Finally, some bikes for older kids

As a family oriented bike shop, we've long disappointed many people asking about sensible bikes for older children. In between balance bikes for the littlest kids, and the smallest adult bikes, our selection has never been very rich, sometimes amounting to nothing at all. It's still not rich, but finally we have 20" and 24" kid bikes that are pretty decent, can be ridden at adult pace, will accept rack and fenders, don't weigh too much, and don't cost too much either! Between the two sizes, they should fit most kids between 6 or 7 and puberty. Welcome the Torker Interurban 20" and 24", at $389 and $429, respectively:

And come Spring, we'll have simple 16" and 20" kid bikes from Linus, too, beloved among adults for their clean, classic, town bike style and good value. What's more, Linus is extending their popular mixte and roadster styles into 26"-wheel versions, which should fit many larger children and the smallest adults.

Why is this so hard? If you think about it, a very small bike has the same number of parts as a big one, so for a given set of features it's not much less expensive to manufacture a kid's bike than an adult's. A little less raw material and shipping cost, sure, but offsetting that small advantage is the natural reluctance of parents everywhere to spend much on items likely outgrown in a few years, especially when they remember what bikes seemed to cost in their own childhoods. Add to that the domination of streets by motor vehicles in most parts of this country, limiting reasonably safe routes to ride, and the number of people clamoring to pay fair prices for quality children's bikes is rather small, killing potential economies of scale in production. It's a vicious cycle that results in the status quo of kid bikes built mainly to be as cheap as possible without exposing their makers to much liability of collapse: really crude, heavy, and hard to service, with styling too often extremely gendered and reminiscent of sugary cereal in-box toys. Blech!

Parents send messages to their kids in the things they give them. Are they toys or tools, diversion or empowerment? When I handed our son the keys to his first "good" bike, it was a bestowal of responsibility to protect it from theft, as a valuable item. When showing him how to operate its lighting system, sure it was another fun gizmo, but also a promise of adventure going places together after dark. When fitting luggage to its rack, I was drawing out a parallel with his parents' bikes that this was a vehicle for life, however aspirational: a nod toward his waxing maturity more than his waning childhood. For biking families, it's hard to calculate the value of these messaging opportunities over and above the amount of use the bike may see. But I think these opportunities are better seized with bikes that resemble their parents in quality and features than with the low expectations and dollars-per-mile arithmetic that favors Walmart.

11 thoughts on “Finally, some bikes for older kids”

  • Dorie

    Yay! It's great to see these bikes are up in Portland too. We got our son a 20" Torker Interurban for his 7th birthday. He loves that bike and wants to ride it everywhere. And it's light enough (and geared well enough) that he rode up Mt. Sutro on his first day with it, even after we added fenders.

    However it would have been too big for him at age five, and he's pretty tall. The best bike we've been able to find for 4-6 year old kids is the Redline Pitboss 16"--it has a hand brake instead of coaster brakes, no training wheels, and is lightweight enough that it's not impossible to get it up some hills. But it's really a BMX bike, not a commuter. If there's something better out there we'd love to know about it.

  • ghdurham

    Great bike(s). Curious about the fenders on the 24" -- are those a standard size or are you able to make another size work on the 24" wheel?

  • MikeJung

    Hooray! Looking forward to gearing up the kiddos!

  • Peter

    Where are the Dutch style handlebars? Is that an option and what would the cost be?

  • Ash L

    GHdurham - Those fenders look like SKS chromoplastic

    I have a single 20" one for my cargo bike that I got used so I imagine they make 24" ones as well for recumbents or other freek bikes.

    To add to the list of nice-ish quality kids bikes. We've been really happy with Specialized Hotrock line. We started with a 12", went to a 16" and are now beginning to learn the joy of gears and hand brakes with a 20". They are quite lightweight and run pretty small so they're great for in between sized kids. We have a 20" Gary Fisher turned commuter frankenbike we were going to use but despite adding swept bars the geometry is still geared to taller children so that one will remain in the stable for another couple years.

  • The Mgmt

    Wait, Dorie, it could climb EVEN AFTER fenders?! :-) You're right that 5 is a little optimistic for the 20", so I edited to 6... We hope the 16" Linus plugs the hole. Stocking a pure BMX bike, hmmmm.

    @ghdurham Would you believe those are ISO 622/700C fenders, trimmed a bit?

    @Peter assuming you mean swept, I think we could fit Linus bars, cheapish.

  • Elizabeth

    My 5 year old rides a 20" specialized street hotrock. It's a great bike, and he rides it to school everyday and has ridden for long days as well (up to 23 miles one day). We found a rack and panier to fit it, but it doesn't have fenders. I'm curious to check out the bikes you mention. Maybe when he's 7, and his little sister is 5 and eagerly awaiting the hotrock....

  • Dave Lloyd

    Spectacular! I found an old 24" mountain bike on Craigslist and spiffed it up with a new wheelset, rack, fenders, etc. for my eight year old, but this is definitely a far better deal. Raleigh makes a 20" and 24" bike that would work (the Rowdy and Mtn Scout), but these look much more purpose built.

    For the 24" bike, I put on BRIGHT yellow Planet Bike 26" fenders. There was plenty of flex in the plastic to allow a pretty reasonable line around the 24" tires.

  • Andy in Germany

    The aspect of the messages we send to our children by what we give them is forgotten far too often: Our eldest now has a 'proper' 24" wheel transport bike and understands it is something to use to get around (as well as have fun somtimes). He takes the maintenence and care of the bike seriously, and is less bothered by the age of the bike than how well it works, as he understands that an old bike is less likely to be stolen.

    Mind you, it's easier for us: a 24" child's bike with mudguards, stand, full dynmo lights and a luggage rack is considered normal here. Thank goodness.

  • Beth

    "Parents send messages to their kids in the things they give them. Are they toys or tools, diversion or empowerment?"

    Excellent point. But of course, it's not enough to simply give the kid a bike.
    When I got my first adult-sized bike in fifth grade and wanted to ride the 3-mile distance to school and then home again (so I could stop riding the school bus), my mom suggested I select a route on the city map, then let her follow behind me in the car on a Sunday afternoon so she could see how I handled myself (she had never learned to ride herself). Observing signs and using turn signals I'd learned at a bike rodeo the previous summer, I passed with flying colors and from then on I went everywhere on my bike on my own.
    Parents also have to foster the independence in their children so they will empower themselves.

  • […] in the box was possibly too appealing. ¬†We got our son a geared bike for his birthday last year (a Torker Interurban, more on this bike later) when we realized that trying to get a single speed bike up the hills […]

Leave a Reply