Should Children be Indulged Cyclists?

suffering_rain

As my son has got more into cycling, I have grappled with the question: “Should he have the best equipment?”

On the one hand, I feel that we all need to make our own experiences. I learned how to jump a racing bike with skinny tires across streetcar tracks – after a few near-crashes when my rear tire got caught in the gap. I cobbled together a bike on a shoestring when I was in college. I now am glad about those experiences. I feel that riding inferior bikes has made me a better cyclist. It also made me more appreciative of what I have now.

However, when my son’s narrow tires got caught in a gap between two concrete road panels and he crashed on our first cross-town ride, I wondered how far you want to go in having your children make their own experiences. I recall many of my own lucky escapes during my youth, but there probably were others who weren’t as lucky…

When my son joined me for our first truly long ride, it started raining. His bike did not have fenders (above). He was a good sport as the spray ran down his nose and coated his back with grime. As I rode my fender-and-mudflap-equipped bike, I wondered: “Should I really introduce him to the suffering of cycling in this way?”  Or should I just get him a 650B bike with supple tires, fenders and excellent brakes, so his cycling can be as enjoyable and safe as mine?

Where safety is concerned, the decision is easy. While I survived a childhood of riding a bike with steel rims that offered almost zero braking in the rain, I will make sure that my son has equipment that is safe to use. We are replacing the brake pads on his brakes with better ones. He obviously has a helmet, and he’ll also get fenders and good lights. No more narrow tires, either!

smile_cross

But what about things that enhance his cycling experience? Last autumn was my son’s first cyclocross season. He lined up against children who rode carbon bikes and were dressed in skinsuits full of sponsorship logos – “the pro kids,” as he called them. He was wearing an old T-shirt and a pair of hand-me-down cycling shorts. His shoes were spinning shoes found on close-out at REI. His bike was a nice test bike, but far from a professional-grade ‘cross racing machine. And yet he had a great time and did quite well, and I believe he learned that equipment alone does not determine success or enjoyment of a sport.

Now that he has shown a great love for the sport, I am tempted to get him the equipment that makes cycling more enjoyable … at least within reason. We don’t feed him bad food, so why should he ride on crummy tires? I needed somebody to test our new Barlow Pass 700C x 38 mm tires anyhow, so that is what he is riding now. Next winter, he’ll have wool tights and a real jersey, so he can enjoy rides in all weather. And maybe, some day, he’ll even get the full 650B bike of his dreams.

What are your thoughts about cycling equipment for children?

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

I love cycling and bicycles, especially those that take us off the beaten path. I edit Bicycle Quarterly magazine, and occasionally write for other publications. One of our companies, Bicycle Quarterly Press publishes cycling books, while Compass Bicycles Ltd. makes and distributes high-quality bicycle components for real-world riders.
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75 Responses to Should Children be Indulged Cyclists?

  1. Rick Harker says:

    Jan,
    One the 2 things my kids hear repetitively is “safety first, fun second”. You’re right in the safety aspect. I don’t know any father who wants to see their kids hurt, especially whilst they’re together.
    Another factor is equality. I know if you’re trying to engage your family to experience your own enjoyments they may do it just to please you. As you will appreciate yourself, what is best for you may not be for others but you will also know your family best and will appreciate their involvement to share with yourself. It is, very endearing.
    Equipment? You don’t have to spend a fortune but appropriate equipment and of course clothing will make for an enjoyable experience that will last for life.
    Just judging by the photos you post, I have to say I would like to be there too.
    Oh! the other thing they hear; “First get organised. Second, get it right the first time”.

  2. cbratina says:

    Same dilemma, but easier for us because we tandem so their “bike” was just as good as “our” bike. When our boys got big enough, I handed down my old bikes and bought new ones for myself.

  3. I remember my first bike, it was a BMX, really heavy, poorly designed, but it had wide tires, no derailleurs. There wasn’t much I could do with it, but it proved to be great fun and bombproof. One day my father bought me a mountain bike (with fat aluminum tubing, gears, and way too big for me, it still is). The first thing I asked him was where my old bike was, but he had given it to an NGO.
    I stopped cycling alltogether.
    More than the best equipment, I think kids should have good equipment that suits their needs and their riding style.
    In any case, good tires shouldn’t be negotiable.

  4. anniebikes says:

    I think it totally depends upon a child’s love of the sport. I don’t think you are spoiling your son at all. Times have changed and there’s new, safer equipment.

    Our children have basic mountain bikes. I oil the bikes and keep them in general running condition, appropriate air pressure, cursory wipe down. If my children were into commuting, they would get the full fender and rack treatment, and a nice rain jacket. I’m trying to convert them, but so far no go.

  5. jeff says:

    as long as he appreciates what he has, he should be encouraged.

  6. stevy says:

    So long as he appreciates what he has and looks after it I see no problem in giving a young person expensive equipment. It could even be given as a reward for hard work at school or home. Would you buy a professional quality flute if your son showed passion, applied himself and had talent to warrant it?

    Stevy

  7. ascpgh says:

    As a young rider, one part of my quest in cycling was the independence, mobility and extended range of travel that it afforded me. The other was a subject matter presenting me with a spectrum of objectives in the form of bikes, parts and accessories. It set the bar for my ability to devise, execute and promote earning opportunities and to save aggressively to reach those goals by my means. Those things really meant something to me because of the physical experience it required me to endure to acquire.

