Our kids’ bikes: Torker Interurban 20” and Spawn Banshee 16”

The bike that started it all.

The balance bike that started it all.

As our kids have gotten older, they’ve moved into riding their own bikes, as one might expect. Our son started riding on our venerable Specialized Hotwalk balance bike, which this summer finally moved on to live with our next door neighbors and their 2-year-old.

Then (holy smokes he looks tiny!)

Then (holy smokes he looks tiny!)

He jumped from there to a Jamis Laser at age 5, which worked for a while, but not as long as we had hoped, mostly because it doesn’t have gears and we live in San Francisco. After about a year of his resisting riding because he had to walk up the hills, we switched him to the Torker Interurban (20”) from The New Wheel when he turned 6, which has multiple gears, and he’s been riding that ever since (we sold the Jamis to a family in a flatter locale). After spending part of a summer at the wonderful wheelkids bike camp, he had the stamina and knowledge to take to the streets whenever he’s inclined. That’s less often than we might like, but he’s getting there. The Torker is lightweight, and he’s a lean and scrawny kid. Between that a reasonably wide gear range, he has little trouble pedaling that bike up to Alamo Square and back down again on the way to school.

Now

Now

Fortunately for us, our son by age 6 had reached a height that put him in the realm of kids’ bikes that are not uniformly terrible. In contrast, we found it very difficult to find good bikes in the 16” wheel range for our daughter. Local shops sell Linus kids’ bikes, but they are too heavy for the hills our kids ride, and worse yet from our perspective, come with training wheels [but see the comments below: there is a new local company producing a great 16″ bike, the Cleary Hedgehog, as of last month]. We didn’t stick our kids on balance bikes before they turned two years old so they could backslide when they got older to bikes designed to accommodate training wheels. All the 16” bikes we found also came with coaster brakes, which we wanted to avoid after our son’s hard experience. The coaster brakes in combination with a hand brake on his old Jamis confused him, “Hand? Feet? Hand? Feet?” and really slowed his ability to catch onto braking while riding. Plus we have heard more than one horror story about kids who had had their ankles caught in the cranks, and whose parents had to disassemble the bike to remove them. Our daughter stayed on the balance bike much longer than she probably should have as we looked for a better alternative.

She was really ripping along on that balance bike, though.

She was really ripping along on that balance bike, though.

At this point, I should probably mention a brand of kids’ bikes that have gotten a bit of a subculture following in the family bike community, and why we didn’t get one: Islabikes (pronounced “eye-lah”). Islabikes makes some very nice kids’ bikes, although their 16” model comes with coaster brakes, which we did not want. The coaster brakes made it easier for me to decide not to buy one. There is a reason that I was trying to avoid Islabikes. While I try not to climb onto my soapbox too much here, I am not a fan of the Islabikes business model, which is to sell exclusively by mail. We typically buy our bikes and accessories from local bike shops.

The reasons we shop locally (for a given definition of locally) are complicated, but I will outline one of them here. Probably the most common question I get from other people is where they can test-ride the interesting family bikes we have tried, whether they are cargo bikes or kids’ bikes. And well, if you want to live in a world that has lots of shops in which to test-ride bikes, or for that matter, any shops in which to test-ride bikes, you have to support the local shops by selling to them and buying from them. I realize, of course, that new bicycle brands have to start somewhere, and I remember the difficult line that Xtracycle walked before its dealer network was well-developed, when it sold products both through local bike shops and through its website. But Xtracycle has always cultivated relationships with local shops, and now appears to sell exclusively through its dealers. Yuba appears to be en route to the same transition.

Islabikes, on the other hand, has no relationships with local bike shops. It sells exclusively online and the last that I heard, had no plans to change that model. I had qualms about supporting a brand that chose to cut out the biggest supporters of the riding that we do: local family bike shops. They are few and far-between and it’s not a hugely profitable business. I want to give them all the help that I can, because they help us, and because I’d like to see them survive, and because I’d like more shops to realize that ours is a market that is worth cultivating. So we spend our money at family bike shops, and on occasion, I write up the great experiences we’ve had at these places. I’m way behind on the latter, but these days I’m behind on everything.

