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  1. #1
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    Recommendation for good quality kid's bicycles

    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!

  2. #2
    Senior Member BruceHankins's Avatar
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    Specialized Hotrocks come to mind, and Fuji makes a couple. A nice 650b road version and the absolute hybrid in a 20" and 24" variety.

  3. #3
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    Thanks for the tips Bruce. The Fuji Absolute bikes look sharp http://www.fujibikes.com/bike/details/absolute-24 and appear to have decent components. They have dual pivot road brakes though, so I wonder how wide of a tire they can fit. Specialized Hotrocks are more mountain, and nice that they give you the option of a rigid fork. The rigid fork 24 inch has a triple though which I think is overkill for a kids but but I could always swap it out or take a chainring off.

    I have some ancient but nice older 6 and 7-speed XT level stuff lying around (hubs, thumbies, canti brakes). If I really wanted to go wild I could build up a bike, but probably not worth the effort unless I just want a project. Have to find a nice frame... Maybe my older son could help...

  4. #4
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    I forgot about Redline. They make a 20 and 24 inch wheel version of their conquest cyclocross bike. I'm a 'crosser and I've seen them at races. Nice looking rides. The 20 has a flat bar and centerpull brakes. The 24 has a drop bar and cantis. The 24 is probably a bit much size and equipment wise for this year and is a little too pricey at $700 MSRP. I could keep my eye out for a used one though...

    I notice that none of the manufacturers will list a weight.

  5. #5
    Senior Member BruceHankins's Avatar
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    They come with 24x1", I would assume you wouldn't want to or need to go wider than 1.5". You can find road, trail, or knobbies in the 1.5" range.

    Edit: another option would be a build like you suggested. You could start with an older trek, fuji, cannondale, etc. Womens frame mtb. Probably in the 13" range and build from there. Then it could also be a project to get him more involved in cycling.
    Last edited by BruceHankins; 02-07-14 at 02:16 PM.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by BruceHankins View Post
    They come with 24x1", I would assume you wouldn't want to or need to go wider than 1.5". You can find road, trail, or knobbies in the 1.5" range.

    Edit: another option would be a build like you suggested. You could start with an older trek, fuji, cannondale, etc. Womens frame mtb. Probably in the 13" range and build from there. Then it could also be a project to get him more involved in cycling.
    Ok the Fuji comes with 1", but will 1.5" fit? Including some clearance for mud / leaves that build up on the tire? I'd have to inspect one to see. The 20 inch Redline comes with road brakes and 1-3/8" cross tires so that's pretty close. Yeah my 8 yr olds 20 inch Trek has full 2.1" knobbies and those are probably overkill for his weight.

    Yeah the build idea is intriguing. Maybe the smallest women's frame would be small enough IDK. But how could I put 24" wheels on it and still use the canti brake studs? Can you find cranks in small kid's lengths that fit JIS standard BBs? There are some technical hurdles here. There's a shop / co-op nearby that gets a ton of old bikes in, they'll sell you a frame for like $25. Maybe he's just old enough to have the patience to help me with this. I've never laced a wheel so we'd both be learning.

  7. #7
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    Fuji - take a closer look

    I took a look at the specifications for this Fuji bike as I am sometimes asked for recommendations for a kid's bike. I not particularly impressed and probably wouldn't recommend it. It has only 7 speeds. The gear range for a 650b X36mm tire, a single 40 tooth chain ring and 14-34 cassette is 30.3 to 78.6 gear inches. That assumes a 170 mm crank length but it probably is shorter on a kid's bike. That means an even lower gear range. Even kid's mass merchandiser junk bikes rarely have only 7 speeds. No mention of the weight in any review and not on Bikepedia where I couldn't find it listed for 2013 or 2014. The Tourney RD may be OK but it is either bottom-of-the-barrel or pretty close. You can buy a brand new one for 13$ on ebay, shipping included. You can get the bike for under $400 but it seems like it has too many compromises made to keep the price that low.

    You seem to be knowledgeable enough about bikes to follow up on the build-it-yourself idea. Seems like a better way to go.

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    Islabikes, Islabikes, Islabikes. Did I say Islabikes?

    I may be biased, but it's because I have experience of them. We bought a stock for our club because they came out top in every magazine and user survey. they may be more expensive than some, but, in the UK at least, their resale value on Ebay is extraordinary, anything from 80-90% after 12 - 18 months use.

    Plus Points:
    1. All components are child sized, i.e. cranks are the proper length for the size of bike, brake levers are child-sized and easily adjustable and so on
    2. No unnecessary bells and whistles like suspension. Only one chainring except for larger mtb model
    3. Gearing, where fitted, is designed round the likely strength of children of the height they're meant for
    4. Lightest in class
    5. Reliable - ours get a lot of hammering every week and are loaned out for races, including 'cross and mtb events
    6. Parental hernias from lifting and putting in back of car are unkown (see 4 above)
    7, Direct sales keep costs down
    8. Road and off-road tyres available
    9. Build quality is exceptional

    By the way, did I mention Islabikes?


    Ps. I have no connection with Islabikes nor do I get any commission

  9. #9
    Senior Member BruceHankins's Avatar
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    New Tourney replaced Sora in the Shimano lineup so it's better than it used to be. Also while not a great option, it is a cassette so you could upgrade to an 8-10 speed also.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by atbman View Post
    Islabikes, Islabikes, Islabikes. Did I say Islabikes?
    yeah I checked them out and they look sweet, thanks for the direct recommendation and information. They do have a US distributor, and they are priced similarly to the Fuji and Spe ialized and look like they would be the best of the three. They are basically unknown on this side of the pond so I'd have to buy new and resale might be harder since they're unknown. But I could probably get 4-5 years out of one. I considered a 24" wheel bike but decided that was just too big for my boy who just turned 8.