    Had I been aided to the superlatives of these categories as a reward for my interest or effort alone, my goal setting development and experience would have been cut short of not formed at all.

    Similarly, when almost 16, I found and bought a car for $150 and dragged it home on a chain behind my friend’s truck. It was a ’67 MGB and I put more effort than money into it via used tires, a battery from a junk yard that held a charge and a self-education on rebuilding and tuning SU carburetors. I sold it for $1000 before the title had come back from the state from my purchase. Junk, but it was mine and an education I wouldn’t have received had I not been let to pursue with my own means.

    Andy Cheatham
    Pittsburgh

  8. Brian says:

    I have wondered the same thing with my 12 year old son. He seems to enjoy riding with me and I love bikes and all things cycling so to me, it seems natural to want to indulge him. That said, I didn’t. I got an old Trek 500 frame size in his size, had him help me build it up with used parts, fenders, 32mm tires, rear rack and 7 speed friction shifting. He really loves it. He rides to school and with me on weekends, etc. I have been teaching him how to maintain and repair it. That has been a bit more of a challenege for him but he is learning and that is the key in my mind. I feel it is my job to plant the seed and help him learn.

    • Your approach has been mine, for the most part, too. It’s more about the things that you cannot find used, like cycling shoes, clothing, etc.

    • Greg says:

      I think you are very much on the right track! That is very similar to how I have approached it with my two sons. They each loved their very-inexpensive BMX bikes when young, rode them everywhere, and took good care of them, so I bought them each an inexpensive (but bike-shop-purchased, so ‘real’) MTB when they were ready. The older one lost interest when he earned his driver’s license, so that was it. He’s a competitive swimmer now. The younger one, however, who is now 24 years old, has become a ‘serious cyclist.’ He rode that MTB through high school, worked, and then bought a nicer MTB with his own money. At one point I found a very nice 1980s full Dura-Ace 7400 Schwinn Paramount very cheaply on eBay in his size, so I gave that to him (it cost about one-tenth the price of a new, high-end road bike), and he still has it. After college, he moved to Seattle for work, so he and I built up a vintage steel bike for commuting, with fenders and an IGH. He is now in Denver, commuting on an old Fuji Touring bike that he purchased, and we are dreaming up a 700c Sportif for him (which he will build by himself). I think the main thing is that by about age twelve or perhaps fourteen, they need to be earning some money and saving up for (and buying, or at least contributing significantly towards buying) major items, so they have some ‘skin in the game.’ (We did the same with their first cars, which were purchased for about $2000 in both cases). Then you can work on teaching them Suze Orman’s motto: “People first, money second, then things.”

  9. Patrick O'Riordan says:

    Cycling as a sport? Or riding a bike as part of everyday life? If it is part of everyday life, then no special equipment needed, just a practical bike. Cleats aren’t needed for getting to a local park for a kick-about with other kids…

  10. stevep33 says:

    It is not about the bike. The fanciest bikes are not found in the Cat 1 2 races… go figure.

    Indulging because you can isn’t a bad thing, but indulge at 105, not Dura Ace. And more importantly indulge with your time and energy.

    • Indulgence will be more likely a nice frame with thinwall tubing, equipped with used parts. In the end, it is about the bike, too. You don’t need carbon wheels or expensive derailleurs, but when I raced, I never saw anybody win a race on an inexpensive bike with drainpipe tubing. To well in racing, you need legs, head and a good bike. The same three components also greatly increase your enjoyment of long rides…

  11. Vik says:

    I’d get him decent equipment. Doesn’t have to be the best, but he might as well benefit from your experience and knowledge. There will still be plenty to learn about. It’s a big world.

    – Vik

  12. Bryan Lorber says:

    What I would give to have a son or daughter who enjoys touring as much as I do! You are blessed, Jan, and should buy him the very best! If he shares your enthusiasm and perhaps has an interest in the family “business” then there is no reason not to indulge him. He appears a charming young man in your photographs and it’s wonderful that he shares your passion for bicycles.

    • Greg says:

      I kind of disagree. I wouldn’t be buying him a fully-custom, $10,000 Randonneuse with all the bells and whistles right now, for multiple reasons. That said, I wouldn’t put him on an unsafe $179.00 BSO (bicycle-shaped object, typically purchased from Wally World) either, but there is a whole lot in between those extremes. Moderation in all things is usually the best practice….

  13. Malcolm Wright says:

    I think it important to fight against the belief that always having the latest equipment is necessary. It is more important for them to learn the basics on whatever bike they can get and teach them the value of money by making them pay for any upgrade.

    • I don’t think there is much risk in our household that he’ll get the latest cycling equipment! The question of money is an interesting one – I don’t want my son working, once he gets into high school, to earn money for bikes, cars, phones, clothes or whatnot. His job is to focus on his education. I have seen too many college students side-tracked by the lure of easy money into dead-end jobs, rather than focus on their education as a foundation for the future.

      I think the big difference that needs to be taught is the difference of need and want, but where do you draw the line? Is healthy food a need or want? What about a decent bike?

