Monday, December 14, 2009

Kids' road bikes

I got this idea yesterday, after spending an hour or so trying to find a decent children's road bike: start a company to make a decent children's road bike. I'm not sure how good an idea that is, really, but here's the thing -- they're really hard to find.

There are several racing bikes available with 24" (520) wheels. Trek makes one, Specialized makes one, Fuji makes one, Blue makes one. But they're all aluminum, and they're all racing bikes, not all-rounders like Juliana's old square-rigger Fuji. I've said before that I've never owned an aluminum bike, and I don't think I'd inflict one on either of my kids, either. Sure, they're lighter than a steel bike, and they don't rust. But based on my limited exposure to Cannondales and the like, I'm guessing they're not as comfortable to ride, either. Pretty much everything else is a mountain bike of some flavor, though I should note that there are also lots of department store road bikes in the mix, too. For example, you can't help but trip over dozens of GMC Denalis on Amazon or eBay, and that's a branding mash-up I really just don't understand.

I get that kids tend to be hard on their gear, but I'd love to see something like a junior Sam Hillborne. Actually, it probably doesn't even have to be lugged -- TIG it to keep the costs down -- a junior Kogswell P/R. Point is, something kid-sized, flexible, rackable and somewhat traditional. Problem is, it would probably be cost-prohibitive.

But set that aside for a moment. Picture a company that sold a wee little 20"-wheeled road bike -- call it a 6-speed to keep it simple and lose a couple of components. Spec things out on the inexpensive side, but not crap. Little city bars, maybe -- or allow for some build options, even. Then offer a 24"-wheeled bike that ups the ante on the components and gearing (12-speed). Then a 26" in 16 or 24 speeds. Finally a 650B or 700c bike the kid can ride straight through high school. All of them chromoly, all of them with bottle cage braze-ons, all of them rugged and equipped with rugged wheels and tires, and all equipped with lights and kick stands and good pedals that will withstand a kid's abuse. For the bigger bikes, offer racks for skateboards, baskets for pads, bags that hang from the racks and double as backpacks -- useful accessories for kids -- all through an e-store. Sell kits of stuff that kids should have on their bikes, and should learn how to use (pumps and spare tubes and patch kits in little seat wedges). Put educational clips on YouTube showing the kids how to use all that stuff.

And maybe even take them back in trade from their original owners for a fair value to encourage upgrades to the next size -- though if they're good, they'll hold their value on eBay. Sell the refurbs at a discount to start the process over again. Or maybe don't sell them at all -- lease them. Or maybe not -- needs more thought.

Anyway, the business model might not work. And given how litigious people are, it may be too risky, period. And I'm not sure how it would fare without a bricks-and-mortar presence for ogling bikes and accepting trades. But I like the idea and I've got to believe there's an opportunity to create a great brand in this space. Good kids' road bikes are just really hard to find.

All for now,



Slow joe Crow said...

If you can stomach aluminum the most serious 20" wheel bike I can think of is the Redline Conqest 20 cyclocrosser
They also do a 24" wheel bike with drop bars and V-brakes. Since cross bikes have slacker geometry, bigger tires, and harsher lives these are probably closer to all around bikes than the more common 24" wheel racers.

John said...

Interesting, thanks for sharing. Looks like it'd support a set of fenders or a rear rack, too. Not eaxtly, what I had in mind, but as you say, much closer than the 24" racers out there.