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Grandson New Bike: AL Or Steel Frame ?

Old 03-10-20, 06:23 AM
  #1  
Robert11
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Grandson New Bike: AL Or Steel Frame ?

Hi Folks,

What a great Forum.

Will be purchasing a new bike as a present for my Grandson.
He just turned 9.
Bike will be used for the most part on paved streets, sidewalks, etc.
Minimal, if any, off-road.

He's not big, so weight I imagine would be a factor.
*Not sure how big or meaningful a factor though.

Should i (only) go for AL ?

*Does it "really" matter ?

Any thoughts would be most appreciated.

Thanks,
Bob
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Old 03-10-20, 06:48 AM
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The tradeoff is aluminum is lighter and thus a smaller/lighter child will get less fatigued - can usually go farther/faster. But on mostly flat surfaces, not a very big factor. Steel will take more abuse.

For flat riding, really not much a difference either way. Personally, I'd go with a steel bike just because of the typical abuse kinds bikes get. I bought my son a steel mountain bike in 1992 when he was 12, and my wife is still riding that bike!
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Old 03-10-20, 07:12 AM
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Do you have friends or family that might be "savvy" when it comes to bikes? I ask, as a 9 yr.old will be growing like a weed, and may outgrow the bike before long. A used bike in good condition would be the way to go. The previous responder covered alum. vs steel-nothing to add there.
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Old 03-10-20, 07:15 AM
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A lot of us remember being 9 years old and riding 30 pound steel Mongooses Schwinn and Huffy BMX bikes with no ill effect
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Old 03-10-20, 07:32 AM
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It doesn't matter much what material the bike is made from. Although if you're looking at new bikes, I don't think you'll find any quality bikes other than aluminium ones. New steel children's bikes tend to be poor quality, at least in my market.
Children hate grip shifters and like thumb shifters. A front derailer is confusing to 9-year-olds. It's nice to have brake levers with adjustable reach, so that they can be close to the handlebars and can be reached by small hands. It's also worth replacing bad quality heavy knobby tires (that many children's bikes come with) with light, wide, (semi-)slick road tires.
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Old 03-10-20, 07:57 AM
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Originally Posted by lubloi View Post
It doesn't matter much what material the bike is made from. Although if you're looking at new bikes, I don't think you'll find any quality bikes other than aluminium ones. New steel children's bikes tend to be poor quality, at least in my market.
Children hate grip shifters and like thumb shifters. A front derailer is confusing to 9-year-olds. It's nice to have brake levers with adjustable reach, so that they can be close to the handlebars and can be reached by small hands. It's also worth replacing bad quality heavy knobby tires (that many children's bikes come with) with light, wide, (semi-)slick road tires.
Agree with everything on here. I would tack on that the way your grandson fits on the bike is more important to their enjoyment than most other factors. If the cranks are too long or seatpost too low, and their knees are coming up to their ears, the bike isn’t going to be fun to ride.
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Old 03-10-20, 08:06 AM
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I doubt frame material matters much.

I think the first decision should be brake choice. At 9 years old some kids can handle hand brakes and some have issues. Next comes how he fits on the bike both today and one year from now.
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Old 03-10-20, 09:01 AM
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I can't add anything to the steel vs aluminum question, but I recommend stressing to the youngster that he should never ride with his eyes closed. No matter how boring it gets, riding wherever they let him ride, he needs to keep his eyes open. Don't ask me how I know this, or where they found the tooth that got knocked out when I hit the mailbox.
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Old 03-10-20, 09:08 AM
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Originally Posted by DMC707 View Post
A lot of us remember being 9 years old and riding 30 pound steel Mongooses Schwinn and Huffy BMX bikes with no ill effect
Yes, but just cause we and our parents didn't know better doesn't mean we need to weight today's kids down with the same junk.

At 9 it might be a 24" in which case Cannondale had the best weight/crank length/build of any brand I checked in the 400.00 price range. Giant was the only brand I found locally that still had a 26" wheel, not too light but most brands seem to have gone 27.5" for low end kids bikes that he might fit. My daughter is short for 9, at 4'4" but has longer legs and still couldn't touch with 27.5.
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Old 03-10-20, 09:08 AM
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Originally Posted by DMC707 View Post
A lot of us remember being 9 years old and riding 30 pound steel Mongooses Schwinn and Huffy BMX bikes with no ill effect
“no ill effect”??? I remember riding bikes as a kid and I still haven’t gotten over it!

