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VeloNews test: Raceable kids bike, in time for Christmas

Kids racing (and playing) here. A quick review of raceable kids' bikes in time for Christmas

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VeloNews Bike Review: Raceable kids bikes
Redline has three bikes built for racing — or for just having a great time on two wheels.

If you’re looking for a lightweight, race-ready bike for your kid this holiday season, Redline has some little machines worth checking out. The kids of VeloNews staffers and friends put Redline’s 18-, 20- and 24-inch bikes to the test.

Kids bikes fall into two distinct categories: those from “big box” stores and those from bike shops. The former are relatively inexpensive, but come with the weight and performance of a boat anchor. The latter aren’t cheap, but are much more similar to what you ride as an adult.

Most parents — even those with multiple, high-end bikes to their name — go the big box route, mostly because junior is going to outgrow the thing in no time. I get that. My son rode hand-me-down big box bikes from when he started on a 12-inch Magna Crocodile through a 16-inch model.

When he was five, I decided to spring for a “real” bike, and we were both impressed at the difference. Weight, or the lack thereof, is the most noticeable change. His 16-inch bike must have weighed 28 pounds. The Redline Proline Micro Mini I bought weighs 14 pounds. For a person who at the time tipped the scales at 40 pounds soaking wet, this is a huge difference. (Imagine riding a bike that’s 70 percent of your body weight, then getting on one that’s half that.)

As the saying goes, steel is real. Real heavy. Big box bikes use steel everywhere — frame, fork, components, rims. The Micro Mini, plus Redline’s mini-cyclocross bikes, the Conquest 20 and Conquest 24, feature aluminum frames and parts.

MICRO MINI – 18-inch singlespeed

The Micro Mini is a full-on BMX racing bike, but my son just used it for riding around the neighborhood. It’s fantastic on pavement, and definitely rideable on hardpack.

Cheap the Micro Mini is not. Retail is $459. However, you can certainly recoup a good chunk of your investment by selling it to another parent when junior outgrows it. After a year of use, I sold the Micro Mini to our magazine copy editor Tom, whose son raced it in BMX (and put on the new bars seen here in the pictures). Then Tom sold it to our photo editor Brad, whose son rode it for some time. It was then passed on to … well, you get the idea.

The primary drawback to the Micro Mini is the funky wheel size. Redline gets the 18-inch wheel from the wheelchair industry, which makes tube and tire selection quite challenging. The stock 18×1 tires are super skinny; they’re great for the road but Brad’s son found them too slippery for the gravel roads around his house. Our friend Henry at Schwalbe pointed us to his company’s Marathon Racer, which comes in an 18×1.5 size with a bit more grip.

VeloNews Bike Review: Raceable kids bikes -
The BMX bike is a lightning quick ride for kids 4 to 6.

The handbrake features reach adjust, a small but critical piece of the ideal kids’ bike puzzle.

CONQUEST 20 — 20-inch 14-speed

The Conquest 20 is the world’s tiniest cyclocross bike, and it works great as an all-around kid’s bike. The 20-pound rig has 14 speeds courtesy SRAM’s MRX — not that kids this age shift much — with controls that are appropriate for small hands. Kids almost instinctively get the twist shifters, and the brakes can be dialed in to just the right distance from the handlebar.

Compared to the drop bar on the 24-inch model, the flat bar gives little riders more leverage for steering and keeps all the controls right there under their fingers at all times.

Retail is suggested at $389.

It should be noted that a number of companies make good 20-inch mountain bikes. For two years my son had a Trek MT 60 with cranks drilled in two spots so the bike could “grow” with him. Any good family bike shop should have similar options in the $300 range. The suspension fork adds some cushioning and a little weight; the Trek weighs 24.5 pounds.

VeloNews Bike Review: Raceable kids bikes -
The Conquest 24 brings Redline's 'cross heritage to the wee folks.

Redline recommends the Conquest 20 for kids six to ten.

CONQUEST 24 — Darn near the real thing

Cyclocross riders in the Pacific Northwest have seen these Conquest 24s by the scores. Here in Colorado, the local race association, the American Cycling Association, has a kids program that includes access to a Conquest 24.

Redline recommends this bike for kids 9 to 13. In our experience, hand size is more of a limiting factor than leg length. A few 8-year-olds were able to hop on the Conquest 24 no problem, but the Shimano STI levers pose a challenge on the upshifts. The test bike came with a right Shimano 2300 lever, which has a thumb shifter similar to Campagnolo’s design for moving down the cassette. Kids can shift this easily from the hoods. The upshift, however, still requires a relatively big lateral push on the brake lever. For this, 9 seems about the youngest age for which this is feasible.

Kona used to make a 24-inch ’cross bike, too. Our web editor Steve still has one that his daughter outgrew (Editor’s note: That bike has moved on to Tom’s stable. And so it goes … ). One cool feature on this bike is the reach adjust screw on the STI levers. This feature isn’t available on the Conquest 24; however you can use a Shimano shim to bring the lever closer to the bar.

The gearing is more than adequate for a kids bike, with 48/34 rings and a 13-26 cassette. If I bought a Conquest 24, I’d probably replace the 48-tooth ring with a chain guard and run it as a single ring.

The Tektro Mini V-brakes are great, as are the Tektro bar-top levers with reach adjust. At the risk of beating the subject into the ground, reach adjust is vital, especially when you’re starting your kid out on the younger side of a bike’s age range.

The Conquest 24 weighs 21 pounds and retails for $649.