Menu

Group test – 26″ wheel road/cyclocross bikes

14 March 2015

Just twelve months ago it would have been impossible to put together a group test of half a dozen lightweight 26” wheel road/cyclocross bikes.

Until recently Islabikes was unchallenged in the niche market that it had itself created: drop-handlebar children’s bikes suitable for cyclocross, circuit racing and leisure riding.

These are much more versatile than dedicated junior road bikes and they can be used for just about anything that kids want to do on bikes, just by swapping between road tyres and knobbly cyclocross tyres.

In 2015, though, credible rivals have arrived from other children’s bike specialists and from global bike brands, priced from £425 to £600.

So we’ve tested the best bikes on the market, and it’s clear that young riders have never had it so good!

1. About our test

As always at YCS we are looking for light overall weight and proportional sizing – particularly crank length, brake lever reach, handlebar size and saddle size. The bikes need sensible geometry that allows small riders to reach the handlebars and brake levers comfortably and which gives them plenty of agility when riding off-road.

All children’s bikes should be chosen and fitted based on the child’s height not their age. However, a bike with 26” wheels is most likely to fit riders in the Under 10 age category, plus shorter Under 12s and the tallest Under 8s. So we’re also looking for well-thought out gearing that can meet British Cycling’s circuit racing youth gear restrictions with minimal adjustment.

Versatility is important for these bikes so we like to see good mounting points and clearance for mudguards.

We tested the bikes off-road on gravel, mud and grass over plenty of technical features including climbs, descents, corners, and berms.

All of the bikes were fitted with cyclocross tyres inflated to 30 psi for off-road testing. The same pair of double-sided SPD MTB pedals was used on all the bikes.

To gauge the size of the bikes it might help you to know that our test rider in the photos is 1.4m tall and weighs 30kg. He’s just over nine and a half years old and is a successful rider in Under 10 (Youth D) races.

We weighed the bikes without pedals (and after removing mandatory reflectors, bell, etc.) and with cyclocross tyres fitted.

DSC_4991_FEATURE

Top of page

2. About the bikes

Raleigh Performance 26 (£425, 10.1kg)

The track record of big brands trying to offer quality children’s bikes is not good. Their designers, product managers and marketing people rarely seem to understand what’s really important, and the resulting bikes are often badly sized and far too heavy.

So a couple of years ago we would have been sceptical about a brand like Raleigh entering this market. But more recently Raleigh has rediscovered the racing pedigree that it was once so famous for, and its current adult cyclocross bikes are some of the best available – there’s a real buzz about Raleigh now.

At the launch of its new 2015 Performance range we knew that Raleigh was taking the children’s market seriously, and the new Performance 26 road/CX bike’s specification certainly looked competitive.

Like several other bikes in this group test, the Raleigh looks quite similar to the iconic bike from Islabikes that created the market in the first place. Not surprising, perhaps, given how successful the Luath has been.

With its plain blue frame and forks and its black finishing kit the Performance 26 doesn’t make much visual impact, but it looks mature and business-like.

DSC_4935_GALLERY

Scoppio Junior (£500, 10.0kg)

You probably won’t have heard of Scoppio before, let alone actually seen one of their bikes. It’s a Belgian brand – although “scoppio” means “explosion” in Italian!

It’s offered in the UK by Paul Milnes Cycles in Bradford. PMC has earned a strong reputation for supplying lightweight children’s bikes and equipment, and it is particularly well-known for youth and elite cyclocross too.

As a retailer rather than a manufacturer PMC builds up the Scoppio to a range of different specifications, but it will also adapt the spec to suit an individual customer’s requirements (just as it did with the Scatto that we tested previously). It’s an attractive proposition if you want different components or gearing ratios, for example.

The bike looks quite special, with quality component brand names and some cyclocross-specific features that have trickled down from specialist adult CX bikes.

DSC_4941_GALLERY

Juniorworx JA26 (£495, 9.4kg)

Juniorworx is the children’s brand of Worx Bikes, a small Oxfordshire firm. You’ll see plenty of Juniorworx bikes ridden in cyclocross and in circuit races – they’re clearly targeted at racing rather than leisure cycling.

Worx has built up a strong racing image by ensuring that its bikes can often be seen ridden to victory by top youth riders.

Although the Juniorworx product range hasn’t changed since its launch in 2013 the JA26 still looks very fresh. The bike looks terrific with its stealthy matt finish and modern styling.

DSC_4960_GALLERY

Trek KRX (£600, 10.2kg)

The KRX is a real rarity: it isn’t marketed strongly in the UK and, in fact, we’d never even seen one before – and we don’t know anyone who has.

Trek has such a great reputation for adult performance bikes, though, that we were itching to find out if the American super-brand can make a quality children’s bike too.

The KRX is the most expensive bike in our test but its spec is a little different to the others, making full use of Trek’s own Bontrager branded components for example. With its extra-wide tyres it looks like a miniature US-style “gravel bike”.

DSC_4955_GALLERY

Islabikes Luath 26 (£450, 9.2kg)

No-one has produced lightweight children’s bikes for as long as Islabikes. The Luath is a modern classic which defines the market for junior road/CX bikes. It’s been so effective that other manufacturers have clearly used it as a model when designing their own bikes.

The first Luath was released nine years ago but Islabikes has frequently updated it since those first, gun-metal finished bikes were produced. The biggest update was in 2013 when Islabikes improved its entire range and the Luath dropped nearly half a kg in weight.

The very latest Luath 26 looks unchanged apart from some styling changes. It’s still the bike that other brands need to beat.

DSC_4921_GALLERY

Frog Bikes Road 70 (£425, 9.7kg)

For some time Frog Bikes had been promising that a road/CX bike would join its range of popular flat-handlebar hybrid bikes. Finally its Road range arrived in shops last year, followed closely by a canny deal with Team Sky to offer the same bikes in the super-team’s own iconic colours and branding.

Frog’s marketing has always tended to focus on leisure riding rather than racing. However, the Road 70’s design and spec suggests it can compete with the Islabikes Luath and its new rivals.

DSC_4946_GALLERY

Top of page

3. Geometry and fit

We’re looking for pretty simple stuff here but plenty of designers and manufacturers still get it wrong. If a bike isn’t designed thoughtfully with the size and proportions of small children in mind it won’t be enjoyable to ride.

