Saturday, October 23, 2010

Children's Bicycles, Then and Now

A family member brought over a couple of old bikes to see whether I could sell them. The bikes came from the basement of an old property, and had been sitting there for several decades. They are in good condition, but nothing remarkable: Both are steel Columbia 3-speeds - most likely from the '80s. My plan was to post them on C-List and I had no intention to write about them here... But while snapping the photos, my imagination got the best of me and I started thinking about the bicycles' history.

The smaller of the two has 24" wheels and appears to be a children's bike. The larger one has 26" wheels, but the small frame suggests that it too probably belonged to a young person - maybe the teenage sister of the cream bicycle's pre-teen owner? I can picture them cycling together down a sleepy suburban street, trying to make it home in time for dinner - one on the cream bike, the other on the blue, their delighted squeals rising above the clicking of the hubs...

In addition to its smaller size, there is something about the little cream bicycle in particular that evokes gentle images of childhood and its possibilities - maybe the soft, delicate colour.

When I see children's bicycles today, the colours and graphics tend to be super bright; there are often depictions of cartoon characters and action heros on the frame. And while in some ways that's fun, in other ways I feel that this aesthetic in children's toys can be overpowering. Why can't a child's bike be just a simple little bike? A bike that will let the child's personality shine through and ignite their imagination, rather than feed them the same ready-made stylized imagery they see on television and on cereal boxes?

I wonder how typical it is - if at all - for parents today to pick up vintage children's bikes for their kids and restore them, instead of buying modern ones. Based on what I have seen, not very typical. Limited availability is probably a big reason: I don't actually see many children's vintage bikes around, even in Boston.

And I suspect weight may be a reason as well: The older bicycles are steel. Modern ones are plastic or aluminum, which makes them easier for children to maneuver. But when it comes to the weight factor,  I wonder whether lighter is necessarily better. A flimsy bicycle feels like just another toy. A substantial bicycle feels like something important, a right of passage. After all, twenty years ago children were riding steel bikes with no problems.

Speaking of twenty years ago... I was 11 then, and riding something not too different from these bikes - as was my younger sister. That could be why I felt compelled to photograph these in a golden light, and to wonder about their history.

46 comments:

  1. there's a third reason why parents don't restore vintage children's bikes: the kids will outgrow them in a couple of years, limiting the return on the effort. if you restore an adult bike, you can enjoy it the rest of your life.

    also, as you mentioned, weight is a factor. i actually did "restore" a 14" kid's bike for my 4-year old daughter, only to find that it was too heavy for her to propel on anything other than a perfectly flat surface (it weighed 28 lb, or about 80% of her own weight!).

    agreed on the point on aesthetics: most kids' bikes these days are extensions of the mass merchandising empire. when i found that 14" bike for my daughter, i immediately removed all the garish decals depicting the characters from "cars" and repainted it a more pleasing (although still totally "girly") lavender and purple :-). no graphics!

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  2. oh, and there are still plenty of hi-ten steel kids' bikes being sold! only the more expensive ones (like the specialized "hotrock" series) are made with more lightweight aluminum frames. also, the cheaper kids' bikes also have more steel components, which really kind of defeats the purpose of a kid's bike: to get kids riding with as little impediment to learning as possible. as for plastic-- that's really only found on the smallest of kid's bikes, the 12" one with training wheels for $50 from walmart. it's a given that they will be flimsy and fall apart after a year, by which time your child will have moved into the next size up.

    our next kid's bike will be a new one, not vintage, and it will be a more expensive, lighter one... probably a specialized hotrock with 20" wheels. it will see about 2-3 years of use before my daughter will have to upgrade to a larger one, and it can get handed down to her younger sister. for a $200 bike, that's not bad.

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  3. Quality childrens' bikes are still made, though even those seem flashier than the Columbias. The quality ones weigh no more than the flimsy ones.

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  4. i love this post! your writing is always thought provoking and they too remind me of my older sister and i racing the sun home to get back for dinner. back then a bike was such a huge present and rite of passage, unlike todays teens getting range rovers and things i may never acquire (or want) in this lifetime. anyway, loved the post, as well as your blog, i read it everyday and totally enjoy your wisdom, thank you.

