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Frog 69 review

31 October 2013

“Versatile, lightweight hybrid suitable for youth MTB racing and cyclocross”

Product

Frog 69

Price

£270

Weight

9.8 kg / 21.6 lbs (without pedals)

Supplier

Frog Bikes – www.frogbikes.com

About the Bike

Frog Bikes launched early in 2013 offering lightweight bikes for the youth market, and the new brand has seen a lot of success in its first year of trading. Frog entered the market with an innovative supply model, of which more later, and with a range of hybrids to compete with the very well-regarded bikes from Islabikes as well as against heavier, cheaper bikes from mainstream brands.

So far Frog Bikes hasn’t particularly marketed its bikes for racing. However, we chose a Frog 69 to review because we thought it might be a great multi-purpose bike which could be used for Under 10/12 MTB and cyclocross races, as well as for TriStar-age junior triathlons. At this age children can easily use a single bike for all their cycling (both off-road and on-road) before having the luxury when they’re older of using multiple, specialist bikes for particular disciplines of the sport.

The Frog 69’s closest competitors are the Islabikes Beinn 26 Small and Beinn 26 Large. The designs and specifications are quite similar on the face of it but the Frog Bike sells for £270, undercutting the £350 Islabikes by nearly 25%. We were keen to find out how the newcomer compared to the established market leader.

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About our Test

We mostly tested the Frog 69 in off-road terrain that would typically be used for more challenging youth MTB races. That included plenty of bomb-holes, climbs, descents, drop-offs, twisty single-track, fire roads, and plain old grass.

MM0_2985_WEB-LGEOur testers were all skilful, experienced riders, regularly racing off-road on MTBs and cyclocross successfully as well as on road and track. They ranged from second-year Under 10s to second-year Under 12s.

Because we were interested primarily in how the Frog 69 performed off-road we removed the standard-fit multi-purpose hybrid tyres as soon as we received the bike, and we fitted Continental Cross Country 26×1.5” tyres which have an aggressive knobbly tread. The tyres were generally inflated to 35psi for most of the testing.

We also removed the standard flat pedals and fitted double-sided Shimano SPD clipless pedals. Apart from those two changes the Frog 69 was tested as supplied (after removing the mandatory reflectors and bell).

MM0_3074_WEB-LGEGeometry and Fit

A quality junior bike needs geometry that suits the dimensions & proportions of young riders’ bodies. It must also have components that are proportionally sized and, sometimes, easier to operate than standard adult equipment.

The Frog 69’s frame is generally well-proportioned for the size of rider that it is intended for. The top-tube is quite long though at 540mm for this size of frame, and combined with the 80mm stem this gives a long reach to the bars. That works fine for tall riders wanting a longer, race-oriented riding position but shorter riders may find it a bit of a stretch and they might want to swap to a shorter stem. {Ed: we understand from Frog Bikes that customers may now specify the stem length when buying the bike from a Frog Bike dealer}

The long top tube and wheelbase does mean that toe overlap with the front wheel is not an issue though (i.e. that the front wheel doesn’t touch the toes of the feet when turning sharply while pedalling – this can catch out inexperienced riders with bikes that have a short wheelbase or certain steering geometry).

MM0_4369_WEB-LGEThe Frog Bikes branded saddle is well proportioned and the handlebars are a suitable width at 540mm.

Tektro’s brake levers are just the right size and reach for children’s hands, and the brake action itself is nice and light.

The Frog’s handlebar grips are not particularly small at 30mm diameter compared to Islabikes custom-made super-slim 24mm diameter grips.

MM0_4327_WEB-LGEShifting to a larger sprocket using certain twistgrip/derailleur combinations (e.g. SRAM) can need quite a strong hand movement, but the Frog’s Shimano Revo shifter needs little effort to change up or down and it also has a very positive click action.

Our Frog 69 test bike was fitted with 165mm cranks, and we felt they were too long for anyone but taller riders. At 180mm the bikes “Q-factor” (i.e. the horizontal distance between the pedals) is quite wide for young riders. A narrower Q-factor that is more proportional to the length of young riders’ legs would allow pedalling in a more vertical plane which is better for efficiency, comfort and a smooth pedalling style. As a comparison, an Islabikes Beinn 26 Small has a Q-factor of 150mm, and most adult MTBs have a Q-factor around 180mm.

However, we understand from Frog Bikes that the most recently produced 69s now include different, shorter cranks, and we’re pleased to see that update to the specification.

