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  1. #1
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    BIke for 4 year old

    My soon to be 4 year old son is ready for pedals. He is tall for his age (42" or more), loves to go fast down hills on his balance bike, loves taking it on trails, has gone OTB a few times and still keeps getting back on (full face helmet of course). We would ride a bit of everything, but the trails would mostly be pretty level, not too many rocks, some roots. As he gets bigger and better we would ride trails with more rocks and roots. Here is what I'm thinkings....thoughts from other parents?For climbs I expect to use a Tow-wee or similar (any DIY solutions out there?) at least for the first year or two. Gears seem to be something for 5+ and stronger legs. Brakes...hand brakes seem best for trail use. I read/see coaster brakes are not good for control on dirt and lack power. What about suspension? The bike geek says "yes" but the practical part of me (that started on a rigid Trek 930) says, "will he care or notice"? A MTB style 16" seems like the best next step. Prevelo Zulu two looks really good, but wish it had better options for adjusting the gearing. not necessarily shifting, but a standard chainring that can be swapped out or rear cogs.Does the slack geo of the Zulu two really help? I can't see why it wouldn't as its proven great for full size bikes. Any other bikes with the same MTB friendly geo? Most seem to be the steep 71-12 HTA. Most of his OTB have been going too fast and his Cruzee bikes steep HTA making it VERY unstable and tossing him.
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  2. #2
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    From our experience with our oldest:
    - 12" balance bike at 3
    - Started on pedals at ~3.5 on a 14" Spawn Yoji
    - Moved to 16" Spawn Yoji w/ a 20" air fork at 4
    - Moved to 20" Cannondale Cujo w/ gears at ~4.5

    The Yojis use standard cassette cogs, which makes it easy to adjust gearing if you want.

    The switch to 20" was a night and day difference in what he could handle on trails, though -- stuff that was impossible before turned into just difficult and stuff that was moderately difficult became no big deal. For trails with extended uphills, we still rely heavily on a Tow-Whee.

    Realistically he didn't seem to notice / complain much about the switch from an air fork on the 16" to 20"+ tires. When he's a little taller, I may try tossing on one of the new Junit forks.

    My observation was that increasing wheel size seemed to make more difference in stability than HTA.

    I have a theory (completely untested) that the issue with instability at smaller wheel sizes and high speed wobble could be addressed by adding in a dampening headset like this:
    https://bikepacking.com/gear/cane-cr...scoset-review/

    Most of our riding is on pretty tame XC trails, experiences will likely vary if you're hitting rougher terrain.

  3. #3
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    Honestly, I donít want my 5 year old on suspension at all until he has learned to choose the smooth line without even thinking about it. Heís had a Trek Superfly 20 now for about 5 months. On a ride yesterday I finally noticed him consistently riding the smooth line through rooty areas almost the entire ride. Had I bought him something with suspension that intuition would be a long time coming. Us bike geek dads want to go crazy with our kids bikes but if you make it too easy too fast (except for giving him the lightest bike you can afford) I think it stunts skill development significantly.


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  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Doug View Post
    My soon to be 4 year old son is ready for pedals. He is tall for his age (42" or more), loves to go fast down hills on his balance bike, loves taking it on trails, has gone OTB a few times and still keeps getting back on (full face helmet of course). We would ride a bit of everything, but the trails would mostly be pretty level, not too many rocks, some roots. As he gets bigger and better we would ride trails with more rocks and roots. Here is what I'm thinkings....thoughts from other parents?For climbs I expect to use a Tow-wee or similar (any DIY solutions out there?) at least for the first year or two. Gears seem to be something for 5+ and stronger legs. Brakes...hand brakes seem best for trail use. I read/see coaster brakes are not good for control on dirt and lack power. What about suspension? The bike geek says "yes" but the practical part of me (that started on a rigid Trek 930) says, "will he care or notice"? A MTB style 16" seems like the best next step. Prevelo Zulu two looks really good, but wish it had better options for adjusting the gearing. not necessarily shifting, but a standard chainring that can be swapped out or rear cogs.Does the slack geo of the Zulu two really help? I can't see why it wouldn't as its proven great for full size bikes. Any other bikes with the same MTB friendly geo? Most seem to be the steep 71-12 HTA. Most of his OTB have been going too fast and his Cruzee bikes steep HTA making it VERY unstable and tossing him.
    Get a Spawn. BMX geo, versatile, light, mtb tires. No brainer except for price.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by TimTucker View Post
    From our experience with our oldest:
    - 12" balance bike at 3
    - Started on pedals at ~3.5 on a 14" Spawn Yoji
    - Moved to 16" Spawn Yoji w/ a 20" air fork at 4
    - Moved to 20" Cannondale Cujo w/ gears at ~4.5
    This has me thinking a basic 16" bike for now, then a 20" when his size and skill are ready. He'll probably grow enough for a 20" in a year or at least one summer (we live in NY so limited winter riding).

