Kid bikes are maddening. Bikes with 20” and 24” wheels typically weigh north of 24lbs. That’s not just the big box bikes, but even from manufacturers that want users to associate their brand with high quality.
Some note that the economics of kids’ bikes is what makes them heavy. Bikes are often quickly outgrown and the kid who receives said bike might not be all that into it, so parents might not want to invest in a “good” one. All the same, a bike that’s no fun to ride can be hard to love or even stoke a desire to ride.
Some suggest that the practical considerations are the issue. These bikes can be used by entire families and then passed on. Heavy is durable. Some truth to this, as I’ve passed on four kid bicycles already that were already used when I acquired them. But considering how much abuse lighter adult bikes withstand from heavier cyclists, I think these bikes are overbuilt.
I think the issue is competition. Or rather, the lack thereof. Not many bike companies are making a real effort with their kids’ bikes, so the other bike companies are likewise sitting back and not doing much. I find this a shame: I see too many heavy, poorly designed, poorly assembled kid bikes, and see them as an impediment to helping kids find the joy of riding.
A few years ago, I came across Isla Bikes, a British company. They seem to be the acme of kid bikes, in terms of what components they’re built up with and that many are sub 20lbs. I occasionally see a kid riding an Isla. Compared to big box store fare, they’re an investment.
Last fall, I came across a Frog bike at a playground. I asked the father of the cyclist riding it about the brand. He was so excited to tell me about the bike that he even handed me a business card from the shop he got the bike at.
Subsequently, I’ve seen several Frogs, a few more Islas, and a few from another British company whose name is escaping me. It seems that the UK has a more competitive marketplace and the breed has improved over there. Frog makes balance bikes, road bikes, hybrids, mountain bikes and even track bikes—they cover kids from a year old into their teenage years. Their pricing seems to be lower across the board than Isla’s.
This Frog Hybrid 62 was chosen to test because it seemed like the next step up from a BMX bike. BMX bikes themselves are built for abuse, which makes them easy for kids. The problem is that they often come without front brakes, and a single speed. While hard to break, are also tough to ride up hills.
The 62 has 24” wheels, eight speeds, comes with two sets of tires (knobby and smooth), comes with fenders and bell, and, according to the website, weighs 20.3 lbs. Aluminum is the frame material of choice. V-brakes do the stopping. Pricing is $470 shipped to a dealer, while a similar Isla, the Beinn 24, runs $649.99, and doesn’t come with the extras, but is a pound lighter if the spec sheets are accurate.
Frog spends considerable space touting their kid-specific design. The bikes come with low q-factor cranks, shorter cranks, narrower pedals, smaller saddle, narrower bars than typical for other bikes in their category. They also come with rack and fender mounts, a kickstand mount, and even seatstay mounts for a simple wheel lock. There’s a quick release on the seatpost clamp for easy adjustment and quick releases on the wheels, for easy transport. We weighed the bike; the tester came in at 21.6lbs.
Some of the whys Frog was unwilling to answer. Like how they figured out geometry. It has a wheelbase of 997mm, about as long as 700c road racing bike, and trail of 58mm is also in line with what can be found on a racing bike. Why this works, they won’t say. Proportionally, the geometry seems a bit long for a hybrid. Likewise, their patented cranks are 129mm in length while many competitors run cranks a good bit longer, around 150mm. Crank lengths are rarely proportional to leg length, so Frog might be doing better than most by offering such short cranks short people, though the patent seems to have to do with very low Q-factor, which they claim provides a more comfortable position for narrower kid hips. The bike comes with a 50mm stem, which is shorter than much of their competition, and probably makes the bike feel similar to the short stems on 29ers.
The other surprising design feature is the relatively high bottom bracket. It’s 284mm from the bb to the floor, higher than the competition. On the one hand, between this height and the short cranks, it would be near impossible to hit a pedal in a corner. On the other, it made it harder to raise the saddle high enough for full leg extension, as it was hard to sit on the saddle and have one foot, even on tiptoes, on the ground. Frog, when asked, indicated that they didn’t want to go lower, as then the head tube, relative to the bottom bracket, would be too tall.
The first good thing is that coming from a BMX bike, the 62 is easy to pilot. It’s more stable. Two hand brakes, seemingly sized for small hands, are pretty easy to get used to—at first it seems like the bike is going faster before braking, but that feeling went away. The 11-32 eight-speed gearing with a 32-tooth chainring is plenty low—on an early rides, the bike was taken up some 8-10% pitches, and the 32-32 was low enough—this ratio with these wheels and tires means pedaling at 59rpm the rider goes 4mph. The flip side; it’s hard to see the 32-11 as big enough, as going 20mph takes 101rpm, though many kids aren’t going to be ready to go fast enough to spin that gear. Fourth or fifth gear was preferred on flat roads. (Here’s a calculator.)
The saddle wasn’t in the way and not noticed, a good thing. The grips, while thin, were also not noticed. The trigger shifters, here by Shimano, seem easier to operate than twist-shifters that are found on some kid bikes, and come with an optical gear indicator, which is good for people who aren’t familiar with shifting.
The big test of this bike was whether or not it could help a ten year-old ride Bike New York. 42 miles with a few big hills thrown in. Actually, there’s over 1,000’ of climbing. There are three notable hills: the 59th street bridge, one on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, and the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, the last over a mile long. While not a race, over 30,000 participants mean that pack riding, at least in some sections, is inevitable. And, because it’s New York City, bad roads are also inevitable.
Because of the distance, a water bottle cage was installed. Turns out, a side-loading bottle cage is the better choice as the bottle mounts are sufficiently high to impede easy access. The smooth-tread Kenda tires, which seem plenty durable, were also swapped out for higher-performing smooth tread Kenda Konversion BMX race tires, saving 130g per tire.
Riding in traffic, over hills, and dealing with rough roads were notable only in that they weren’t. The bike was easy to ride, easy to handle, and no pain or discomfort related to the bike was felt. The best thing to report is that there was very little to report; the bike rode as expected. The climb up the Verrazano was easily manageable, and the ride only seemed long on the final few miles home, after the official ride had ended.
The quibbles and quirks of the Frog are appropriate to bring up in a review, though most of them are more the province of bike-addled adults looking to find the highest performing bikes for their kids. I don’t understand why they made the geometry choices, but the rider didn’t notice other than finding the ride easy and fun, far better than the BMX bike that it supplanted.
That last feature is the critical one. Better bikes are more fun to ride. And making riding more fun is the best way to entice people to ride more. The Frog Hybrid 62 is fun for all the reasons we find bike riding fun. It’s a good bike.
It also suggests that creating or finding a resale market for such bikes could make them more appealing. For now, it’s probably just sharing on cyclist message boards.