Although the children’s cycle market doesn’t boast a massive selection of drop-bar road or ‘racing’ bikes, much of the criteria that makes for any effective children’s bike — lightweight, easy handling and great fit — is also the same criteria that even adult road bike buyers are looking for.
Matt Lamy explains how to choose a great children’s bike for road riding, how children can develop their road cycling and cycle racing skills, and we round-up some fantastic drop-bar bikes for children.
Buying a drop-handlebar road or ‘racing’ bike for a young rider can offer a lot of benefits. Because they are designed to be light and fast — and because many children’s manufacturers see them as almost halo products to show off their brand — they are often very well made and specified, with great attention to detail. Road bikes also have a great deal more applications than just racing. By the time a child is able to fit a drop-bar model they will be getting to the age where they might be riding to school; taking on long leisure or challenge rides; or even cycle touring. Drop-bar road bikes are perfect for all of these types of cycling.
However, there’s no getting away from the fact that drop-bar bikes are traditionally associated with racing and cycle sport. If your young rider is excited by competitive riding, before you decide to splash out on a new drop-bar road bike, please be aware that this might not be initially necessary. British Cycling’s Go-Ride events are perfect for young racers and don’t require a specialist ‘racing bike’ — any decent children’s bike will be good enough. In addition, once your young rider is ready to progress to a drop-bar bike, Go-Ride instructors will be able to provide some invaluable bike buying advice.
With British Cycling’s Go-Ride programme, young riders develop the skills needed to take part in cycle sport activities. Even if a young cyclist never has any great success in competition, much of what they will learn during their time with any Go-Ride club — not least, excellent bike control — will stand them in good stead for the rest of their cycling life. The activities that Go-Ride clubs put on for youngsters are great fun, too. And if you’re a nervous parent, don’t worry — young Go-Ride riders only ever use traffic-free environments!
To find your nearest Go-Ride accredited cycling club, click here.
When is the right time to go drop bar?
The best children’s bikes tend to be rather beautiful in their simplicity. From the first stages of learning to ride on a balance bike to later years pedal bikes, a well-made hybrid or multi-use bicycle is often the most sensible option. Most young riders don’t necessarily want a specialist drop-bar road bike and would rather ride something that can cope with any surface they encounter. That means the vast majority of children’s bikes come with relatively wide tyres and flat handlebars, which provide a nice upright riding position and place controls such as brake and gear levers within easy reach.
However, despite the universal appeal of flat-bar hybrid-style children’s bikes, there may come a time when your young rider decides they want to try a drop-bar road bike. Often this is inspired by a friend who might be a member of a cycling club; or by watching some top-level cycle sport, such as the Tour de France on television or — closer to home — seeing the Tour of Britain passing through the local neighbourhood. Your young rider may simply be inspired by the fact they just want a bike that will allow them to ride as fast as possible!
The good news is that by the age children start having opinions about wanting a bike with drop handlebars — like the ones they’ve seen ‘real racers’ ride — some manufacturers are making models suitable for them. Although sizing is a very personal thing, for most children, this will be around the ages of 8 to 10 and upwards. The most important point to remember is that every young cyclist will enjoy cycling most — and will probably have the greatest success — if their bike is easily controllable and fits them well. This is why it is so important to make sure any child receiving a new bike is fitted to the correct model by in-store advisors at your local Evans Cycles.
What to look for
Luckily when it comes to drop-bar bikes, both children and road riders of any age want the same things: a bike that is well-fitting, lightweight, and easily controllable. As with all children’s bikes, make sure your young rider can reach both the pedals and handlebar comfortably. You want the rider’s legs to extend so that there is a slight bend in the knee at the bottom of the pedal stroke — this will give a full pedalling motion. In terms of upper body, they want to be able to reach the handlebar in all three positions — the flat central section, the brake hoods, and the drops themselves — without feeling either too cramped or too stretched out. This might require altering stem length or lifting or lowering the bar with stem spacers on the steerer tube.
Then there are then some important component choices to look. The first should always be size-specific parts. While some adult-sized drive train components — such as derailleurs — have to be fitted to children’s bikes, there are other parts that can be tailored more specifically towards a child rider. The most obvious is to make sure the brake levers and/or gear levers are designed to be easily operated by little hands. Even some adult-sized brake levers can be adapted with little shims to bring the lever slightly closer in for smaller hands. Pedal crank length is important, too — too long will make young riders’ knees go through a larger range of motion.
There are also some technical regulations that children’s racing bikes need to adhere to if they are going to be used in competition. You will find the full details on British Cycling’s page here. The basic idea is that the gearing available on a child’s racing bicycle should be restricted so that it doesn’t have the potential to damage developing bodies and young knees. If the road bike your child uses doesn’t fulfill this restrictions, don’t worry: most bikes can be easily adapted to satisfy concerns.
Children’s road bikes
The Cammo is a perfect children’s drop-bar bike, designed and named by a man who knows a thing or two about riding fast: Sir Chris Hoy. Just like an adult’s road bike, it comes with a lightweight aluminium frame, Shimano gears, Tektro caliper brakes and high-quality wheels.
Cyclo-cross is a fantastic and fun way for young riders to start racing and, because it involves tackling all sorts of terrain, it really helps to build bike control skills. As an added bonus, cyclo-cross bikes also double up as very effective road bikes, so this Meadowmill from HOY is lightweight and comes fitted with excellent Shimano Claris gears and Tektro Mini-V brakes. It is also available in a 24in version for smaller riders.
Another great multi-terrain cyclo-cross/adventure/road bike, the Jake has been put together with all the care and attention of Kona’s larger Jake models. That means a lightweight aluminium frame with some rather plush Shimano Sora and Tiagra components, Tektro Mini-V brakes and high quality wheels.
Designed for youth racers, the Aomori comes with a carbon fork, butted lightweight 6061-T6 aluminium frame and Shimano Claris gearing. More importantly, the frame features size-proportional tubing for lighter riders, while short-reach bars, stem and shorter cranks all make the bike better for smaller bodies.