In particular we’re expecting proportionally-sized crank length, saddle size, handlebar size, and brake lever reach. Children around nine years old don’t have the powerful hands of adults either, so light-action controls are important too.

Above all, though, light overall weight is very important. Riders of these bikes might not weigh much more than 25kg themselves, so even a 10kg bike weighs more than a third of their own bodyweight! Nothing puts kids off cycling more effectively than hauling a heavy bike uphill or repeatedly accelerating it out of slow, muddy corners…

We also looked at top tube lengths compared to seat tube dimensions. Those key measurements determine a bike’s true size and the range of riders that it fits.

Because the top tubes of bike frames this small are usually very short there can be toe-overlap with the front wheel. That’s particularly awkward when tackling tight technical features in cyclocross.

And if you want to see how Youth Cycle Sport recommends setting up small road/CX bikes for young riders see our detailed video guide.

So here are all the key measurements:-

 All dimensions in mm
Raleigh
Scoppio
Juniorworx
Trek
Luath
Frog Bikes
Top tube
(effective horizontal)
500 525 480 470 475 480
Top tube
(actual)
480 510 460 460 460 460
Seat tube
(centre-to-centre)
340 390 380 330 390 380
Seat tube
(centre-to-top)
390 440 420 390 430 430
Wheelbase
965 970 950 975 945 945
Handlebar stem
70 60 70 80 65 80
Crank length
152 155 155 165 155 140
Saddle length
280 250 250 250 250 240
Handlebar width
(centre-to-centre)
360 360 360 360 360 360

Raleigh Performance 26

With a virtual horizontal measurement of 500mm the Raleigh is average sized amongst this group. It is quite a compact frame design though (i.e. a steeply sloping top tube) so there’s a lot of standover height and the saddle could be set very low if required. However, if a child really needed their saddle set quite that low then the bike is probably too big for them.

At 152mm its cranks are the appropriate length for the rider of a bike like this.

The bars are the same width as all the others but they are shaped rather differently – we’ll say more about this later.

However, the saddle lets the bike down and prevents it from getting full marks for geometry and fit. We recognised it as the same adult saddle that was fitted to the RX Elite that we tested previously. It’s too long and wide for this bike and limits the rider’s agility when riding out of the saddle.

The Microshift brake levers have a suitable short reach for small riders.

DSC_5120_FEATURE

Scoppio Junior

The Scoppio is visibly the longest bike here, and our tester looked quite stretched out when riding it, even with the very short 60mm handlebar stem that is fitted. In fact the frame is longer than most of the bikes fitted with full-size 700c wheels that we tested in our last group test. So if you’re buying a Scoppio do check carefully that it fits your child well.

The dimensions of the cranks, saddle, and handlebar width are all spot-on for this kind of bike. Note that the Deda bars are deeper and have a longer forward throw than the other bikes.

The bike’s Shimano Claris integrated brake levers / gear shifters were correctly fitted with a nice fat stack of rubber shims to reduce the reach to the levers.

DSC_5160_FEATURE

Juniorworx JA26

We were a bit nervous as we first unboxed the JA26. Its JA700 big brother that we tested previously was a lovely bike but flawed by a short top tube and over-long cranks, both of which contributed to a lot of toe-overlap which made the bigger bike awkward to handle on very tight corners off-road.

There are no such issues with the JA26 though – all of its dimensions are just right. It’s a well-balanced package.

The bike is fitted with a right-hand Microshift integrated short-reach brake/gear lever. The bike has a single chainring though so there’s no need for a front gear shifter. Worx has chosen to fit a left-hand Tektro child’s brake lever instead which has a nice short reach too.

DSC_5144_FEATURE

Trek KRX

Measured by its “virtual” horizontal top tube the Trek is an average length bike among this group. However it has a very compact frame with a particularly short seat tube – in fact it’s more like a MTB frame design rather than a classic road/cyclocross design. That gives the Trek a very generous standover height and allows a skilled rider to be very agile on technical off-road sections.

There’s particularly generous tyre/mud clearance which contributes to the Trek having the longest wheelbase of all the bikes on test.

The saddle, handlebar width and stem are all the right size. However it’s a shame that Trek has fitted 165mm cranks which are far too long for riders of this size – that’s the length appropriate for a small adult not a 1.4m child. Trek has a nice video promoting the KRX (also featuring Trek’s CX superstar Katie Compton) but it shows the effect of such long cranks on the young demo rider’s pedalling action.

The KRX has Shimano Sora integrated brake lever/shifters and they came fitted with a shim to reduce the levers’ reach from the bars.

DSC_5252_FEATURE

Islabikes Luath 26

With the track record of Islabikes we expect high standards of geometry and fit from any bike in the range – and the Luath 26 doesn’t let Islabikes down. All of the key frame and component dimensions are correct for a small rider. The saddle is particularly neat and trim.

It’s easy to set up the bike for a good riding position.

Note that the Luath is the only bike here with particularly narrow handlebar tubing and thin bar tape – that means small hands can achieve the kind of hold on the bars that an adult expects.

Islabikes uses a Claris right-hand integrated brake/gear lever with shims to reduce reach. The Luath 26 has a single chainring and, like the Juniorworx, Islabikes has chosen to fit a Tektro junior left-hand brake lever to control the rear brake. Both give a nice short reach for control by small hands.

DSC_5095_FEATURE

Frog Bikes Road 70

The dimensions of the Frog’s frame are very similar to those of the Luath and the Juniorworx – which is a good thing.

However, Frog’s marketing is simply way out regarding the age range for this bike: they advertise it as suitable for typical 11 to 14 year olds, but the reality is that many 11 year olds will already have outgrown it. Like all the other bikes here, it best suits typical 8 to 11 year olds.

Although the stem was quite long at 80mm Frog stockists will swap it for a shorter alternative if preferred.

At 140mm the cranks are much shorter than those fitted to any other bike in the group – they’re even shorter than the 145mm cranks fitted to the HOY Meadowbank track bike that we tested. On the whole we approve of such unusually short cranks for small children though. They are in good proportion to leg length compared to adults, and they suit those children who have learned to pedal a restricted youth gear very quickly in circuit races.