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  5. Thanks Ann : )

    Re children growing out of bikes: Something I mentioned to somervillain earlier are folding bikes. What about something like a nice, restored Raleigh Twenty? At age 8 it could function like a full sized kid's bike, but the child would never outgrow it as it's expandable, and can even ride it as an adult...

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  6. I have never understood the "Growing out of" issue. Just buy a new bike and hand the other one down or give it to another family. What is the big deal with spending a few hundred dollars on your child to have a bike that fits?

    Unfortunately today a childs bike is still very heavy [even the Aluminum frames] and worse yet are they are driven by fat, thick heavy tires and bad seating positions.

    These bikes that you have featured are more like what should be offered. Roadster style bikes with skinnier and taller tires.

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  7. My feeling is, the children's bikes of today are pretty yucky, with the exception of decent quality (read: comparatively expensive) BMX bikes. The step-throughs featured in today's post have been replaced by gaudy, gimmicky things. When i worked at a shop, i always did my best to get parents to buy BMX bikes, for daughters and sons. These are not perfect, but they do tend to be quite durable, and they won't be as embarrassing a few years on. Also, the 20" bmx "fits" riders aged like 8 to adulthood. Not in terms of traditional bicycle fit, but in terms of a suitable size for that style of bicycle.

    -rob

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  8. About a year ago I was given a blue Columbia just like that one! That and a Huffy that someone was going to take to the dump from her barn. I had her drop them off at my house instead and I gave them away on C-list. The guy that picked them up was very excited to get two free bikes and was going to fix them up for his kids.

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  9. As 'Villain said, it's marketing. Almost everything geared towards children has some kind of corporate cross-promotional collabo.

    My daughter just turned three and rides a balance bike. Next spring she will be ready to try pedals and she'll be on something vintage. I started collecting quality old bikes for her while she was still in the womb and I think I've got her covered all the way to adulthood!

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  10. Erik - Oh that's so cool. So what will her first vintage bike be?

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  11. ohh columbias -- that first photo is timeless <3

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  12. why do we not buy and restore vintage bikes for our child? because we are part of the wonderful world of second hand bikes--most of them so far have come from the "swap" area of our local dump...and returned there a few years later, unless I had the time to take them to a lovely shelter for homeless families in JP, or came from friends, or occasionally yard sales. One even from Craigslist. All salvaged from going into a landfill and passed along. Maybe that is not as aesthetic as a restored vintage bicycle but I find the social connectedness of it all more fun. And they have all worked perfectly well and no one fretted over them. Simple joy for all.

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  13. We have one older kids bike and it's really heavy. They love to ride it but honestly I rarely let them because they are so blasted slow on the darned thing we can never get to our destination.

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  14. "What is the big deal with spending a few hundred dollars on your child to have a bike that fits?"

    It sure would be nice but most families today simply can't invest that kind of money into something that will be used for a year and ridiculously depreciate in that time. Thank goodness for C-List! :-)

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  15. MandG: for those times when your kids can't keep up with you, have them ride one of these:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/7516215@N03/5091077668/in/set-72157625011352879/

    hey antbike, hmm... maybe you should make a bike for my six year old! have you ever built a kid's bike?

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  16. antbikemike, MandG - I think most parents would much rather invest that money into a payment on a upward mobility SUV.

    Anon - I think BMX bikes are terrific for kids. Many boys 8+ love to do tricks and jump off of things on their bikes and BMX bikes can take that kind of abuse really well.

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  17. BMX bikes foster "hanging out" on bikes as opposed to riding. Older kids on them always circle around parking lots and ramps, presumably in urban environments and never go from point A to point B the way a cyclist would. Some of them have saddles really low to do tricks and brake with their feet. They are skateboards, not bikes. I shudder at the idea of giving more of these things to new cyclists. How will they ever learn to appreciate just riding a bike?

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  18. I've never been a fan of BMX bikes, but that's just me.

    Anon 7:47 - Your method was certainly included in my statement. (I wrote "pick up and restore" not "buy and restore".) The dump, C-List, relatives' basements, what have you.