      • stevep33 says:

        Need vs want. Please ask an easier question!
        One person’s need is another person’s want. Healthy food and nice gear are a statement of your values (that I happen to agree with), but more generally it sets the example that making choices about priorities is a reasonable activity.

      • Greg says:

        Jan, students with jobs get higher grades!!

      • That is an interesting statistic, but you really need a randomized study to prove this. Otherwise, it might just be that more organized students who can hold down a job while also going to school get higher grades no matter whether they work or not. Would they get even higher grades without jobs? Or play their musical instruments better? I see my son having hardly any time for extracurricular activities, and I don’t think adding a job to the mix would be beneficial.

      • Larry T. says:

        Interesting point. I neither have nor want kids. But as a former child, I think it’s important to learn one big thing about cycling, especially when it comes to racing. It’s the LEGS and LUNGS (and the head) rather than the bike. A true cycling champion would kick the a__ of everyone who posts here on the cheapest road bike at your LBS, have no doubt about that. As the husband of a college-level educator, I’ll agree you don’t want you kid wasting his time asking “do you want fries with that?” instead of studying, but if/when he/she wants to buy stuff like cycling equipment rather than the basic needs, earning the dough in some fashion is preferable to having it all handed to them. Give the kid your hand-me-down stuff, but don’t spoil him with brand-new unless nothing else can be found – and make him/her earn some of it. Respect for machinery is important too, teaching them to take care of the bike, car, etc. goes a long way in the responsibility category.

  14. It is an interesting issue. When I was 12 or 13, I upgraded from a Niskiki bike to an aluminum Giant ATX730 (could be off on the model number). It was a $1200 bike and suitable for the cross country racing I’ve been doing. While it’s sticker price barely touches that of my current race ride, it was the most expensive bike my parents could imagine.

    They didn’t simply buy it for me. I had to work for their summer business a few hours per week as compensation.

    Part of me always wishes they’d just paid for it. All my friends were getting upgraded bikes to race on, so it seemed only logical that I would too. My parents were supporting my competitive racing.

    On the other hand, I still get up on Saturdays to shoot a sunrise or type out a story to make a few extra dollars that goes into my current bike fund. It seems like they taught me a valuable lesson….

    • Greg says:

      Yes! 100% correct. No instant gratification. First you earn the money, then you save a portion of it, then you pay cash for what you worked to get. Fabulous life lessons.

      • I think the bigger question is whether children have dreams that they do not get fulfilled immediately. So no BMW for the 16th birthday. (In fact, no car at all!) But $ 10/hour at age 16 allows a lot of instant gratification, as long as parents pay for all the necessities of food, housing and clothing. And jobs like that teach a focus on money over other things. Work a few more hours to buy stuff, rather than read, play music or spend time with friends.

        I think there are two sides to the argument, and when the time comes, I’ll consider both.

      • Greg says:

        Money IS far more important than things! It is a tool that has to be managed properly. It’s not as black-and-white as you portray it, but more like shades of grey. I’m not saying your son should go flip burgers for twenty-five hours per week at age twelve, far from it. Maybe he helps you occasionally and gets paid for that at a rate of five Dollars per hour (for example). However, if he never earns anything that he receives, there will be problems at some point, mark my words….

      • I totally agree with the shades of gray. My son already helps with inventory and other small jobs at Compass Bicycles – when he has done all his homework and other commitments – to earn a little money.

  15. If he is enjoying cycling, good equipment within reason is justifiable. The cost of an Isla Bike is inline with Trek and Specialized kids bikes. The big challenge with sports for youths is many parents push their kids too much and they lose sight of letting kids be kids and enjoy the sport. Winning is nice but learning good sportsmanship and having fun is as important, if not more important in my opinion.

    • I totally agree. Whether it’s cross, soccer or anything else, the focus should be on giving your best, not how you rank among others. My son’s best race was also the biggest of the season, and he was a bit disappointed about his placings. I pointed out to him that the riders had come to this race from all over the region, unlike the previous races that were attended mostly by local riders…

      • Jan: You are a good parent and are making the right choices. There is always a race winner but there are no losers. Everyone who participates in sports and works hard to do their best is a winner.

        “For when the One Great Scorer comes
        To mark against your name,
        He writes – not that you won or lost –
        But how you played the Game.”

        Gantland Rice

  16. shastatour says:

    My children were runners and skiers. Since they did these competitively at the high school level we bought them the equipment needed to compete. And, getting them new running shoes was not that expensive and saved their feet from injury. For skiing, they had the requisite slalom and giant slalom skies along with good boots. They did not get new equipment every season like some of the hotshots.

    So, should you get your son a new bicycle? That depends. Every situation is different. He looks very happy on his bicycle. It really does not make sense to keep buying him new latest/greatest every other year if he is still growing. There is also the concept of him working for the things he wants. Obviously you have some needs like tire testing that he could help with and the reward could be new equipment.

    On a personal level, I sold Christmas cards, ran paper routes, sold raspberries I picked from our backyard, and other little projects to get money for bicycles, BB guns, etc. I treated those things very carefully because they were bought with my hard work.

    My daughter ended up getting a substantial part of her college tuition paid on scholarship to run. So, in the end everything worked out well for us and both children keep themselves in great shape and enjoy sports now that they are in their twenties.