A pair of short-reach Microshift brake/gear levers is fitted – fine for small hands.

DSC_5241_FEATURE

Top of page

4. Weight

Raleigh
Scoppio
Juniorworx
Trek
Luath
Frog Bikes
Weight (kg)
10.1 10.0 9.4 10.2 9.2 9.7

We weighed the bikes without pedals, reflectors or bells. They all had cyclocross tyres fitted too, not lighter road tyres.

Bike weight is very important of course to small children who don’t weigh much themselves, and it’s ironic that a 90kg fully-grown adult has a wide choice of sub-8kg bikes whereas 30kg children can’t ride anything off-the-peg lighter than 9kg.

Although there might not seem much difference between the lightest and heaviest bikes here, that 1kg difference represents 10% of overall weight. It’s noticeable when lifting the bikes.

The Luath and the Juniorworx lead the way at a shade over 9kg, with the Frog not far behind, and then the remaining three bikes all close to 10kg.

In fairness to the Trek, its comfortable, wide off-road tyres contribute to its weight – taking that into account makes it competitive.

Top of page

5. Frame and forks

We’re looking for quality materials and construction, versatile design, and useful fittings. All six bikes have aluminium frames, but some bikes have steel forks and others have aluminium.

Raleigh Performance 26

The Raleigh’s very compact frameset has traditional round aluminium main frame tubes and steel forks. It’s an unremarkable looking frame with its plain mid-blue finish and simple branding, and we would like to have seen some of the panache trickle down from Raleigh’s great adult cyclocross bikes.

There are braze-on fittings for a single bottle cage and a rear rack. There are mudguard eyes front and rear, plus a chainstay bridge with a drilling to mount a rear mudguard too. So the bike would make a good tourer as well as cyclocross and road racing bike.

DSC_5130_FEATURE

Scoppio Junior

Of all the bikes in the group the Scoppio is the most race-focused. It doesn’t have mudguard eyes and, even if it did, the front derailleur’s cable routing behind the seat tube would prevent you fitting them anyway, and there’s no chainstay bridge to attach to either.

The frame is aluminium and the forks are steel. There’s classic cyclocross-style routing of brake and gear cables above the top tube, avoiding routing them beneath the bottom bracket.

The bike has grown-up styling that reminds us a little of another Belgian brand, Ridley.

DSC_5169_FEATURE

Juniorworx JA26

One of the things which marked out the whole Juniorworx range at its launch in 2013 was the very modern frame construction and styling. Every tube in the JA26’s boxy frame looks shaped for its particular job. The junctions between tubes look very stiff and strong.

The frame is aluminium, of course, and so are the forks. There’s an oversized headset joining them together through a fat head tube.

There are mudguard fittings all round, even if at first sight you can’t see the rear mudguard eyes – look for the “Hidey Hole” on the inside face of the seat stays… The bike looks very race-oriented but there are braze-ons for a rear rack too.

The frame is painted a cool matt black with very fresh Worx branding. The styling appealed to a lot of the kids who saw the test bike.

DSC_5157_FEATURE

Trek KRX

The KRX’s glossy black and red frame looks just as high quality and well put together as the frames of its Trek Madone big brothers. The frame tubes are beautifully shaped and the welds are probably the best in the group. The aluminium forks look great too. It’s clear, then, that Trek hasn’t scrimped on the KRX’s frame and forks just because it’s a child’s bike.

There are mudguard eyes front and rear and a drilled chainstay bridge ready to attach the rear mudguard to. There are braze-ons for a bottle cage and a rear rack.

Interestingly, Trek has equipped the frame ready to take its Duotrap wireless speed & cadence accessories – check out the blanking plate inside the left hand chainstay.

DSC_5256_FEATURE

Islabikes Luath 26

Gone are the days when you could have any colour Islabike you liked as long as it was red. You can still have red, of course, but a couple of years ago Islabikes started painting its bikes in bright “limited edition” colours too. Our Luath 26 looks cracking in lime green with lemon branding, and the quality of the finish is good too.

The frame has traditional round tubes and neat, consistent welds. The steel forks look quite thin but, uniquely within this group, they have braze-ons to accept a front rack. So with mudguards and luggage racks front and rear the Luath 26 would make a great bike for touring or youth hostelling.

DSC_5110_FEATURE

Frog Bikes Road 70

Frog Bikes uses slightly flattened and ovalised main frame tubes for strength rather than round ones. The welds and the paint finish are perfectly fit for purpose but not quite as refined as those of some of the other bikes here.

In our experience the smart blue-and-black or blue-and-white Team Sky branded bikes tend to appeal to young riders more than the white, black or red Frog branded versions.

There are mudguard fittings all round and braze-ons to take a rear rack too.

Cable routing is standard apart from the rear brake cable which is unique within this group by being routed internally through the top tube. It neatly keeps the cable out of the way, although there’s no requirement for children to “shoulder” the bike in Under 8/10/12 cyclocross races.

DSC_5234_FEATURE

Top of page

6. Wheels and tyres

We’re looking for well-built, light wheels with double-wall rims and good quality hub bearings. Although these bikes need to be able to cope with the punishment of being ridden off-road, their typical riders weigh a fraction of a typical adult, so we’re also looking for a low spoke-count.

Of course, all of these bikes can be fitted with either road tyres or off-road/cyclocross tyres. The only proper 26” cyclocross tyre on the market is Schwalbe’s almost ubiquitous CX Pro, which is available from £30 per pair in lighter, folding-bead and heavier, wire-bead versions. We tested them all in off-road configuration.

Note that many of these bikes are offered with Kenda road tyres. Our experience is that these are lightweight and decent quality but that they are prone to puncture, especially in wet weather. Our favourite 26” road tyres are Specialized’s All Condition Elite 26 x 1 which never punctured while fitted to our children’s own bikes.

Raleigh Performance 26

The Raleigh is supplied by default with Kenda road tyres. Good Raleigh dealers should be prepared to supply Schwalbe CX Pro cyclocross tyres instead though if requested.

