Monday, July 21, 2014

How to Choose a Quality Kids' Bike

In my last bike story, Investing in a Lightweight Kids' Bike, I talked about my son's progress over the last year on his Spawn Cycles 16" Banshee.  I wrote about how he can now bike upwards of 16.5 km at five years old and how he loves to spend his days in bike parks learning the skills he'll need on mountain bike trails.

Just another day on his Spawn Banshee

Over the last month I've been talking with other parents who've also chosen Spawn bikes for their children and every one of them came up with the same three reasons for choosing a quality Spawn Bike.

One - Quality Bikes are Lightweight

For why this one is so important, read my last story, Investing in a Lightweight Kids' Bike - Your Child is Worth it.  My friend Coleen says it best in her top reason for choosing Spawn bikes for her three children:
"100% Weight Weight Weight – we wanted our kids to enjoy mountain bike riding like we do and to have success biking longer distances and uphills without having the struggle of trying to ride on a bike that was more than 1/2 their weight and that they would have to walk up 99% of the hills."
Coleen's son on the Spawn Savage 1.0 in Fernie

Two - Quality Bikes have Hand Brakes

Good bikes do NOT have coaster brakes for back braking.  They have hand brakes - the only kind of  brakes suitable for big hills, mountain biking, and off trail riding.  And I mean that - the ONLY kind of safe brakes for hills.

Noah on his Banshee in Fernie

Why are coaster brakes so unsafe on hills? 

I'm sure there are many reasons but the main one I see is that kids who come from a balance bike like to take their feet off the pedals when they get scared.  They either drag them to help stop (an old habit that dies hard) or they let them fly up in the air as they get excited. They also like to push off with their feet when going down steep hills and often have a hard time getting their feet back on the pedals.  Finally, they are used to lifting their feet in the air when going down hills on a balance bike in order to glide since there's no pedals to rest their feet on.

Question though - How do you brake when your feet are not on the pedals - and you only have coaster brakes???  You can't.  Plain and simple. 

Typical feet position when kids get nervous for a second... (photo:  C. Hughes)

I've seen too many near misses and bad accidents narrowly avoided as kids without hand brakes go flying down hills and accidentally take their feet off the pedals.  Maybe coaster brakes were designed to help kids learn to keep their feet on the pedals - but what happens when they don't?  This is dangerous.  My son's feet come off his pedals all the time but he can still stop because he has hand brakes.  And because he has a Spawn Cycles bike, the hand brakes are easy to use, do not require adult hand strength, and are positioned correctly so the child can reach them (all complaints I've heard against hand brakes on cheap bikes.)

Dad has hand brakes and they are doing the same trail!  Reason says kid should have them too!

What other parents have said about the brakes on a Spawn Cycles bike:

"Back pedalling is dangerous for stopping - the kids who are used to run bikes tend to lift their legs going down hills so relying on coaster brakes to stop would be dangerous for them." - Carolyn
 "We spend a LOT of time in Fernie and we wanted brakes that the kids could use effectively and safely on the Bike Skills Park.  Coaster brakes just don't work (in our opinion) for that type of riding.  Spawn bikes have short reach brake levers that are sized nicely for small hands unlike some of the other cheaper bikes out there that usually only have one lever.  Brakes on cheaper bikes are usually too far from the handlebars so the kids can't even reach with their fingers to use the hand brake and/or the one brake on the bike really does not work all that effectively – the kids lack the strength to pull on the hand brake because of the parts used to make it.  We have yet to have that problem with the Spawn hand brakes.  Even my 2 1/2 year old can operate the brake lever effectively on her Tengu bike." - Coleen
Noah has never known a coaster brake - and never will

Three - Quality Bikes Have Quality Parts

I talked in my last story about how bike stores often sell bikes with a good lightweight frame but with components that could have come off of any cheap department store bike.  You think you are buying a good bike but the brakes are crappy, the handlebar needs replacing, the bike is always broken because something was made cheaply, and most importantly - it's not sized correctly for kids!!

