As soon as it was reasonable to start thinking about putting my son on a pedal bike, my dad ran out and bought the Specialized Hotrock for him. Long recognized as one of the only decent 12” pedal bikes on the market, the Hotrock is the first bike of many kids from bike-loving families.
My little boy started riding the Hotrock when he was about 2.5, but continued to prefer his balance bike. Now that he’s 3.5, he is ripping it up on his pedal bike (although still continues to ride his balance bike quite frequently as well). Over that year, I’ve had plenty of time to discover the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of the Specialized Hotrock. (Ok I lied, there is no ugly—it’s a good looking bike).
Review in a nutshell:
- One of the only 12” bikes worth buying, it fits kids as young as 2.5 years old.
- Specialized is a reputable brand and produces quality bikes for adults as well as kids.
- Child-appropriate geometry
- High-quality components
- No hand brake
- It’s heavy!
- Gender-specific marketing
- Aluminum frame
- Coaster brake
- 15 lbs
- 17-19” saddle height
Where to Buy: Find a dealer at Specialized.com
Specialized Hotrock 12 Detailed Review
A child riding a 12” pedal bike is a brand new cyclist. As such, the geometry of the bike is super important in ensuring a successful and enjoyable experience. Unfortunately, most 12” bikes are from big box stores or toy stores who pump out bikes that aren’t scientifically or intelligently designed for actual riding.
The Specialized Hotrock is one of only a few 12” pedal bikes that is actually designed for a beginner rider. The geometry of the Hotrock has a longer wheelbase and lower center of gravity that most 12” bikes on the market, making riding easier for a young child.
The saddle has a minimum height of 17” which means that it can fit kids as young as 2. (Of course this is dependent on your child. Make sure that your child’s inseam is AT LEAST 17” in order to fit on this bike). For more info on fitting your child on a pedal bike, read this blog post.
One of my favorite things about the Hotrock is that it is produced by Specialized, one of the world’s leading bicycle brands. You find the same level of quality construction is this little bike as you would expect in one of Specialized’s adult bikes.
The Specialized Hotrock 12” is extremely well built; in fact, it might be TOO well built. My 200+ pound husband has ridden this bike around the driveway, and not broken it. The thing is beefy, bullet-proof, but unfortunately heavy. At 15 pounds it’s not as heavy as many box store bikes, but it’s significantly heavier, for example, than the Islabikes Cnoc 14” bike. If you think a couple pounds doesn’t matter, just think about the bike weight to child weight ratio. For my 3 year-old, a 15 pound bike is more than 50% of his body weight. This is like me riding a 60 pound bike—that would NEVER happen.
Weight aside, the Hotrock 12”, is fantastically quality bike for a small child. The wheels, the pneumatic tires, the chain are all quality components. You’re not going to have to worry about the wheels bending or the frame breaking. When your kiddo is done with this bike, it will still be in good shape to pass it on to a younger sibling or to sell it on Craigslist.
Skip the Training Wheels
The Hotrock 12” does come with training wheels, but I’d recommend that you remove them before ever putting your kiddo on this bike. If your child isn’t ready for a pedal bike yet, hold off on getting the Hotrock all together and put them on a balance bike first. Here’s an article on why you should start your kiddo on a balance bike rather than training wheels.
When we first got the Hotrock, we did actually let our son do a couple rides with the training wheels (even though we knew better). I had forgotten from my own training wheel days just how frustrating they are! He kept getting high centered every time he’d go over an uneven section of sidewalk, and it was super hard for his small self to maneuver with them on. It didn’t take long for us to learn our lesson, and we quickly removed the training wheels!
My biggest complaint about the Hotrock 12” is its lack of a hand brake. While some might argue that a 2 or 3 year old isn’t capable of operating a hand brake, I totally disagree with this. My little boy has a hand brake on his balance bike, and makes use of it often. Putting him on a pedal bike with only a coaster brake feels like a step backward.
He has started wanting to ride his pedal bike on dirt trails. The coaster brake for mountain biking makes me nervous because he frequently locks up his rear wheel and performs rather impressive skids.
For parents who want to start their kiddo on a bike with a handbrake right from the get-go, consider the Cleary Gecko instead.
Snazzy paint jobs
The Hotrock is a nice looking bike. The decals and paint job are top-notch. It’s also held up to lots of crashes, being stuffed in the bike trailer, and being left outside overnight more times than I’d like to admit.
That said, one thing I’m not a huge fan of is the gender-specific marketing. While I’m all for pink (I for one, ride a pink bike and buy all pink bike-accessories), the fact that they market their pink bike as a “girls bike” and their blue bike as a “boys bike” definitely rubs me the wrong way. I much prefer the attitude Cleary has—they offer many colors for their kids bikes and leave gender out of it!
Comparison to Other Bikes
October 2016 Update: Since first reviewing the Specialized Hotrock, we’ve had the opportunity to test several bikes that compete with it. While I still stand by my positive review of the Hotrock, if someone were to ask me today, I’d steer them to the Cleary Gecko instead.
Compared to the Hotrock, the Gecko is a superior 12″ bike. It has dual handbrakes, a freewheel (no coaster) option, is lighter, and comes in it a similar pricepoint.
For kids who are already 3, you might want to also consider the Woom 2. While a bit more expensive, it is my very favorite bike for kids in this age range.
|Specialized Hotrock||Cleary Gecko||Woom 2|
|Minimum Seat Height||17″||15″||17″|
|Weight||15 lbs||13 lbs||11.3 lbs|
|Dual Hand Brakes||No||Yes||Yes|
If you have a precocious kiddo who’s ready to transition to a pedal bike at an early age, the Specialized Hotrock 12” is a solid choice. One of only a few decent bikes in this size, it has quality construction and child-specific geometry. You won’t be disappointed by its design or durability.
Note: I have no affiliation with Specialized, and I did not receive any product to write this review. I did not receive any monetary compensation to write this review. The Hotrock is a bike that we bought and have been using for over a year.