    I'm still conisdering the roll your own concept, but by the time I find a decent frame if one can be found that takes a proper BB, and buy some kid specific components, maybe I may as well get an Islabike.

  11. #11
    Senior Member delcrossv's Avatar
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    Scott, Felt and Argon18 all make good 24" kids road bikes. None are cheap though. All around around 19 lbs from the factory so not ultra light, but pretty good for an Al bike.

    Argon18 has probably put the most thought into it, short cranks, small levers, small bars etc.
    Lightning P-38 / M5 M-Racer/Ryan Vanguard

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    I'll add another recommendation for Islabikes. We got my 5-year old daughter the Beinn small 20" for Christmas and she's loving it so far. She moved up from a 16" Hot Rock and the difference in her speed and handling is amazing. I was a little concerned about how she would do moving from a coaster-brake only bike to hand brakes only, but she's made the transition really well. I also wasn't sure we really needed the gears yet and was concerned they would be more confusing than helpful, but we've done some hills with the bike and it's definitely handy for her to have the lower gear range. I think it's easily the best geared 20" bike out there.

    This is a pretty comprehensive comparison of the name brand 20 and 24" bikes (other than the Islabikes): http://stevethebikeguy.com/?p=2180

  13. #13
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    Thanks for the recommendations folks. My research has turned up another maker, Spawn Cycles out of Canada. They make kid's bikes from 14 to 20 inch wheel sizes comparable to Islabikes in terms of weight and quality, but more mountain bike oriented. In this size I think the mountain bike style is a good all around style for kids. Just put the tires you like on them. http://spawncycles.com/

    They have proper hand brakes, BBs and cranks. Everything proportionally kid sized.

    They are more expensive than comparable Islabikes though.

    So here's what I'm thinking for now:

    For my 8 yr old, I'm going to look pretty hard at getting him a high quality lightweight 20-inch bike to replace his Trek clunker. The Islabike Beinn 20 large is definitely on the list. Something that fits but that he is on the smaller end of the size scale for. This will last him a couple years and then his younger brother a couple years after that. So at least four years of use can I think justify a total outlay of up to $500, taxes shipping etc included.

    For my 6 yr old, I think I'll keep him on a 16 inch bike for this year, but he'll be onto a 20 inch soon so I don't want to spend $$$. Keep it small and maneuverable for him. I got a wild hair and scored a deal on a nice 16 inch rear wheel with a Sturmey Archer 3-speed hub that came off a compact folding bike. He's ready to try gears and I think this could be the perfect start. Here's why:

    - Only three speeds with a simple lever shifter that clearly indicates them.
    - Can be shifted at any speed, even stationary, perfect for a first geared bike.
    - No derailleur hanging down to get damaged off road (on a 16 inch wheel bike the derailleur is very close to the ground) or through careless handling by a 6 year old (dropped, leaned against things, etc)
    - Perfect chainline in all gears. A 16 inch wheel bike has tiny chainstays so I imagine the chainline angles get pretty extreme with a cassette on the rear wheel.
    - Stays in adjustment for longer (see points above)

    I can set it up so that the middle direct drive gear is close to the current singlespeed gear, but a little higher because he's strong and active, and then he has one lower gear for offroad riding and hills, and one higher gear to keep up with the family on flat paved trail/road rides. I'm guessing that we'd more-or-less set the bike in one gear depending on the terrain, he wouldn't be constant shifting from gear to gear, but as he got comfortable with it he could start using it more.

    I can put this wheel on his current Novara bike, it would replace the crappy coaster brake wheel (it barely turns two revolutions freely before the friction stops it!). I would need to convert the bike to handbrakes. It has the drillings for caliper brakes so I guess I could look at finding some BMX style brakes to mount. But maybe before I jump in I'll look for a bit of a better frame (something lighter in aluminum would be nice) that already has U or V-brakes, at least on the rear, on posts. This would be a goodwill, bike swap type find for under $50, I'm not looking to go crazy.

    Am I crazy?

  14. #14
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    Are you crazy? Not at all. It looks as though you did your research pretty carefully. One thing about the Canadian company - the list prices probably include Canada's VAT which I have read adds quite a bit to the cost for Canadian buyers. It is not charged on exports and since we have free trade with Canada, there is probably no import duty. The 1.0 model has seven speeds but you might be able to add an FD and multiple chainrings as your son gets older and needs higher gearing.

  15. #15
    Senior Member delcrossv's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by VegasTriker View Post
    Are you crazy? Not at all. It looks as though you did your research pretty carefully. One thing about the Canadian company - the list prices probably include Canada's VAT which I have read adds quite a bit to the cost for Canadian buyers. It is not charged on exports and since we have free trade with Canada, there is probably no import duty. The 1.0 model has seven speeds but you might be able to add an FD and multiple chainrings as your son gets older and needs higher gearing.
    Yeah, the daughter turned down a 650c Argon 18 for this:



    Speed Crazed Kids.
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  16. #16
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    jeez how many teeth on that wheel?

  17. #17
    Senior Member delcrossv's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Niloc View Post
    jeez how many teeth on that wheel?
    80 in the pic, driving a 406 in the back.

    I won't let her go over 60 teeth... yet.
    Last edited by delcrossv; 02-10-14 at 09:38 PM.
    Lightning P-38 / M5 M-Racer/Ryan Vanguard

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