Friday, 19 October 2012

KIDS ROAD BIKES FROM AGE 8+

The first question to ask when buying a kids road bike (well this certainly applies to me) is 'am I buying this for me or for my child?' For children a road bike is trickier to ride than a flat bar bike and a little perseverance may be required. But supposing you really do have a future Cav or Lucy Garner on your hands, then where do you start?

Kids bikes are measured in wheel size rather than frame size so we're talking about 24" (60cm) wheels for a beginner road bike.
Generally these would be suitable for 8 year-olds with a minimum height of 130 cms although some claim to suit even smaller children. I'd advice patience because children are easily put off if things don't work out straight away. A bad experience with a bike that's too big for them might lead them straight back to the PlayStation.

Starting with the cheapest:

B'Twin Triban junior  (£230) 
'for children between 125 and 150 cm
Shimano 7 speed with 'ergonomic' shift levers
Double brake levers for safe braking
10.7 Kgs
Comment: The Triban 3 (£299) adult bike has been picking up very good reviews, so don't be put off by the low price tag necessarily. I'm going to take my six-year- old to try the Triban junior as soon as I get a chance. Will update when that's happened. Bars look a bit big, so we'll see.
 
Islabikes Luath 24 (£400) 
'for children aged 8+' 
Shimano/ Tektro/ SRAM 8 speed groupset 11-32 cassette
Double brake levers
9.05 Kgs
Comment: Light and well made. Islabikes have a great reputation. Buy with confidence and they hold their price well. Notice how the bars are in proportion compared to some of the other bikes.

Dawes Espoir 3000 (£400)
'carefully designed to be a perfect junior road bike.'
16 speed
Proportional frame, bars & cranks, but not levers?
11.4 Kgs
Comment: On the face of it pretty expensive when compared to the Islabike which is more than 2 Kgs lighter.

Moda Minor 24 (£470)
'Geometry and components chosen to fit a junior rider' 
Microshift/ Shimano 18 speed groupset
Comment: My 9 year old tried it but was put off by the fact that his fingers couldn't reach around the brake levers.  I saw a boy who had just crashed at the Cycling Weekly Dorking Original Sportive last week because of the brake issue.
Looks cool, but make sure your child tries it properly first. 
···UPDATE··· The Moda kids bikes have been re-designed to make them more child friendly i.e. more suitable for smaller hands. Give ´em a try! 

Scott Speedster Jr 24499-£579)
'perfect choice for the budding rider looking to make their first step into road racing'

Shimano 16 speed gears
8.4 Kgs
As purchased by 'VeloMom'
Comment: Serious machine, looks great, very light. Quite expensive at full price but good value on sale at £499. Resale value will be high. I think your child would need to be pretty confident to ride this.

Felt F24 (£589)
'Big time performance isn't just for grown-ups anymore'
Microshift/ Shimano groupset
Kids’ bars and levers
Alex Rim wheels
8.64 Kgs
Comment: Again, a very light, nice looking kids road bike with good components. Pretty much as above.

The Grupetto Primavera 24" (£575)
'a perfectly proportioned Road bike for young racers'.
Shimano/Alhonga groupset
Kids geometry
KT Road wheels
'Just over' 9Kgs
Comment: Italian styling, decent weight, good geometry.


At the other end of the spectrum I found this on sale at Amazon:

Viking Phantom 20"
'Junior steel entry level road bike'
Shimano 7 speed
12.1 Kgs
Comment: The cheapest, the smallest and the heaviest. Single brake levers. I can't imagine it can be any good,.? Treat with caution! It's heavy!

Conclusion
Well the old adage might hold true here: You get what you pay for. The Scott and Felt bikes look like scaled down pro-style road bikes and the Luarth 24 is a safe, reliable bet if you want a bike that is sure to be tailor made for a child's proportions. Dual brake controls might be essential if your child's hands are on the small side to enable safe braking when descending in particular.
At the Dorking Original Sportive I saw a dad with three boys on small size Triban 3s and they, dad told me, love them. So I'm off asap to Decathlon with my boys to try the B'Twin Triban junior and will report back shortly.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

KIDS BIKES - BALANCE & FIRST BIKE


Choosing a bike for your child has never been easy, but the good news is that in recent years manufacturers have at last latched on to the fact that parents are prepared to pay a little extra to get a high quality, well made bike with decent components and wheels, one that won't break your back when you try to lift it. And lets face it, your child may be able to cycle to the park, but when he or she refuses to cycle home again it'll be you who ends up carrying the bike.

Yes, you coud go to Halfords, the supermarket chains or the online retailers and buy something for £100 or less, but you'll probably end up with a bike that 'll put your child off cycling for years if you do. 
I know because I made that mistake myself by ordering a cheap bike (a Raleigh as it happens) on Amazon. It weighed a ton and the twist grip for gear shifting was so stiff even I struggled with it. My four year old had no chance. When I took it to my local bike shop to fix it they said it served me right for buying a cheap bike. Bit blunt, but fair cop.

