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  1. #1
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    Help with kids bikes...

    I need to get 3 kids bikes. Ages are 11, 12, and 14. The 11 yo boy is average height. The 11 yo girl is tall. The 14 yo boy is a little short, but is likely to hit a growth spurt soon.

    This is an unusual situation, as they all learned to ride later in life and have very limited experience. I'd say they all have about 30 hours max hours riding. They currently all have fixed gear bmx style bikes. The two younger ones have never used hand brakes.

    I want to get them into simple mountain bikes and have them start doing trail riding with me this summer. Given their limited experience, I'm thinking no suspension is a good idea. I do plan to get them gears so we can climb hills, but am open to input on this. I want them to learn how to ride well before they get suspension. And no suspension is better than bad suspension.

    Given that they're all going to outgrow these bikes I'd like to go used. But that will take time. I may go new just to get them riding. I'd like to stay as close to $300 as possible per bike. Maybe $350.

    Looking for advice on two things: what bikes to get? (The superfly looks nice, but is likely out of my price range. Also not sure if it's available with a rigid fork.) The other q is what size to get.

    For the 11 yo I'll likely go with a 24" knowing I'll have to replace it in a year or two. I'd prefer to get smaller adult bikes for the 12 and 14 yo rather than kids bike. Thoughts?

    Thanks for any input. I really just want to get them riding.
    Last edited by Dario; 06-17-2014 at 09:02 AM.

  2. #2
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    Some insights from having 3 kids and leading kids MTB sites and classes.

    Used bikes are your friend, and don't spend too much until you know the kids are into it.

    On rigid fork. Remember how kids what what others have. As much as many suspension forks are heavy and not effective when I'm with 40 kids in the classes I see the kid without will think the same bike with is an advantage. High level parental logic doesn't work so well to convince them otherwise unless they're wanting to mimic someone with rigid bike. SR Suntour has moderately priced lighter forks that can be tuned better if the kid is serious.

    The kids either like smaller wheels for confidence or sense big wheels roll over stuff. Given the choice on wheel size they have preferences like adults but don't get stupid tribal over it or see their wheel size as a religion unless their parents do.

    Get the seat down. Add a quick release collar or carry a wrench if the bike's not there already. Low seat gives them confidence and saves falls when skills are involved. High seat helps them climb. That time you stop to adjust the seat is a rest before a climb, time to discuss what works and what doesn't.

    Give them a lesson in what we call "attack position" in our lessons and practice using the brakes and shifting. That's being on their feet instead of seat, weight back so no endos, knowing big to big and small to small gear combos are to be avoided.

    Our region's kid places and programs have 120+ kids in MTB programs at two sites. The demographics range from kids there on outreach programs to kids dropped off in $100,000+ cars. It shows the fun, bike working well, and covering the basics are really most important.

    One more on bike size. My twins spent a season with one as strong on wanting 24' wheels as the other was moving to 26. They're 10 now. A lot their age are going to very small 26' wheel bikes just to save money and do better on longer trail rides. Some kids keep their BMX bikes when they get 26 in wheels.

    My best bike scores for kids are finding slightly older but higher end super small adult bikes. That can get you into lighter parts and disc brakes for surprisingly little $.

    If they're not liking instruction from parents find other groups of kids riding to help keep it fun.

  3. #3
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    I definitely agree, suspension, especially on lower end bikes weighs a lot and definitely isn't that useful as it tends to be too firm especially for younger ones. Gears are a necessary, and I am currently trying to find ways to get my 3.5 year old more range in his drivetrain. Good brakes are also important. They don't have to be disc, but good acting and setup V-brakes are very important.

    It sounds like they are all pretty close to the same size, so why not just buy one bike at first, and take them out individually? Get something like the Superfly, as you will probably get a better percentage back on a nicer bike than something not so nice for resell. Or get something from BikesDirect.com, as they have some real good deals on new bikes, but I believe all have suspension. That way if one or two or all three are not into it, then you are not out as much money.

