This week’s Sunday Mail column focuses on bikes for children. Following in the footsteps of the first UK brand to make bikes specifically for children, Islabikes, there are now two more brands, Frog and HOY. This summer, Bradley Wiggins offers his support to a fourth brand.
Children’s bikes shift up a gear
When mum and dad own matching carbon-fibre bikes, it doesn’t seem fair to palm off their kids with a £49 bike made of lead. Thankfully, you no longer have to.
A sea change in the bicycle marketplace over recent years has seen a bright and bold new world of child-specific bikes.
These bikes are lightweight, where once they weighed more than a traditional adult’s bike.
They have specially designed components for kids, such as light action brake levers, mini cranks, simple wide-ratio gearing and a lower centre of gravity.
Extra child-friendly details include slim handle bar grips for smaller hands and junior-sized saddles and pedals.
The prices might make parents wince but many of the bikes have “growing room” and the second hand market is surprisingly strong.
Bikes in good conditions can sell on Ebay, Facebook and Gumtree for more than two-thirds their original cost.
Islabikes is at the forefront of the UK’s child-specific bike market.
Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, it was founder Isla Rowntree’s dream to design bikes that would encourage more kids to ride.
Steve Chapman, of Islabikes, based in Shropshire, said: “Isla spotted a gap in the market for good quality kids bikes that were not simply scaled down from adult bikes.
“She wanted to make bikes that children would love to ride and find easy to operate.”
Islabikes are made for kids from the age of two to teens. They cover balance, starter, multi-purpose, mountain, road and cyclocross cross bikes.
They are sold on-line only “to ensure continued sales quality” and boasts such features as light, strong and slim-tubed aluminium frames and child-customised chainsets, gears, cranks, pedals and handlebars.
Three years years ago, UK-based Frog Bikes entered the market and more recently Sir Chris Hoy and Sir Bradley Wiggins have put their names to bikes designed specifically for kids.
Frog Bikes was founded by parents Shelley and Jerry Lawson and follow many of the same principles as Islabikes.
They also boast a “unique crank design”. Shelley explained: “Renowned Olympics bike engineer Dimitris Katsanis has created a crank that reduces the space between the pedals allowing children to push more directly down when cycling, so converting more of their energy into motion.”
Recent developments for Frog have included a tie up with Team Sky and new Union Jack branded bikes.
While HOY Bikes, founded by Scottish cycling champion Sir Chris Hoy, also produce adult bikes, the kids side of the range is by far the biggest and most successful.
HOY is also committed to supporting British Cycling’s youth cycling programme, Go-Ride, by supplying them with 1,500 bikes over four years.
Chris Snook, of HOY sales outlet Evans Cycles, said: “For both Sir Chris and head designer James Olsen, it is important that HOY kids bikes are ‘real bikes for real riders’.
“All the bikes have been designed specifically to meet the needs of kids first, with cost second.”
The new Wiggins bikes will be sold from July in Halfords stores. The 2012 Tour de France winner said: “I wanted to develop a range of bikes for kids of all ages and all abilities to jump on and feel like a Tour winner.”
The range includes seven different models for different ages and each named after a stage town from the 2012 Tour de France.
Rather than worry about the competition, Islabikes sees each new brand as a “small victory for kids”.
Steve said: “Isla’s dream was to get more kids on bikes because they enjoyed riding a bike made for them.
“We are delighted to see that other companies are taking this concept on, too.”
I spoke to three kids who are very happy with their child-specific bikes.
Archie and Frog Bikes
Five-year-old Archie Law, of Skye, has owned two Frog bikes. His mum Tansy Grigor-Taylor is impressed.
She said: “I chose Archie’s first bike when he was two because Frog sold lightweight and simple bikes. It was an immediate success and Archie took to cycling very quickly.
“The Frog bike enabled him to cycle with me and with only the odd push to get up long hills. When Archie was four we rode from Eriskay to Berneray in the Outer Hebrides, cycling 10 miles each day. The bike was good for roads, trails and beaches.”
At Christmas, Archie moved up to another Frog bike, this time with gears. Tansy said: “It’s still a lightweight bike and has the advantage of basic gears to enable Archie to ride further and for longer. I am still teaching him how to change gears but I think the bike has been a great investment.”
See www.frogbikes.com. (Priced £100 to £450).
Fraser and HOY bikes
Six-year-old Fraser Cummings is very proud to ride a Hoy Bonaly bike. For the Helensburgh youngster has been a fan of Sir Chris Hoy after seeing him at the opening of the velodrome in Glasgow.
His mum Emma said: “For years, Fraser would shout ‘go Chris’ to every cyclist he passed in the street so choosing a HOY bike seemed like a good idea.
“But really we chose the HOY bike for its quality and look. It has a much more mature look than many children’s bikes and the orange is very striking.
“It is also light compared to many bikes and because he’s small it suits Fraser.”
HOY Bikes are sold at www.evanscycles.com. (Priced £110 to £499.)
Rowan and Islabikes
Rowan Seel, 13, of Bridge of Weir wanted a bike built for speed. He is now the owner of an Islabikes Luath 700 road bike.
He said: “Before I got this bike I had a hybrid bike that was quite heavy. You could go on dirt roads and grass, but on roads it was harder and the gears weren’t as good.
“I like that this new bike is fast and the gear changes are easy. It makes going up hills easier and down hills faster. I’m more likely to use my bike because of this. I also really like how it looks.
“When my mum got a racing bike before me I was quite jealous but now I’m faster than her on my Islabike.
“We plan to ride the Pedal for Scotland (Glasgow to Edinburgh sportive) this year and I think I’ll find it quite easy on this bike.”
See www.islabikes.co.uk. (Priced £149.99 to £749.99.)
5 tips for choosing a kids bike
- Lightweight bikes are far easier to ride because kids are light.
- Let children try bikes to check they can operate the gears and brakes easily.
- Buy according to leg size rather than age because kids vary a lot in height.
- Choose gender-neutral colours so that they can be more easily passed on – or sold on – to another child.
- Check out Gumtee, Ebay and Facebook pages such as “Pre-owned Islabikes For Sale”.