BALANCE BIKES

My first tip is to start your child off with a 'balance bike'. There are many out there, and they're amazing. Kids love pushing themselves along on them and soon they'll be balancing  between pushes. And better still, when your child is ready for his first proper bike you won't need to bother with stabilisers, and before you know it, your budding Cav or Wiggo will be bombing around the park without a care in the world.
There are loads of brands to choose from, and they can be picked up second hand without too much difficulty.

FIRST BIKES

Size
It's very important to buy the right size bike for your child. One that's too big with brake handles that can't be operated properly will be dangerous, and crashes will only put your child off.

What to look for
Much like buying an adult bike, it's weight, components, wheels and build-quality that matter most, with weight being especially important for children.
Many parents/children opt for mountain bikes, but to be honest the extra weight of the suspension forks isn't really justifiable unless your child is going to be getting involved in some serious off-road action. 
It's more of a style issue. Children (well boys, mainly) tend to think mountain bikes are cool because they look tank-like.

Brands
So what are the main choices available? Well one brand stands out from the rest.
Cnoc 14
Islabikes are a shining light in kids' bikes manufacturing these days. Their UK assembled machines tick all the boxes. They're light, have good components (SRAM provide the groupsets), decent wheels and look great too. On the downside they're not cheap, but whichever model you go for you can guarantee that you'll be able to sell it for not far off what you bought it for when your child has outgrown it. Take a look on eBay if you don't believe me. 
The Cnoc 14 (also available in red!) weighs  just 5.68 Kgs and is suitable for children aged 3+. The Cnoc 16 is a slightly bigger version for age 4+ (still under 6Kgs and much cheaper than a Parlee!)


My six-year-old hated cycling because the cheap pile of junk I bought him when he was three put him off completely. It had stabilisers which were so badly designed that he toppled over twice, completely destroying his confidence, until he refused to get back on it.
GoTommy!


Eventually I bought him an Islabike Beinn 20 (7.9Kgs) for his sixth birthday. Unfortunately he refused to ride that as well after an initial wobbly attempt to cycle in our local park ended in failure. I actually had to borrow a balance bike which he secretly used at home when no-one was looking to get the balancing thing sorted. After two goes he got the hang of it. The next time we went to the park I ran alongside him with my hand on the back of the saddle; and the time after that he had it cracked. Of course now he really had the cycling bug and wanted to know why he didn't have a road bike like Cav (we'll come to that later!).

To be fair, there are a few alternatives out there that aren't too bad, but before you buy them check out the weight. They might be made by the big bike brands, but that doesn't mean they'll be as light as the Islabike. 
Even the very popular £250.00 Specialized Hotrock mountain bike [left] weighs in at 10.35 Kgs, that's the weight of an average adult bike. According to Bike Radar 'A kilo saved from the bike of a six-year-old weighing 30kg is like 2.5kg saved from an adult's'.


Giant XTC


The Giant XTC [right] looks ok for £200 but its weight isn't quoted on the Giant website. 
Trek, Scott and others have also dipped their toes half-heartedly into the children's market, without any great success.


Or there's always 2012's take on the good old Raleigh Chopper (£245.00) if your child has a good grip on post modernist irony. But they don't make 'em like they used to.

The Ridgeback MX20 is a big seller at around £200 (14 and 16" versions are also available). It has front suspension which means it weighs a fairly hefty 11.2Kgs




So to sum up, a good quality kids starter bike will cost you more than you might hope or expect, but your child will enjoy it much more, and you can resell it rather than junking it when it's been outgrown.
It'll also potentially cost you a lot less to service and repair as it'll be well made and less likely to go wrong (or fall apart). Cheap bikes often turn out to be a false economy.

Tom and I regularly go for quite lengthy rides (over ten miles) and so long as there isn't an uphill finish he's fine. A bit like me really.

Monday, 15 October 2012

RIDE A SPORTIVE - ON THE WRONG BIKE?


Due to some bad planning on my part I yesterday (Sunday 14th Oct) took part in the Dorking Original Sportive on my Surly Cross Check 10 speed commuter/touring bike. Yes I stripped off the kickstand and rack, and swapped over the saddle and seatpost to reduce weight, but it still tipped the scales at over 12 Kgs.

My wife, however, had no such problem with her trusty Giant Avail and cheerfully slipped past me on some of the steeper hills. Happily, neither of us had to get off and push, unlike quite a few of our fellow competitors participants.

I had ordered my Canyon Ultimate AL 9.0 Di2 on the 13th September hoping for it to arrive in time for yesterday's race event, but at time of writing, I'm told I have to wait another week and a half. I'm not complaining, however, as I (by chance) bought the bike in Canyon's end of season sale for £1680.00. I've just noticed the new 2013 price is £2039.00 - so that's an unusual stroke of luck.

And to be honest the increased anticipation is going to make its arrival all the more exciting, as well as more appreciated. As I slogged up and down hills for thirty one and a half miles yesterday I was dreaming of how the Canyon might handle the ride, compared to my very solid (and much loved, I have to say) Surly. 