I think the OP’s grandson will love whatever bike he gets. Thumbs up!
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Old 03-10-20, 09:24 AM
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Originally Posted by Russ Roth View Post
Yes, but just cause we and our parents didn't know better doesn't mean we need to weight today's kids down with the same junk.

At 9 it might be a 24" in which case Cannondale had the best weight/crank length/build of any brand I checked in the 400.00 price range. Giant was the only brand I found locally that still had a 26" wheel, not too light but most brands seem to have gone 27.5" for low end kids bikes that he might fit. My daughter is short for 9, at 4'4" but has longer legs and still couldn't touch with 27.5.
a $200 BMX would still seem to be the best choice for a first timer 9 year old, -- a child may not want much more than to pedal around the cul-de-sac. . They are not making many single speed coaster brake banana seat bikes anymore

https://hoffmanbikes.com/product/seeker/
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Old 03-10-20, 10:01 AM
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Originally Posted by Robert11 View Post
Any thoughts would be most appreciated.
- more important than frame material is overall bike weight and design. Many kids bikes have absurdly long wheelbases and heavy low end components. With these things bolted on, the frame material isnt going to matter as both steel and aluminum bikes will be heavy.
- dont get a suspension fork if possible. they are heavy, arent needed for the weight of a 9yo, and weigh more than a simple rigid fork.
- look for a bike with QR skewers for the wheels- that is a simple indicator of a quality overall build because if the company is going to spec something like that, they arent going to use the cheapest and heaviest components. Bolt on wheels should pretty much only exist on beach cruisers.
- twist grip shifters are awful and trigger shift is easier for small hands to use(neither is always easy, it depends on hand strength and size).
- shifting only in the rear is most likely good enough- very few 9yo kids need multiple rings up front, and those who benefit from that are choosing their own bikes(youth triathletes, frequent road rides, etc).
- Brands like Cleary, Woom, Prevelo, Trailcraft, Frog, and Pello are worth looking into. No idea what your budget is, but these are all kid specific brands and from what Ive seen(i have 2 kids, so read a good bit), the components make a bit more sense than many kid offerings from the large brands.

I would prioritize rigid fork first. Then 1x shifting next. After that, focus on trigger instead of grip shifting. Last, look for QR instead of bolt on wheels. Most 24" geared kids bikes that are bike shop brand quality weigh 27-30 pounds, which is the range that my XL suspension mountain bike weighs.
The weight of kids bikes is insane- they are completely overbuilt for what is needed.

Quality components will drop more weight off a frame than what the frame material is. Alumunim kids frames that I have weighted are same/similar as steel frames- the aluminum tubes are so overbuilt.
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Old 03-10-20, 10:49 AM
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For a 9 year old whatever is cheaper. He is bound to outgrow it and either material is robust enough to holdup to a 9 year old's weight and even impact
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Old 03-10-20, 12:02 PM
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I really don't think frame material, at least steel or aluminum makes much difference. I'd buy him a bike he likes and is comfortable with after doing some research on the bike and checking reviews. Don't buy one because its cheap,

Perhaps some bikes can accommodate a growing child better then others, That might be a good option, Also some bike shops will allow you to trade up the next year or two, And they probably sell recent trade ins in almost new condition for good prices.

It is not uccomon for lower priced brand name adult size aluminum Hybrid and Comfort bikes to weigh 30+ lbs. My bike happens to be aluminum, But is still 32 lbs. I would have bought a steel one if it meet my requirements.

I think much of that 32 lbs is the steel forks, handlebar and quill stem and seatpost, and the 26 x 2" tires and rims. Not so much the frame.

Last edited by xroadcharlie; 03-10-20 at 01:34 PM.
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Old 03-10-20, 12:23 PM
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In addition to the good suggestions above, I'll just add that you should get a bike that fits him now rather than a bike that he'll "grow into." As I used to gently point out to parents in the bike shops where I worked, if you buy a bike that fits correctly rather than one that might be unsafely large, you'll end up buying at most one more bike for the child than you otherwise would have in the next 8 or so years.