Alex rims are very popular on bikes at this price. The Raleigh uses Alex ACE19 rims drilled for 32 spokes front and rear. The hubs are practical units with Raleigh’s “RSP” branding.

DSC_5125_FEATURE

Scoppio Junior

The wheels supplied with the Scoppio use Blackjack M380 rims laced to Shimano Parallax hubs with 32 spokes. Blackjack is a brand of the Portuguese manufacturer Rodi, and the M380 is usually marketed as a 26” MTB rim. It has a slightly deep cross-section and it’s similar in shape and size to the Alex rims fitted to other bikes in this test.

We were surprised to find that the inner tubes had Schraeder (i.e. car-type) valves not Presta. There’s no difference in use – just make sure you have a pump that fits Schraeder valves and a couple of appropriate spare tubes. But in case you’re thinking that you would just replace the Schraeder tubes with Presta ones, bear in mind that the rim is drilled for the wider Schraeder valve – if you want to use a Presta tube you’ll need to fit a special sleeve around its valve to fill out the hole and prevent the tube bursting through.

The bike is supplied with Schwalbe CX Pro tyres.

The Shimano hubs are pretty basic units but the bearings ran smoothly enough.

DSC_5177_FEATURE

Juniorworx JA26

The JA26 uses the same silky-smooth Worx-branded hubs that are fitted to the JA700 that we tested previously. They have excellent cartridge-bearings and the hub bodies are finished very well.

The rims are Worx-branded as WRT 168 and are manufactured by Alex. There are 32 spokes.

The tyres supplied are either Schwalbe CX Pro for cyclocross or Kenda for road.

DSC_5151_FEATURE

Trek KRX

Trek has specified Formula hubs with rims branded as KRX. Formula is a huge Taiwanese supplier of wheel components to many brands around the world, and it has a reputation for decent quality even for its cheapest products. Note that there’s no quick release on the hubs – instead they’re attached to the forks and frame using Allen-bolts. There are 32 spokes.

You can buy the KRX in road spec with Kenda Kontender tyres, but ours came fitted with unusual off-road tyres that we hadn’t seen before: Bontrager’s LT3 model in 1.6” width. With their big air volume they were very comfortable and they had excellent grip on wet grass, mud and loose dirt. Unsurprisingly it’s a heavier tyre than the narrower Schwalbe CX Pro – a pair of the Bontragers weighs 300g more.

DSC_5273_FEATURE

Islabikes Luath 26

One of the reasons for the Luath leading the way with its low overall weight can be found here: the wheels are noticeably light. They specify 28 spokes instead of the 32 found in most of the other bikes here. The rims and hubs are both own-branded. A recent cosmetic update is the flash of colour on the hubs and the rims which matches the frame’s paint.

The Luath is supplied with Kenda Kontender road tyres as standard. Schwalbe CX Pro tyres are an extra-cost option. For comfortable touring or day rides Islabikes also offers Schwalbe’s bulletproof (but heavy) 32mm wide Marathon as an option.

DSC_5097_FEATURE

Frog Bikes Road 70

It’s to Frog’s credit that it supplies two sets of tyres with every Road 70 – a pair for road use and a pair for cyclocross. However, the Kenda K803A tyres supplied for cyclocross aren’t suitable: they just don’t have a knobbly tread. They’d be fine for tow-paths or family routes at trail centres but there’s simply not enough grip for youth cyclocross. They slide out when cornering on wet grass let alone when riding in mud. We changed them for a pair of trusty Schwalbe CX Pros so the Road 70 could take part in the group test on equal terms with the other bikes. So if you buy a Road 70 for off-road use we suggest you talk to the dealer about a tyre upgrade.

Where the Road 70’s wheels do score well though is their low spoke count: 24 in the front wheel and 28 in the rear. We think that’s plenty for a lightweight rider providing the wheels are built well, even when the bike is ridden hard off-road.

The rim has a deeper profile than the other bikes here which should make it pretty stiff. The hubs are from the large Taiwanese manufacturer Quando which supplies a huge number of hubs to bike brands globally. We’ve tested budget Quando hubs before and they are functional but not especially smooth-running.

DSC_5199_FEATURE

Top of page

7. Drivetrain

Remember that these are all bikes between £400 and £600 which are produced in much lower volumes than adult bikes of that price. So there’s a realistic ceiling to the level of components that a manufacturer can afford to fit whilst keeping the bike’s price down to what parents of keen youth riders are prepared to pay.

We have no doubt that the optimum drivetrain for a 26” wheel road/CX bike uses a single chainring, not a double.

In cyclocross even the fastest Under 10 or Under 12 riders have all the gears that they need from a single ring used with a wide ratio cassette – speeds on grass and dirt surfaces are too low to need anything more.

In youth circuit racing on tarmac speeds are higher than in cyclocross, of course. However, Under 10/12 riders are all restricted to low top gears anyway, and all of the necessary ratios can be obtained from a single ring.

Outside racing, though, is there an argument for a double chainset to give a wider range of ratios and higher gears? Not really. It’s important for young riders’ development for them to learn smooth, fast pedalling on relatively low gears. Since Under 12 circuit races often average more than 20mph on restricted gears it’s unlikely that higher gears are necessary for leisure rides or in training.

Running a single ring allows a manufacturer to reduce cost, complexity and weight because there’s no need for a front derailleur or a front shifter.

Finally, most young children simply find it difficult to use the gears provided by a double chainring properly. They don’t understand how to use two overlapping ranges of ratios according to the terrain and other factors.

Raleigh Performance 26

Raleigh has indeed fitted a single chainring to the Performance 26. Its chunky 152mm cranks are Raleigh RSP badged but made by Lasco, the huge Taiwanese manufacturer of so many junior cranks. A chainguard is mounted either side of the chainring to ensure the chain doesn’t come off when riding fast over bumpy ground.

DSC_4938_GALLERY

There’s an 8-speed Shimano HG30 cassette with sprockets from 11 to 32 teeth giving a nice wide range of gears. The Altus rear derailleur is at the entry level of Shimano’s MTB range.

DSC_4939_GALLERY

The rear gear shifter is integrated with the short-reach right-hand brake lever from Microshift. We’ve always found that young riders like using the Microshift system: a brake lever, a separate gear lever tucked behind it to change to a large sprocket, and a small button-like lever to shift to a smaller sprocket.

