Travel down any suburban street leading up to a hard rubbish night and you’ll see dozens of kids bikes sitting on the kerb, waiting for the garbage man or the scrappers to pick them up and take them away. Frankly, that’s all they’re good for, unless you want to attach a chain to them and use them to stop your boat drifting away. Good bikes for kids are hard to come by, especially when you’re at the budget end of the market, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be found. Australian company ByK are trying to prove it with their range of bikes, and particularly with their 620R road bike, which my daughter has been test riding. Let me tell you about it.
The 620R is a fully featured road bike for kids. It is designed for kids between about 142cm and 175 cms tall, or 10 – 14 years old; my 9 year old fits the bike just above the lower end, and my 12 year old fits it at the upper end (I have tall kids). Beyond that height, you’d be looking at a small adult bike, below that height there is the ByK 540R, which is similarly spec’d, but for kids 7 – 11 years old (there is an overlap of height suitability with these bikes).
My daughter Darcy loves the 620R because it’s just like my bike and her older sisters’ bikes. The 620R has 700C wheels (the 540R has smaller wheels), drop bars, and 2×8 gearing controlled by brifters (combined brake/shifters), all on an aluminium frame, just like an adult’s road bike. There is absolutely nothing “pretend” about it, it’s a real road bike, but where it differs from adult bikes is that each part has been carefully thought about with small kids in mind.
The microSHIFT brifters are the exact right choice for a kid’s bike. The ‘s’ (short reach) version of their brifters is designed for small hands and these are a popular choice on serious kids racing bikes for those in the know. The cranks are shorter than adult cranks because kid’s legs are shorter than adult legs (mostly), and the drop bars are shallow and attached to a short stem for short arms. The seat is sporty, but well padded, and the top tube is sloping, which gives the bike a longer life with a growing child.
As I said, it’s a bike that’s been well thought about, but it has been designed to a budget and the components are of mixed origin. The microSHIFT brifters, for example, have been paired with a microSHIFT rear derailleur and a SRAM front derailleur and cassette. The brakes are Tektro mini-V brakes, which are quite popular with cyclocross riders (more about the brakes later). These are the important components, as far as mechanical quality and reliability are concerned, and this is where the budget on the bike has been spent – on good quality component. The bars, stem, seat post etc., however are generic components, and the wheels have Quando hubs, which are at the budget end of the wheel market. Similarly, the bike uses an 8 speed cassette, which is also a bit ‘old’ (given that recent bikes are 10 or 11 speed) and therefore cheaper. It’s not a problem, a kids bike really doesn’t need an 11 speed groupset.
What I suppose I’m trying to say is that the smart money has been spent on the performance and kid friendly parts of the bike, and the parts that don’t matter too much (and can be easily upgraded with dad’s cast offs) are the ones that are ‘budget’. It’s sensible design, and the origin of that sensibility makes for an interesting story.
It all started when I had a question about the brakes. Road bikes normally have side pull caliper brakes, and while they could have been be fitted to this bike, the bike has mini-v brakes, similar to what you’d find on a mountain bike. They’re not the usual equipment for this type of bike and I wanted to know why they were there, particularly when I was always told that road brifters and v-brakes don’t mix.
I got in touch with ByK and spoke directly to the brand’s boss and this bike’s designer, Warren Key. I asked Warren about the brake situation and relayed to him my experiences with the brakes in use. You see, we picked the bike up, ready to ride, from Blackman Bicycles in Parramatta. To transport it home, I had to remove the front wheel and found that I couldn’t release the brakes to pull the front wheel out. I deflated the tyre a bit and got it between the pads, but it’s not how v-brakes usually work when you’re removing a front wheel. Reattaching the wheel was similarly tricky – the brakes had to be connected before the wheel was inserted, rather than after, as is usual. Everything else was fine, however, so I let Darcy have a ride.
Darcy is an experienced rider and racer, but this was her first road bike. She loved it; the speed, the position, the acceleration – you should have seen the smile on her face, particularly when she beat her friend Mia in all of their races. Stopping the bike, however, was a bit touchy. The brakes worked too well and she stopped quite suddenly, lifting the back wheel off the ground when she did so. Having a bit of experience under her belt helped her here and she stopped safely, with no real concern from her, but I was a bit confused. The mini v-brake and road brifter combination seemed the culprit.
Now that you know the background, we can get back to my conversation with Warren Key. He was as concerned as I was when I relayed Darcy’s experience to him and we had a long discussion about the bike and the brake choice. Warren is a father and a bike shop owner and he has his kids riding this bike, and their friends as well. They don’t have this problem with their bike, and he was very worried about Darcy’s bike. He had his mechanics check the setup of other 620Rs and, because he was in Melbourne, sent me lots of photos of the set up. There was nothing wrong with the setup we had, save that the pads were quite close to the rim – this was the problem.