    As for affordability... I don't know, in Boston, one could easily buy a vintage children's bike at one of the swap meets or on C-List for under $50, and revamp it for another $100. Most parents spend more than that on new bikes for their kids every few years. So it would be a choice of modern vs vintage, rather than a choice between spending the money or not.

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  19. Neville from New ZealandOctober 24, 2010 at 5:04 AM

    I collect and restore vintage bikes because they DESERVE it, so the cost doesn't have to be justified by potential use.

    Our Princess is currently aged 21 months, but takes a keen interest (= wants to ride on) whichever bike I'm currently working on. Recently I found a loop frame bike with 24 inch wheels - sort of a mini-Omafiets. By the time she is big enough, it will be restored and retro-fitted with a three-speed (already in the parts bin). She can have a modern bike then too if she wishes - why should just the grown ups be allowed more than one bicycle?

    Neville
    Indulgent Grandad
    Petone, New Zealand

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  20. I have on the bench in line to be restored and antique children's bicycle. It's a solid steel tank of a thing, but I'm not concerned about the weight, I'm concerned about how smoothly the bearings turn. The problem with most of these low end bikes is the assembly, not the weight. Even when new they only had enough grease in the bearings to say it was there and were not properly adjusted at the factory, and department store teenager who assembled them didn't do it either.

    At the age of these bikes the grease has turned to something resembling silly putty, or even varnish.

    Newer children's bikes have even worse quality bearings than these do (perhaps even some plain bushings) and every one I've seen lately has the bearings "adjusted" by having them clamped down about as hard as factory could manage it and still allow the wheels to turn at all. It's no wonder they're hard to pedal.

    If the bits turn freely weight is almost a non issue. Back in the day 8 years olds bombed around on 40+ lb bikes with no problem. I did my first half century at 12 years old on a bike that weighed at least as much as the examples here, but I'd torn it down and rebuilt it myself.

    Now there's an idea for "bikey" type parents; acquire an older bike for your child and rebuild it WITH them. This will make them feel the bike is truly "theirs" because of their own investment in it (and I bet they treat it better as a result), as well as granting them skills that will make them independent for life.

    Bikes like these Columbias tend to make me a bit sad though. For the same price, or maybe only a few dollars more, on the used market you can get a much better bike. Panasonic and Giant made Schwinns are about as good as it gets and with patience can often be acquired for free. A Chicago made "lightweight" like the Breeze or Hollywood is going to be heavier, but is really a hell of a bike that can take a serious beating and just keep going. I pass on the Columbias and Huffys unless I need a cheap parts donor.

    Still, if the headtubes haven't just popped off of these yet it's unlikely they're going to and these CAN be made into quite serviceable bikes for people who aren't going to go ramp jumping with them.

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  21. i think there must be a distinction made in age range when we refer to "children's" bikes-- it's really not just one category that we need to talk about. early riders (3-6 years old) might not have the muscle strength or body mass to deal with a heavy bike that older kids (7-10 years old) can ride just fine.

    so without knowing what age range KFG is referring to, i have to disagree with him on this point, as well as the points made on BMX bikes, at least as the pertain to the 3-5, maybe 3-6, age range). i fixed up a BMX bike with fairly high quality parts (all bearing headset, hubs, pedals, BB, etc... no plastic). and of course, i repacked all the bearings and made sure the bike rolled smoothly. despite this, my daughter simply couldn't pedal a 28lb BMX bike, despite it fitting her perfectly. it just frustrated her and made her lose interest. it also didn't help that it was geared really high, typical of BMX bikes. i swapped out the rear cog for the largest that would fit, but the front chainring was too large and it would have been too much cost and effort for me to replace it with a smaller one to make the bike more ridable. so basically, early riders (3-6 years old) need easier bikes to learn how to ride, with very low gearing and light weight. after that, they can make do with heavier bikes, and BMX-style bikes with higher gearing.

    lastly, i would hope that the opinions expressed are coming from people who've actually experienced the trial and error of getting kids to ride bikes. it's one thing to speculate about the theory behind what a kid's bike *should* be from an detached, academic perspective, but much of that theory gets reshaped when you actually have kids that you're trying to get on bikes. i thought for sure my daughter would take to the BMX bike i fixed for her, but i ended up learning two important things from that mistake.