I have a good mountain bike.  Why would I buy my child a crappy bike to ride with me on?

See what other parents are saying about the quality of Spawn bikes:

"Better quality kid bikes seem to have their frames designed with a more child-specific geometry.  Toy R Us, Canadian Tire, etc. bikes seemed to have handle bars that were too high, too wide, seat too close to the handle bars, big chunky cross bar frames - all of which combined made the bikes cumbersome and hard to ride." - Coleen
Coleen's boys in Fernie on the Banshee and the Savage 1.0
"We wanted a great quality bike that we could use for several years with two kids." - Suzanne
Suzanne's son in Canmore on his Banshee
"My son's previous bike was also aluminum and very good quality but it just did not work well downhill and my son's confidence took a hit so we wanted a bike that could give him back his confidence."  - Marggie

Spawn Gang on the Tengu, Furi, Banshee, and Savage 2.0
"One of the key areas that interested us in the Spawn Savage 2.0 bike was the brakes.  The bike has Disk Brakes front and back.  They require significantly less effort to operate and thus less strength in the kids' hands.  On many of the down hill sections of trails our son would lose control of his old bike resulting in some dangerous situations. The disk brakes make it significant easier for him to control, thus making descents much more controlled and far less dangerous." - Tim
Tim's son on the left who can keep up to his older sister on the right

"The Spawn Savage 2.0  has high quality derailers and shifts much better than many less expensive bikes.  My son is able to shift up and down quickly on hills and thus keep up with the rest of the family.  Being the youngest member of the family it is important for the technology to improve the odds of him keeping up." - Tim
Laura's daughter on her new Savage 1.0

"My daughter's new Savage 1.0  is totally awesome. It literally took her less than 10 minutes to get the gist of how to use the gears. And, since our neighbourhood is all hills, it is crucial that she learned to do so. She was all smiles on our bike ride tonight because she could make it up the hills, ride off curbs, and lift her bike up curbs.  - Laura

"Every kid on the street wants to borrow my daughter's bike because their supercycle or whatever is "broken"... the chain fell off, handle bars got twisted around so many times that the brakes are stuck on, the rim is bent... My daughter's Banshee works. " - Michelle

My happy biker!

I hope the information in this story with quotes and photos of happy children on their bikes has inspired you and given you food for thought. A Spawn bike (or any quality bike) is an investment for sure!  But they keep their retail value and you are investing in your child's future as a strong cyclist who can bike with the family through their teen years and beyond.

I challenge you to look at the bike of your dreams for your child, take the price and split it over the number of years you hope your child will ride the bike.  Two years per bike would be an average for young children (longer as they get older and the bike gets bigger.)  Next, split that amount again over the months of the year your child will ride the bike.  For my son, that means his current 16" Spawn Banshee would cost $22 per month over the two years he's on it.  That's not a lot given the amount he rides it, the amount he loves the thing, and value we are getting from it.  Incidentally, I spend more than that a month in coffee!!

For more information on Spawn Cycles and their bikes, check out their website.  Note that due to incredible popularity, many bikes are currently sold out so if you want to upgrade your child's bike, contact the company through their website and find out how you can get your bike order in now for fall or for that perfect Christmas present.

Mountain Biking With Daddy

Disclaimer:   I have partnered with Spawn Cycles to ensure my child has the best riding experience possible.   I work hard to promote their bikes everywhere I go because I truly believe in their bikes.  This review was not paid for and my words are 100% my own.  All quotes were provided by parents not working with Spawn Cycles and those interviewed gave their own honest opinions.


  1. I am trying to find the best balance bike for my two year old. He does not want a metal balance bike, he wants a wooden bike, but I know for a fact that the metal bike will last longer or is more durable. How do I convince my son that? Any suggestions?

    1. Expose him to other kids on Striders or metal ones. If he sees other cool kids on them he might decide he wants a bike like they have. Positive peer pressure.

  2. Thanks for your information, i will try with my son