  4. #4
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    Average height 11 year old will probably fit OK on an XS size frame with 26" wheels and then get more use out of it. Then again, as the older 2 kids outgrow their first bikes, might work well to pass them down to the 11 year old if he starts on a 24". Downside of getting a 24" wheel bike is that finding a 24" bike with a lightweight fork and high-end components will be very challenging, at the price-point that most 24" bikes are built they come pretty poorly equipped.
    If you have the time and patience, you can definitely get nicer used bikes than could be bought new for same budget. Stay away from new storebought lower end bikes around the $300 price range as they will be heavy and cheaply made, an older quality used bike is a much better ride.
    Rigid is probably preferable to a heavy junky fork. Starting with a 26" bike you can always upgrade the fork to a lighter fork. High end, lightweight 26" suspension forks can be bought fairly cheap these days (swap meets and e-bay) as most adult riders are moving en-mass to 27.5" and 29" bikes. Older forks with only cantilever/V brake bosses but no disk mount are particularly cheap and can work fine for kid use.

  5. #5
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    Great feedback - thanks to all for the responses. Some feedback:

    I would prefer to go used. It just takes time to find and go look at used bikes. I don't want to spend 4 weeks doing this. Getting one bike now really doesn't help. I might be able to get by with two. And yes, the older kids bikes will be handed down to the younger ones over time. There's a 24" Kona Hula in my area calling to me.

    Completely agree that I don't want any junk bikes. Good components are a given, which is why I'm at the $300+ price point new. Hoping I can do about 50% of that if I go used.

    Getting one bike likely causes me a ton of grief. These kids don't share well. Two of them have outgrown their current bikes and will use these for general riding around as well. If two of them get nicer bikes that can go on trails the the other one will feel very disenfranchised. And their mom said so (all or none get better bikes).

    My bigger issue is with suspension. I mentioned that these kids really just learned how to ride bikes. They literally did not know how to ride at all and have about 30 hours. I need to teach them even the most basic off-road skills. (Or get them into a class.) I think suspension will get in the way of learning good trail riding skills. And I get they point that their friends have. Their friends also likely have full suspension Walmart bikes. I'll have to figure out the right balance of learning skills, weight, future capability they can grow into, and cool factor.

    Will look for used bikes.

  6. #6
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    For nice rigid fork bikes, probably best bet will be to look for older high-end bikes from early 1990's, just before front suspension took-off and largely displaced rigid forks from quality MTBs.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by GrayJay View Post
    For nice rigid fork bikes, probably best bet will be to look for older high-end bikes from early 1990's, just before front suspension took-off and largely displaced rigid forks from quality MTBs.
    Very hard to find the sloping top tube 13ish - 15ish frames.

    Once I week I'm herding and teaching in the kids classes where the slightly heavy common SR forks aren't slowing the kids down, and they think it helps even if they in essence use them as rigid forks.

    OP's profile says Hood River. A quick look on Portand craigslist shows a bunch of stuff that could work, and Portland's big enough to have used bike shops.

    Good luck.

  8. #8
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    I think you're telling me not to sweat the suspension, right? (2x) I can look away of necessary. No longer in Hood River. Now in Portland near some nice trails.

    There are used bike shops and a fair amount on CL. My biggest constraint is time. I don't have a day or two to go around looking at bikes. Wish I did. I'll take 1/2 day on Sat and see what I can find.

    I think you guys are right - anything past 2000 or so is unlikely to have a rigid fork.

    Thanks again.

  9. #9
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    I was recently looking for a rigid bike on a budget to convert into a rigid SS MTB for my (tall for his age) 9 year old. We ended up getting a steel Raleigh M20 -- it's notable because, while it's a 26er, even the boy's geometry has a lower standover height than most small 26ers. It's a pretty well-made bike, and the dropouts make a SS conversion easy if you end up wanting to go that route. So, you might add that to your list of rigid-forked bikes that are decently made.
    I ride at night - see my tips for Night Cycling
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  10. #10
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    Just looked at the Raleigh today. Nice bike.

  11. #11
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    Wanted to leave an update. Searching CL for used is frustrating. Most people seem to be selling 10 yo old bikes for 2/3 of what the equivalent new bike costs now. I really don't get it. It seems like people only start to sell bikes when the start looking aged. Also a lack of small adult frames. Mostly medium to large, and some kids bikes. I took a tape measure to a few shops. I can get small adult frames for the two older. My little guy is going to need a 24" for another year or two.