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  22. herzog: some parents may want to invest that money into a home, as well, or a better education.

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  23. Wow, I like these children's bikes. I remember that the bikes we had were rather bright too, and the later ones some citybike/mountainbike hybrids. In fact horrible to ride, but we still did and enjoyed it.

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  24. "i think there must be a distinction made in age range when we refer to "children's" bikes"

    I stand guilty of mixing ages without distinction. The antique I referred to is, in fact, a tricycle, not a bicycle; and I only refer to the Columbias as children's bicycles because Velouria stipulated that context for them. I've certainly never thought of these as children's bikes. They were sold mostly to teens through seniors. The small frame size is due to how Americans perceive and size step through frames, not because they were intended for children. For that matter I do not think of or refer to teens as children. Perhaps "kids" in certain contexts, but in the right context I might refer to a 30 year old as a "kid" (my "baby" is Velouria's age).

    "the front chainring was too large"

    So she was over geared and found that hard to peddle. Is that surprising?

    "typical of BMX bikes"

    I'm not one of those who has been advocating BMX bikes. Even as a child I never understood the attraction of stingrays (a BMX in larval form), when you could have a real ridable bike instead. One you could use to actually go places with. Places like other cities, not other blocks. WEIGHT was not found to be a factor in determining that. Design was.

    "learn how to ride, with very low gearing"

    Well? There ya go. Why attribute the wrong gear to some other factor? People do this all the time when they go to larger diameter tires, claiming the tires are harder to pedal because of higher rolling resistance, when in fact what is happening is that in the "same" gear they are in a larger gear and the bike feels harder to pedal even though the rolling resistance has gone DOWN. People are funny critters who will often attribute effect only to the correct cause when all else has failed; and often not even then.

    "i would hope that the opinions expressed are coming from people who've actually experienced the trial and error of getting kids to ride bikes."

    I have experience in raising children. What's more, I started out as one myself and well remember my first "tank" of a 20" wheel bike (candy apple red with a chrome jet plane on the front fender). In those days our bikes may have started out with a base weight of about 28 pounds (because they were designed to have a pick up truck drive over them and still be ridable. Not using a rhetorical device there, that was the ACTUAL design parameter), but on top of that we added fenders, chainguards, racks, kickstands, baskets (plus the weight of whatever was in them; and we weren't weight weenies, so that may well have been rocks and bricks), lights, whirlygigs of various sorts, cards in the spokes, horns and anywhere from 2 to 6 D batteries.

    And we learned to ride them; and rode them hard all over hell and creation. Your single failure is belied by the 10s of millions of other children who experienced success without so much as questioning whether they should or not.

    But our bikes were not BMX bikes. They were children's bikes, designed and geared appropriately.

    "some parents may want to invest that money into a . . . better education."

    And learning to ride, care for and safely operate a bike in the local environment is not part of a better education?

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  25. "somervillain said...
    herzog: some parents may want to invest that money into a home, as well, or a better education."

    Very, very true. The beauty of this world is that there's pretty much something for everyone's priorities.

    The "new" kids bikes that I've been most happy with, and my kids gravitate to when they choose what to ride, are a Raleigh Mountain Scout and a Specialized Hot Rock. Both are well made, sturdy bikes, not too heavy and a great introduction to gears. My 9yo son can do 40 miles on his Raleigh without problem whereas his vintage ten speed kicks his butt around 20 miles.

    Both of these bikes retail for around $250 to $300. I picked up my son's one year old Mtn Scout for $60 on CL and my daughters older Hot Rock Coaster for $8 at a thrift store.

    I'm also a fan of bmx bikes for kids. They're a lot of fun to ride and are ridiculously sturdy. I picked up a beautiful all chrome bmx for $10 at a thrift store a couple of years ago. My son loves that bike. It's strong, lightweight and flashy. He can keep up a good pace, go long distances AND he has a blast on it at the local skate parks. I don't know if any of you who are leery of bmx culture have spent much time at skate parks but there are some incredibly talented, ridiculously athletic kids doing those tricks on bikes and boards. I have a ton of respect for the hard work these kids put into their sport.

