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Key features for the Specialized Hotrock 20 bike:
- Age suitability: 5 years +
- Weight: 8kg
- Key features: 6 gears, 20″ wheels
- RRP: £320
Specialized was founded by American Mike Sinyard, who is widely regarded as the man behind the world’s first mass-produced mountain bike. That was in 1981, and since then the company has introduced road, kids and, more recently, electric bikes to their range, along with cyclocross bikes, triathlon bikes and, my ride of choice, hybrid bikes. For the uninitiated, these are part road and part mountain bike and ideal for commuting, keeping fit and having fun.
My Specialized bike is one of my most treasured possessions, if not my most treasured, and I was very keen for Tyler to have a chance to experience the same level of enjoyment I get from cycling by riding a ‘grown-up’ bike.
How did you choose the correct model and size?
As with all good bikes – kids and adults alike – you can only purchase a Specialized cycle from a bike shop. This means you get professional advice on choosing the best model and a thorough fitting to ensure you buy the right size frame. And you leave the store with a bike that meets your exact requirements and is set precisely to your measurements.
This is particularly important for children, as an incorrectly sized bike can mean the difference between them loving and hating cycling. It’s also worth noting that there is no uniform sizing across different brands, which means one brand’s ‘small’ is the equivalent of another make’s ‘152cm’. Some bikes are referred to by their frame size or height, others by their wheel size – there is no consistency, which is why it’s so important to be measured and fitted properly.
Specialized kids cycles are stocked in a huge number of bike shops, from small independents to large chains, but one of the best places to see the whole range and check out its impressive range of accessories is at a Specialized Concept Store. We head to the Ruislip store, where we are incredibly impressed by the knowledge and passion of the attentive staff.
They spend time asking Tyler where he’ll be riding most often, whether he’s used a bike with gears before and how confident he is on two wheels, before inviting him to take a few different models for a test ride on the pavement outside the shop.
He decides on a Hotrock, a sturdy 7-speed cycle designed to be ridden both on and off-road. As Tyler is 115cm, the most appropriate size is the 20, which refers to the diameter of the wheel. It’s available in three colours, mean and moody black, a pleasing acid pink and a slick light silver.
(Tyler opted for the latter and I must confess both his dad and I were a tad jealous of the shiny paintwork when we compared it to our now-dull cycles.) Once selected, the bike’s saddle and handlebar height and position are adjusted by the Concept Store team, who meticulously check that Tyler is happy and comfortable with the way the bike feels while he’s sitting on and riding it.
When I remark on the weight of the bike, the staff explain that for a child’s bike to be as comparatively light as some of the top-of-the-range adult bikes, it would need to be made from carbon fibre and have all components switched to those made from similarly lightweight materials. And end up costing somewhere in the region of £2,500. That’s more money than I’d spend on my bike, let alone on a child’s bike that will be outgrown within a a few years.
After nearly two hours in the store, I’ve learnt a great deal about kids’ bikes – and Tyler’s dad has had the chance to check out some e-bikes and clothing for himself. We leave feeling enlightened and inspired and with an exceptionally happy child: Tyler is besotted with his new bike. In fact, he’s so totally obsessed with it, he insists on keeping it in his bedroom overnight, so he can sleep within touching distance of it.
Tell us about the frame.
Unlike other children’s bike frames that are often made from tubes with a uniform diameter, this bike’s frame is carefully crafted with tubes that taper off at each end, a testament to the fantastic build quality that is redolent of the brand’s adult bikes.
It’s unisex – there’s no step-through version for girls, which is refreshing.
The aluminium frame is designed to be strong, light and corrosion-resistant. While I’m not sure I agree that the middle objective has been met (the bike is very heavy in relation to my son’s weight), the frame is undoubtedly tough and durable. The alloy construction feels unbreakable, which is important when you consider how often it will be bumped, bashed and dropped.
Does it have suspension?
Yes, the SR Suntour XCT_JR suspension fork on the front of the bike offers 40mm of coil-sprung cushioning, helping to smooth bumpy, rough terrain and allowing the rider to mount and dismount kerbs with ease and glide over uneven paths and pavements.
What are the tyres like?
Substantial, like the rest of the bike. They are as wide as a mountain-bike tyre so provide lots of grip, both on- and off-road. But the tread isn’t as knobbly as a mountain-bike tyre, making them better suited to rolling over smooth paths and pavements and less well-suited to very rocky, root-strewn tracks. But I doubt many, if any, young children ride on those.
How lightweight is the bike? Can your son lift it easily?
In short, no. The bike’s substantial weight is its main drawback as my son struggles to manoeuvre the bike when he’s not riding it. Walking it along crowded pavements, reversing it out of tight spaces and even steadying it so he can pedal away is physically challenging and involves strength, dexterity and balance he doesn’t yet possess. Either he or the bike end up getting bashed so I find myself wheeling it out of the lift/shops/tight spaces until Tyler is ready to jump on and pedal away.
Is it easy to adjust?
Like my adult bike, this one requires special allen keys to adjust the height of the seat, stem and handlebar. Whereas the reach adjust of the brake levers on the V-brakes are tool-less, so can be easily tweaked to ensure they fit the rider’s hands. Though once the bike has been set up for your child, you shouldn’t need to make any adjustments until he or she grows enough to warrant altering the height. Of course, this means that it can’t be swapped between riders with a flick of a quick release lever, much to the disappointment of Tyler’s younger brother Rocco, who is itching to ride it.
Will it last across ages?