    For me, if I see the child really working at their sport and pushing themselves to excel, I am inclined to support them with equipment. If they only skied 10x a year for fun and did not willingly go to training, listen and use what the coaches told them, and push themselves on race day, I would not have paid the money for all that equipment.

    Tough decision that really has to be based on your own gut feel of what is support vs what is spoiling the child.

    • Semilog says:

      “Getting them new running shoes was not that expensive and saved their feet from injury.”

      I’m aware of no medical literature — zero — that persuasively shows that new or, indeed, running-specific shoes reduce injury among competitive runners. Best as I can tell, it’s all advertising. If others are aware of such literature I’d be indebted for pointers to the reports.

      • There is a lot to consider when buying your child equipment. How long running shoes last is a contentious topic. I am a light runner who don’t pronate, so I can wear my shoes for a long time… but others tend to wear them into weird shapes more quickly.

  17. Lee Kenney says:

    Having spent years in a bike and ski shop , my experience with “pro kids “and their parents has not always been pleasant but then on a recent trip to Cuba , I met young racers who through “Bikes for Cuba ” get used equipment to ride . When you see “sectioned ” frames of large bikes , to fit small riders, it is a different perspective . The bicycle is self-propelled , self -empowerment, encourage it by any means even good rubber . Calvin and Hobbes had some good kid -bike-parent moments .

  18. Joe Ramey says:

    That you are entertaining this question indicates you are a great dad Jan. How great your son has joined you in a passion for cycling. Congratulations! Whatever else you decide, your son needs excellent tires, brakes, and fenders.

  19. Paul Ahart says:

    I’ve always believed that giving a child good-quality equipment, whether it be a musical instrument or a bicycle, goes far in encouraging her to go as far as possible, or her interest, can carry her. If a child shows interest in music and wants to learn guitar, buy them a decent instrument; a good used one is best. If they want to cycle and funds are limited, search for a good used “bike shop quality” bike in the appropriate size/weight. Good equipment makes for positive experiences, which encourages more of the same.

    My daughter was lucking “growing up in a bike shop,” and we did indulge her sporting interests. Now in her 30′s, she’s deeply involved in the cycling industry, has worked as an advisor and a model for Rapha, is starting her own women’s outdoor clothing company, and has become a good writer on the sport. She’s got a feature article in Privateer, a British mountain bike publication, and just today published this on her blog: http://collynahart.tumblr.com/post/79257863995/womens-cycling-culture-the-cult-of-the-beginner
    Do I regret the money spent on good bikes and good experiences as she grew up? Not a chance. Assisting our children is not about doing everything for them, but rather giving them some of the tools they’ll use to make their own way.

  20. Teemu Sauer says:

    Jan: I have been racing competitions in the mid 70´s to mid 80´s or from age 7 to 15. I never had a “good” bike, only my little very heavy narrow 650b tired Lejeune. First it was too big and later too small. My father took of fenders and lights and made it look like a racing bike. Still i won every race, except one where i finished 3rd. With my father we drove extended tours around Frankfurt (Germany) cleaned our bikes together ect.. These experiences where much more important than trophys and made me part of who i am now and why i am still love bicycles. On the other hand my parents ,weirdly , never got me a good new racing bike, so the interest in competive cycling ceased. I think that equipment should grow with the need, but more important it is to be a parent and including the child in ones hobby is very rewarding for both.

    http://birotatio.blogspot.fi/2013/09/once-upon-time.html

  21. Jason Marshall says:

    I don’t have kids so I am already wandering pretty far into the hypothetical here…

    There seems to be a theme building about teaching kids the value of a buck. It seems to me that the two of you could make an awesome project of searching through craigslist/ebay/local bike shops/etc. to source all the necessary parts to build an appropriately priced bike.

    Your son would get a great sense of how much each component cost and you guys could discuss where it made sense to invest more and where opportunities to save made sense. The build wouldn’t happen overnight so patience would also be a corollary lesson. The excitement and satisfaction would grow as the semi-built rig sat in the workshop.

    This approach would have some additional benefit. You guys would have a project that you can work on together and really Jan you are uniquely qualified as a father to teach a great deal here about component selection and bicycle mechanics.

  22. Andy says:

    I worked at a bike shop for one season, and would occasionally talk to someone with a long list of specs for a bike they wanted someone else to ride. Sometimes these would get into complicated setups like 650b conversions or “Shimergo” components. Some even mentioned reading BQ or the blog comments here for these ideas! The shop owner would always say “Are you building this bike for YOU or for your friend/spouse/child?” It was clear that some people went overboard with parts that simply don’t matter to the person who was going to ride the bike. My guess is that most of these people were just projecting their interests onto someone else. I saw one man very disappointed when he came back and said his custom-spec’d set of bikes for family members during the holidays didn’t receive much excitement.

  23. Tobin Henderson says:

    It’s frustrating to feel like you’re being held back by your equipment. I think there are some areas, especially if you’re competing, in which money needs to be spent. If your inexpensive CX fork is shuddering badly under hard braking, for example, that can be very distracting. The price of a new fork may well be ‘worth’ the investment. I always raced with a bar-end shifter, but Integrated shifting is nice if he likes to sprint out of the saddle. You don’t want to feel like you missed the podium because you spun out mid-sprint while the kid beside you just dabbed his lever and edged you at the line. Tubular tires, also, can make things a lot more pleasant. The difference between a 105 and a dura-ace derailleur? Not so much. I think if you focus on areas in which money spent has a real impact, there’s no danger of ‘spoiling’ a kid with equipment that works.

