Buying the ‘right’ bike and bits to go with it can be a confusing and expensive experience. Below is a quick summary of what we know to save you time and frustration. By no means an infallible guide, many hours of debate can be found on the club Facebook page just about wheels, but we’ll stay focused on youth stuff based on our experience that actually make a difference to enjoying bike time. We will not be discussing carbon saddles and aero helmets!
Good kids bikes can be hard to find. There are many out there but many that are heavy and poorly designed for smaller people, especially up to age 11/12.
- Fit is very important. A poorly fitting bike is hard to ride well. You will be buying a bike to grow into but make sure they can stand over the top tube comfortably. There’s a great guide on the Isla bikes website.
- Quality second hand bikes can be a good buy and keep their value well. You may only lose a few quid when you sell it on.
- Buying a bike your kids want is also important! Does it meet their expectations of colour and kudos?
- Aluminium is a good material for kids bikes as it is relatively light, cheap and strong. Steel will be heavy unless it is expensive and carbon is just plain expensive (though lighter and stronger than both)
- More gears doesn’t equal better. Fewer gears help younger riders decide which ones to choose as they grow in experience. It’s often lighter too.
- If it’s not safe it doesn’t matter how it looks or fits! A good overview of a quick safety check from British Cycling here
Where should I buy?
Your local bike shops for new bikes allow for a try before you buy and backup service but will not have every range in. Shops with an albaRosa discount include one of our sponsors Woodrups, Drakes, and Holy Spokes. if you like the albaRosa frame in the picture go see Aurelius cycles. Also look at what other youth riders are riding. Ask if you can have a go. Some bikes can only be bought on the web e.g. Isla bikes. PlanetX make some quality, low cost bikes from XS adult upwards.
Second Hand: Full ARCC members can ask Simon for a link to the exclusive ARCC Buy and Sell club where we sell on our pre loved kit. At kids races and their associated facebook pages. Try for sale forums on bike websites. eBay can be a gamble and unless you know what you’re looking for and is full of not very good bikes.
Types of bikes
The type of bike you buy for your kids will depend very much on the type of riding they enjoy and plan to do. Consider this carefully.
Alba Rosa is predominantly a road club and we do our youth sessions on tarmac so let’s start here.
Kids road bikes were quite rare but thanks to British Cycling’s success more and more are appearing. If there are no specific kids ranges sizes tend to start at the 11 year old age range (about 40 – 45cm) but not by many brands. Try looking in the women bikes for smaller sizes that will fit youth riders. Road bikes really do go faster than other types of bikes on the road thanks to their smooth tyres and aerodynamic position.
You should look for:
- Aluminium frame.
- A single or double chainset at the front. A single chainring at the front helps deciding which gear to choose much easier. It’s also lighter.
- Drop handlebars with gear and brake shifters on the bars. Brakes on the flat bits as well are a good idea for the younger rider. You could also get flat handlebars (hybrid) for the less experinced rider or if you want a more upright ride. Drop bars simply let you get down lower to me more aerodynamic and pedal with more power.
Good brands with kids’ ranges are Isla Bikes, Frog bikes, Hoy bikes, Moda and Halfords Carrera or Boardman ranges (They also do a junior Pinarello!). We’ve also bought smaller adult bikes from Be One, Planet X
Tyres: Road tyres all generally look the same: Smooth. This helps them roll fast on the road. Adults have them between 80 – 120 psi. They should be pumped up hard like an apple. This helps both speed and cornering.
For many years the ‘do it all’ bike for kids and for good reason. You can ride it anywhere but it will be slow on the road but great on tracks and trails. They can be potentially much more complicated than road bikes with more gears, suspension and disc brakes. There are many kids Mountain Bikes around but many of the same cautions and things to look for apply here too. Hybrid bikes with fatter tyres and a bigger grip can work really well on non technical off road such as the Isla bike and Frog ranges.
Sizing: As with road bikes look in youth ranges but the lighter, better quality bikes tend to start appearing in the small adult sizes
You should look for:
- Aluminium frame.
- Flat or ‘curvy’ handlebars. Matched with a short stem this offers much better control than drop handlebars off road as well as a more upright riding position for dealing with tricky bumps.
