Friday, June 14, 2013

Kids on Wheels - Choosing a good bike!

If you've been following my Kids on Wheels Series you should know that I am absolutely passionate about getting kids on their first bike at an early age and that I believe in choosing a good bike!  I have never been a crazy mountain biker flying down mountains  but I loved riding my bike when I was a kid and the memories carry with me into adulthood.  I remember riding around my neighborhood with my brother seeking out new playgrounds, riding to the store, and even decorating my bike for neighborhood parades with crepe paper woven through the spokes. I want my son to have  those memories too! - with a bit of extra challenge of course.  :)  I am hoping he'll take his bike places I'd never dream of riding and we're off to a good start because he's already done more mountain biking on his little balance bike than I've done in my entire life.

My four year old on his first pedal bike

Background History on our Family Biking Journey

Last summer marked the beginning of our journey towards becoming a cycling  family who would enjoy this sport together, riding side by side, exploring pathways in our city, taking our bikes camping, and finding new ways to get outside from easy rides to backcountry adventures.  We already had a Chariot with bike attachment for Noah to ride in on longer trips, and my husband had a good light-weight bike that was his big investment when he moved to Calgary and got into mountain biking.  That just left bikes for Noah and I.  

Finding a bike for myself was relatively easy.  I hadn't ridden since I was a teenager so wasn't really picky on the quality of my bike.  As long as it had the slanted girl bar (that was my absolute must) and fit me, all I was really looking for was a nice hybrid bike that I could use on paved trails or easy mountain bike trails.  We found a used one and it was my Mother's Day gift last year.  While it is a steel tank of a machine and almost too big for me, I love it because it's MY bike.  And I actually have a bike!  Someday I definitely hope to upgrade it and get a nice lightweight bike but it's not on the immediate "must purchase now" list.

Exploring on our bikes last summer

Noah's Very First Bike

The decision for Noah's very first bike was also pretty straight forward for us.  I  had done a lot of reading on the use of balance bikes and knew I wanted to go that route, hopefully managing to go straight from balance bike to pedal bike, skipping the training wheels step.  I also knew I wanted to go with a Strider brand bike rather than buying the heavier Norco bike or generic Canadian Tire model.  The Strider was more expensive but Noah is on it now for his second year.  Costing us just over $50/year, it's been a good investment and Noah is riding the poor little bike into the ground with all of his mountain biking!  We had to buy new tires last week to prolong the life of the bike and we bought a new seat post to accommodate Noah's height.  Now I suspect we might even get three years out of the bike because Noah will continue to use it on more challenging terrain where I need to carry it at times. There's a good possibility this will carry into next year when we venture into mountain biking as a family.

Noah on his balance bike

Life has been great with the Chariot and balance bike combo but it's a new year, Noah's a year older, and he barely fits the Chariot anymore.  It's also time to get him riding on a real pedal bike!  With brakes cause oh my gosh, the kid needs brakes!

Definitely needs brakes on his bike! 

Choosing Noah's First Pedal Bike

Choosing a first pedal bike for Noah has been an interesting project involving a fair bit of research and I came to the decision that I wanted an awesome first bike for Noah and wasn't settling for the Walmart or ToysRus special.  I wanted to get him a bike with an aluminum frame weighing less than 20lbs. Children's department store bikes have a steel frame and can weigh as much as 30lbs - or more! That's almost as much as the weight of your child!  (or maybe it is the same weight depending on the child)  Our balance bike weighed only 6lbs and I couldn't fathom making Noah move up from 6lbs to 30lbs.  That just seemed cruel.

The learning curve for kids learning to ride a bike is pretty high.  Let's be honest!  There's a lot to learn from bike safety to pedaling, braking, steering, getting off and on, balancing, and learning the rules of the pathways and roads. I wanted Noah to have the best advantage possible.  To me, that meant I wanted to get him a light weight bike of excellent quality.  (Remember I also chose his balance bike based on the most lightweight model I could find.)