    In my opinion, it should all be good enough that he’s not thinking of the bike at all, just the fun he’s having…and maybe the pain in his legs.

    • A friend of ours, who raced professionally in Europe, promotes XC via his bike shop and still races tells XC racer, 50% of winning is technique. Equipment is important but it not the total picture. As parents, we all need to balance the kids interests and well being against the checkbook. The simplest approach to sports requiring expensive equipment is to standardize the equipment. This would eliminate the equipment factor.

      • Tobin Henderson says:

        Standardizing has already happened…CX has quite an extensive rule book. But not one that’s going to change to fit your personal finances.

  24. marmotte27 says:

    I wanted to get my son a bike with fenders, racks and dyno hub…. he didn’t want it. So now he can’t complain about getting wet in the rain.

  25. Noel H. says:

    I loved riding from the first moment one of my training wheels fell off and I discovered the bicycle as a dynamic, almost living thing.

    In the subsequent forty or so years, bicycles and bicycling became my life. From riding with friends, to racing (at a fairly high level, for a few years), to a full-time coaching business, and eventually to randonneuring, “all-road” riding, and framebuilding.

    And looking back on it, the very best times were as a young child, riding some old clunker ,unsupervised, to wherever I wanted to go.

    So if the question is “What kind of equipment should my child have?” the answer probably is “Whatever he wants.” And what he wants will probably be a surprise, and probably won’t include anything like the typical adult prefers.

  26. Robert Aguirre says:

    Many overlapping issues here, but I’ll restrict mine to whether your gear holds you back. The story is from triathlon, where gearheads rule. Go to any start line and you’ll see lots of very lavish equipment, with bikes well into the 5 figures. Add the aero helmets, carbon shoes, wetsuits, and all the rest and you are looking at a lot of coin. Now go to the finish line of the bike leg. The pro level racers all have the fancy equipment, but the age groupers vary quite a bit, with no clear line to draw from level of equipment to final placing. Some years ago while riding a mid-level aero TT bike I got handled a slice of delicious humble pie from a kid who blasted by in the bike leg riding his steel Schwinn Continental. I will not soon forget the looks on the faces of all the 45 year olds on their expensive carbon rigs. Taught me a great lesson about racing. It’s the engine, not the bike.

    • Your point is a good one – what many riders think is needed to go faster really doesn’t make a big difference.

      However, that doesn’t mean that the bike doesn’t make a difference. At Bicycle Quarterly, we’ve spent a lot of time and effort figuring out what really makes a difference in a bike’s performance: tires first, followed by the frame’s flex characteristics, as well as rider position and clothing. Aero bars probably make a bigger difference than any other equipment in a shortish time trial, but they are easy to add even to a Schwinn Continental.

  27. Glenn Ammons says:

    This post makes me wonder what kind of cyclists my own children will turn out to be (or not turn out to be).

    We’ve tried to buy our daughter, who is five, decent, enjoyable bikes that will help her learn. She had a Strider balance bike from age 2 and was riding it pretty well at 3. After that, she moved up to a 12″ bike with a coaster brake. It was nothing fancy but it had wide tires so she could ride it over the grass at the park and a basket up front so she could carry her treasures. She rode that to school on the sidewalks while I ran alongside her. Now she has an Islabike that is lighter and faster and has shifters and hand brakes; she’s excited about it but we’ve been too snowed in to use it much yet. The bike cost $400, which is a lot of money for a 5-year old’s bike, but she should get 2 years out of it, her brother could use it later, and it should hold its value.

    I hope that, when they’re older, the kids are interested enough in bikes that we’ll worry about the questions Jan raises in this post.

  28. Jon Gehman says:

    I like your approach. Good basic equipment, whether used, close-out or whatever, allows the young person to be involved and get started up the learning curve. There’s value for our children in experiencing the compromise involved in deciding where our resources go, and who’d want them to miss the aspirational awakening of developing tastes and preferences of they’re own?

    I believe it’s healthy for us to free ourselves from the idea that only the best of EVERTHING is good enough for us. By buying only the newest/bestest gear for our children, we reinforce some of the consumerism that plagues us all. If we start them with the basics, they learn that lot’s of things are accessible that look intimidating from the spectators side of things. Then once they’re out there participating, they get to learn things like… Putting off a new bike till next year might be how we pay for going to do D2R2 this year, or, “The bike I have right now is the BEST bike to go ride right now”, or even “The rider with the scruffy gear might be the strongest, and it might be THEM”. Also, starting lower, you leave room later for a gift that really matters to a young person who seriously commits/falls for something. My 15 year old Daughter races a 15 year old Mountain Bike we bought inexpensively from a local Pro. Maybe “Obsolete” but better than most of my racebikes and hardly used. It’s certainly not holding her back and if she keeps racing there’ll be other bikes. She has a really fine old French horn that matters more to her than a brand new bike anyway and we couldn’t provide her with both.