Although the Performance 26 has no front derailleur Raleigh has chosen to keep the Microshift left hand brake lever/shifter in place rather than substitute it with a separate brake lever. They have, however, removed the two redundant gear levers and the mechanism from it. The advantage is that the left-hand brake lever matches the right-hand lever, but the installation does look a bit odd with its empty cable exit from the brake lever hood and the gaps where the gear levers once were.

Scoppio Junior

Although Paul Milnes Cycles has fitted a double chainset it sensibly has relatively small 42/34 chainrings. They’re fitted to PMC-badged 155mm Lasco cranks.

DSC_4943_GALLERY

There’s a 11-32 tooth 8-speed cassette fitted so that gives an excellent bottom gear of 34×32 – the lowest in the group of bikes. When children are tired or riding in tough winter cyclocross conditions they can rarely have too low a bottom gear.

DSC_4944_GALLERY

However, PMC is happy to change the Scoppio’s chainrings or its cassette to suit the rider’s needs. That’s the flexibility of being a retailer building to its own specifications rather than a manufacturer.

The rear derailleur, front derailleur and integrated brake levers/gear shifters are all from Shimano’s excellent Claris groupset.

Juniorworx JA26

Worx has specified a single chainring crankset manufactured by Shun, yet another huge Taiwanese component manufacturer. Like all the other bikes in our group test, the JA26 has a square-taper bottom bracket which is typical of bikes at this price level, but it’s a nice FSA unit fitted with cartridge bearings rather than an unbranded generic model.

DSC_4962_GALLERY

The 36 tooth chainring has a chainguard fitted either side of it to prevent the chain from unshipping accidentally. Combined with the 9-speed 11-34 tooth cassette this gives an excellent spread of gear ratios.

DSC_4963_GALLERY

All Juniorworx models use Microshift derailleurs and gear shifters, and children do seem to find the Microshift system easy to master.

Trek KRX

Trek has tackled its bike’s drivetrain a little differently to the other brands. For a start, it has fitted Shimano Sora 9-speed rear derailleur, front derailleur and gear shifters. Sora is one rung above Claris in Shimano’s groupset hierarchy, and a pair of Sora shifters alone can’t be bought for less than £95. It’s a high level of specification.

The chainset is from Prowheel – another Taiwanese super-producer of bike components. We’ve mentioned already that its cranks are too long at 165mm. The double chainrings aren’t ideal as the big ring is unnecessarily large at 48 teeth. It’s paired with a more sensibly sized 34 tooth small ring.

There’s a large plastic chainguard attached which is unnecessary for most racing kids. We’d remove it to save a few grammes – marginal gains work even better for kids than for Team GB and Team Sky!

DSC_4957_GALLERY

The biggest sprocket on the 9-speed Shimano HG50 cassette is only 27 teeth, and the resulting bottom gear of 34×27 is pretty tough for tired little legs, especially when riding off-road. If you’re buying a KRX we suggest asking the dealer to swap over to a 11-30 tooth HG50 cassette – but ask them to check that there’s enough capacity in the rear derailleur arm to cope with the wider range.

DSC_4958_GALLERY

Islabikes Luath 26

Islabikes has fitted a neat pair of polished alloy cranks to the Luath 26. There’s a 36 tooth single ring, fitted with a slotted aluminium double chainguard which is tougher than the plastic versions fitted to the other single-ring bikes on test.

The square-taper cartridge bottom bracket has sealed bearings and experience has shown that it resists the harsh regime of winter cyclocross usage and repeated washing.

DSC_4928_GALLERY

As part of the Islabikes range overhaul in 2013 the Luath 26 gained a Shimano Claris 8-speed rear derailleur and gear shifter. Gear changing is now much easier for children while holding the drops of the bars than it was with the Shimano 2300 shifter fitted to previous Luaths.

There’s a SRAM 11-32 tooth cassette which gives a sensible range of gears.

DSC_4929_GALLERY

Frog Bikes Road 70

Frog has chosen a double chainset with particularly short 140mm cranks. The rings are sensible sizes though at 42 and 34 teeth. The chainset isn’t as high quality as the others on test – it’s the only one here with a four-arm, two-piece right hand crank. All of the other bikes have right hand cranks manufactured from a single piece of metal, and which have a five-arm spider taking industry-standard (110BCD) removable chainrings. The Road 70’s chainset has simple chainrings with fixings that are not intended to be removed by the owner.

A plastic chainguard is screwed to the outer chainring. It helps prevent loose-fitting trousers from catching on the chainring’s teeth, but most Youth Cycle Sport kids will already be wearing close-fitting clothing so we’d remove the chainguard.

DSC_4948_GALLERY

Frog Bikes has gone for the full set of Microshift 9-speed gear components: rear derailleur, front derailleur and integrated gear shifters. They work just as well on the Frog as on the Juniorworx.

There’s a 12-27 teeth Shimano cassette fitted. As with the Trek, we’d have preferred to see a slightly wider spread of ratios to allow a lower bottom gear than 34×27, especially for cyclocross or at the end of tiring day-rides.

DSC_4950_GALLERY

Top of page

8. Brakes

Modern cantilever brakes are powerful, inexpensive, easy to set up, and reliable. Tektro’s compact Oryx model dominates the market for bikes of this value, but there are a couple of bikes here that have a different spec.

We’re really not fans of the “cross-top” levers (also known as “interrupter levers”) fitted to nearly all cheaper cyclocross bikes – especially when children are concerned. If these levers are fitted, kids moving up to their first drop-handlebar bikes develop a habit of riding on the tops of the handlebars only and braking with the cross-top levers, rather than holding the brake lever hoods or on the drops. There’s much less steering control with a narrow grip while holding the tops of the bars, there’s less braking power and control using cross-top levers, and the rider’s hands aren’t near the shifters ready to change gear either.

It can take a long time for coaches to help kids to get rid of those habits.

The additional brake levers also tempt some parents to move their kids up to drop-handlebar bikes too early – they can reach the cross-top brake levers but not the main brake levers.

Cross-top levers also add a couple of hundred grams of unnecessary weight, they crowd the handlebars, and they make the cabling more awkward.

