How Much for a Kid’s Bike?

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In the Winter 2013 Bicycle Quarterly, we tested a children’s bike that allowed my son to taste the joy of cycling. Not just the joy of cycling, but the joy of cycling faster and further than he had on his smaller children’s bike. He even was able to try out cyclocross on it (below).

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The test bike’s price of $ 700 is very reasonable for a real performance bike without obvious and glaring compromises. Yet it is more than many people are willing to spend on a children’s bike. “I can’t see myself spending that much on a bike for my child. It’ll get ridden only a dozen times at most,” said a friend of mine.

He has a point, but that is like the famous chicken-and-egg question. If your child has a heavy bike that does not perform well and tends to have mechanical problems, you can see why they won’t ride it a lot. On the other hand, if their bike rolls well and is fun to ride, they probably would ride more. (I assume we agree that the joy of riding a bike is addictive in a good way!) So if you want to introduce your children to a lifetime of cycling, buy them a good bike!

The cost actually is lower than it appears at first, because quality children’s bikes have a very high resale value. We sold my daughter’s first bike for 2/3 of its original price. The buyer was delighted, because the bike was still in great condition. So if you sell that $ 700 bike for $ 400 in a few years’ time, then the cost is no more than a typical kid’s mountain bike that will have a resale value of close to zero.

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I look at it this way: If the children really don’t ride the bike much, then it will remain in relatively pristine condition, and the resale value will be higher. If they do ride a lot, then the money spent on the bike will be well worth it. And if they have a bike that allows them to keep up with you, you may enjoy great rides together!

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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24 Responses to How Much for a Kid’s Bike?

  1. svenski says:

    Definitely a good point! My son has a (fantastic!) Islabike 24″ and is rapidly growing out of it. I’d like to give him a 26″ cyclocross next year, but Islabike have given up the german market in favor of the american :-( Really great bikes at reasonable prices! Unfortunately there seems to be no comparable thing (small 26″ Kids’ cyclocross bike) ’round here.

  2. marinusjan says:

    I am glad your son likes the Islabike and I look forward to reading the review. Islabikes came on the market in the UK just after our kids had outgrown children’s bikes, but if they had been available a few years before, I would certainly have bought one (even in the Netherlands performance bikes for kids are almost impossible to get). They represent the perfect and well considered compromise between the minimum quality you need and the maximum price one realistically wants to pay. As a member of the Dutch adventure cycling organization, I can say that quite a few of our members with children use these bikes, with obvious satisfaction. Of course, economicaly such a bike is easier to justify if, like in Holland, all kids ride to school on a daily basis. If you have two or more kids, moreover, you can pass them down the line. Finally, we also used our children’s bikes on cycle touring camping holidays all over Europe, so we needed decent ones. As for the age bracket of your son, we used a small mountainbike that I adapted with e.g. shorter cranks. I admire your son on his cyclo cross model, but, realistically, mtb inspired models are often more suitable in my view. Their geometry allows for a wider range of body sizes, so yo do not have to buy a bigger bikes as often. Also, they are perhaps more suitable for camping tours, and they have more street credibility (sorry Jan, we are old guys). Enjoy,
    Willem

  3. Gabe says:

    Makes sense. But depending on where you live the risk of theft can change the equation. If you live in inner city (say London like us) there’s a high risk of theft for nicer bikes. If you want a bike you use for transport and can leave locked-up you need to factor that in.

    • That is a good point. We are lucky around here that bike theft isn’t a huge concern. Beyond that, it becomes an issue of living your dreams or your fears. I suspect a children’s bike is a less enticing target for a thief than a generic adult bike, so the risk is probably a bit smaller…

  4. Chris says:

    I don’t know about the price of kids’ bikes, but I’m more than a little concerned about Jan’s helmet hair in the last photo–more than a little demonic, if you ask me.

  5. Doug Peterson says:

    If you raise your children to have a love of sports and the outdoors, you will easily spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on gear of all types. Hockey, baseball / softball, football, etc., all require substantial outlays. If your child enjoys cycling a proper bicycle is well worth it.

  6. Bubba says:

    Jan

    That INDIVIDUAL PHOTO of you and your son on race-day is worth more than $700. And you’ve already had several race days together, and more event days to come. I can’t wait to see the two of you scorch a 600k on a tandem. Maybe it’s because I lost my father very recently but I think family memories are absolutely worth a lot more than the cost of the equipment that enables them.