  29. Michael Holohan says:

    I lucked out my sons passion and commitment started early. Sure as parents we fueled his new found love with decent bikes often given as birthday and holiday gifts. Now he fuels his own passion in college working part time at the LBS, training,riding crits, cross and mt bike. Trust me I do enjoy seeing him put the pro kids in the pain cave.

  30. Cynthia Ferenci says:

    Jan, having no children of my own, and trying like the devil to get my 4 nieces and nephew interested in cycling, with no luck, I don’t feel qualified to comment on your question.

    I will say though that you are indeed fortunate to have a child who is interested in cycling the way your son seems to be. I would think the most important factor in any equipment selection would be first and foremost that it’s safe. Beyond that, each situation is unique, as each child is unique.

    And judging by the smile on your son’s face, I’m betting he had a lot more fun in that CX race than “the pro kids” did.

  31. Heather says:

    The Islabike looks cute, I’m almost tempted to get the road bike because I am so short…. But there are enough small high end vintage frames that he might fit, or a conversion to 650b with the appropriate brakes.
    I definitely rode whatever I had, years without racks or fenders because it did not occur to me that such things existed. If I had kids into cycling, I’d definitely be into getting them great vintage junior bikes with campy parts which I see on ebay and think ‘cuuutte!’. My husband so wanted to have a cycling experience with his kids, but they rebelled, refused to bike on their own (he had plans for a tandem), carted them around in a child carrier when they were far too old and heavy to be in them anymore. No interest in cycling whatsoever, but I bet he wishes he could kit them out with amazing bikes. They just ride my bikes when they come to visit and forced to get around car free.

  32. mike says:

    Difficult question.
    Like with the most things, I think it’s all about the balance.
    We want our children to find out what music, art, sports, lyrics or technical understanding can give them (to name only a few things). We want them to make their own experiences while we we want to support their interests. We want them to understand the value of good material as well as finding a way to arrange with non-superior things. We want to keep them save, but we try to avoid beeing around like a helicopter.

    You can buy your son a BSO (like that acronym) and maybe he will pimp it on his own and he will get addicted to good bikes because of a deficit situation. Well, not really an option in your situation.
    You can also buy him a brand new 2000 EUR bike and this may start a flame burning.
    Both actions can also run in the opposite direction :-(

    I’m sure you will find a way somewhere in the middle :-)

    A few months ago I bought a very tiny, handcrafted randonneur from the 80s for my 12 years old son in France. Incredible cheap (as cheap as a BSO), probably due to the very tiny size. 3×6 gears, downtube shifters, Berthoud fenders and a frontrack.
    So he got a very good bike, but now he needs to get used on friction shifting, that’s the price he has to pay. He claims, that it is not as easy and fast as modern shifters, but he also recognized, that this bike is very fast. I like those 2-sides-of-a-medal things.

    I also looked for a cross bike (that’s, what he originally wanted) – but there is no market for used ones in his size. So we got this lovely randonneur and yesterday I showed him in the actual BQ issue which kind of trails you and Hahn did with such a bike ;-)

  33. Matthew J says:

    I only had access to simple beater bikes until college. Disappointing as the ride may have been, in hindsight I realize those beaters served a beneficial purpose. The beater mechanics were simple enough to encourage a lot of trial and error.

    By high school my brothers and I were astute enough that we built bikes for sale to classmates, using the money to buy even more parts and bikes.

    When I was finally able to afford more complicated bikes, my basic understanding was good enough that the enhanced maintenance requirements did not pose much a challenge.

  34. fixedweasel says:

    It sounds like you know what the right thing is to do. Safety and good equipment is first. Buying up a tricked out rig for Cross is sumpthin’ else. We have a HUGE Cross scene here and it swings severely both ways. The legs and head make the race but if yer ridin’ steel, you know already, at least make it a nice light tube. The other thing is responsibility. There’s nothing wrong with having expectations for your kids as far as working towards something that would normally be given to them. It’s better that they work towards it as they will more apt to take care of it. With the bike, automatically, comes working on it. If they can’t fix it, then they can’t ride it. Bikes are very easy to build up/work on and kids should be taught as such.* Personally, I have built up bikes for my own kids since they were 8 or 9. They had to learn how to maintain their bikes completely as they grew older. This progressed to our cars. My kids are older now (16/18) but have been changing the oil, doing tune ups, and doing the brakes for about 5 years now. They also know how to change a flat tire. If my daughter ever got stranded somewhere because she couldn’t change a flat tire on a car I would feel totally responsible (being actually irresponsible) for that. Learning is invaluable. No matter what you have, or don’t, that knowledge can never be taken from you.

    *this can be made terribly fun

  35. Chris says:

    Right Now my Son is 9 yrs old and his main cycling objectives are: 1. Making cool skid marks, 2. Going super fast, and 3. Making sure our rides together have an ice cream or other food stop.

    At this point I am not worried about my son having a high end bike, just that he has a good quality bike. If my boy takes to cycling, I will be happy to buy him a proper mountain bike or road bike when he is a little older. Ofcourse, all purchases should be made with in reason and budget.

    Nice post Jan!