Also, unless the plan is to get the 9-year-old into riding with his parents or with you, it would be worth finding out what kind of bikes his friends ride. If they ride BMX bikes, then he'd probably most enjoy riding a BMX bike with them. Bonus: most kids stick to riding 20" BMX bikes until they're old enough to drive, so this might turn out to be a long-term purchase.
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Old 03-10-20, 01:19 PM
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I also say buy a used bike. We have to replace growing kids bikes about every year anyways. With a little bit of patience, you can find a like new bike for 20% of the retail price or less. And don't worrry about steel or aluminum. It really doesn't matter. Just as long as it fits and the kid likes the bike.
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Old 03-11-20, 03:47 AM
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From OP: Thanks

Hi all,

Just a real quick thanks to everyone for all the great information.
Really appreciate.

Super Forum, and folks.

Thanks again,
Bob
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Old 03-11-20, 06:17 AM
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doesn't matter, just make sure the tires you get him some good puncture resistant tires
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Old 03-11-20, 03:27 PM
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Hi,

Any specific suggestion for puncture resistant tires ? Brand, name, etc. ?

What to avoid ?

Bob
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Old 03-11-20, 06:11 PM
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Originally Posted by DMC707 View Post
A lot of us remember being 9 years old and riding 30 pound steel Mongooses Schwinn and Huffy BMX bikes with no ill effect
That's not true, I lost a drag race on my Murray 24" on the day I got it even though I knew it was fast in top gear
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Old 03-11-20, 06:17 PM
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There are a lot of good kid bikes now if you have $450. There are a lot of crap ones for <$250. If that gives you sticker shock, a 1960s Stingray in today-dollars would be $600, and it was an all-steel five speed.

Frame material isn't really the determinant.

24" is likely for a 9yo.

I told my kid if he rides as hard as me he can have a bike as good as mine. Mine is not really that awesome but it can tolerate being ridden hard. So far he hasn't taken me up on it. But he's five. Some people buy their 5yos some really cool bikes (Spawn or Trailcraft for instance), but my guy is just not fast or brave enough to warrant it.
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Old 03-11-20, 10:41 PM
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Originally Posted by mstateglfr View Post
I would prioritize rigid fork first. Then 1x shifting next. After that, focus on trigger instead of grip shifting. Last, look for QR instead of bolt on wheels. Most 24" geared kids bikes that are bike shop brand quality weigh 27-30 pounds, which is the range that my XL suspension mountain bike weighs.
The weight of kids bikes is insane- they are completely overbuilt for what is needed.

Quality components will drop more weight off a frame than what the frame material is. Alumunim kids frames that I have weighted are same/similar as steel frames- the aluminum tubes are so overbuilt.
A rigid fork is no where near as important as you make it out to be. I've got a trek 220 here and the steel fork on it weighs 1lb more then the suspension fork on the cannondale and the kids like having the fork for looks and, to a limited extent, use. I did put crank length as the most important thing when picking a bike. I watched my daughter riding through the woods last year on the trek and watched her bob from side to side as she stood to crank up a hill, just awkward to watch, but then a kid shouldn't be on a 152mm crank on a 24" bike. Kid's also don't like to have the seat at an optimal height and it isn't worth pushing them to get it there, with a longer crank they may get better leg extention at the bottom but their knee has to come up all that much higher and I often see them with the knee above parallel to the ground which is poor positioning for pressure on the down stroke of the crank. Shorter cranks mean that the seat height can be more to their liking and their knee doesn't go as high which is much better ergonomics for the joint.
I'd also consider the weight of a front shifter, der, and 2 extra chainrings to be just as big a waste as a suspension fork, kids are already struggling to learn how to shift the back, I used to adjust the front der on lots of kid's bikes at purchase time so it couldn't shift for just this reason, its extra confusion but it did mean extra weight to lug around.