  7. NightRider says:

    Great point, but I would like to counter your argument with these two points.

    1. It’s not that easy to sell a bike (for me at least). It’s also a hassle even if I could. I guess I would be more motivated if I bought one for $700 than for $50.

    2. Ignorance is bliss. If I am riding a junkie, heavy bike, but that’s all I know, I’m going to enjoy the heck of out it. I know this because I have owned several junkie bikes and never once complained about how heavy or how slow they were. When I got to a hill that I couldn’t ride up, I simply got out and pushed the bike up the hill (no complaints about getting a new bike). When I was getting beat by faster riders, I just learned to pedal harder.

    The real benefit is that when I actually did get my first “real” road bike, I was amazed. Of course, I can never go back to the Walmart bikes, and I feel that I truly appreciated what I had.

    I hate to generalize that all kids will be like me, but I do think that kids will be happy with the heavy, slow bike. I know many kids in my neighborhood had them and we just had fun with it. There were no races, competitions, hill climbing, or any other training that we do today. We rode a bike because it was fun.

  8. zundel says:

    I got my first good bike in 1976, a dark red ten speed Fuji. I was ten.
    Suddenly I could go. A good bike makes a big difference to a child’s strength.
    My friends and I rode all over the neighborhood. We put it on the car, and my
    father and I rode many places on the island.

    A mother and daughter came by the shop this summer looking at bikes for the
    girl. Then at my suggestion went to Target to find something cheaper. They came
    back a few days later, hoping I still had the little Nishiki mixte. I did, and
    took myself off the clock and stayed very late into the night to make it great.

    These are the most important bikes. It doesn’t matter much to most eight year
    olds what they ride. I make sure the brakes work and try to make it look ok.
    But at middle school age, a good bike can make a big difference.

    A quick look at Craig’s List suggests the modern equivalent (mtb) are readily
    available and affordable. Find a good mechanic, get it looked over, put on some
    good tires, and get a kid on a bike.

  9. AndrewGills says:

    My sister buys her kids quality bikes. They are still young (her eldest is 8). Boy #1 loves to ride so he got a $400 BMX at 6yo that boy #2 now rides (it has lifetime frame warranty).Boy #1 currently has a $400 Merida 20″ or 24″ MTB that he loves. His longest ride so far is 45km (30 miles) and he still wanted more (at 8yo). His brothers will ride the MTB when he grows out of it.

    Like you say, if the bike is rubbish, they won’t ride it. And if there are siblings, it’s better to buy quality once rather than rubbish many times over. (My sister’s boys are 6, 7 & 8 so bikes won’t age much between riders).

  10. anniebikes says:

    We have what we think is the best solution: buy quality used bikes. We are fortunate to have Old Spokes Home, a bike store that reconditions used bicycles of all sorts. We go in the Spring when their top floor is filled with a huge choice. It beats trying to fix up a Craig’s List bike plus we have the ability for reasonable resale value once our children outgrow their bikes.

  11. heather says:

    Children’s bikes do have good resale value! My husband bought his younger daughter a bike to get around when she visited, but she had outgrown it in less than a year and was in mint condition, hardly ridden. Someone happily paid the price we asked around christmas for their kid’s christmas.
    As it is his daughters ride my bikes when they visit and seem disinterested in cycling despite growing up with a cycling dad.
    I had a series of kids bikes having been off the training wheels by the time I was four. We’d even try ride our parent’s ten speeds even if we couldn’t reach the ground, or the brakes and I recall flying over the handle bars and giggling a few times. If I did that today I’d be crying. I was thrilled when I got my brother’s bmx after he tired of it, then rode my mom’s old 3 speed in high school. It was heavy, no finesse whatsoever, but being young I had the energy to ride it all over.
    I really wanted a road bike, but it was all mountain bikes when I was in high school and for years after. I endured years of sluggishness and loathe mountain bikes to this day(except for actual mountain biking). Kids bikes still seem to be mountain bikey or hybrids. They do not look like serious bikes with good components, often cheap. It would not have deterred me from riding as cycling meant freedom, but a better bike like a road or cyclocross bike might have encouraged me to go faster, further, compete etc. These days all I want is a super lightweight bike with high end components. Riding a heavy old vintage clunker no longer holds any romance. I have seen photos of kids back in the day on cycling teams riding little proper road bikes columbus tubing and all.

  12. Rick Harker says:

    Totally agree with all your points made.
    I also look at the period of time whilst they’re growing as merely rental. If they have a lot of fun and learn to grow with the sport then it was worth it.