    All that said, I'm personally really drawn to vintage kids bikes. Memories, style, uniqueness all being attractive factors.

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  26. As the proud father of two, I concur with those who said that kids bikes are not ligther nowadays. They're just cheaper and short lived.
    There are still quality kids bikes (for instance, Isla Bike for MTB or road bikes, Puky for commuters), with the correct proportions (ie, for instance, shorter cranks and lower botton bracket). But the market for 400€ kids bike is rather limited.
    I also think that weigth is an issue. A 14kgs bike (your average steel WalMart 20 inches bike) is a real drag when you weight 25kgs...

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  27. When I was a wee lad the bike I remember most fondly was a hand-me-down Raleigh Chopper, in orange, as I recall. Now that was a cool bike to have! With a pseudo-motorcycle seat and riser handlebars. After that my parents bought me a Ross that was more like an adult road bike. It was heavy and not nearly as cool as the Chopper. My parents and sister got new Motebecanes, clearly I got the raw end of that deal just because I was smaller.

    But in retrospect, when I see what's offered for kids' bikes these days, I think I should have appreciated it more. A bike like that made out of today's higher-grade steels would be pretty nice for a kid. But then it would be a lot more expensive.

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  28. this could be very interesting for future children-bike-buyers:

    woom bicycles. lightweight bikes. designed in austria for children's specific needs. non toxic materials, short reach/easy to activate brakes, lightweight rims and tires, .... come in 5 sizes. you can return the bike and upgrade to the next size.

    http://www.impulsprogramm.at/gefoerderte_projekte/xl0902/ (only german)

    they should be available this fall. i've seen the prototypes.

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  29. Moopheus - "today's higher-grade steels"

    Bearing in mind that the "higher" grade steels weigh . . . the weight of steel, just like the "lower" grades (give or take a few baryons).

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  30. P.S. I've got a "bike boom" Ross compact step through sitting out in the yard right now. I'd like to take a bit of rake out of the fork and might wish it had a red band Bendix instead of that Mexican thing, but other than that it's not a bad little bike. I don't know that I'd want to ride a century on it, but it's a great little library scooter; and a bit of a chick magnet. Go figure.

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  31. florian--the upgrade child bike program is awesome. Why aren't bike companies already doing this? It would create an excellent "certified pre-owned" market for parents looking for their first child's bike.

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  32. MandG: thank you, your comment confirms my thoughts above on the specialized hotrock bikes. i've also heard great things about the raleigh mountain scout. $8 at a thrift store??!! i could only wish to find such a score around here.

    phillipe: agreed completey; a 28lb bike is pretty hard to ride by a 35lb child.

    florian: the woom idea sounds great! i wish they had such a concept here... child-centric design; trade in the bike when your child needs the next size up. perfect.

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  33. Somervillain - "trade in the bike when your child needs the next size up. perfect."

    On that we can concur. However . . .

    "Why aren't bike companies already doing this?"

    Because the profit margins are going to be so low that it might be a loss for every one sold; although I suppose they can try to make it up on volume.

    Time will tell how it plays out.

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  34. I very fondly remember my first two bikes: #1 was a pink cruiser-style with a pink banana seat and plastic grips with streamers (oh yeah....viva the late 70s!) and #2 was a bright white Raleigh 3 or 5 speed that I got when I was 8 and kept through junior high. I LOVED my bikes and remember my sense of mobility and freedom when I rode them around with other kids in the neighborhood. As far as weight, I think that kids will probably make it work, especially with things like training wheels and lots of practice. If we did it, they can do it too. I'm glad to hear that the new kids' bikes are out there, available, and that parents can get them new or used and share them with other parents. Ultimately, I just wish that all kids could have a bike!

