How to Choose the right Gear for a Young Competitive Cyclist

For many bike-riding parents, the time when your child shows an interest in cycling is a very special one.

Once your child starts to show a keen interest in cycling as a hobby, you have a wide range of choices to make. You’ll want to ensure they have what they need to take their interest to the next level: heavy, badly fitting old bikes and the wrong clothing can put them off straight away.

While you might be a pro at picking out your next bike or jersey, it’s a little trickier when doing so on someone else’s behalf. 

That’s why we at Merlin have put together a comprehensive gear guide for parents of kids who want to take cycling seriously.

Having the right bike and equipment will maximise the chances of your child enjoying cycling as an activity, a form of transport or even competitively.

1. Bikes

Let’s start with the biggest — and arguably most important — investment: the bike itself.

Until now, your child has probably been using a bike that ‘gets the job done’, whether that’s a cheap starter bike you picked up from a store or a family hand-me-down. And so far, that’s been fine: it’s been a nice place to learn the basics. 

Once your child has learned to ride and shown an interest in competitive riding, this is a good time to look at upgrading to a more suitable bike for their particular interest. This is easier if they are keen on a specific area of bike riding, such as BMX, for example. 

If they are mainly riding in the local woods with their friends or on local trails, a mountain bike may well be the way to go. For a general do-it-all bike, many parents opt for cyclocross models which give a good mix of on and off-road capabilities, offering the most choices for future competitive riding.

Under 9s

The key focus for children up to around 9 years old is building their confidence on the bike. Child-specific bikes like from cycling brands like Frog are ideal for giving kids a sense of ownership. These bikes are also great for helping improve the skills they need both to achieve balance and to handle the bike well. 

Many of these bikes also have built-in safety features, too. For example, the Frog 48 (suitable for 4-5-year-olds) features a locking headset; this means the handlebars have a steering limiter, which is especially useful for learner riders. 

Over 9s

Once your child is around the ages of 9 or 10, they might be ready to try out more specialised bikes. Many pre-teen youngsters are tall enough to be able to ride small adult bikes, and if they’ve expressed an interest in competitive riding, they’ll want something that will keep them competitive with their fellow riders.

Frog 70

Bikes for this age group tend to have 26” or 700c wheels. Here are some examples of large kids and small adult bikes.

  • Frog 70 Cyclocross Bike — Flexibility is key with the Frog 70. The all-aluminium frame provides a stable frame for kids. The bike comes with Kenda Cyclocross tyres meaning you can transform this bike into a Cyclocross kids bike, great for kids to enter the muddy and exciting world of Cyclocross.
  • Colnago A1R 105 Aluminium Road Bike (2018) — A modern classic from Italian master bike builders Colnago. They have a rich history of racing, reflected in the sleek, powerful design of this bike. The A1R is available with a 43cm frame, which is a touch smaller than the minimum size of a lot of other racing bikes, so it’s an ideal start for a young rider who still has plenty of growing to do.
  • Frog MTB 69 — Featuring an all-aluminium frame, the Frog MTB 69 provides a stable, versatile bike for kids. The hybrid design of the bike means it’s perfect for family rides to the park, where it’s suitable for on and off-road use. It also features Tektro brakes with adjustable levers designed for kids’ hands and the brilliant 8-speed Shimano easy-change thumb shifters and easily adjusted saddle height. 
  • Merlin X2.0 Cyclocross 2018 — The X2.0 Cyclocross bike features a lightweight aluminium frame and Shimano Tiagra components coupled with a Deda finishing kit. The X2.0 is available in X Small size suitable for young riders from 1m55cm. 
  • Frog MTB 72  — This 26″ wheel junior mountain bike is the ideal multi terrain bicycle for off-road cycling and suitable for 13-year-olds and over with a minimum inside leg measure of 72cm. Supplied with super grippy Kenda tyres making sure you have grip in muddy conditions. Finished off with the brilliant Shimano 9 Speed rapid-fire gears that are operated by the super-easy thumb shifter helping to go up and down the gear for hours of fun.

2. Jerseys

Next, you’ll want to find a good jersey. Your youngster might be accustomed to cycling around in whatever cotton tee is most convenient when you go for a ride together, but you need a better solution if they’re getting more serious. 

No more t-shirts flapping about in the wind!  A properly fitting jersey will improve confidence and comfort whilst riding.

Castelli Giro FZ Kids Jersey

Under 12s

There are some jerseys specifically design for kids, which typically go up to around the age of 12. Below are a couple of examples for you to start with.

Over 12s

Most over 12s will fit into standard adult-sized jerseys since many of them are a skin-tight fit. A key tip is to go for a jersey that’s a little on the large side for now so that they can grow into it. 

3. Helmets

While there are plenty of helmets that will offer a basic level of protection for your kids out there, there are a few additional factors you need to consider once they start cycling seriously.

Getting the right fit

One of the most important considerations when buying a racing helmet for your child is ensuring the right fit. Here’s how you can find their size accurately:

  1. Take a measuring tape and place it about an inch above their eyebrows.
  2. Measure the complete circumference of their head, keeping the tape measure above their ears.
  3. Record the measurement and use this to identify the right size for them.

Many helmets are adjustable, so look for one where the minimal size meets or goes below your child’s head size. That way, you can adjust the helmet as they grow.

Bell Charger Helmet

Under 12s

Bell Charger JR Kids MTB Helmet (above)

  • Full coverage shell
  • Snap fit visor with reinforced anchor points
  • Reflective rear decal
  • InMold polycarbonate shell with EPS liner
  • Acu Dial Fit System
  • 22 vents
  • Weight: 270g

Over 12s

Most adult-size helmet ranges start from around 47-51 cm (18 ½” — 20”). If your child’s head measures within this range, you can safely shop for adult helmets that will allow for growth in the coming years. 

Chiba Waterproof Gloves

4. Additional gear

There are a few additional items you might want to add to your child’s kit, both for comfort and safety.

Gloves

While helmets provide excellent head protection, let’s forget that your kids will instinctively throw out their hands if they fall off their bike. Gloves not only provide better grip on the handlebars for improved control — especially for off-road cycling — but also protect from scrapes across gravel at speed.

Kids gloves example

  • Chiba Kids EuroTex Waterproof Gloves — Both waterproof and windproof, these kids cycling gloves from Chiba often comfort and protection, especially in winter. They have an anti-slip-palm made from Digital Carbon Fibre for maximum control.

Bottoms

Like a jersey, you’ll need some bottoms that will do an effective job of keeping your child comfortable and dry on their rides. The ideal bottoms will differ depending on the time of year. 

Castelli Giro Kids Shorts

Bottoms examples

  • Altura Childrens Cruiser Tights — The warm stretch thermal fabric of these tights made them ideal for winter rides. They feature a water repellent treatment, too — perfect for keeping them warm as they splash through the puddles left over from those rainy days. They’re available in sizes up to 9 years. 
  • Castelli Giro D’Italia Kids Shorts — Perfect for summer, these Castelli shorts have been specially produced for young cyclists up to 12 years. They feature Giro3 leg grippers and a limited-edition Giro D’Italia print, too.

Invest into your young cyclist

With our tips above, you can start your child’s journey into competitive cycling off on the right foot. And as they grow, you’ll have the pleasure of taking them to find their own gear, guiding them as they increase in confidence and ability until — maybe one day — it becomes more than just a hobby.

And even if that’s not the case, being able to bond with your youngster over a shared love of cycling is a reward in itself.

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