Learning to ride his new pedal bike

The Light Weight Bike We Chose:

This is the Spawn Cycles 16" Banshee - and one of the World's BEST Kids' bikes!  It is also Noah's new bike - in green!  We are over the top excited and in just four days, Noah is riding it without ever having seen a pair of training wheels.  He's balancing like a pro, learning to steer, and Daddy is getting a lot of exercise running alongside for support.  We just have to work on the starting and stopping, improve pedal power, and teach him to brake.  (along with a myriad of other skills that will come with practice)

Spawn Cycles is a Calgary based company and I feel good about our decision to support a local company that is family owned and operated.  They currently have 3 bikes on the market and focus exclusively on kids' bikes.  Their best selling bike, and reason behind the establishment of Spawn Cycles, is their 14" Gremlin.  The company describes why they chose to build this bike and start a business in these words off their website:
This bike is the reason Spawn Cycles began.  When we went to find our son a 14″ pedal bike we were faced with bikes that were heavier than him with training wheels, coaster brakes, huge chain guards and a bunch of other generally goofy things (streamers, baskets, unicorn graphics, etc.).  Enter the Spawn Cycles 14″ Gremlin. 7005 T6 aluminum frame, 4130 chromoly forks, tektro v-brakes and levers, sealed bearings everywhere and 3 piece alloy cranks. Comes in at about 15 pounds – literally about 1/2 the weight of most bikes this size. We have not seen a bike for kids this size that we think even comes close.

The second bike in the Spawn Cycles line up is their Tengu 12" balance bike.  This bike was designed for preschoolers like my son and most of his friends who are getting up to crazy dangerous speeds on their balance bikes and desperately need brakes. I had the opportunity to take a look at this bike and while it is definitely heavier than our Strider bike (it does have brakes after all), it would make for an excellent balance bike for kids who have outgrown their first little run bike but aren't quite ready for a pedal bike yet.  If you have a child with a fearless nature I'd start them off on this bike right from the get-go.
Again, right off the Spawn website:
Our son learned to ride on a competitor’s balance bike – it was a great little bike and we were amazed to see how quickly kids progress on balance bikes in general. Unfortunately our son progressed a little too quickly and outgrew the capabilities of his first balance bike in no time. In a few months he learned that going down hills was much faster than running. He would often get going too fast to get stopped quickly with his feet which led to several scary wrecks and one trip through an intersection.  Good brakes seemed like a no-brainer. So we built the 12″ Tengu balance bike. The way young kids were meant to learn to ride – skip the awkward training wheel phase altogether as their balance improves dramatically. 

Finally, the third bike in the Spawn Cycles collection is the bike we have chosen, the 16" Banshee.  Built like the Gremlin, it is a superior bike that's built to last!  It weighs in at about 16lbs instead of the normal 30lb bike you'd find at the department store and from what we've seen this week while our son's been riding it - it is one fabulous bike!

Fourth bike ride on the new Spawn Banshee

I am hoping we will get at least two years out of Noah's Banshee (maybe 3 if we're lucky.)  We bought the16" bike knowing he'll grow into it over the course of this summer and definitely still fit it next year.  My husband is confident that we'll get a third year out of the bike by moving the seat up and readjusting the handlebars.  I hope he's right because we're fairly in love with this green bike!

Dad letting go
I encourage you to visit the Spawn Cycles Website and see if perhaps one of their bikes would be a good addition to your family.  And a head's up - yes, there is a reason that every child on the street doesn't have an aluminum frame bike of this quality.  They are a tad pricy.  The Banshee sells for just under $400.  BUT - check out a few reasons I would totally justify paying this much for a kid's bike:

  • Split the cost between 2 years and start from there.  $200 is a lot easier to digest.
  • Cycling really has few other costs associated with it other than the purchase of the bike.  Is $200/year really all that much when it comes to a sport your child will be able to enjoy for probably 8 months of the year?  How much would you pay for dance classes for 8 months?  Or soccer lessons?  What about the price of summer camp alone!!
  • Most adult bikes of good quality cost a LOT more than this and shouldn't our kids have good gear too?
  • Finally, you will be able to resell this bike again!  This isn't a department store bike that is built to last one child riding it.
We have chosen to partner with Spawn Cycles in this next step of our journey towards becoming a cycling family and while the company has graciously provided us with this wonderful bike for Noah, I stand behind everything I've written here and I believe in their products.

Less than a week - riding on his own

How to purchase your own Spawn Cycles Bike

If you live in Alberta, there are three locations where you can buy your bike.  Check the Spawn Cycles website for exact store locations.  The company also ships internationally and has a good business in the United States so check out their website for stores near you, information on how to get a bike delivered to your house, or drop them a note with any questions you may have.

Fly baby fly!

End Notes

I'll be keeping you updated throughout the summer on Noah's progress and sharing lots of photos.  We've also registered Noah in a local bike camp for a week in July and I'll have more for you soon on that.


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