For the Kids
For kids, there’s nothing quite like the freedom two wheels provides, and a balance bike is the perfect way to get them started as independent toddlers, or future cyclocrossers. With kiddie ’cross races popping up at races all across the country, it’s never too early to expose your little one to the sport you love.
We’ve had some experience with Strider balance bikes, and even reviewed the 6.7 pound ST-3 in Issue 14 of our print magazine. The company has since released the $109 ST-4 with better bearings and the light, aluminum $169 ST-Pro.
We liked the Strider because of its relative affordability, light weight and convenience of the maintenance-free tires that never need air, but we also found that important things like the headset (really just a plastic bushing) wear out over time (a consideration if it’s to be passed on to younger siblings or friends), and, for us, admitted tire snobs, air-free tires aren’t very supple for those off-road adventures. That said, kids love the color options.
Got a bigger kid, or getting a late start? No worries, because Strider now offers a 16″ wheel version called the Strider SS-1. Many local bike shops carry Strider bikes, so call around to get one in time to put under the tree, and if you strike out, see online retailers like Amazon or Competitive Cyclist that offer express shipping.
Many companies like Giant and Specialized offers balance bikes now, so don’t be afraid to look at other brands. National chain Performance Bike even offers a heavy-duty, off-road friendly version.
Islabikes Rothan 12″ Wheel Balance Bike
One option we’ve fallen in love with is the Islabike Rothan, which from our experience, is the Mercedes of balance bikes. At $189.99, the 12″ wheel Rothan is double the price of some balance bikes, but has a lot of features a bike racer parent will appreciate.
Never heard of Islabikes? The UK-based company offers high-end kids bikes of all sizes, from tiny balance bikes to junior bikes with 24″, 26″ and 700c wheels (see our review of the CNOC 14″ in Issue 23), but their goal is to build high-quality bikes that are durable and reliable—bikes that will survive the abuse of several kids, and be easy to maintain and adjust with standard tools (Allen wrenches).
Look closely and you’ll notice Islabikes’ Rothan includes a real ball bearing headset and threadless steerer, mini V-brake, small diameter handlebar and grips for those small hands, a tiny saddle, and an ultra-short reach brake lever (for the rear wheel). Despite the Rothan boasting all those features, perhaps our favorite feature is pneumatic tires featuring innertubes with Presta valves! You can both dial in the air pressure for the terrain and rely on your Presta-only mini-pump or old Silca foor pump. And yes, we’ll admit that as bike geeks, we’re eyeing that Tektro mini V-brake and contemplating upgrading it to a TRP 8.4 unit for more bling.
The 7005 T6 heat treated aluminum frame keeps the bike to near-Strider like weights at just 7.7 pounds, but you and the little one will appreciate the extra pound in the form of real ball bearings and adjustable, replaceable components. Is it worth the extra money? If your kid is younger (two or younger) and will spend a good number of months on the bike, definitely. If your kid is four or older, she’ll probably learn quickly and will be off to the races with a pedal bike in no time, and you might not get your money’s worth unless there’s a younger sibling waiting for his turn.
Islabikes is a UK-based company, but has an office and studio in Portland, and ships bikes from Portland to North American addresses. They might even do last-minute overnight shipping if you tell them a good story about the Nys-like potential and UCI dreams of your kid. We even spotted a racer on an Islabike at the UCI race in China (but were told that stainless steel beauty was a one-off).
Regardless of the brand, condition and model, acquiring a pair of wheels for the little one will be one of the best things you can do for them. They’ll get outside, become independent, get some exercise, and maybe, one day, become a cyclocross racer or even start a cyclocross magazine.
More info: Islabikes.com
Kid’s Helmets: Giro Rascal and Lazer Nut’z
Need some kid protection? Many states require kids to wear helmets, and even if yours doesn’t, helmets make sense. We like the $40 Giro Rascal toddler helmet that comes in two sizes, nine colors, and features two rear LED lights that extend riding time into the dark.
Lazer Sport has lots of kids options, and their Nut’z toddler helmet lets kids look more like their racer parents, with more aggressive shaping and ventilation. It can be found with MIPS technology, a nice option that gives parents some extra insurance with its concussion-reducing technology. The Lazer Nut’z MIPS retails for $80, while the non-MIPS version is $60. That may seem pricey for a kid’s helmet, but we’re talking brains and lives here.