Karen Gee, founder of kids bike news website Cycle Sprog, looks back on a decade of change in the children’s market
This piece first appeared in the May edition of BikeBiz magazine – get your free subscription here
A decade ago Cycle Sprog launched as a little website to document what my husband and I were learning whilst cycling with our two young children. Fast forward and such a lot has changed, and yet so much remains the same.
We now cover kids’ bike launches numerous times a year, with an increasing number of child-only brands leading the way. If you’re a ‘reputable’ bike brand still flogging heavy kids’ bikes with stabilisers and princess decals then that word can no longer apply.
There’s been a surge of innovation across leading brands – junior mountain, road, and cyclocross bikes, growing frame bikes, and balance to pedal bike conversions are now commonplace. This coincided with new and improved products for towing and carrying younger children, as well as clothing and helmet lines designed specifically for the very youngest of riders.
Balance bikes are a rite of passage on the journey to independent riding for a growing number of children. Cargo bikes have started to become more mainstream in our larger cities, with e-assist making things much easier.
If you cycle your child to school there’s a chance you’re no longer the only freak in the playground (I lost count of the number of times we were told we were brave or crazy for doing this a decade ago).
The launch of the Bike Club’s subscription service is disrupting the industry by changing the way
many families own bikes, whilst ensuring a certain demographic are always riding quality bikes of the
right size. And yet, looking back on the decade not much has changed.
For the vast majority of children, it’s impossible to cycle safely to school. School street schemes remain the hard fought for exception rather than the rule. Whilst new standards for cycle infrastructure exist, only the most progressive areas are driving forward active travel agendas. And if one area is successful in its funding bid to build safe, segregated infrastructure, it means many more have failed.
Inequality in bike ownership and riding ability is rife. The cheapest kids bikes are poorly made, almost impossible to maintain, with no safety standards, and yet they’re disproportionately expensive to many parents and grandparents buying them.
Access to secure facilities to store bikes is rare in lower income areas, where families lack the luxury of a garage or indoor space to keep their bikes. Much of the focus to date has been on family cycling for leisure and sport. We now desperately need affordable, reliable bikes for everyday usage.
The next generation of parents are grappling with climate change and cost of living rises as well as the physical and mental scars of formative years spent in lockdown. Brands who make it easy and affordable to transport a growing family by providing simple solutions at each stage from pregnancy through to the teenage years will find a ready market. And payback will come.
The first children who are used to riding really great bikes are now reaching maturity. They’re the first in a generation brought up to know what ‘good’ looks and feels like, they’re the customers, voters and industry leaders of the future.
Karen Gee is the founder of Cycle Sprog, the website over 1.5 million parents a year use as their trusted source of information about kids bikes and family cycling.