The standover height is good, giving a lot of agility when riding technical features. There’s a generous 260mm of clearance beneath the bottom bracket shell too, which also helps keep the bike clear of obstacles off-road.

We do think the long top-tube might help make the bike last a growing child a little longer than its direct competitors by using a longer seatpost when necessary. {Ed: we understand that latest models of the Frog 69 are now supplied with a longer seatpost as standard}

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Weight

As standard the Frog 69 weighed 9.8 kg (21.6 lbs) without pedals. This is far lighter than any MTB of the same price, and is almost identical to the weight of an Islabike Beinn 26 Large.

Frog Bikes understands well that low weight is key to young riders enjoying riding their bikes generally, but it’s also one of the primary reasons that the Frog 69 is very effective when ridden hard off-road.

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Frame and Forks

The Frog 69 has a well-built aluminium frame and aluminium forks. In effect there is very little difference between aluminium and cro-moly (used by Islabikes) as a material for forks for this kind of bike.

The paint finish of our test bike was neat and even with no visible flaws. It’s easy to underestimate how important frame colour (and choice of colour) is to youth riders, even those who are hardened racers. The bright orange finish of our test bike was very popular with its riders and the bike attracted a lot of attention during our tests from parents and other children. Frog Bikes allows more colour choice than its competitors too, so you probably won’t see a large number of identical Frog 69s at races.

MM0_3088_WEB-LGEThe frame has braze-ons for mudguards and a single bottle cage. Cable routing is normal, and a quick-release seatpost clamp is fitted so the saddle height can be changed quickly without needing an Allen key. This is a useful feature when the bike is used on very technical off-road terrain – for example, so that the seat can be lowered for very steep or rocky descents. Not many Frog 69s will ever see such extreme terrain, but it’s handy for the most adventurous riders.

There’s a lot of tyre clearance – certainly enough to allow 26 x 2.25” knobbly MTB tyres to be used if required. That means that on very muddy rides the gap between tyres and frame won’t clog up, which can be a problem with closer clearance frames  and forks.

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Wheels and Tyres

The Frog 69’s quick-release aluminium hubs are made by Quando, a popular Chinese brand, and the quality of their bearings is perfectly reasonable for a bike of this price. Note that the rear hub is threaded to take a freewheel, not a cassette. This is important if you’re planning to change the gearing for racing, because after-market freewheels aren’t as easy to find as cassettes for freehubs.

Each hub is laced to a strong aluminium rim with 28 spokes. As with many machine-built wheels in this price range, we needed to re-tension the wheels a little after the first few hours of riding.

The Frog is supplied with inner tubes using Schrader (“car”) valves so the rims’ valve holes are drilled to a wide diameter accordingly. Using Presta (“high pressure”) valves won’t work unless you fit them with collars to fill out the valve holes in the rim, otherwise the tube may balloon out through the valve hole.

The supplied tyres are all-rounders with enough tread to manage light off-road paths. For MTB or cyclocross races on dry, fast courses and for triathlons on grass we’d recommend replacing them with 26 x 1.5” Kenda Small Block Eight tyres. For muddier or more technical races we’d fit quality knobbly MTB tyres up to 2.25” wide, and there’s plenty of tyre clearance for those. We found the Continental Cross Country 26×1.5” tyres that we fitted for our tests very effective on the Frog 69.

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Drivetrain

The Frog 69 has a single 36T chainring and a 7-speed 14-28T freewheel, controlled by Shimano’s Revoshift twistgrip shifter. Gear changing is positive, light and reliable. The Shimano Tourney rear derailleur functioned perfectly well but the quality of its materials and finish is not as impressive as the SRAM X4 derailleur fitted to Islabikes Beinn 26 models.

The range of gear ratios is quite close, with a relatively high bottom gear and a relatively low top gear. On fast, flat MTB trails our strongest test riders found that they needed a higher top gear, and for steep off-road climbs they would have liked to have a lower ratio available. For MTB riding and racing we’d suggest overcoming that by fitting a wider ratio freewheel.

We do think the long top-tube might help make the bike last a growing child a little longer than its direct competitors by using a longer seatpost when necessary. {Ed: we understand that latest models of the Frog 69 are now supplied with a longer seatpost as standard}

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Brakes

Tektro has earned a good reputation for quality brakes suitable for bikes in this price range, and the Frog 69’s V-Brakes are powerful, light-touch, and progressive.

The brake levers are well-sized for youth riders and their reach can be adjusted too.