    Looked at the entry level bikes at several stores. The Specialized and Raleigh bikes look good. The GT bikes seem to be the best value (Aggressor). I didn't see any of the entry level Giant bikes. Cannondale and Kona are out of my price range. The Trek looks ok, and is better priced than the Specialized and Raleigh. But the two Trek dealers pissed me off so those are out.

    The good news is that I'm likely to get a good price for used Specialized Enduro.

  12. #12
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    One more update: spent most of the day looking at used bikes. It's tiring and tedious work. You have to kiss a lot of frogs to try and find a prince. I did score a newer Trek 4900D in excellent condition for $200. It's going to be a great bike for the 14 yo. I literally missed getting a near-new Kona 24" bike for $100 by 2 mins. The kid who's mom bought it was riding it down the driveway as I was walking toward the house to look at it.

    Everything else I saw was junk. Had I scored that Kona I'd be pretty happy. I spent about 8 hours and got one bike. Yikes - that ratio doesn't scale for me. My time is far too limited and valuable. Have a couple of leads on decent bikes and I may go tomorrow morning. I'm now limiting my looking to ~10 mile radius. Maybe less.

    Here's my observation after reading hundreds of CL ads this week and looking at about 20 bikes today: It really does seem like prices are about the same for everything regardless of age, so long as they are in good condition. (Remember that I'm only talking about entry level bikes). More inexpensive bikes with brand recognition hold a lot of value over time: Trek, Specialized, Cannondale, and Kona in particular. Less so for Giant, even less for GT, and Raleigh and others toward even less (at least in Portland). A good condition used GT bike could be a particularly good bargain. I saw some with excellent components at good prices, jus not in the sizes I need.
    Last edited by Dario; 06-22-2014 at 11:14 AM.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dario View Post
    I saw some with excellent components at good prices, jus not in the sizes I need.
    could've been worth it for the components, if you got a smaller frame with crap on it, swap it over and sell the bigger one with the crap parts...
    My bike MCA kinda climbs like a billy-goat. WOO WOO!

  14. #14
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    Your young one must be really short. I put my youngest on a small adult Trek at 10. I put him on his brother's medium last weekend for a 15 miler, time to move up at just over 11yo. He said he can breathe better on climbs, and feels more confident on rooty/rocky/rutted.

    I am in agreement with your initial statement that you shouldn't start someone with relatively little cycling experience on a suspended fork. Did this with both my boys. New trailers will not start shiting their weight until they've built confidence on the trail, and this can result in a lot of endo's when they emergency brake as inexperienced riders are prone to do. They also learn to mind their line better, and to stand, out of necessity. My older son started "un"learn the latter when we moved him onto a hardtail, but remembered it real quick after a sore bum resulted from a long day of hard trails.

    Young or slow riders do not need suspension like we do, and frankly, kids don't really care. Ask them if they like a suspended front fork over a rigid fork, and they'll either say yes because their bike has one and they like their bike, or they won't understand what you mean. They like cool colors, all else on the bike is "meh". The seat could be made of rocks and the handle coated with glass. They won't notice anything but the color until you put them on their first 25 mile trail ride.

    Check the yellow pages for local (small) bike shops and bike recyclers. A lot of the old quality bikes end up there. We have a handful of them in Louisville, and they have early 90's Specialized and Trek all day long for $200 or less. These bikes are a lot better than the Pacificas and Mongooses of the cheap stores. If the bike was treated well, it's got better quality components than modern low end Treks, etc. When you are done, you can sell it for about what you paid if the bike isn't trashed.

    THAT said, the Pacificas and Mongooses of the world aren't the best rides, but the kids won't notice when they are starting out and going slow on the trails. We take out scout troop and some of the high school boys are riding the cheapest junk and having a blast. If you want to promote MTB with your kids as a high adventure sport, then you might be better served starting off with better bikes, but if it's just going to be occasional riding with no push to continually improve skill, junk bikes will do fine.

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