Investing in a safe, reliable and inexpensive racing bicycle for a child can be a daunting task, particularly if they want to compete in the triathlon. While your garden-variety youth bicycle is good for knocking around the neighborhood with friends, your child will eventually want to have a bike that is designed for one thing: to go fast.
While there has been a perceived demand for youth triathlon bicycles, that has never translated to market demand. As a result, there are no designated youth triathlon bikes--most parents will not pay several hundred dollars for a specialized bicycle their child will outgrow in a year or two.
Most youth triathletes will ride their BMX or mountain bike for their first few races. Once a child has shown an interest in pursuing the sport, parents will often look to purchase a second-hand road bike or a new designated youth road racing model.
Older children, ages 13 and up, may be able to ride a women's small frame bicycle if it is properly fitted. Most small frame bicycles will fit riders between 5 feet 5 inches and 5-7 tall.
Youth bicycles are typically built with 24-inch wheel diameters, compared to 700cc (approximately 27 inches) wheels on adult road bikes.
Don't forget the most important piece of cycling equipment your child will need: a good helmet.
Top Youth Road Bikes
Currently, one manufacturer builds road racing bikes for children: Felt.
The Felt F-Lite Kid's (model F24) features a custom 7005 aluminum frame with butted seat tube and chainstay. The bike has a carbon front fork to dampen road shock and short-reach integrated shifters/brake levers for maximum control. As of February 2010, the F24 is only available in a matte black finish with blue accents. The MSRP is $699.
Trek used to manufacturer a youth road racing bicycle, the KDR 1000. Unfortunately, that model was only manufactured in 2005 and 2007-2008 and is difficult to find on the used market.
It is critical that the bike be properly fitted to your child. The old method of aiming for one inch of clearance between your child's groin and the top tube will be somewhat accurate for determining frame size but does not account for seat angle, length of your child's torso in relation to the handlebars/front stem or crank length for proper leg extension. Take the bicycle and your child to a professional bike shop for a fitting. Appointments are typically required and the cost ranges from $50 to $100 depending on the shop and the number of modifications that need to be made.
Many believe that adding a pair of aerobars on the bike's handlebars will instantly convert a road bike to a triathlon bike. Adding aerobars will simply make the bike more difficult and squirrely to handle. Aerobars shift the rider's weight toward the front wheel, amplifying any steering movement. Also, the bike course on most youth triathlons, typically one to three miles, is too short to see any significant time savings from the aerodynamic position.