Raleigh Performance 26

You’ll find Tektro’s Oryx brakes on the Raleigh too. The Microshift brake levers are appropriately short-reach for small hands.

It does have Tektro RL576 cross-top levers fitted. As you can see from our head-on photo the Raleigh’s handlebars have a particularly curved shape and it’s all a bit crowded on the tops of the bars.

As a result the routing of the front brake cable is very tight, especially as the front brake hanger is mounted on the headset, close to the handlebars.

DSC_4936_GALLERY

Scoppio Junior

Just like the Scatto (also from Paul Milnes Cycles) that we tested previously, the Scoppio is fitted with Tektro CR720 cantilever brakes. They have a classic, wider design and slightly higher cost than the narrow-profile Oryx. There’s a view that the design and geometry of wider cantilevers gives better braking power and feel than their narrower cousins. Realistically, it’s unlikely that a rider of one of these bikes would detect any functional difference between the two types of brake though.

The Shimano Claris brake levers are shimmed to bring the levers closer to the handlebars for children’s hands to operate.

There are XLC cross-top levers fitted. The front brake cable routing isn’t bad though as there’s a deep brake hanger.

The rear brake cable is routed along the upper side of the top tube in classic cyclocross-style.

DSC_4942_GALLERY

Juniorworx JA26

The JA26 is another bike with Tektro Oryx brakes. The short-reach Microshift right-hand integrated brake lever / gear shifter controls the front brake. Worx shares the approach of Islabikes by specifying a short-reach left-hand junior Tektro brake lever to control the rear brake – it doesn’t look symmetrical but it saves weight and it works well.

There are cross-top levers fitted but the front brake cable routing doesn’t suffer from very tight bends because the JA26 is fitted with a front brake hanger that sprouts from the fork crown instead of the headset. This method also has the advantage that you can adjust the handlebars without disturbing the brake adjustment.

DSC_4961_GALLERY

Trek KRX

Trek takes a different approach to the other manufacturers by fitting Shimano CX50 cantilever brakes rather than the ubiquitous Tektros. Shimano’s cyclocross brakes have certainly earned a good reputation but we don’t think a difference is detectable providing both models are set up correctly.

The straddle wire of the CX50 brakes is more fiddly to unhook than the Tektro brakes which is a slight irritation when you want to remove the bike’s wheels when you transport or clean it.

The brakes are controlled by the Shimano Sora levers and there’s a shim fitted to bring the levers closer to the handlebars.

There are Tektro RL721 cross-top levers too. However, just like the Juniorworx, the Trek has a swan-neck front brake hanger attached to the fork crown. So, no brake cable routing issues with the KRX.

DSC_4956_GALLERY

Islabikes Luath 26

Here’s Tektro Oryx again, married to the Shimano Claris right hand brake lever / gear shifter (with shims fitted to shorten its reach) and a left-hand junior Tektro brake lever (the same one as used on the Juniorworx JA26). The front of the bike looks unbalanced by having two very different brake levers, but it’s the most effective solution and that’s what matters.

There are Tektro RL720 cross-top levers once again and they do cramp the front brake cable routing on the Luath, especially when the handlebars are set low. We’d like to see a deeper front brake hanger than the one fitted or, better still, a swan-neck hanger attached to the front fork crown like the Juniorworx and the Trek.

DSC_4927_GALLERY

Frog Bikes Road 70

Frog Bikes fits the trusty Tektro Oryx cantilevers to the Road 70 too. They’re operated by the pair of Microshift integrated brake levers / gear shifters which give a comfortable braking position when riding on the hoods or on the drops.

Tektro provides the bike’s cross-top levers too and, like the Raleigh and the Luath, a short brake hanger mounted on the headset makes the front brake cable routing very tight.

DSC_4947_GALLERY

Top of page

9. Components

Raleigh Performance 26

Most of the bike’s components carry Raleigh’s own “RSP” branding, including the saddle, seatpin, 70mm handlebar stem, and 360mm wide handlebars.

They’re all neat and functional, with the exception of the saddle which has been taken from Raleigh’s adult bike range and is much too large for a bike of this size. Hopefully Raleigh will update the spec to include a smaller saddle, but in the meantime you should factor in changing it for a decent junior saddle like the San Marco Concor Junior or the Madison Y04.

The seatpost clamp has a lot of layback so make sure you take that into account when fitting the bike to your rider.

The handlebars are the same width as those of all the other bikes in the group, but their shape is a bit different. They have a nice short forward “throw” and very shallow drops suitable for small riders, but they are more curved and less square than the others – think of the shape of Cinelli’s classic Criterium 65 bars. That means there’s less space for the hands on the tops of the bars, especially with cross-top levers crowding the same area. On the other hand, our test rider found that holding the drops was particularly comfortable because there are no square shoulders of the bars to get in the way of his wrists and forearms.

DSC_4940_GALLERY

Scoppio Junior

Whereas most of the bikes on test use unbranded components which may be stickered up to match the bike’s own branding, we were pleased to see that Scoppio has fitted quality Deda components: 60mm stem, seatpin (with little layback), 360mm handlebars and bar-tape. They’re all manufactured and finished to a high standard.

The Deda bars are the same width as the others on test but they are deeper and have a longer forward throw.

DSC_4945_GALLERY

Juniorworx JA26

There’s nothing too remarkable about the JA26’s components but they are all appropriate for the bike’s size and its price, and they integrate nicely with its overall styling.

As with the Raleigh, the JA26’s seatpin has quite a lot of layback so take that into account when setting the saddle’s position.

The headset deserves highlighting because it’s a good quality FSA unit, not an unbranded headset.

DSC_4965_GALLERY

Trek KRX

Trek plays a trump card here through its ownership of the Bontrager brand. The KRX has quality Bontrager 360mm-wide bars, 80mm stem, and seatpin. The Trek-branded saddle is the right size & shape and it’s made well.

The seatpin has a nice two-bolt saddle clamp which allows you to set up the saddle position very precisely and securely. The clamp has little layback.

