Bikes for kids who go places

A long time ago, I wrote about the search for our then-6yo’s next bike. Now that she’s had it for a year, and her brother has also gotten a new bike (ahem, six months ago), I should finish the story.

Our now-7yo rides a 20″ Specialized Hot Rock Street. That’s the version with no suspension, which means you probably need to special order it. We really wanted our daughter to have gears available to expand her range beyond the top of our hill, and this was the best option we could find at a bike shop. We considered the single-speed 20″ Cleary, but we’re really glad we went with the gears. She really doesn’t need all six, though, two or three would be enough. She uses the lowest gear when climbing (and has even done the climb all the way from Redmond! 450 feet in 3 miles) and usually 2 for riding on the flat. If we are in a hurry, I can sometimes convince her to use 3. The days she insists on staying in 1 are really, really slow.

The brakes and twist shift are easy enough for her to use. We did have to take the bike back in to the shop after a few weeks to adjust the shifter so she could get it back into 1 on her own. She is much faster on this bike than her old bike. Even riding in her low gears, the bigger wheels and longer cranks make a difference. Our 15 minute ride to church has been cut in half. She has far more confidence controlling her speed while riding down hills than she did with the coaster brakes on her old bike.

The shop fit recumbent fenders and mud flaps to her bike. It’s really slick. We added a basket to the front, and a bell, and the bike itself comes with a kickstand.

We thought about cutting down the handlebars to make them narrower, but decided to see how she did with them first, and she’s been fine. Her positioning on this bike is much farther forward compared to the upright position on her last bike, and that took some getting used to for her.

Cleary for the 5-year-old

Our now-5yo had been riding on two wheels since shortly after he turned 4. We planned to keep him in the driveway until he figured out how to use the (coaster) brakes on his bike. After nearly a year he still wasn’t braking well, so we decided this was ridiculous and we needed a different solution. He would slam on the brakes until he was halfway stopped and then put his feet down. That won’t work on any sort of hill! Coaster brakes aren’t really a long-term skill anyway, and he’d grown since we’d last put him on the 16″ Cleary, so we went back to the shop to see if he fit.

And he did! We did need to have the seat post cut down so it could be lowered all the way. He figured out the hand brakes almost instantly so we are now out of the driveway and on the roads. He is thrilled to be able to ride his own bike to church, and pretty easily keeps up with his older sister on her bigger bike. We haven’t taken him beyond the top of the hill yet, so we don’t know how well he climbs on it.

Mark made fenders for the bike from coroplast (campaign signs) and duct tape. They were tricky to fit under the rim brakes. We had a kickstand cut down and installed, and we recently got him a basket and a bell.

And now a note about colors.

When we test rode the Hot Rock, they only had the model with the suspension in stock. She rode a nice purple and white bike that I thought would be perfect because her next younger brother’s favorite color is purple. But when we went back to order it we found out that the Street version only comes in green and dark pink. I vetoed the pink because she has three younger brothers, and she was fine with this. She may have picked the green on her own anyway. Six months later we went to buy a bike for the purple-loving 5yo. His color options were cream, pale blue, pale green, and dark pink. He insisted on the pink, absolutely insisted. It’s a very similar pink to the one I’d vetoed six months earlier, and now I’m feeling a little guilty about that decision. At any rate, I am glad that neither of these bikes suffers from the overly-gendered decorations of many kids bikes.

I am pleased with our bike choices, and thrilled with how well our big kids are doing on their bikes.

next bike, part 1: learning to ride

We are shopping for new bikes for our 4- and 6-year-olds.

When our first child was a baby, I heard about balance bikes. They were supposed to be great because the child wouldn’t need to use training wheels (more on that later). She would learn to balance first, and then pedal, because balancing is the hard part about riding a bike. The pedaling is easy. So for her second birthday, we bought her a Strider balance bike. She walked it around that summer. At three she was coasting with it, and at four she begged for pedals.


I thought to myself, “I use a bike. I am going to buy my daughter a nice bike.” So we went down to a local bike shop and I bought her a 16″ Trek with training wheels. It’s purple, and decorated with flowers, streamers, and a white basket. I offered her the “boy” bike, but it was decorated in some angry manner and she wasn’t interested. Neither was I, really. The bike is nearly as heavy as mine. She rode around the store on the training wheels, and we took the bike home.

At home we took the training wheels off, took her to the neighborhood park where there’s a grassy hill, and she freaked out. It was too big and overwhelming. $15 later we had a 12″ Huffy from Craigslist. We tried taking the training wheels off of that one, too, but she was uninterested, and kept going back to the balance bike. I spent that summer encouraging her to ride the new bike, and she spent it balance biking.

Also that summer (2012) I discovered the world of family biking, and learned that there were other options for kids. Bikes that were designed with kids in mind, and were not just miniature adult bikes. I’ve regretted the purple bike ever since.

The next summer (2013) I was pregnant with twins, and there was very little biking.

Then spring rolled around, our twins were six months, we started shopping for a family bike, and got our kids back out on their own bikes. By then I’d come to realize that while some kids might be able to go straight from balance bike to two-wheeler, my daughter (who had been on the late side with all large motor skills to date) was not one of them. She needed some time with training wheels so she could learn to pedal, and I needed her on training wheels so she could learn to brake. So the training wheels went back on the purple bike, set low so she wouldn’t lean, and I signed her up for a week of Pedalheads at the end of July.


She is now riding on her own on the quiet streets of our neighborhood, and her brother has moved from balance bike to 12″ pedal bike with training wheels. So why are we shopping for new bikes? Well, I’d like her to be on a lighter bike with gears, to perhaps expand our range beyond the top of our hill. And he is having trouble figuring out the coaster brake, which is not a long term skill anyway. Plus, he’ll have a much easier time riding a bike with better geometry.