  36. Conrad says:

    Children need reasonably safe equipment. Beyond that, they should want it and be willing to contribute something towards obtaining it. My daughter had a pink girls bike waiting for her when she was ready for it. She wouldn’t touch it but we found an inexpensive, used bike with snakes and lightning bolts that she loves and regularly rides to school with.
    As a racer I am irritated by the cost of gear, and that so many people feel compelled to buy it. For example deep dish carbon rims and 11 speed cassettes that approach 500 dollars, that will not make you one bit faster in cyclocross. People look at my steel bikes and tell me I need to upgrade my equipment. I think of things in terms of time being money. I could spend 2000 dollars on a carbon wheelset or 2000 dollars worth of training time- which would make me faster? A carbon bike might be a little bit lighter, and possibly slighter faster- but its not worth it if I have to replace it at great expense the first time it is crashed hard. Better to invest in something that makes a difference and doesn’t break the bank, like nice tires!

    • I raced my 30-year-old Alan in ‘cross last season, and it certainly didn’t hold me back. Like you say, a set of nice tires make the biggest difference, and in the big scheme of things, even a set of super-nice, hand-made FMB tubulars doesn’t break the budget…

  37. Andy says:

    Everyone has money – some more than others. Bicycle knowledge is far rarer and thus far more valuable.
    I don’t want to think how much money I’ve wasted on bikes due to my own ignorance with only contradictory internet sites for guidance. My parents asked me if I really needed a road bike and a mountain bike.
    Find a great used frame, and go from there (new tires and brake shoes though). A lightly used or NOS group set, maybe even build the wheels.
    Jan, you obviously value your son’s education, here’s a great opportunity to teach him something everyone reading this blog would be jealous of.

  38. alpinejoy1 says:

    Love your blog entry

  39. Todd says:

    Perhaps, not having kids, I should refrain from commenting, but reading this brought back fond memories of summers tinkering on the hand-me-down ten-speed I got from my cousin. Keeping that bike in good repair left me not only with good memories, but also mechanical skills that have proved useful in assembling and maintaining the bike that I bought for myself I have rode for many years now. Based on my own experience, I think that buying an expensive bike is something your children should do for themselves, when they’re fully grown, they can have a bike that they can use for the rest of their lives (and not just a few years), plus the appreciation and the ability to care for that bike that will ensure it will last the rest of their lives.

  40. InvisibleHand says:

    FWIW, I believe people get the most satisfaction out of things earned. So yes, I would subsidize my children’s interests, but getting their participation in the activity — for instance, their help building/restoring a bike — and maintaining academic standards is important. Along those lines, if they were interested in racing/touring and required better equipment, race fees, or funds for an experience, I’d make them earn it in some way.

  41. Tarryn says:

    I think it’s fair for kids to have the equipment that is more expensive if they pay for it themselves and or contribute to the buying process.. Ex: searching online, comparing bikes/prices etc. … I’m a 17 year old who started riding competively at the age of 10 and since then I have done what I said above. I don’t pay for things because my family is struggling financially.. I pay for it because my mum suggested it, at first I was mad, but it gave me a whole new appreciation for my bikes (4: road,cross,mtb,track) and all the equipment that comes with it.. Because if I get back from a ride in the rain and don’t wash/dry/clean/grease then I’m the one that’s got to pay for the 100$ that I’ll be dropping on a new chain, cogs, cables etc. cycling is an expensive sport so most of my money that I earn goes towards it. But I love the sport.

  42. zundel says:

    Good question.

    As I have probably written here somewhere before: a good little road bike, back in the bike boom, made all the difference.

    I’ve watched lots of children on bicycles, put many on bicycles, and taught a few.

    Appearance matters, at least as much as it does for the most trend following adult. All the insecurities of youth can express through a bicycle as readily as clothing. An old clunker, unless retro-chic, or a contrarian child, will not do.

    The ride must be enjoyable, in appearance, and…

    Frustration is the key. Most kids, say before ten, will put up with a bike that creaks as they put up with any somewhat defective toy.
    But at middle school the difference happens. We begin to have experience of our own competence. We begin to expect a certain performance, quality.

    To make a rider, adult or child, the bike most not have discomfort or frustration.

    It doesn’t need to be the best bike, but it must not get in the way of riding.

    I work hard to make a neglected adult bike shiny and smooth. I want them to have a joy in riding. I will work to exhausion and pain with the joyous aspiration of making a child’s prized possesion. At that age, a bike may be the most important thing we have, and a tool of freedom.

    As to work: I dearly wish I had worked more while going to school. Though a good scholar, work has always given me more satisfaction and sense of accomlishment than study. I like learning. I like more building and fixing. I think going to work, and the amount of work, needs to fit the student. I had a father, like Jan, that insisted I focus on study. It was a mistake. He wished he hadn’t worked during school. Whereas I would have thrived on it. Work doesn’t mean flipping burgers. I worked in a harware store; it taufght me lessons I still use. And I built buildings, which I have gone back and looked at with pride. Building something durable, of substance, and public use before the end of high scholl mattered.

    • Just to be clear, I am not opposed to working during school as part of the education. I am opposed to working to buy stuff, and then working more to buy more stuff… It sets up a cycle of instant gratification, rather than focusing on more distant life goals.

