If you are an adult and you have ever ridden a heavy bike you know how horrible it can be. A heavy bike makes everything more difficult – whether that is pedalling up a steep hill or carrying it up flights of stairs to get it into your top floor flat. Heavy is not good. Heavy, wet and muddy is even worse.
Can you imagine that you are a small child again and that your mum or dad has just given you a brand new bike that looks like the Forth Bridge and weighs approximately the same! As you pick it up off the floor you wonder how you are ever going to balance on it, never mind emulate your hero Evel Knievel. You manage to get on board and start to try and pedal… it won’t move, so you point it down a hill and away you go. The problem is that the bike is so heavy you are now having difficulty stopping the damn thing! So you decide to turn. But the problem is that the steering is so heavy and sluggish that it’s proving to be difficult too. You say to yourself, “this must be what it’s like to captain one of those massive container ships, the ones that need two miles to make a simple turn”. You eventually come to a half hearted stop only to realise that your mum and dad are shouting at you from the top of the hill telling you that you’ve gone the wrong way!
OK, that might all seem a little far fetched, but it’s not that far from reality, especially from my childhood. Back then bikes were built to last. The problem was that most of them were so heavy that they never left the garage (or the ground!). Joking aside, weight plays a huge factor when it comes to enjoying time on your bike, whatever your age. A heavy bike is not much fun for an adult, but for a child? It is widely quoted that for every extra 1kg of weight on a child’s bike it is equivalent to 10kg on an adults bike… that’s ten bags of sugar!
Heavy means no fun
Often when you watch a young child first learning on a balance or pedal bike they are not that proficient at turning. They tend to go in a straight line, then stop and then pick the front end of the bike up, bouncing it around in an arc and turn it that way. If you have a light bike this is easy. With a heavy bike kids get into all sorts of trouble, teetering and tottering until they fall over, usually with the bike on top of them. It’s not a pretty sight. Also if the bike does fall on top of them we’ve seen children almost get trapped, pinned down by a hunk of metal. Again, with a light bike the child can either pick it up and move it, or kick it out of the way, ready to hop back on and give it another go. With a lighter bike your child will want to ride for longer.
Heavy means it’s all wrong
A heavy bike doesn’t pedal well, it doesn’t handle very well and unless it has amazing brakes it doesn’t stop very well either. If we want to get more people, and especially children, cycling then we have to make it enjoyable. As with any sport or pastime, if you have the right gear it makes everything so much better. And light is better.
Heavy means a metal lump
Children are lucky these days, because there are beautiful and light weight bikes out there for them to ride, like our PINTO (5.7kg) and SKØG (6.1kg). Having said that there are also plenty of horribly heavy lumps of steel painted in bright colours that pass off as kid’s bikes. These are often weighed down by clumpy components and useless accessories like baskets. But it’s not that easy to make light weight kid’s bikes, they are not just shrunken down adult’s bikes. Sure the components are smaller, but an adult’s V-brake weighs the same as a kid’s one, the same with the bottom bracket (the bit that the cranks spin on that goes through the frame). So to keep it light you have to look very careful at every part on a kid’s bike. There’s a lot of technology that has to be squeezed into a small space.
Heart and soul
The heart and soul of any bike is its frame. Traditionally these have been made from steel. Steel is a great material that’s relatively easy to work with, has a bit of give and life to it and you can re-weld it if it breaks. You can make very nice steel frames that are light in weight, but they are expensive. What tends to happen is that bike manufacturers use cheaper steel, and therein lies the problem… they are heavy.
And then along came aluminium. The wonder material. Light weight, strong and can be welded or shaped (our hydro formed top tube is a thing of beauty). OK it is a little bit more difficult to work with and more expensive, but highly skilled workers know how to deal with it. There is of course carbon, but in reality it is expensive and unnecessary when it comes to kid’s bikes.
If your frame is heavy at the start you might as well forget it if you want a light bike, you will forever be chasing kilograms rather than grams. So the heart of our bike, the frame, is aluminium throughout, but we also go one step further and use an aluminium fork and steerer. This is perfect for young children, light in weight and plenty strong enough for them.
Professional cyclists (and wannabe ones too) may sweat endlessly in their pursuit of saving minute amounts of weight from their bikes, a few grams here, a few grams there. In truth for the average cyclist it won’t make any difference at all (even though it is a fun process), but if you can save weight on a kid’s bike any reduction is magnified because the bike is a much bigger proportion of their own weight.
The philosophy of marginal gains (made famous by Dave Brailsford when he was at British Cycling) is all about small incremental improvements adding up to a significant improvement when they are all added together. And this is what we have done with the rest of our bike parts. We’ve selected the best we can for lightness and strength.
To put it simply, when it comes to kid’s bikes, a light bike is a good bike. And a good bike means a happy kid… and a happy kid means a happy parent!