    Your theory sounds reasonable. The gyroscopic effect is definitely a significant contributor to keeping the bike upright and in a straight line. I can feel it on my 29" FS vs a 26" or even 27.5. I can imagine on bikes with 4" difference it has to be much more pronounced.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Marshfly View Post
    Honestly, I donít want my 5 year old on suspension at all until he has learned to choose the smooth line without even thinking about it.
    Very true. I'd be curious to see more data on this. Adults who learn on FS bikes often ride very sloppy and lazy. I can imagine kids would be the same.

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    When you start to compare the relative scale of the bikes and wheels, pretty much anything that you're used to going over on a 29er is going to feel almost 2x as big to a kid on a 16".

    Even with front suspension on a hardtail, going over bigger obstacles is still going to be punishing enough to discourage them from taking rougher lines.

    That being said, endurance & strength are going to be more limiting for kids doing XC riding on a 16" SS than having a suspension fork or -- until you get to 20" & gears, I'm not sure that it serves a lot of purpose unless you're doing more downhill riding.

  8. #8
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    BMX bike on BMX terrain is going to be the best skills development out there, hands down. Get yourself one while your at it.

    Forget all the fancy gear/weight-weenie stuff and fitness/speed/mileage-centric mindset for a couple years and let the kids concentrate on learning how to handle a simple bike while staying off the saddle on fun terrain. They'll be far better riders for it. If you dig around this subforum a bit, you'll see that there's very little correlation between how fancy a kid's bike is and how well they can actually ride. (I guess that applies to adults just as much too! )
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  9. #9
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    My kid from age 3.5 to now nearly 6 has had a pretty simple 16er, it happens to say Bianchi but I'm sure the same bike is sold by lots of brands with different paint and decals. His mom bought it sooner than I thought he was ready, and she's seen the error of getting a coaster brake. But overall it's fine, and it was easy to learn on. He will likely get a 20" bike this year but I'm waitng for him to ride off curbs and stand on the pedals first. He has not turned out to be a speed demon

  10. #10
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    Went with a Zulu 2. Family is chipping in so it will be a present forms birthday from grandparents and aunt/uncle. There were some other good options for less but given how he is a bit kamikaze on his balance bike, I wanted good brakes, longer wheelbase, and slacker HTA to at least make me feel more comfortable.

    I was worried about spending $400+ on a bike he may get 2 years on, but after talking with the guys at Prevelo I feel better. He could squeeze 3 years on it and even when the time comes to sell, these hold their value very well. Others tell me how their friends get in line to buy these bikes when the kid out grows it.
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  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Darth Lefty View Post
    He will likely get a 20" bike this year but I'm waitng for him to ride off curbs and stand on the pedals first.
    FWIW, an 18" BMX bike will help a lot more than a 20" MTB style bike.
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  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by slapheadmofo View Post
    FWIW, an 18" BMX bike will help a lot more than a 20" MTB style bike.
    True but riding with a 5 year old on any trail with climbs on something without gears is miserable.

    Signed, a dad of a 5 year old that is used to yelling ďput it in 2Ē to keep his kid riding instead of walking.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Marshfly View Post
    True but riding with a 5 year old on any trail with climbs on something without gears is miserable.

    Signed, a dad of a 5 year old that is used to yelling ďput it in 2Ē to keep his kid riding instead of walking.
    Trails are just one place/way to ride, and definitely not the best when it comes to learning the basics IME/O. Pump tracks, BMX tracks, skate parks, etc are far better.
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    Quote Originally Posted by slapheadmofo View Post
    Trails are just one place/way to ride, and definitely not the best when it comes to learning the basics IME/O. Pump tracks, BMX tracks, skate parks, etc are far better.
    Agreed but just pointing it out. Itís not all about bike school. Lots of times the kid just wants to go to the trails.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Marshfly View Post
    Agreed but just pointing it out. Itís not all about bike school. Lots of times the kid just wants to go to the trails.
    N+1 (or 2 or 3)



    But for a kid that hasn't let learned to ride standing or go off a curb, etc, I'd say some 'bike school' is in order before expecting much success on the trails.
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    Quote Originally Posted by slapheadmofo View Post
    N+1 (or 2 or 3)



    But for a kid that hasn't let learned to ride standing or go off a curb, etc, I'd say some 'bike school' is in order before expecting much success on the trails.
    My son isn't even 5 yet, but he's up to 5 bikes already...

    Location is probably less important than getting them in an environment where they can have fun and ride with other kids that are a little above their skill level.

    In some areas, that's easier to accomplish on a bmx track or skatepark, in other areas that's easier to find via XC racing or meetups at trails.

    Some areas it's difficult to find at all.


    Around us, the nearest bmx track is about 45 minutes away (60 with evening traffic) and it's only open for races on Saturdays and training 2 nights a week during the summer. Once the race season is over, it drops down to 1 night a week in the fall.

    Closest pump track just got installed this summer, but is a similar drive to get to and the access roads tend to close due to flooding whenever it rains.

    The local kids XC racing league has some teams that train daily about 30-45 minutes away, which isn't great but has been a little easier to meet up with.

    Closest skatepark is only 20 minutes away, but can be a bit tough to navigate for younger kids when it gets crowded (still working on the regression where my son was super confident there on a balance bike but a bit scared to ride on a BMX).

