Posted by Madi Carlson on September 24th, 2019 at 8:24 am
My kids successfully learned to pedal on used and borrowed bikes, but those bikes were heavy. I eventually discovered lightweight Islabikes and my kids have grown through three sizes, conveniently settling into their largest sizes shortly before Islabikes closed their Portland warehouse. I assumed there weren’t comparable bikes available in the U.S. and that the pool of used Islabikes would keep everyone happy for a while. But I was wrong. With Islabikes’ departure, there’s a void in the local market for high-quality, new kids bikes.
I’m all for kids and adults tapping into the great used bike scene here and have written about where to buy used kids bikes in Portland. But I was curious about a good brand for new kids bikes and I’m happy to report I found it.
Clever has Frogs of all sizes and three colors on the showroom floor, but they come in many more colors including: black, green, orange, purple, red, spotty, Team Sky, Union Jack, and USA. They’re aluminum and pleasantly light. The 26-inch (that’s the wheel size) Frog 69 (that’s the inseam length in centimeters) fits 10-12 year olds and weighs 22 pounds; the 14-inch Frog 43 fits 3-4 year olds and weighs 14.24 pounds. That’s light!
Kids tend to enjoy riding light bikes for longer distances and have an easier time maneuvering them around obstacles. Light kid bikes are also nice for bike-toting adults.
Kids tend to enjoy riding light bikes for longer distances and have an easier time maneuvering them around obstacles. Light kid bikes are also nice for bike-toting adults: I was more keen to bring kids bikes with us everywhere when they were easy to lift into my trailer, cargo bike, and car trunk.
Weight isn’t the only thing that makes for a nice kid bike. Frog Bikes also have small brake levers that are easy to reach with little kid hands and appropriately short cranks that are not splayed far from the bottom bracket (that’s the Q-factor) for efficient and comfortable pedal strokes.
The Frog Bikes at Clever Cycles are all built with fenders (because this is the Pacific Northwest). I doubt all Frog dealers send their bikes out the door clad with fenders, but I love that that’s how they come here. The bikes feature real fender mounts, too, so one could even swap out the Frog brand fenders for any other make.
Even the littlest Frog Bikes have hand brakes. I didn’t know one could buy a bike smaller than 20 inches with front and rear hand brakes in America. Lots of 12- and 16-inch kid bikes come with only a coaster (backpedal) brake and per U.S. regulations, Frog ships them from the UK with the requisite coaster brake rear wheel, but also with a freewheel. Clever Cycles builds them up with the freewheel which is a lot easier for kids to learn on (having one’s bike suddenly stop moving when backpedaling is disconcerting to a learning pedaler and can derail bike lessons).
From size 20-inch (or 52- and 55cm) and up, the bikes come with gears with trigger shifters. This requires reaching a finger forward to shift up that might be difficult for the smallest of hands, but they’re sized for small hands and very easy to use. Our Islabikes have twist shifters that my kids sometimes have trouble with in gloves so I’m a big fan of trigger shifters for kids.
Price-wise, people used to heavy and used kids bikes may experience some sticker shock. The aforementioned Frog 43 Single-Speed 14-Inch Kids’ Bike is $360 and the Frog 69 Multi-Speed 26-Inch Kids’ Bike is $590. Keep in mind these are quality bikes that are fully serviceable, have replaceable and repairable parts, and retain their value for resale even after passing down to younger siblings.
I thought my next kid bike purchase (which is still a couple kid height inches away) would be an adult bike, but now that I’ve discovered the Frog 73 Multi-Speed 26-Inch Kids’ Bike for ages 13 and up there’s a good chance that will be the next bike my kids grow into. And yes, I think $600 sounds like a lot of money, but I know it will be worth it to keep them pedaling on an easy-to-use light bike.
Frog Bikes aren’t the only good option out there. I admired the Cleary Bikes at Clever Cycles, though they felt a lot heavier (they’re steel) and they don’t come with fenders. I’ve seen a lot of happy kids on Cleary Bikes though I’ve noticed the more aggressive, bent forward body position versus Frog Bikes and Islabikes. I know one of my kids would find it uncomfortable.
I’m also quite curious about Woom Bikes, though those are available only by ordering from the Austin, Texas warehouse (just like non-Portlanders ordering Islabikes from here). If you have a Woom and would like to write a guest post, get in touch!
Please share any your thoughts about any brands of kids bikes in the comments. Thanks for reading!
Remember, we’re always looking for people to profile. Get in touch at madidotcom [at] gmail [dot] com if it sounds like fun to you.
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Madi Carlson (@familyride on Twitter) wrote our Family Biking column from February 2018 to November 2019. She’s the author of Urban Cycling: How to Get to Work, Save Money, and Use Your Bike for City Living (Mountaineers Books).
In her former home of Seattle, Madi was the Board President of Familybike Seattle, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting bicycling as a means for moving towards sustainable lifestyles and communities. She founded Critical Lass Seattle, an easy social group ride for new and experienced bicyclists who identify as women and was the Director of Seattle’s Kidical Mass organization, a monthly ride for families. While she primarily bikes for transportation, Madi also likes racing cyclocross, all-women alleycats, and the Disaster Relief Trials. She has been profiled in the Associated Press, Outdoors NW magazine, CoolMom, and ParentMap, and she contributed to Everyday Bicycling by Elly Blue.