Buying a new bike is a marvellous thing, so drawing out the whole process is actually rather a good idea. I can enjoy picturing myself 'literally' flying up the hills and taking on the serious roadies at Richmond Park for another couple of weeks. Once the bike has arrived no doubt my illusions will be shattered again. But at least I 'll be able to compare my times around the park with those achieved on the Ribble Sportive Bianco (my old road bike, just sold), although I'll need to get a bit fitter before doing that. My friends in the London Cycle Workshop are certain the Canyon should be a more zippy ride and I'm looking forward to being able to shift across the chainrings without the chain falling off (see a previous post!)


The lovely Koga-Miyata is still in the workshop awaiting new tyres, but being a 1977 Gents Tourer (GT) it isn't really designed for sportives either and, although it also has 10 gears, its vintage Shimano 600 gear ratio isn't nearly as wide as that of the Surly's modern 10 speed Tiagra, despite only having a single 42 tooth chainring. The Koga is a double (two chainrings) but they seem to be oddly similar in size. I'll count them when I get possession of the bike but they looked like 54/50 or something crazy. 

TOP TIP: One thing I can confirm however, is that you'll get a much better work-out riding a Sportive on a heavy hybrid than you will on your lightweight road bike. I felt like I'd ridden 50 miles rather than 31! [Update: Stiffness appeared in my glutes on Wednesday. 1st time I've had stiff legs after a ride. Didn't stretch though. Actually, not sure how to stretch come to think of it.]

This was my wife's first Sportive. Although she enjoys a bike ride she doesn't quite share my enthusiasm for everything cycling. Whereas I read Cycling Plus, Cycling Active, Cycling Weekly, Pro Cycling and Cycle Sport she reads Gardeners World (and a host of thrillers, most of which, rather worryingly, seem to be about women bumping off their husbands and getting away with it).

At the end of the ride Chris Boardman presented us with our rather fine medals and we had a bit of a chit-chat about brakes. Lucy's toying with the idea of getting a flat-bar road bike because she struggles with reaching the brakes, which means she's very careful (slow!) going downhill. Chris said his wife is the same, and recommended getting a hybrid with hydraulic disc brakes - rather charmingly he never mentioned Boardman bikes. 


 Clearly Lucy had no idea who she was talking to because when I said "she could get one of yours Chris" she piped up with "Jim's buying a Canyon". He actually looked rather hurt, but despite that he was still happy to pose for a photo. 
Cheers Lu. Apparently she thought he was 'some bloke who owned a bike shop'. 

Sunday, 7 October 2012

CYCLE FITTING - A CASH COW FOR BIKE SHOPS?

Getting a bike made-to-measure is something many cyclists aspire to but few can afford. There's no question that done properly, a fitting session should result in a bike that will fit you perfectly, and be tailor-made for the type of cycling you do the most.
But if you can't afford a custom build then the next best thing is to have your own bike fitted to your individual optimum riding position.
A few months ago I went along for a session at a London bike shop where they used a well known bike-fitting company's technicians. The session lasted over an hour and cost a little over a hundred pounds.
The technician spotted a few problems with my set up on the bike; my cycling shoes were too loose and their cleats weren't aligned correctly, the saddle was too small and too low, and the bars were too wide and tilted forward too much, making me reach too far thus putting a strain on my back.
I was then fitted for special shoe inserts that were heat moulded to my feet, a new set of bars were fitted, and a new Fizik saddle replaced my more basic one. I left the shop feeling more comfortable on the bike but a little lighter in the pocket. After a couple of rides I was happy that I could ride for longer before the dreaded back pain kicked in, I felt like I was pedalling more efficiently, and the saddle was probably a little more comfortable than my old one.

I was a bit surprised, however, when I looked at the old bars that had come off my bike and realised they had been exactly the same size and shape as the new ones that had been fitted. Still, overall I was pleased enough, and was happy to recommend the service to a friend who had shoulder problems which his physio felt were exacerbated by road cycling.
I bumped into him the other day and he was pretty pleased with the results of his fitting. They'd said that his Specialized Allez, although it was the right size, was the wrong shape for him and 'couldn't be adjusted to fit'. They suggested a make and model of road bike that would suit him much better. I was impressed that they would recommend a bike that they don't actually sell, but less impressed when he replied that they do actually now sell them. This started the alarm bells ringing. As far as I can see, the two bikes have very similar geometry. It seemed odd that the Allez could not be adjusted sufficiently to fit, while this new bike, of the same size and shape, would make such a difference. I was also alarmed when he said they'd suggested that he swapped his run-around hybrid for one of the the same make as the road bike they'd recommended. Surely the bike shop wasn't using the cycle fitting service to sell new bikes to customers who didn't need them? Surely not!?
So if you're getting fitted for your own bike, be careful. If they recommend new bars and stem, or a new saddle, don't feel you have to go along with it. If you do, then think of shopping around before you buy theirs at full price. And if they suggest buying one of the bikes they sell, ask what the exact differences are between yours and the ones they're recommending.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

HERNE HILL VELODROME IN THE SUMMER

It's October, the day's are getting shorter and colder. So here's a reminder of cycling heaven to cheer us all up.