- Brakes: Well set up ‘V brakes’ work just as well as cheaper disc brakes in most conditions. They’re also lighter.
- A single or double chain ring at the front. Many adult bikes now only have one chain ring at the front. A single chain ring at the front helps deciding which gear to choose much easier. It’s also lighter. Triple chain rings can be an overkill for younger riders.
- No rear Suspension: Rarely needed in this age group unless you are older and really getting into it. Cheap suspension is heavy and doesn’t work well. Front suspension can be useful but not essential.
Good brands with kids’ ranges are Specialized (up to age 10), Trek, Giant, Isla Bikes (their adult version was reviewed very highly and doesn’t use suspension) , Frog bikes, Hoy bikes, and Halfords Carrera or Boardman ranges . We’ve also bought smaller adult bikes from Merlin Cycles (built from a frame and all the old bits and pieces lying about)
Tyres: Cheap MTB tyres can be heavy! This can make a ride feel slow and hard. In smaller wheel sizes these can be hard to find so getting a bike with 26″ wheels as soon as they fit into one can be a good idea so you can put on lighter tyres from the massive range available. In general tyres with a ‘ridge’ along the middle roll faster but grip less well, tyres with big knobbles spread far apart grip well, especially in mud, but roll more slowly. Many kids bikes have tyres that have lots of little knobbles as a good compromise of both. Also don’t pump them up too hard. MTB tyres should be softer so they are more comfortable on the bumps and grip better. Adult tyres are run as low as 25psi. your kids tyres should be softish like a hard banana.
Even after buying a new bike the fit may not be quite right, especially if you’ve bought a smaller grown up bike. Have a go at adjusting it if you feel confident. There’s some pretty good brief and detailed setup guides here:
If your child seems to be reaching too far forward you could replace that stem with a shorter one and/or replace the layback seatpost with an ‘inline’ one. If you really want to sweat the details you could look into the correct crank length according to their leg length This will aid correct pedalling technique. Small cranks are hard to find but Spa Cyles in Harrogate have some.
If you want to go faster clip in or ‘clipless’ (don’t ask) can greatly increase power for the more experienced rider. This is because the shoes are very stiff (and hard to walk on) and you pull as well as push on the pedals. There are two main types: ‘Look’ style and Shimano (SPD SL). Shimano have a better reputation for durability. You could also try mountain bike clipless pedals and shoes as they are double sided and the shoes are easier to walk in. There are even versions with a ‘normal’ pedal on one side. Road versions give more power than mountain bike versions. Good places to look for shoes are women’s sizes online or in the sales time at bike shops as the small sizes tend to get left behind (and you get to try before you buy). Expect at least 2 or 3 falling off to the side experiences before they get the hang of it: practice on grass….
NOTE: correct setup of these pedals and shoes are essential or knee injury can occur. Growing ligaments should not be put under too much stress or this can lead to long term problems. Make sure you get the cleats with the most amount of ‘float’ – yellow in the picture below.
You’ll see all sorts of fancy looking wheels at some kids races. Do they help you go faster? Simply, lighter wheels do go faster. Rotating weight is the hardest to move. Better wheels will probably also be stiffer, in turn making your efforts turn into forward motion. This not just about racing, but overall ride enjoyment and how hard that hill can feel to climb, especially with younger legs. Once your kids get into an adult wheel size this can be a good investment. Wheels can be expensive, there are cheaper shortcuts however: try Planet X or Superstar for cheaper wheels, especially in their sales/ clearance sections. Be wary of ‘tubeless compatible’, unless you plan tubeless tyres, as they will give a much tighter fit than normal and make getting tyres on and off quite difficult.
Faster tyres are generally lighter ones. Like with wheels, this is not just about racing. These can be found quite cheaply on sites such as Planet X. Look for folding tyres with kevlar beads as opposed to steel beads. This can lose a lot of weight.
One last word. Fancy stuff on your bike doesn’t make it go faster or ride better, but hey, it looks good. That makes you feel good and more likely to get on your bike. We appreciate style in albaRosa so if you fancy those anodised spacers or bar end plugs we say go for it.