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Need a transportation bike for your kid? Good options are out there

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

Most kids’ bikes available in the US,
like these spotted at Tour de Ladd this fall,
aren’t fitted out for city riding.
(Photo © J. Maus)

After an exhaustive search for a good city bike for my son, I have concluded that kids bikes in general are in a sorry state. Either they are poorly constructed and will last only a year or two or they are overengineered and just not equipped for a city-riding kid.

By the looks of the offerings on the US market, it appears bike manufacturers think that kids mostly go off road and need mountain-type bikes, or that all kids need is a way to cruise around their cul-du-sac with no gears and just foot brakes.

“He’s not careening down the side of a mountain — he is getting around by bike in Portland like many other civilized citizens do.”

But my family typically goes by bike year round and in most any weather. My son needs a bike that will get him to school and back with his stuff and not spew a line of wet road goo all over his back. He needs a bike that is comfortable to ride. He’s not careening down the side of a mountain — he is getting around by bike in Portland like many other civilized citizens do.

We wanted to outfit Griffin with a bike that would support his love of riding, a bike that would inspire him and take him not just where he wanted to go but get him there in style.

Here’s a rundown of the hard-to-find features we were we looking for:

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After an extensive search, I found that there are two viable options for getting a good city bike for your child.

The first, less expensive, option is to find a suitable, basic bike on sale and cobbling together accessories (these can drive up the cost) that fit a child’s bike frame.

A friend gave me the lowdown on how she and her husband put a bike together for her daughter along these lines. They couldn’t find anything out there that came close to what they needed, so they put it together themselves.

The Marin Hidden Canyon

They wanted a bike with 24” wheels and the right gearing to get up and down the Interstate hill to North Portland. No bike was just right, but several came close. They looked at the Gary Fisher PreCaliber, the Specialized Hot Rock and the Marin Hidden Canyon. They finally went with the Marin and found a year-end model on sale. They traded out the knobby tires for city slicks, added lights, fenders, a rear rack, and panniers. Through savvy shopping, they kept the price of the entire set-up down around $300.

One BikePortland reader found a bike for his son at a garage sale for $20, then hit the bins at the Community Cycilng Center and elsewhere for an affordable, practical, and “fast” bike.

Spotted this Batavus kids bike
in Clever Cycles last week.
(Photo © J. Maus)

The second option is to go with a bike that is fully outfitted at a more expensive up front cost, but that will ideally be passed down to a second child or hold its value for resale.

When we started our search, this is what we were after — a bike that came with all the stuff we wanted. We looked at a ton of bike shops in Portland but none offered the all-in-one solution. We even considered getting our son a folding bike. But somehow that just didn’t feel like the right thing (even though from a practicality standpoint it was a brilliant idea).

The closet thing we found was the Trek FX, a good, solid, all-around bike for kids that is new on the market and has just now become available at Bike Gallery. It still didn’t come with all the features we wanted, but it seemed the easiest to build on.

The Gazelle Shark

We were almost ready to put the hammer down and buy it when on a ride home from school we noticed a very cool kid’s bike parked at a local school. It was a Gazelle Shark, imported from Holland.

I had heard about the Gazelle brand from BikePortland’s reports on Interbike and was interested to check them out. I discovered online that Clever Cycles was starting to carry them in Portland.

The one potential downside is that the Sharks are 3-speed bikes. But my son has never dealt with gears at all, and I think this will be a big enough change for him right now. The gears are chosen for varied terrain, and should be fine for our most traveled routes in the city.

It is a spendy bike at $700.00. But it comes with everything — and it’s an investment we think will hold value and give us some options for our younger child who will be needing a bike of her own in a few years as well. Of all the items on our ideal wish list, the only thing it doesn’t have is a bell, but I am sure we can figure that out.

What has been your experience with finding a good city bike for your child?

– A year ago we wrote about the stark difference between the kids’ bikes available in Europe and the United States
– Want to learn more about bicycling with kids, from infancy to independence? Check out the rest of Marion Rice’s Family Biking columns

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