Kids Bike Components PART 2 - Handlebars, Stems, Saddles & Posts
We all want our kids to be as comfortable and confident on their bikes as possible. If speed is their goal, they will only go quickly when they are! It's not rocket-science, but it is a reasonably in-depth subject and so many different components influencing it. So if you are planning to build a new bike or you want to improve their existing bike, here is Part 2 of 3 on the basics of correct component selection to achieve the best bike fit...
- Handlebars & Stem
- Saddle & Seat Post
- Gear Shifters & Brake Levers
- Pedals & Cleats
- Wheels, Tyres & Gearing
Part 2: Handlebars, Stems, Saddles & Posts
The combination of all the key components listed above, define the location of the 3 contact points for any rider: their feet, bottom and hands. By selecting the correct components, you can achieve the best bike fit for your rider which will maximise their comfort, confidence and power.
(It's worth reading this, in conjunction with our advice on BikeFit and what you are trying to achieve with the correct components - CLICK HERE). So let’s take a look at the next key components, starting with;
Handlebars and Stem
Drop handlebars in particular have always been tricky for young riders. Like all components, manufactures produce parts that have the biggest demand, so that’s adult components then! Producing in low-volumes for the kids market is always more expensive and less profitable, hence the scarcity of suitable parts. It’s quite common to see cheaper kids bikes, using adult handlebars, usually a nightmare for the rider! Rules to apply here are simple. The width of the handlebars should ideally be around the same width as the distance between their armpit creases. Often that’s not practical with very small riders. For these riders, the bars shouldn’t be wider than their shoulders. By matching their shoulder width, you build in some ‘growth room’. If their arms ‘splay’ out at an angle, they are on the wrong bars.
Drop and reach are another consideration. Reach (distance from the top bar at the stem, forward to the shifter position) is obvious as this affects the overall ‘cockpit’ length of the bike. A short rider, will need a short reach. The same can be said for the drop (vertical distance from top bar, down to the drop bar) as a ‘compact’ drop will give the small rider more comfort, control and confidence. If they use an adult drop, they will be over-stretched and unwilling to use the drops very often, which also compromises their ability to reach for the brake leaver/gear lever.
As there were no dedicated children' drop handlebars available on the market, we developed our own HUPcc bars, which use a correct 100mm drop and a short 65mm reach, using a standard 31.8mm bore and coming in at a very svelt 270g in 320mm, 340mm and 360mm widths.
Straight handlebars are a little simpler to size. Type of riding is a consideration, downhill usually favours wider bars for more high-speed stability, cross-country tends to go with narrower bars for more manoeuvrability. A popular technique to size the width of bars required, is for the rider to get into a comfortable 'press-up' position and match the bar length to this. Our 600mm raise bars (can be shortened by 30mm) and usually fine for most 7-11yr olds for MTB XC.
Top Tip: select a drop bar based on Shoulder Width, size straight bars on comfortable 'press-up' width.
The stem, like the handlebar reach will also affect overall ‘cockpit’ length, which in turn affects the riders BikeFit position. To achieve the correct back and shoulder angle, you will need the right length stem to create a ‘cockpit’ length to suit your rider. In general, stems for drop handlebar bikes (Road and CX with a flatter back, more aero position) tend to be longer than straight handlebar bikes (MTB and CX with a more upright back angle, less aero position).
This rider position and the sensitivity of steering input should be considered, drop handlebars are more responsive, so stems shorter than 40mm tend to produce a very ‘lively’ feel. On the flip-side, longer stems on a straight bar bike tend to create a more dull front-end.
Selecting the correct length is a judgment thing in the beginning. If they are going onto a new frameset and they are right at the bottom of the framesets size range, a shorter stem would be better, and so on up the size range. We tend to fit very small riders on 40mm stems for a drop bar bike, but defiantly not all riders! 50mm is the most common size used. On straight bar bikes, again it is rider size dependant, but commonly we use a 40mm or 50mm stem.
Again like the drop handlebars, no short stems were available on the market, so we developed our own HUPcc stems in 3 popular lengths for kids bikes, 40mm, 50mm and 60mm in a Road/CX design. Best of all, they start at just 95g! Get the fit right and make the bike lighter, win-win!
Top Tip: the most difficult to advise on selection, as it depends on a riders Torso length - shorter the body, usually the shorter the stem and vice-versa.
Saddle and Seatpost
For some reason, decent kids saddles have presented a real problem for component manufacturers over the years, still can work out why! Basically, as already mentioned children’s hips are narrower than adults, so the saddle needs to be narrower to match. You tend to find the children are a little more ‘mobile’ on their saddle too, moving their position forward or back regulary. From that perspective, we tend to find that a ’narrow nosed’ saddle works best, giving them the freedom to ‘find’ their preferred position.
Again, as it affects overall cockpit length, you will tend to start with the saddle all the way forward on its rails, on a bike where the child is at the bottom of the bikes size range. In this situation, it's also wise to use an Inline (zero offset) seat post, as this also helps to create the shortest possible cockpit length, to get their bike fit comfortable.
As the child grows, it will still be possible to swap-out an inline seat post for an offset seat post, to increase the cockpit length as their torso grows. Much like fitting a longer stem will also increase the cockpit length.
We specifically created our HUPcc saddles for children's bikes, in a lightweight construction starting at just 220g with a narrow width, shorter overall body, long nose and comfortable padding. How kid's saddles should have always been.
Top Tip: small riders (especially if they have a short torso) benefit from an inline seat post. Riders with a longer torso, benefit from an offset seat post.
(It's worth reading this, in conjunction with our advice on BikeFit and what you are trying to achieve with the correct components - CLICK HERE)