You see, the mini v-brake/road brifter combination was chosen for this bike for the same reason they use the combination in cyclocross, because you get excellent stopping power. Side pull road brakes aren’t the best brake configuration for stopping on the road, and when you combine that with the hands of small children, it could mean a disaster. The mini v-brakes give a lot more stopping power when combined with road brifters due to superior mechanical advantage, but there is a cost to this.
The trade off is two fold. Firstly, you won’t be able to get the brakes to quick release to drop the wheels out. I have learned to live with that and I deflate the front tyre to about half pressure so the front wheel will slide between the brake pads easily (the rear wheel is the same, but I have only removed it once). I keep a pump in the car, so this is not a hassle when I have to remove the front wheel to transport the bike. The second trade off is the extreme stopping power – it can be too extreme, or not enough. If you’re familiar with normal road brakes, you know that running the brakes really close to the rim doesn’t increase braking power, rather it just engages the brake earlier in the lever pull. With the mini v-brake/brifter combo, this isnt the case. When you’re really close to the rim, the stopping power is really high due to the extra mechanical advantage. You either deal with it, or you move the pads out a little. When you do move the pads out, there is a ‘Goldilocks’ zone where the braking is not too heavy and not too light; ByK’s advertising calls this ‘well modulated’ and I agree with that. When the pads are too far out, the braking vanished almost completely. Fortunately, the Goldilocks zone is easy to find; it’s just something that you need to be aware of.
I have gone into detail on this brake non-issue because I really want to highlight the level of consideration that Warren Key and the ByK crew have put into making a good bike. This bike was designed for kids like Warren’s own, and he has his kids riding it. This isn’t a bike that some purchasing manager chose from a catalogue and purchased a hundred thousand of, this is a small production run bike where each component was tested and considered. I was surprised, pleasantly so. We talked for ages about the 620R, the choices he made, the problem of getting custom parts (like the seat and the two tone bar tape) in small quantities, and so on. Warren’s years of bike shop experience and fatherhood are the best advertisement for this bike.
While my daughter and I are both fans of this bike, I do find that it’s a bit heavier than it could be (11kg) and I think the top tube may be a bit long for kids at the bottom end of the recommended height range. The first issue is probably a matter of cost – the money has been put into other areas rather than making the bike the lightest it could be. I’m not going to take points off for that because it’s still significantly lighter than most other kids bikes out there, and certainly lighter than others at this price point. The frame is well constructed, tough enough to take my weight when I rode it, and it looks great, but kids bikes don’t need to weigh more than adult bikes.
The second issue will only be an issue for some riders – my daughter doesn’t have a problem with it, but she is tall. There is an overlap in recommended heights between the smaller 540R and the 620R, so it’s really a matter of getting the right fit. The longer top tube does give the bike a longer lifespan as the rider grows, but you should never make a rider fit the bike, the bike should fit the rider. Talk to your bike shop about which one is better for you.
Now that we’re at the end of the review, you’re probably looking at the price and thinking that it’s quite a bit more than what you saw bikes going for in the last Big W catalogue. So let’s get down to brass tacks, one parent to another. I have three kids who race and another one who will shortly. Good bikes are expensive, and I’m always looking for options, because I don’t want my kids to ride crap. I’m not being snobbish here, I just want them to enjoy their riding, the same way I do. The more they enjoy their bike, the more they’ll ride it and, while the chances are slim that they’ll win a grand tour, introducing them to a lifetime mode of active transport and recreation is important to me. My older kids have moved onto smaller adult sized road bikes and ride some nice retro steel bikes with modern groupsets. A good second hand frame, wheels, second hand groupset, good tyres, saddles, and so on…even the “cheap” option adds up if you do it right.
So here’s the real story on the price situation: you’re not buying this bike, you’re hiring it from the next owner. Good kids bikes have very good resale value. They keep their value better than adult bikes due to their rarity and, because kids probably aren’t going to be riding their bikes in the same way that adults will (big rider, thousands of k’s, all weather), they’ll be better treated. Once a kids bike comes into our club community, it usually gets passed around for years and years afterwards as new kids step up to road bikes. Getting your little one onto a good bike that will make their riding fun is worth the money you’ll pay. On the topic of cycling clubs, one or three of these bikes would work very nicely as ‘club owned’ bikes that won’t break the bank.
I’m very happy with the 620R and I’m happy to lead the family peloton. I’m seriously considering the 540R for my youngest, but at the moment he’s got his eyes on the nice GT BMX in the shed that the girls have grown out of. Once he realises that road bikes are more fun on the road, I’m sure he’ll be hankering for a drop bar bike and I have no hesitation about putting him on a ByK.
If you take my parental advice and steer clear of the cheap and nasty department store bikes, you’ll be looking at $659 retail for the ByK 620R. They’re available from a ever growing number of bike shops throughout Australia. The best place to start is the Byk website and from there you can find your nearest dealer. While you’re on the site you’ll also find a broad range of different bikes from ByK: balance bikes, regular kids bikes, and children’s mountain bikes.