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by TimTucker View Post
    My son isn't even 5 yet, but he's up to 5 bikes already...
    Winning!

    My son and I used to put in a shit-ton of windshield time going to different riding spots when he was young. Closest BMX track is about 45 minutes, closest pumptrack (before I built one for my town) was about the same. There are lots of skateparks around but the one we mainly went to is ~90 minutes away on a good traffic day. Also did lots and lots of 2-4 hour drives to the mountains to hit the MTB parks, or 8 hour days just touring around from skatepark to skatepark to DJ spot to Mexican restaurant...ahhh, the good old days.

    BIke for 4 year old-img_5052.jpg

    But yeah, if people want their kids to pick up real bike skill, they need exposure to riding outside of XC-style MTBing. There's good reason that a majority of the best riders have some BMX in their background.
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  18. #18
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    Once I get my younger son riding and we can all go places together where he can ride on his own without needing constant attention, it should be a little easier (he'll be 3 at the end of March).

    Last summer it was him on balance bike at the skatepark with me running behind holding loosely onto the back of his shirt / guiding direction slightly as he went down into the bowls.

    The difference in speed & endurance between 2 yo on balance bike & 4 yo on a 20" made it pretty difficult to do longer rides.

    Realistically, the goal is to get him on pedals by the end of this upcoming summer -- I'm hoping that once that happens the two of them will start to chase each other a bit and spur on each other's development.

  19. #19
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    Wow - a 20" is a big bike for a 4 year old. I assume that's just for trail riding and not for the skatepark? My kid didn't start riding a 20" BMX bike until he was 14 (though he was on a 24" MTB at about 8.)

    At 4-5 he was riding a 16" park/jump bike and a 18" race bike (both BMX).
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  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by slapheadmofo View Post
    Wow - a 20" is a big bike for a 4 year old. I assume that's just for trail riding and not for the skatepark? My kid didn't start riding a 20" BMX bike until he was 14 (though he was on a 24" MTB at about 8.)

    At 4-5 he was riding a 16" park/jump bike and a 18" race bike (both BMX).
    He is on the tall side for his age, but the 20" is just for trail / longer neighborhood rides.
    Between the short seat tube on the Cujo, a slammed Tioga pivotal saddle, and a 40mm stem the fit seems to work. The jump to bigger wheels and gears made a huge difference in what he's been able to tackle on the trails -- he even did a 3.5 mile XC race in pouring rain and finished ahead of a few older kids.

    He's got a Fit Misfit 12" for BMX at the moment, but he's mostly been riding that to & from my parents' house at the other end of the street. Putting some giant adult-sized pedals on that helped a lot for getting him comfortable riding standing up.

    Debating on a 14" or 16", but we do already have a 14" & a 16" Yoji and my wife isn't too keen on getting another BMX until he's shown more willingness to ride something other than his balance bike at the skatepark.

    Still keeping an eye out for anything good that may pop up on FB marketplace, though...

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    I got one of these for the young fella a couple of months ago and he loves it. He just turned 4 in October. Went straight from a balance bike to this and was cycling without any help on the 2nd day. His balance bike was a 12" Commencal Ramones.

    BIke for 4 year old-early-rider.jpg

    The balance bike he graduated from!

    BIke for 4 year old-img_2855.jpg

  23. #23
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    We didn't start until nearly 5 but gears were never really an issue for him.

    That's not saying he didn't need prompting etc. especially in terms of changing beforehand but it's all doable and easy and the advantages IMHO WAY outweighed any disadvantages


    He didn't get FS until 24" but again I think speculation about it ruining their riding is vastly over rated... I'd be more worried about weight.

    I have a lot of respect for Jnr's line choice...I've been relying on it for some time in that I follow him through stuff I can't even see a line and yet I started on a fully rigid then elastomer forks.

    To be fair being better than me isn't a huge achievement but FS certainly hasn't ruined his line choice.

  24. #24
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    We use the TowWhee. It's great.
    My kids all ride together on the track. To keep them all riding together on the trails, I got my youngest a TowWhee. The two older kids are a little bit bored but we can still climb some decent hills, even with a heavy 20 inch with 1x6 gearing.
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    I guess this is a late reply since you already bought, but both my kids went through a 16" coaster brake bike on local trails before we upgraded them to shifters and hand brakes.

    My son was larger (almost 90th percentile) and went straight from the coaster brake steel anchor to a 24" Trek MT220 at about age 5. He was way too big for the 16" at that point.

    My daughter is smaller (approx 10th percentile) and she rode the coaster brake steel anchor until she was about 6. Really when we upgraded my daughter to the 20" Cannondale, she still fit the 16" OK, but she just couldn't move the pedals fast enough to keep up anymore.

    I have found that even though my sons MT220 has a suspension fork, it has not made him lazy regarding choosing a line through obstacles. He always tries to choose the smoothest line, unless there is no smooth line, in which case he just hammers down on the cranks and pulls the front wheel and blows through the middle on the rear tire. Our local trails have lots of roots, especially in the turns, so he has had to figure out how to deal with turns and roots at the same time. I think any kid will, they just need enough experience. We have been riding 2-3 times per week for the last couple months.

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