much lighter and provide better steering feel and control. If you run fat tires at low pressures (considering the rider's light weight) that's all the suspension they need.
Any input is appreciated!