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Components

The handlebar stem, handlebars, headset and seatpin are all industry-standard sizes so can easily be replaced or upgraded. All are smart and fit for purpose.

The 540mm wide handlebars are flat and lend themselves well to a low, aggressive riding position. The fitted handgrips have a good shape and feel, although their diameter is not especially small.

The saddle is sized well for youth riders. It’s quite deep and squishy compared to the Islabikes equivalent which is a perfectly scaled-down adult racing saddle.

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Performance

Our testers hugely enjoyed the Frog 69. They rode it hard and found that its light weight, stiff frame and racing-oriented geometry made it very fast and agile off-road.

With its long reach and relatively long cranks (see above) the bike particularly suited our taller testers. From the first turn of the pedals they whipped it around corners, jumped obstacles, tackled drop-offs, and had immediate confidence in it.

A high-end extra-small MTB would have hydraulic disc brakes and front suspension, but we’d expect the Frog 69 to be quicker than that over all terrain apart from extreme rocky descents – and not many U10/12 riders will ever ride those.

The bike is as fast as anything that would be ridden in an U10/12 MTB race, and it would be very competitive in cyclocross and junior triathlon too.

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Customisation and Upgrade

The bike is easily upgraded and with a change of tyres the bike is ready to race. Some riders will decide to change to a shorter stem and clipless pedals, as already discussed.

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Service and Support

From the outset Frog Bikes introduced an unusual supply model – as well as supplying their bikes direct or via appointed independent stockists, it’s also possible to have bikes delivered to local bike shops which are not Frog Bikes stockists. These shops are offered a fee by Frog Bikes to set up bikes for customers to collect.

Feedback to Youth Cycle Sport from Frog Bikes stockists suggests that the bikes are popular. Once parents and children lift the bikes and notice how light they are compared to MTBs or cheaper mass-market heavyweights they almost sell themselves.

Some parents will be experienced cyclists and will be happy to maintain and adjust their children’s bikes themselves. For those who are not, buying locally from a good shop which will help look after the bike obviously has some advantages.

As for Frog Bikes themselves, the company clearly takes customer feedback, service and reputation seriously and is proving itself to be a responsible supplier.

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Value for Money and Resale

We think £270 is a fair price for the Frog 69 as a racing machine, especially as it’s so versatile and can be used for several different purposes. It considerably undercuts its £350 Islabikes Beinn 26 rivals too. Potential buyers will need to weigh up the cost saving against the Frog’s slightly lower specification, and to take into account whether they would want to change the freewheel.

The Frog Bikes brand is too new for there to be a second-hand market yet, but we’d expect a well-cared for Frog 69 to be in high demand, to be easy to sell and to retain a high percentage of its initial cost. Of the four colours available, we’d expect orange Frog 69s to be the easiest to sell.

We understand that Frog Bikes is also planning a scheme with its stockists to help its customers trade in their Frog Bikes when a larger size is needed.

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Verdict

We liked the bike a lot and we hope that we’ll see plenty of Frog 69s on the start line of youth races, because with a couple of changes it’s very effective. As Frog Bikes develops we hope it will market the bike for competition use as well as for leisure riding. Light, fast and versatile, the Frog 69’s relatively low price makes it worth serious consideration by parents of U10/U12 youth riders.

+ light weight
+ fast and agile
+ value for money and low price
– long reach for smaller riders
– gear ratios
– specification of certain components
– crank length* & Q-factor

(*addressed by manufacturer in latest models)

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3 responses to:

Frog 69 review

  1. […] lightweight hybrid suitable for youth MTB racing and cyclocross”  Read the full in-depth review by Youth Cycle […]

  2. Polly
    May 24, 2014

    > For MTB riding and racing we’d suggest overcoming that by fitting a wider ratio freewheel.

    I am really struggling to find a freewheel that offers this at all ! It would have been so much easier if they had choosen a casette !!!

    Could someone suggest a more suitable freewheel that would fit ? (modelnumber or store)

    Thanks

  3. Youth Cycle Sport
    May 28, 2014

    Yes, a freehub and cassette is so much more flexible than the screw-on freewheel that is fitted.

    However, I think the Tourney MegaRange freewheel will be compatible and it would give you a wider spread of ratios. See http://www.evanscycles.com/products/shimano/tourney-7-speed-megarange-freewheel-ec025606

    There’s a big jump between the bottom two sprockets of course – hopefully the rear derailleur articulation would cope with that OK. Best to check it out with Frog Bikes before ordering.

    Hope that helps.

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