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  35. lovely bikes. I wish I had seen this earlier AND that my kids were tall enough for either bike. I did search kind of hard for a kids bike for my daughter that had fenders, and looked more like a real bike. I didn't have a lot of luck. ( I wasn't looking vintage- I don't really know what I am doing irt vintage and wanted something that could go right out of the gate. ) I will say that from what I have seen of the kids bikes- the geometry is weird and I agree with mike from ant- the tires are huge and it requires much effort to bike. For my daughter this discourages her from riding. I wish she could have a zippyier bike. And my son's bike also fits weird. Bicycle Times showcased a super cute kids bike that grows with the kid. I can't remember who the builder was- but the wheels wee adult size and the seat was real low. and it allowed for adjustments over the next 7-10 years. I wish I had the cash to buy my kid that bike. I wish she liked biking on her own enough for me to spend that kind of cash... sadly she has a mermaid bike :vomit:

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  36. Velouria,

    My daughter's bike will be a pretty sweet Schwinn Pixie that I rescued last spring. It originally had solid rubber tires that were (thankfully) unusable, so I will replace them with new, lighter wheels. I am looking to save some weight with other components, too. Should be a fun project!

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  37. I fondly remember my first "two wheeler". It was a candy apple red "wheelie" bike with a black vinyl banana seat. I don't recall if it had ape hanger bars on it, I seem to remember it had something more like north road style swept back bars on it. I rode it everywhere, and eventually blew the back tire because of my fondness for doing skids. I don't remember ever having any of the weird BMX style kids bikes; I think I went from my tricycle to that red bike with training wheels.

    As a father of a 5 month old daughter, I'm really keen to figure out what would be the best first bike for her, after she grows out of a tricycle I guess. I don't want to get her a piece of crap bike that she'll hate and not want to cycle. I want to get something that's really fun to ride and is actually comfortable for her. Some interesting suggestions here, so I guess I'll just keep my eyes out for what's out there. Those are really nice bikes, too, thanks for the pics!

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  38. I think many of you are misunderstanding the BMX recommendations. While it doesn't surprise me that the creme-tire and floral-baskets set doesn't approve of the bmx thing, it really is the only option as far as kids bikes that aren't designed to be disposable. Sure, many teenaged bmxicans use the bmx bike to hang out more than to ride, but that's more about the age group than the bike. I rode my 20" EVERYWHERE from aged 9 or so until i was 16. Other bikes are faster and more efficient, but bmx is durable, low maintenance, and you don't grow out of 'em. Heavy? Sure, but all kids' bikes are heavy, excluding cu$$$tom bikes and some pretty cool variable wheelsized mtb that Carver used to sell. Would i love to see quality bikes for kids in a variety of styles? Sure. But, for now, the only affordable, durable bike for kids is the bmx. While they won't work for toddlers, they get the job done for pretty much any kid aged 8 thru 30.

    Vintage options would be cool, but as kfg pointed out, children's bikes have ever been built to a thin nickel. Survivor bikes, like the ones featured above, probably didn't see much action in their day. Restoring neglected, cheap bikes with poor initial builds, no maintenance, and little support in the parts department is hardly worthwhile.

    The real tragedy here is that, in the usa, cycling is often dismissed as a child's activity, but the children don't even get decent bikes. =(
    -rob

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  39. I think those bikes are from the '70's, or possibly the '60's.

    Back in those days (Yes, I was around then!), video games and such didn't exist. So, while I think that kids always have a touch of the magpie to them, I think all the wild electronic imagery they see today has something to do with their taste for flashy graphics and why we don't see kids' bikes like the ones you show in the photos.

    That said, as lovely as those bikes are, they're not as sturdy and won't ride as well as bikes from Schwinn, Raleigh or a few other makes I can think of. No bike shop I know of sold Columbias; those bikes--like Huffys, Murrays and Free Spirits--were found in department stores.

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  40. Give it 20 years, V., and today's bikes with their bright colors and graphics will be classics, and we will be romanticizing them. I still use my metal lunch box from elementary school with its picture of Lassie rescuing Timmy from the lake, her mouth clamped down on on the collar of his shirt.

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  41. I dunno... this all makes me uncomfortable. My son's bike is about what HE thinks is fun and ridable, not what I think is cool. And he doesn't like my vintage bikes at all. He wants the graphics and bright colors and something that looks modern, not some version of what I rode when I was a kid.