Originally Posted by Flip Flop Rider View Post
doesn't matter, just make sure the tires you get him some good puncture resistant tires
Really never see this one as a real issue, most kids' punctures that I had/have to deal with involve skidding and no tire protects against that. So far, 3 kids, ages 5, 7 and 9; all started riding a trail-a-bike at 3, all except the youngest rode their own bikes since 4, and in those combined years not one single flat to deal with. I'm guessing it has to do with their weight vs. an adult's and the ability of that weight to create the pressure needed to push things through the rubber. Today I swapped the tires on the older kid's new bikes, kenda small block 8s, for Rocket Rons so their bikes are better equipped for the Catskill ski center trails we'll try out this year. I tossed the small block 8s on the old trek 220s since those had 20 year old tires and their friends have started borrowing them to ride off road with us. The result was a savings of 1lb, 2.5oz, when you consider bike+rider=80lb that's a significant amount of weight to save that will actually let them move faster. Lighter tires do matter more on kids' bikes since they aren't as strong and the bike to rider weight ratio is significanty different.
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Old 03-11-20, 11:19 PM
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My grandson started on a strider. His dad asked me what I thought would be a nice starter bike. Looked on craigslist and found an old Free Agent for sale. Three piece crank, 1 1/8 high pressure tires, single rear brake. $50. That thing weighed about 13 pounds. Got him started on it and couldn't get him off. Someone bought him a five speed mountain bike, but that just sat in the garage. Guess I'm saying, get them something nice so they ride it.
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Old 03-12-20, 10:20 AM
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Originally Posted by Russ Roth View Post
A rigid fork is no where near as important as you make it out to be. I've got a trek 220 here and the steel fork on it weighs 1lb more then the suspension fork on the cannondale and the kids like having the fork for looks and, to a limited extent, use. I did put crank length as the most important thing when picking a bike. I watched my daughter riding through the woods last year on the trek and watched her bob from side to side as she stood to crank up a hill, just awkward to watch, but then a kid shouldn't be on a 152mm crank on a 24" bike. Kid's also don't like to have the seat at an optimal height and it isn't worth pushing them to get it there, with a longer crank they may get better leg extention at the bottom but their knee has to come up all that much higher and I often see them with the knee above parallel to the ground which is poor positioning for pressure on the down stroke of the crank. Shorter cranks mean that the seat height can be more to their liking and their knee doesn't go as high which is much better ergonomics for the joint.
I'd also consider the weight of a front shifter, der, and 2 extra chainrings to be just as big a waste as a suspension fork, kids are already struggling to learn how to shift the back, I used to adjust the front der on lots of kid's bikes at purchase time so it couldn't shift for just this reason, its extra confusion but it did mean extra weight to lug around.
1- the steel fork you compared the suspension fork to is absurdly overbuilt and unnecessarily heavy. It is an outlier in the conversation.
2- a rigid fork(that isnt a total POS like the one you cite) should be 600-1400g(1.25-3#) lighter than a typical suspension for on a kids bike that costs $400 or less. https://bikerumor.com/2016/08/13/tra...urator-online/
3- cheap forks often dont engage properly at the right time, or even at all, depending on rider weight and fork design.
4- why introduce a moving part that provides no actual benefit and only has the downside of potentially needing to be worked on(if it can be)?

For sure- the weight of a riveted 3 steel ring crank plus FD and shifter is a noticable weight. Totally agree with you. I also agree when you say that its just as big a waste as a suspension fork(i listed it 2nd in what I view as important, but if you want to call it 1b, feel free).
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Old 03-12-20, 11:01 AM
  #25  
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Originally Posted by curbtender View Post
. Guess I'm saying, get them something nice so they ride it.
Pretty much this ^^^

All this talk “swap in a rigid fork” and “get puncture resistant tires”. Doesn’t have squat to do with whether the kiddo will want to ride it.

If if he wants shocks and knobby tires, then get him bike with that. Color and graphics matter more to a 9-year old than component spec.


I agree that 2x or 3x cranks are usually unnecessary for a 9-year old, particularly if it’s a 20” or 24” bike, but the fact is, that they’ll probably find a gear they like and leave it there.

Finally, a bike that’s a good fit for a typical 9-year old is probably going to be outgrown in a couple of years, so it doesn’t have to be the perfect wonderbike.
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