Trying out Islabikes in Portland

Trying out Islabikes in Portland

Finding a bike for our daughter, unfortunately, was looking as though it was going to be a “swallow hard and buy online” experience, though, because we couldn’t find a bike suited for our local conditions from a local shop. We considered an Islabike despite my reservations about the online-only sales and the coaster brakes (and about the fact that it only came in red; she didn’t want a red bike, her brother rides a red bike). Islabikes are in fact lovely bikes, viewed solely from a specifications perspective, as they are both lightweight and appropriately scaled. Our kids enjoyed test-riding them when we visited their factory at the post-Fiets of Parenthood party the company hosted in Portland this summer.

On the Spawn Banshee

On the Spawn Banshee

Fortune smiled on us, however, when I found a reference somewhere—I have forgotten where—to Spawn Cycles in Canada, which also sells excellent kids’ bikes. Better still, their 16” wheel bike, the Banshee, is sold with front and back hand brakes and no coaster brakes. They appeared pricier than other good kids’ bikes at first, but that was only until I realized that the prices were in Canadian dollars. Spawn Cycles sells its bikes online, which was good news for us given that they’re based in Canada. However the company is also developing a network of local bike shops that sell its products, exactly because it realizes that people want to be able to test-ride kids’ bikes. I liked the company’s attitude toward local bike shops and I liked the bikes. If we were going to buy a bike online, and it looked as though we were, I felt pretty decent about buying one from Spawn. And our daughter was thrilled to discover she could pick the color. Her new Banshee is pink. She was 5 years old when she started riding it, but could have managed it at age 4 if we’d found it sooner.

Spawn managed to get the bike to us within a few days, which I found impressive considering that it had to go through customs. Then we discovered that bikes purchased online, whatever the brand, come “some assembly required.” What can I say? We’d never bought a bike online before. Under normal circumstances the minor assembly work would have been no problem, but we had just moved into an ongoing remodel, and everything we owned in the way of bike tools was packed away… somewhere. Luckily, we share our building with a friendly guy who is really, really into bikes—and this is me saying that. He has a workshop set up in our shared garage for his own bikes, and volunteered to put our daughter’s bike together the same evening it arrived. Thanks again, neighbor! It took him about 15 minutes, but would probably have taken half as long if our daughter hadn’t been helping.

They rode those bikes everywhere at Camp Mather, even to the bathhouse 20 feet from our cabin.

They rode those bikes everywhere at Camp Mather, even to the bathhouse 20 feet from our cabin.

We were right about the hand brakes. It took our daughter a couple of weekday evenings to learn to ride her Banshee, and after a week, she could gracefully feather her brakes to slow her descent down even San Francisco hills. Her bike is so light that although it is a single speed, she occasionally outpaced teenagers on mountain bikes while riding up the hills at Camp Mather. Our daughter has never been much of a walker, always begging us to “Carry me!” Now she doesn’t have to be. These days when we head somewhere within a few blocks, we walk and she rides her bike. She’s still working on the skills she’ll need to ride in the street like her brother can, but in the meantime, it’s legal for kids to ride on the sidewalk. Between that and the Roland, which is giving her practice on the streets on the way to kindergarten, we’re slowly transitioning to a new kind of family biking, with everyone on their own bike.

11 Comments

Filed under commuting, family biking, kids' bikes, San Francisco, trailer-bike

11 responses to “Our kids’ bikes: Torker Interurban 20” and Spawn Banshee 16”

  1. Melissa

    To put another option out there, we also rejected the Islabike because of the coaster brake and were vacillating between the Spawn Cycles Banshee and the new-to-market Cleary Hedgehog, which also has no coaster brake, as a 4th birthday present for our son. I don’t know why it never occurred to me that the pricing on the Spawn Cycles web-site was in Canadian dollars, which makes the price gap between the two slightly smaller ($285 vs. $350). We ultimately decided that the slight difference in weight between the two wasn’t worth the extra money and that we would prefer to support a local company bringing a new product to the market. Of course, at the time we pre-ordered in June, we didn’t realize we wouldn’t get the bike until late September. . . When they accidentally shipped us the wrong bike (a 12″ instead of a 16″), the owner personally drove the right bike to our house the next morning in time for a planned bike camping trip. We’ve had it for a week and a half and so far it seems like a great bike. I understand they are available in several Bay Area shops and will be expanding their dealer network. Another option coming to market soon is WOOM bikes, but I think they will also be direct sales. Their prices are higher, but my understanding is that all of their fabrication and assembly takes place in Europe, which may justify the higher price. I will say that if the CNOC 16 didn’t have a coaster brake, I would have gone for that in a heartbeat; Islabikes have the geometry and weight nailed for a price that’s very reasonable compared to what major brands are charging for far-inferior product.

