Here in the US, most kids start riding flat handlebar bikes with wide tires.
They don’t gravitate specifically towards a dedicated road bicycle unless their parents are already avid “roadies”.
I know it is quite popular in Europe. Heck, they even have their own cycling clubs where Juniors can train and race together.
It’s an incredible sport, and most of the pros that you see on the European circuit started when they were wee little kids on a road bike. If your child ever dreams of going pro, they must start at a young age.
Do They Make Child-Sized Bikes?
For most kids, they don’t have the motor skills to handle the higher speeds and and narrower tires of a road bike until they are about 9 years old. In addition, you will be hard-pressed to find a road bike small enough to fit a child much under the size of 24″ — which corresponds to about 8 or 9 years old for most children.
#1 Diamondback Haanjo
This year, at Interbike, I was very impressed with the quality of their craftsmanship and the depth of their offerings. They have somehow managed to “crack the code” and are delivering bikes that are every bit as reliable as the top companies in the industry — for a fraction of the price.
This model comes with top-quality road components and is sure to last a long time. The Claris shifters are easy to use, and get the kid used to how road shifters and brakes work. The front crankset with 34 teeth in the low range and 46 teeth in the high range ensure that the kiddo can keep up, without tempting them to push a bigger gear than their knees can handle (By comparison, most adult models have a 52-teeth cog for the large size).
The Haanjo is designed to be a gravel bike. It comes with wider tires for more stability and puncture resistance. This is an excellent all-around setup for riding on both the roads and bike paths. But when your kid is ready for long-distance efforts or wants to do some racing, I’d recommend getting some slicks on this machine.
It’s a small bike (which you want), but it behaves like an adult bike. Which is exactly what you want.
#2 GMC Denali 24″
Unlike we adults, who buy ours to last for a decade or more, it is difficult to justify spending $600 on a kid that is going to outgrow their ride in 2 years. Sure, you can resell it for a fraction of what you spent, but it isn’t ideal.
The GMC Denali is a heavy, sluggish, poorly-made bike that I decry for many, many reasons.
But I have seen them last adults for 2+ years. Sure, they are heavy. And slow. And they need more maintenance than normal bikes.
But for a kid who is just testing the sport, they can be an excellent place to start.
Here’s the thing, I can’t recommend them. But if your choice is between the Denali, or your kiddo not being able to ride, then get the Denali. Your kiddo can test the waters, and when they get a little older you can buy them a bicycle that is designed to last them through college.
Just make sure to keep it maintained. There is nothing that will squash your kid’s enthusiasm like constantly fighting broken equipment. And the Denali will likely need a little more love to stay ahead of the repairs.
Is It Ok For My Kid To Do A 100 Miles On Their Road Bike?
I have seen 9 and 10 year-olds completing century rides alongside their parents. They are always so pleased with themselves.
The nice thing about these bikes is that they typically create them with easier gears than an adult bike has. This helps keep the child from over-straining their knees from trying to push too hard.
One of the most important things about road riding is understanding your body and when you need to slow down or stop. In the beginning, parents have to be that gauge. It is critically important to watch your child and make sure they are not overtraining.
It goes without saying but, for the first few rides, finishing is not the goal. Be willing to “throw in the towel”. Safety is first at all times.
My Kid Is Interested In Triathlons. Is This The Right Bike For Them?
Also, I often find that children who are already involved in a long-distance sport want to cross-train. There are so many excellent kidathons for young children to compete in, that it is a rapidly growing field. In addition, the children are not typically super-competitive so that if your kid can run and swim, the road bike typically gives them that winning advantage.
Whatever the reason your kid wants a road bike, here are some reviews of the most popular road bikes on the market.
How To Choose The Correct Size Of Road Bike For Your Kid
There are three major sizing choices available for getting your kid on a road bike. Not every brand is going to offer every size (the children’s market is highly undeserved.)
24″ Wheel – For the most part, these bikes are sized based on tire size. The smallest that you can typically buy is a 24″ wheel. Most 9-year-olds can make this it work if they stretch. Sometimes you need to buy a shorter stem — and any local bike shop can help you decide which size you need. In fact, if your kid is serious about riding, you can often pay a nominal fee to get the kiddo measured and “fit” to their bike.
650c Wheel – The next size up is a 65oc wheel. This wheel is slightly larger than the 24″ wheel and so is the bike. In my experience, most kids need to be nearly 11 before they fit on these rides.
XXS Women’s Bike – Sometimes you can find an xxs women’s bike with a 650c wheel. These are typically the same size as a junior bike and offer another way to get a kid’s road bike.
XS Adult Bike – Finally, if you kid is about 13, they may be tall enough to fit on an XS adult road bike. Depending on the sizing, this child probably needs to be about 5′ to fit one of these bikes.
These last two options most often apply to high-end bikes for the serious rider. The nice thing is that sometimes bike manufacturers have a hard time moving these sizes and so you can pick them up for a discount.
The High-end Bikes
If your kid is serious about road riding, you might consider buying them a nice road bike
By purchasing an extra small or extra-extra small ladies bike, you can often find a bike that is going to fit them.
This means that they can even now look at carbon fiber race bikes.
However, these do cost a lot more. So you will want to make sure that they have plenty of time on a cheaper option first to ensure they actually enjoy the sport.
On the upside, these tiny sizes are also the sizes that don’t sell as well. Check your local bike shops for any tiny bikes that haven’t sold in awhile. See if they can check with the manufacturer for any year-end closeouts that might be available to order in that size. And eBay can often be a good place to find super-small women’s road bikes that have almost no use and will fit your child perfectly! (most manufacturers tend to make a limited supply of extremely small women’s models)
Road cycling is such an incredible sport and I only wish that I had gotten into it at a younger age.