  13. Paul Ahart says:

    When a child expresses an interest in a sport (or music) it always pays to invest in the best one can afford, maybe even more, to assure that child has as positive experience as possible. I’ve known so many who, even when they can afford better always buy stuff for their kids on the cheap, justifying this by saying, “They probably won’t use it much anyway.” Going very cheap is pretty much a guarantee their prediction will come true.
    When my daughter was small, we invested in a string of bikes, going up in size as she did, always going for whatever we could get that was performance oriented. When in her teens her athletic interests really blossomed, with high school and college rowing, then triathlons, then road racing, and now mountain bike racing. Now at 31 and living in England, she’s raced Absa Cape Epic twice, just rode the Namibia Desert Dash (DNF’d on it), and works in the world of athletic sports clothing and the London cycling scene. Being in the bike business has enabled me to get good stuff for her, but even had I not had that resource, I would have done all I could.
    The same goes with music: get a good instrument your child will love and want to play. The rest almost takes care of itself. Invest in your children and the rewards are great.

  14. Conrad says:

    I would be willing to pay extra for decent quality kids bikes. The smaller the bike is, the worse the quality it seems. As in, anything with 12 or 16 inch wheels is pretty bad. In the 20 to 24 inch range there is better quality stuff available. There are other things at work though: When my oldest daughter was learning to ride we had a pink 16 inch (wheel) bike for her. She wouldn’t touch it. I found a used “zephyr rage” (with thunderbolts and snakes) boys bike and she rides the heck out of it. Bottom line: there are plenty of worse things to spend money on than bikes!

  15. familyride says:

    Hear hear! I am so happy Islabikes have come to America (though sorry to hear it’s at the expense of the German market). They’re exceptionally wonderful for little kids–though I might be biased since my children are 6 and 4–since the components are sized for little bodies. The tiny handbrakes are just amazing. We don’t own Islabikes yet, but have borrowed them and are smitten. I’m looking forward to the US market has evolving to the point of carrying used Islas.

  16. Ron says:

    I’d like to put a plug in for the REI 26″ cross bike / drop barred for kids. I looked at this VS the isla bike, and bought the REI one for a number of reasons – cheaper, steel frame, avail immediately, and 2 x 8 vs 1 x 8. My 11 year old boy LOVES this bike. He can keep up with me on longish rides (for him) and enjoys it tremendously. The seat post has an immense amt of room / and since it has a tiny stem now, it’ll fit him for a few years. It’s not as aesthetically pleasing as the isla bike, though prior years have been. I rode it around and it seems to be a very well designed piece of bike (hard to tell since i’m 6′ and 190 lbs). It was very well assembled from REI, came in 2 days via UPS; wheels were true and well tensioned, everything ready to go.

    We also sold his smaller 24″ Giant mtg geared bike for 70% of what we paid for it – so the REI bike on sale at $450, less the selling of his prior bike for $250 – this was a great deal. He loves loves the bike, and wants to ride in snow now.

    • Glad you found a good bike for your child. Do check the front brake cable, however. I have “test-ridded” a few REI bikes of friends’ children, and on several, the front brake cable pulled out of the brake when I pulled moderately hard on the brake lever. I don’t know whether it’s an assembly problem at the local REI, but better safe than sorry!

  17. David Pearce says:

    Despite your words, I like your photos better! I am just in love with the pictures of a happy family, a father and son together involved in a pursuit they love. As far as I’m concerned, I’m on Team Leander. Jan, you had better ride fast and far, because it is only a matter of time before you see the faster and further Leander overtaking you out of the of the corner of your eye, and trying to wrench the very levers of power from your bicycle-glove covered hands! And I’m sure that if he does, we will all be in good hands!

  18. A quality bike like the Islabikes Luath certainly will retain its value and be sought after second-hand. To the extent that here in the UK, when there was a long waiting list for new Luaths last year, second ones on eBay were fetching the price of a new one!

    We’ve just published a review of four junior road/cyclocross bikes (including the latest Luath) at http://www.youthcyclesport.co.uk/kit/reviews/grouptest-junior-roadcyclocross-bikes-part-1/

    Youth cycling in the UK has rocketed since the 2012 Olympics to the extent that there is even a niche market for $1200 (!) youth bikes like the Juniorworx in our group test.

    Mark
    Youth Cycle Sport

  19. Rohit says:

    This is wonderful. The kids all did such a nice job.

    Rohit.

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