    • Wow, great news about the Cleary Hedgehog–I had no idea that it existed. Thanks for the information.

    • For families in SF looking for the Cleary Hedgehog, it’s listed as available at Roaring Mouse Cycles in the Presidio. Now I’m glad that we bought our daughter’s bike well before the Hedgehog shipped, because otherwise I would have felt really bad for not getting one.

  2. Easy

    If you happen to remember, it’d be really helpful to note your kids’ ages when they got the different bikes in parentheses in the post. I’m really curious about when kids can start with gears, hand brakes, and riding on the road. Thanks for all your great info!

    • Our son started riding the Jamis at 5 and the Torker at 6 (he’s tall, though–the Torker is a big 20″ bike) and our daughter started riding the Banshee at 5, but probably could have fit on it and handled it at 4, had we known it existed then. I’ll add that to the post too, thanks for the suggestion.

  3. steve

    We live in San Francisco and my son (7) and I take our bikes everywhere. We use the sidewalks quite a bit, but if there is a bike lane with calm traffic, we practice awareness and etiquette. Santa bought him a Schwinn 7 speed last Christmas (2013) from REI and we have been pleased. It was cheap (less than $200) and since it came from REI there is a great warranty and a free tune up. It’s taken some beating and crazy stunts only kids can do. We’ve ridden up to 15 miles or so in one clip and he can tackle most hills in the City with the 7 gears. Riding to school later this morning as part of the Walk and Roll to School Day. You don’t have to spend alot of money to show your kids the joy of riding a bicycle.

  4. Jed C.

    How about that new bike Mom and Dad are riding? Rummors Rummors

  5. Jackie

    I hate to revive an old entry, but I’d really like to know if you’re still happy with the Spawn Banshee — and I’m wondering how long it lasted / will last before it’s outgrown.

    I’m looking for a bike for my son & I’m considering it. I’d like to go with the Cleary because I can get it locally (and don’t have to build it), but it’s too big for him — and probably will be for a while because it’s both long and tall. And he’s too cautious to just go for it (sounds like your son from your descriptions). I emailed Spawn to ask about their sizing & they said the Banshee will fit him now but he won’t be able to plant his feet flat to stop which is how he stops on his balance bike. He would be able to do this on the 14″ they sell, but they think he’ll outgrow that bike soon.

    I’d just keep him on the balance bike longer, but he’s outgrown the one we have & his daredevil little sister would like to use it (fits her better anyway). So I’m stuck getting something else soonish anyway. I just can’t decide between the 14″ or 16″ bike sight unseen. I hate to spend that much and have him refuse to ride it because it’s too big or only get a few months out of the bike because it’s too small. It will get passed down to the younger sister who is much smaller for her age than he was — and who based on her daredevil nature will probably try to ride it when she’s 3. Ha!

    I’m in the Berkeley and have been cruising Craigslist for used versions of the Cleary, Spawn or Woom bikes (all the varieties lacking coaster brakes – thanks previous commenters), and they never pop up. So you know, if you’re selling yours soon & need a buyer, we’re in the market 😉

    • Yes, the Banshee has been a great bike for us. We are very happy with it. Two things: (1) if you’re ever in SF would like to have your son try the Banshee, let me know (twitter is easiest). (2) We are expecting that each kid will be moving up a bike sometime this summer, and if so yes, we would probably sell the Banshee then. And since you asked, you could have first dibs.

      • Jackie

        Thanks so much for the response! The next month or so is crazy for us, but we do get out to SF periodically & just might take you up on #1 if it works out. And please do get in touch when you decide to sell the Banshee. Given how crazy the next couple of months are for us, chances are good that we won’t end up with a bike until summer anyway, so the timing might work out.

  6. chris

    I live in the city and interested in the bike, sooner rather than later. Please drop me a note if you might sell it soon. Thanks!

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