DSC_4959_GALLERY

Islabikes Luath 26

Since the major revamp of the whole Islabikes range in 2013 the Luath 26 has used plenty of custom components. There’s clearly a lot of thought behind their design: for example, Islabikes has used half the number of bolts as usual to clamp the handlebars to the stem, and to clamp the stem to the fork’s steerer tube. Since the Luath isn’t going to have a muscular 80 kg rider that’s presumably all that’s needed. It means there’s less material in the components and therefore less weight.

The 360mm-wide handlebars are very compact, and their tubing is narrow.

The saddle is the slimmest one within the group and it weighs very little. The Luath’s seatpin has almost no layback at all, and the saddle clamp is finely adjustable.

DSC_4934_GALLERY

Frog Bikes Road 70

Frog’s dealers will change the handlebar stem according to the length required. Our test bike had a 80mm stem which suited our test rider.

Similar to the Raleigh, the Road 70’s components are perfectly functional but not particularly remarkable. The 360mm-wide handlebars are the correct size for small riders with a short throw and a shallow drop.

The seatpin is perfectly functional with a single-bolt saddle clamp, and the saddle itself is the right shape and size for the bike.

Frog Bikes fits a quick-release seatpost collar to the Road 70 instead of an Allen-bolt collar. That allows you to change the saddle height quickly if the bike is being shared between riders. Make sure the lever is fastened extremely firmly to match the tightness of an Allen-bolt collar.

DSC_4954_GALLERY

Top of page

10. Performance

The reality is that there’s not enough difference between the geometry, weight, components and design of these bikes for their off-road cyclocross performance to vary much.

A skillful young rider will ride any of these bikes fast – and there’s even less difference when riding them on the road. They all simply run rings around cheaper, heavier children’s bikes.

So the differences are pretty subtle and we’re not going to step through each model here, but instead we’ll just bring out a couple of specific comments:-

  • Our test rider really took to the Raleigh. He said it was one of the best in the group for “chucking around”. It was the bike that he chose to ride for fun after all the formal testing and photography was done.
  • The Trek was particularly comfortable over rough ground – thanks no doubt to the big volume of air in its wide tyres soaking up the bumps.

Top of page

11. Customisation and upgrade

These bikes can be ridden and raced straight away. The Frog Bikes Road 70 needs proper cyclocross tyres fitted instead of those supplied, as we discussed earlier, but that’s the only essential change needed on any of the bikes.

Not many parents of such young riders will customise or upgrade these bikes – that can wait until children are much older and their sport becomes more serious. The only changes we’d suggest considering at all are:-

  • Remove the cross-top brake levers!
  • Fit cassettes with lower bottom gears to the Trek and the Frog.
  • Convert those bikes with double chainsets to a single-ring set-up.

Top of page

12. Service and support

Raleigh Performance 26

You can buy the Performance 26 direct from Raleigh’s website, from big online specialists like Wiggle, or in person from many bike shops.

Raleigh is a very respected brand, of course, and we expect that buyers would be looked after well in the event of problems.

DSC_5133_FEATURE

Scoppio Junior

Paul Milnes Cycles is based in Bradford so you would either need to buy the Scoppio from them over the phone, online via their eBay shop or PMC website, or travel to their Yorkshire retail premises.

PMC has a long track record of supplying quality children’s bikes and the shop is a big supporter of grass roots cycle sport as well as elite cyclocross. Its staff are enthusiasts and the shop is widely respected within the sport.

As we’ve mentioned above several times, PMC will build the Scoppio up to several different specification levels, and will also modify individual items like chainrings, cassette gearing, cranks, and stem length upon request.

DSC_5187_FEATURE

Juniorworx JA26

Oxfordshire-based Worx Bikes only sells direct, so you buy online or over the phone.

However, Worx is small enough to be able to deal with individual circumstances, and it obviously has confidence in its bikes – we know of several parents who have been sent a JA26 or JA700 for their kids to try out before making a final decision to buy or not.

DSC_5153_FEATURE

Trek KRX

Trek is a huge brand that sells through a huge national network of retailers, and your own favourite shops are likely to be able to supply it. The KRX is a rarity though so those dealers might not actually have one in stock. Any good dealer will be pleased to order one in for you to look at though.

As a brand Trek’s customer service and warranty are very well respected, so we don’t expect issues to arise in those departments.

DSC_5275_FEATURE

Islabikes Luath 26

Islabikes has always sold direct from its Ludlow HQ rather than through distributors or independent bike shops. So many Luaths have been sold, though, that many customers will already have seen and tried a friend’s bike before buying their own. However, customers still needed to order by phone or visit Islabikes in person. Although that was awkward for customers, it did ensure that Islabikes sales staff would always discuss requirements with customers so that the right size of bike was supplied.

You still can only buy direct from Islabikes although, very recently, Islabikes introduced a new website with the e-commerce functionality that customers now expect. However, the buying process still captures the child’s measurements so that Islabikes can review sizing before supplying the bike.

Islabikes reputation for service is well-proven and is second-to-none, so you are unlikely to have after-sales issues.

DSC_5106_FEATURE

Frog Bikes Road 70

From the outset Frog Bikes spotted that many customers preferred to visit their local bike shops to see, discuss, and buy quality children’s bikes – especially those parents who don’t necessarily have a background in cycling themselves. They’ve nailed that one very well, quickly signing up a wide network of independent stockists in the UK (and now overseas too).

If you prefer, Frog Bikes will supply the Road 70 to you direct via their website.

Frog Bikes stockists tend to be enthusiastic small business owners, so they tend to give good after-sales service.

DSC_5224_FEATURE

Top of page

13. Value for money and resale

Raleigh Performance 26

Although the Performance 26 has a RRP of £425, Raleigh bikes do tend to be discounted. For example, at the time of writing the bike is available for just £360 from Wiggle – and that’s excellent value.

Raleigh’s image is on the up and up, so that should help the bike’s future resale value if it has been well looked after.

Scoppio Junior

The Scoppio test bike costs £500 in its 16-speed Shimano Claris spec. Given the components used throughout the bike, we think that’s good value for money. Just as with the Scatto that we tested previously, Paul Milnes Cycles will also supply lower and higher specification versions.

We’ve seen PMC offer some great deals over the last couple of years, especially at Christmas. So if you want a Scoppio we suggest visiting the shop or picking up the phone to make an offer!

