By Jen Charrette
As we look out the window at our friend’s house in Golden, Colorado, Kalden’s eyes fix on Lookout Mountain. “I want to ride up that,” he says as he gets ready for his second road bike ride ever. Is he a wannabe cyclist who has watched too many Tour de France stages? Probably. But he’s only seven, so don’t be too hard on him.
After years of seeing mom and dad roll out of the house on road rides and countless hours watching pro tours on TV, Kalden wanted a road bike. Actually, he has been begging and pleading for one since he was five. We finally felt he was mentally and physically ready for one. He was set on the Scott Speedster JR 24. I’d like to say he took the time to research it, but really he liked the colors, so we sprang for it.
The Speedster is a sweet bike. It has good components, decent weight (18 lbs) for an entry-level bicycle, nice design, and a reasonable price (about $700). In an ideal world, it would have a carbon fork and short and shallow handlebars (the current handlebars are up to his elbows when he’s in the drops), but those of course would only make it more expensive. Currently there are only a few companies jumping into the 24-inch junior road bike market, including Blue Competition Bicycles, Felt, Kona, Pinarello and Redline, which has more of a cyclocross design. Smaller, 24-inch frames are the best for young riders because they fit them properly and are easier to handle. The worst thing you can do for your child is try to put them on a bike that is too big.
For his first ride we took him out for a five-mile spin on the Cherry Creek Bike Path in Denver. It was a nice introduction because it was smooth pavement, relatively flat, and we didn’t have to worry about cars, just other cyclists who were happy to give him room when needed. He mimicked his favorite sprinter, Mark Cavendish, by coming up from behind us and sprinting for an imaginary line while getting comfortable in the drops. He learned quickly that even a slight movement on a road bike can throw you off your line. There is no room for goofing off and it’s not as stable as the mountain bike he felt so comfortable on. It was different, but he was hooked.
The next day my husband told me he was taking him on another bike path in Golden. An hour later I received a text with a picture of them halfway up Lookout Mountain! I should have known he wasn’t joking when he set his big eyes on that climb. Since then he has toured around Boulder, ridden 15 miles from Golden to Bear Creek State Park, and climbed and descended part of the Colorado National Monument. In between, he has taught himself how to ride the rollers while watching cycling on the DVR. He's off to a good start.
Here are a few tips for grooming your own young roadie:
1. DETERMINE READINESS: While seven was a good age for my son, ages for starting on a road bike will vary. When I polled parents of young road bikers to find out how they knew their child was ready, they all told me their kids brought up the idea first and would not let it go. I asked Keith Snyder, a New York City-based cyclist, parent, and novelist, when he knew his daughter was ready. “When she wore out her kid bike, would not stop bugging me about it and I could afford one,” he said. Others said to make sure your child has mastered the basics of bike handling: Emergency braking, cornering, speed control, descending, and balance are all must-have skills when on a road bike.
2. START ON A BIKE PATH OR UNUSED ROAD: Proper handling of a road bike takes time to master. Kids are better off without too many people or cars around when they start. I did find that learning to ride with some other cyclists on the bike path was good because it taught him to hold his line, which is a key skill when riding on the road.
3. PRACTICE ON A TRAINER: Proper shifting takes practice and a stationary trainer is a safe place to work on that skill. This is also a good place to practice getting in and out of clip pedal shoes.
4. MASTER THE BASICS: When riding on the road, remind your child to stay near or to the right of the white line. Use the shoulder or bike lane when available. Ride on the left of them (when possible) to shield them from veering too far into the lane. Straight and steady is the name of the game.
5. FIND A LOCAL RACE CLUB: Depending on where you live your child might not have too many other friends with road bikes. The Lance Armstrong Junior Development race series hold races across the country. See if one is in your area this year.
Jennifer Charrette is the creator of the blog velomom.com and a software engineer for IBM. She lives under the San Juan Mountains of Colorado with her husband and two sons.