Tyler is 114cm tall approaching his sixth birthday and the bike fits on its lowest settings. The seat post has a range of 20cm, and the stem has 20mm of spacers to adjust with. So in theory a child could grow 20cm in height and still fit on the bike if it initially fitted with the seat post at its minimum height.
However, Specialized point out that the rider may outgrow the reach (distance to hold the handlebars) first depending on how they develop. I’m confident the bike will last two years, until Tyler is approaching his eighth birthday.
The stem (handlebar) height can’t be adjusted by much (only 2cm) but on anything other than a first bike, this shouldn’t matter. It’s when a child is new to the bike that a higher stem can reduce the reach to accommodate the smallest rider.
Another important feature are the reach adjust brake levers, which can be adjusted without tools to ensure they are in easy reach for your child. As the child grows, the components of the bike grow, prolonging the partnership between rider and ride.
Does it feel safe?
It certainly feels sturdy and durable. However, the bike’s robustness makes it heavy and this in turn makes it harder for riders to control, especially when steering around tight bends, even if they’re not sitting on it.
Is it a good ‘big bike?’ to transition to, why?
Yes and no. Yes because it is bordering on the indestructible, so will stand up to being dropped on the ground and crashed while your young rider is learning to use gears for the first time. And because the grip-shift gear system is literally right under the rider’s hand. No because it’s so heavy that newer, more nervous riders might be put off by how difficult it is to pedal off, wheel around and turn round tight corners.
What do you think of the gears on the bike?
Having ridden bikes with trigger-shift gears my whole cycling life, I’m not personally a fan of the grip-shift or twist gear system. But Tyler gets on with it brilliantly and finds it easy and instinctive to use, preferring it to the trigger shifters on another bike he’s tested.
He enjoys experimenting with different settings and soon becomes more confident at changing gears while in motion.
What do you think of the height of the bike?
It’s just right for my almost-six-year-old son, who is fast approaching 116cm. The bike’s standover height (the distance from the ground to the top of the crossbar just in front of the saddle) is 468mm, which is the minimum inside leg measurement of a potential rider.
Is it comfy to ride?
Tyler is delighted with how comfortable the bike is to ride, and doesn’t want to get off.
The kids’-specific saddle certainly helps, as does the adjustable ride position, which allows for adjustment to the height of both the seat and the handlebars. While the meaty tyres and front suspension fork cushion all but the biggest bumps.
What’s the steering like? Does it have steering limiters?
The bike is very responsive and Tyler seems to have little difficulty in turning it left and right with both hands on the handlebars. He’s not yet got the confidence to take one hand off the bars for long enough to raise it to show the direction he’s planning to turn in, probably because the bike is heavy and he’s worried about losing control. This means that he’s not able to use it on the road yet as he needs to be able to indicate for several seconds by taking one hand off the bar.
It’s worth noting that there are no steering limiters on this bike so it’s possible to over steer and crash. It can then be tricky for young riders to work out which way the wheel should be set, though the gear wires only allow it to turn into position one way.
How easy is it to transport?
The rear wheel is quick release, making it easy to take off to fit into the boot of your car, for example. But the front wheel can only be removed with a spanner so requires you to have extra tools to hand and wil take longer.
How long do you reckon this bike will last?
The bike is very well made and I would expect it to last long after Tyler has outgrown it and at least until his younger brother has also ridden it for several years. The high-quality design, craftsmanship and components indicate that the bike can be passed onto multiple riders, making it a great investment if you have another child or more children you can pass it on to.
Does it handle all-terrains?
Yes, it can handle paved and unpaved routes – so pavements, paths, roads as well as muddy tracks and trails. It’s designed as an all-rounder so is ideal for a child who pedals along pavements or roads during the week and seeks off-road adventures in parks on weekends.
Is there an alternative model for a child who only goes off-road and doesn’t cycle on paths or pavements?
Yes! The Riprock has a larger tyre volume which lends itself more to off-road use. The Hotrock (which we tried) has a smaller tyre volume and will suit both paths and trails.
Is there a kickstand?
Yes, and with a bit of practice, Tyler finds it easy enough to kick down and flick back up. My only complaint is that the rubber cap on the end, which prevents the metal ‘stick’ from scraping the ground or floor on which the bike is standing, comes off easily. We have to retrieve it and replace it nearly every time the kickstand is engaged.
Are there any must-have accessories?
As well as its expansive collection of bikes, Specialized sells branded clothing, accessories and components – everything from gloves to lights and from saddles to shoes. But the stand-out accessory for kids has to be the brand’s helmets, which feature a magnetic buckle.
It’s a fiendishly clever but super simple idea that makes a huge difference when fitting a helmet to a child, and encouraging him or her to wear it regularly. Instead of a traditional clip that can be tricky for little fingers to release and can pinch skin when pushed together, the magnet buckle simply glides together, allowing easy and secure strap attachment. It was devised by Specialized’s in-house product team as a way to help speed up the transition of triathletes, but it’s been applied to the kids’ helmet line to great effect.
Super sturdy and very slick, this beautifully crafted mountain bike is a great way for children who are already confident on two-wheels to get to grips with changing gear and riding along bumpy terrain. The quality is reflected in the price, which some parents may find steep, but the adjustable saddle and handlebar height mean the bike can grow along with its rider.
This bike is best suited to regular riders who alternate between paths and pavements and off-road tracks.
Read some more tips and reviews…
- 10 of the best first bikes
- Bike safety – the golden rules to teach your child
- The best balance bikes for kids
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