Resale will probably be no problem to parents within the club scene who know the sport and who know PMC. The Scoppio brand will be unknown though to potential buyers who aren’t fans.

Juniorworx JA26

Worx dropped the prices of its Juniorworx range after the initial launch, and we think £495 is now a very good price for the JA26 with its excellent frame and quality components.

We know that Worx is very committed to getting young riders onto its bikes and that it has been pretty flexible with pricing on occasions. So if you want a JA26 make a confident phone call to Worx HQ and see if you can strike a deal.

The Juniorworx racing image is very strong, and we expect easy resale without losing much money at all.

Trek KRX

The KRX is the most expensive bike here at £600 RRP. The frame and forks are excellent though, and so are the components and drivetrain, so you can see why the bike costs a bit more.

Resale is tricky to assess: the KRX itself will be little known to potential buyers, but the strong Trek brand and the obvious quality of the bike will give it a big boost.

Islabikes Luath 26

The bike costs £450, but there have been times in the last couple of years when demand for new Luaths has outstripped supply. The resale value is still very high indeed, and even with all the new competition entering the market you still see Luath 26s that are several years old selling for a very high percentage of their new price.

On the other hand, last year for the first time we saw an Islabikes promotion of £50 off all new Luaths for a month or two. Unless Islabikes offers a deal like that again you’re very unlikely to be able to negotiate a discount on the price of the Luath 26.

All of that suggests that the market considers the bike to be very good value, with its market-leading weight and thoughtful design and specification.

Frog Bikes Road 70

The Frog is priced exactly the same as the Luath 26 at £450 but we’ve seen it advertised for £425 by one or two shops. We’re not sure what leeway there is for price negotiation with independent stockists, but we expect that you’re much likelier to get a deal on buying accessories at the same time (such as helmet, clothing, or lights) rather than a discount on the bike itself. You may want to play that card when asking the dealer to replace the standard cyclocross tyres with Schwalbe CX Pros which would otherwise cost you an extra £35 or more.

After a period of supply teething problems with the Road range, the bikes are all readily available now, and the image of the Team Sky-branded version is currently very strong – a little more than the plain red, white, or black Frog-branded version.

The Road range is still too new to judge their resale value, and even the longer-established Frog hybrid range hasn’t appeared second-hand very often on eBay yet.

Top of page

14. Verdict

There simply isn’t a dud amongst these six bikes – how wonderful that there’s now such a choice of great bikes to be had.

Raleigh Performance 26

We were very pleased to see such a strong contender from Raleigh, showing that the company understands children’s requirements. The Performance 26 doesn’t quite have the quality of the Luath or the Juniorworx but it does the same job very well. At its discounted price it’s a bargain.

+ low discounted price
+ value for money
+ handling
+ single chainring

– saddle
– a little bland

DSC_4918_GALLERY

Scoppio Junior

The Scoppio is another excellent children’s bike from Paul Milnes Cycles, with a great spec and the major advantage of customisation according to the rider’s needs. Just take care that its sizing suits your child because the frame is particularly long.

+ quality of components
+ flexible specification
+ attention to detail

– double chainset not single
– long top tube & reach

DSC_4913_GALLERY

Juniorworx JA26

The Juniorworx is a high quality bike showing great attention to detail. It’s an attractive package and it’s hard to find flaws with it. The JA26 is a pretty good deal too considering the value of its frame and components.

+ all-round quality
+ design & attention to detail
+ specification
+ light weight
+ single chainring

DSC_4911_GALLERY

Trek KRX

Trek’s KRX won us over with its lovely frame & forks and its high specification. It’s a fair bit more costly than the others though. If Trek could attend to its long cranks and its gearing it would be a cracker.

+ quality of frame & forks
+ standard of components

– long cranks
– double chainset not single
– gear ratios

DSC_4916_GALLERY

Islabikes Luath 26

The Luath certainly hasn’t been knocked off its perch by the newcomers. It’s still the lightest bike, and its quality & thoughtful design stand out. Islabikes clearly hasn’t forgotten how to make great children’s bikes.

+ all-round quality
+ design & attention to detail
+ specification
+ light weight
+ single chainring

DSC_4919_GALLERY

Frog Bikes Road 70

Frog Bikes was the first brand to compete seriously with Islabikes, and its retail and marketing strengths have made lightweight children’s bikes available to a wider market. The Road 70 is an effective all-rounder, strong in most areas but let down by its tyre and chainset specification.

+ buying options
+ price

– quality of double chainset
– off-road tyres not grippy enough

DSC_4917_GALLERY

This market is still growing, though, and yet more brands are lining up to enter it. One of the most interesting new arrivals will be from HOY Bikes later this Spring. We’ve been impressed by HOY’s junior road bikes, track bikes and hybrids so we will expect a lot from their first 26” wheel road/CX bike – we’ll publish a “first look” feature soon.

headTube_FEATURE

Top of page

All photos © 2014 Youth Cycle Sport

Gallery

Tags: , , ,

5 responses to:

Group test – 26″ wheel road/cyclocross bikes

  1. ryan
    January 2, 2016

    Just bought a Raleigh pro 26 for my son. He can’t get comfortable on it. Just a watch out for small riders is that the bike seems very long.

  2. cxracer
    January 4, 2016

    I do agree with the other comment, the Raleigh bike does appear to be quite long. We have seen a few kids on this bike now and they all seem to be stretching on it. We tried the Raleigh but ended up buying an islabike, just seemed better all round. Also the Raleigh had a really cheap bottom bracket which also put us off. Great review and comparison

  3. Madone Rider
    January 4, 2016

    I have just bought a Trek KRX for my son from at a more competitive price. My son is a very tall youngster and the geometry of the Trek suits him (long cranks). The bike is a superb dual purpose bike, with a change of wheel/tyre (QR’s now fitted!) it is awesome as a road bike too. Had to change up to my road bike to keep up with an 8 year old!

  4. Team Spec
    January 11, 2016

    I get the comments about the Rayleigh. it looks like a cheaper bike that the rest. They have also put an old cheap bottom bracket on it. I think anything but the Raleigh for us, we ended up getting a Frog, cheaper and so much better….

Make a comment