  43. David Pearce says:

    I remember fondly the first bicycle I fooled around with and maybe learned to ride on during my single-digit life time, a venerable black Raleigh with the lovable 3-speed Sturmey-Archer shift.

    And I remember my heavy yellow Fuji 10-speed, which saw me through my teenage years, and took me to many bus-stops and to the Big Wheel Bikes shop many, many times to buy clunky, clamp on mirrors and other stuff, and which I soon began to loath as my modern day “bone-shaker”.

    And I just saw the crappy, plastic, “Safety Lamp Light with Arm or Leg Band Strap for Cycling” on eBay, with its room for two D cells, which I used regularly, even as I began to see that it really was pretty poor and didn’t work very well.

    I love Leander’s smile; I think that’s the main thing. He’ll have to make his way, like we all have. I think if my Dad had been handy with tools and knew anything about bikes, I would have enjoyed learning about the equipment sooner, but he didn’t. He didn’t bike. He had a nervous relationship with tools and fixing things mechanical. That’s life, and I love him anyway. He just has his pace-maker replaced on Tuesday.

    I think children should have good bikes if they show they are interested in riding. Obviously, he can’t have a custom made bike like yours, until he’s stopped growing, and second, until he decides he wants one, because each really good custom bike is such a personal experience–he has to learn what HE wants. Good riding to you all, everybody!

  44. thebvo says:

    I think it depends on how one might indulge a child. If the intention is to buy more, new, better, branded, shiny things to hang on a bike that will be out-grown after a few seasons, I believe the answer is a firm “no.” However, one can indulge a child with knowledge of how to tune their own brakes etc., with adventures on the open road or trail, or, like my cool neighbor growing up, with a small ramp. Kids on bikes can be about fun and freedom, and part of the (real and helpful) info on websites like this is unnecessary for their riding needs, or worse, can make them think that they NEED that next gizmo to get them over the next hill. I read BQ articles over and over and it has been a wonderful journey for my “Velosophy,” but I want to see my nephews ride for their own reasons, and see that what makes their peers faster or slower than them is their legs, and NOT those special tires, or shiny bike (although they probably will come to that conclusion on their own).
    I think its awesome that your son wants to tour, race, and even write about bikes. Supporting a child’s sports activities takes $, equipment, and time, so I don’t see that as over-indulging. Hopefully he takes special enjoyment shredding his “pro-kids” competitors with the added benefit of not paying big bucks to advertise with silly looking clothes.

    • thebvo says:

      Sorry, more…
      I think the environmental impact that we, and our children, have when we buy new things while perfectly good used options are available should not be overlooked, and especially if the intended user will grow out of it by inches or by an evolving personality that is no longer interested in such and such. I’m reminded of my friend in 7th grade who was preparing to take his second cross country bike trip with his dad. His little (5th grade!!!) brother wanted to join them, so his dad gave him a challenge: “you can come only if you can ride Klode hill (steep path up the bluff from the lake) 20 times without stopping.” It sounds corny typing that, but its true, and that little 11/12 year old kid trained every day for months until he could, and he didn’t ride anything but a 90′s kids mtn bike. They then rode from NYC to LA as a father/ sons vacation. Where that frame is is anyone’s guess, but if it isn’t in a landfill, its probably waiting for someone to put a new chain and brake pads on it, so that it can tear up that hill again.
      “Beware of any endeavor requiring new clothes.” HDT

    • special enjoyment shredding his “pro-kids” competitors

      Some of those “pro kids” are quite fast! And I am not one to judge if a child really enjoys a sport and the parents enable them to participate to the fullest.

      I am trying to impart the lesson that winning isn’t the important thing, but learning skills and doing one’s best.

  45. fosterrice says:

    What I most appreciate about this post, along with many others on this site, is the way your site addresses the whole bicyclist — from competitor to commuter, child to adult, experienced to amateur, etc. Even the fact that a “serious” cycling blog would consider the issue of wants/needs among adolescent cyclists a topic worth considering is inspiring! And obviously it fills a gap in the world of cycling journalism — 70 comments and counting! As the father of two young cyclists I can only say thanks! If there’s ever an opportunity for a post about tandem cycling with children I’d love to read it.

  46. thebvo says:

    Perhaps I could’ve worded that thought about “shredding the completion” with more precision, and without any misleading thoughts of reverse snubbery . It’s the feeling of, “hey, I can do this without x, y, and z and still have fun” that I was leading towards. I think the feeling that in order to “participate to the fullest” one must, wear or have “x” is an issue that plagues many of us, and especially our very status aware youth. That is by no means a judgement call on any of the characters here, but a thought about where indulgence can lead.
    Above all else, I should just be happy that cycling is seeing a boom in our country with a strong youth base!

  47. Carlos says:

    Honestly, I wouldn’t skimp at all on wheels, tires, and brakes. The frame can be a non-exotic hand me down of respectable quality, but if I had a son he would rolling on a set of Baby Shoe Pass tires and braking with SwissStop pads.

  48. Lynne says:

    It depends on the child and the family. Our children had more than adequate bicycles, and we really didn’t skimp on downhill skis for either of them. Skiing was something we did as a family, and it didn’t make sense to put them on cruddy skis. Fortunately, the secondary ski market was pretty lively here, as child #1 became a ski racer.

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