    Also, kids treat their bikes poorly, unless you're a helicopter parent. Mine drops his in the grass (and rocks) to go look at a cool worm on the sidewalk, doesn't get his kickstand up all the way and it falls over, rides it off curbs and over rocks, leaves it out in the yard where it might get stolen or rained on, and just generally acts like a normal six year-old. I could hover over him and insist he treat it like I treat my vintage rides, but why? He's a kid. Let him look at the worm without worrying about the bike. He worries about enough stuff already. So his bike is a cheapo from Toys 'R Us, and he rides it constantly and adores it. And that's the point: it's not what I would pick, but he enjoys it.

    And yeah, I had a steel bike when I was a kid... because that's all they made. And it had a banana seat and rainbow paint, because that was what was cool. Thank god my mother didn't insist that I ride a 50's-style cruiser because that's what SHE had and she was suffering from an attack of nostalgia. I picked my bike out of the Sears catalog, and loved it to death. Whether or not she would have liked it wasn't even an issue. Years later, I wanted a ten speed. She had never owned a ten speed. She bought me a three speed, almost identical to the vintage bike I own today. I HATED that bike. It nearly killed my desire to ride bicycles. Why? Because it was what SHE liked, not what I liked.

    So give your vintage nostalgia a break, and ask your (slightly older) child what he/she likes. Some kids like vintage bikes. Some don't. Then get the right bike for them. If you paid $200 for it, be prepared to eat it when they get going too fast and lose control and ride it into a curb (as my son did last year with his previous bike. Nicely bent frame, scraped up kid, but at least I didn't have to lecture him about his bike). Or hover and never let them ride too fast.

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  42. Hear Hear Jess!

    You sound like a fantastic parent. I agree completely that the best present is one that brings a child joy, not one that fits the parent's idealised image of childhood.

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  43. Jess and Anon - I agree with what you are saying, and do not suggest that parents ought to subjugate their children to their own tastes and nostalgias. I am also not talking about insisting that a child rides a puritanically plain bike vs a bike with rainbows. But when I look at children's bicycles today, I notice 2 things: First, they are very flimsily made. This is sad, and given that older bicycles were of better quality, it might make sense to restore an older bike instead of buying a new one. And second, most of the time today's kids' bikes seem to feature not just bright colours or pictures of cool stuff, but specific commercially manufactured entities, like Barbie or GI Joe. Some parents might not want that for their (young) kids, and I think that's valid.

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  44. I'm not the sort of parent who freaks out about consumerism, as I guess I remember being heavily consumerized (is that a word?) as a child, and am no worse for it today. I was in the first TV-will-destroy-us-all! era, and I don't feel particularly destroyed, nor am I a rampant consumer today.

    I love the quality of older bikes. But I wouldn't restore one for my child, unless I was okay with him completely destroying said restoration. If I put time/effort into a bike, I'd want to see it taken care of. Why restore a kid's bike for a kid who can't even clean up his Legos without creating additional mess? That said, I could totally see a preteen or teen caring properly for a restored bike, if they valued it to begin with.

    And my 1978 Free Spirit steel rainbow bike was a piece of junk, but that didn't matter to me in the slightest. I rode it for 5 years, until it fell apart and/or rusted into oblivion. I wouldn't pay $15 for that bike now, except for the nostalgic value of it. It was a terrible mass-produced bike. Just like my son's Huffy :). So not all kid's bikes were well made. In fact, I bet the majority sold then weren't well made, any more than the majority sold today are. And it was a lot more expensive to buy a "cheap" bike then, than it is now: my mom paid $75 for that rainbow bike from the Sears catalog. In 1978! I'd rather have more kids riding bikes, than have better quality bikes that always cost parents $200. Anyway, viva kids on bikes, however that happens!

    And I love your bicycles. Beautiful and well-loved, and totally worth the restore. By all means, let's restore old kid's bicycles. Just don't give them to kids! Keep 'em for ourselves :P.

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  45. Jess - Hear hear! Besides, I am not a parent of any sort, so these are all just ramblings on my end. I do wish I could compel my two cats to ride bikes, but so far all of my nostalgic cat-bike restorations have gone unappreciated by those heathens.

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  46. You just need the right, very well latched basket and earplugs, and you could take those cats anywhere!

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