So, you are on the hunt for a new bicycle for your child (or grandchild)! Specialized is one of the biggest bike companies in the world, and sells more kids bikes than almost any other brand. But are their kids bikes the best?
In this article, we’ll go over the different bikes in Specialized line-up, what we think of each, and offer pros and cons of the Specialized kids bikes vs. other kids bike brands.
Why should you trust us? We’ve tested and reviewed LOTS of kids bikes over the years on this website (including Specialized bikes), and have helped thousands of parents pick out the best bike for THEIR child.
Why You Should Consider Buying A Specialized Kids Bike
The greatest thing Specialized has going for it is the local bike shop support and availability. No matter where you live, there is likely a Specialized dealer nearby.
The benefit of buying from a local bike shop is multi-fold. First off, with a brand like Specialized, it’s very likely that the bike you’re considering will be in stock. This means that your child can ride the bike around the parking lot before you buy. It gives you a chance to see if it fits well, and to get advice on sizing. (That said, not all bike shops and bike shop employees are well-versed in kids bikes so their helpfulness may vary).
Secondly, you know that the bike will be properly built. While many direct to consumer bike brands (like Woom or Guardian) do a great job of carefully assembling and inspecting bikes before they ship, we’ve had plenty of other experiences with bikes showing up with misaligned brakes or other significant assembly that needs to be done. And don’t even get us started on bikes from the big box stores–those are often downright dangerous.
Compared to most kids bikes, those you would buy at Walmart or on Amazon, Specialized bikes are a HUGE step up. They have durable components that will hold up to abuse, and these bikes can be passed down multiple children. They will not end up in a landfill any time soon.
Finally, while Specialized is a giant corporate brand, the local dealers selling them are not. When you buy a bike from your local bike shop, you’re supporting a local business.
Or, if you prefer, you can also buy Specialized bikes and have them shipped directly to your house.
Why You Might Consider A Different Brand
Now that we’ve told you all the reasons we recommend buying a Specialized bike, there are several reasons or situations why you might consider a different brand.
While Specialized kids bikes are head and shoulders above Walmart or Amazon bikes, they are generally not quite as nice as the bikes being put out by kid-specific brands like Woom, Prevelo, or Cleary. This is especially true in the smaller sizes.
Let’s take the 12 inch Specialized Riprock Coaster 12, for example. This bike comes in at a whopping 15.6 pounds (with training wheels removed). While that’s NOT the heaviest 12 inch bike on the market, it is 3.5 pounds heavier than the 12 inch Cleary Gecko. While that might not seem like a lot, the weight difference makes an enormous difference for kids at this age.
Additionally, the smaller Specialized kids bikes have coaster brakes rather than hand brakes. In our experience, coaster brakes really hinder kid’s ability to learn to ride. While coaster brakes are required by U.S. law, the best kids bike brands (again Woom, Prevelo, Cleary, Early Rider, etc), all offer a freewheel kit as an optional add-on. Specialized does not.
While weight and the lack of a freewheel option in smaller size bikes are our biggest complaints about Specialized, the other reason some may choose to pick a different brand is to support a smaller business. In contrast to behemoth Specialized, a brand like Prevelo is a small family, owned business with superior customer service.
The Specialized Kids Bike Line-Up
So what about the individual bikes in the Specialized line-up? Some we highly recommend, and others we don’t. Here are our two cents on each.
Bike Type: Balance Bike
Wheel Size: 12″
Weight: 10 lbs
Do we recommend? Yes.
The Specialized Hotwalk is the smallest and first bike in the Specialized kids bike line-up. This balance bike is the perfect introduction to riding.
Compared to the ubiquitous Strider balance bike, the Hotwalk is a definite step up thanks to it’s pneumatic (air) tires. Unlike the Strider with it’s foam tires, the Hotwalk has superior traction.
The extremely low standover is also super helpful for kids just learning to ride. Little ones can get on and off the bike quickly and easily.
While it’s not the lightest weight balance bike on the market (the Hornit Airo weighs a mere 4 lbs), at 10 lbs the Specialized Hotwalk is quite maneuverable for older, more athletic toddlers.
Aside from the heavier weight, the only other negatives about this bike are the fact that there’s no quick release collar on the seatpost (you have to use a tool to lower or raise the seat), and there is no hand brake. While younger toddlers don’t need a brake, older ones will go thru the soles of a lot of pairs of shoes without one.
(If you have a massive budget, you could also consider the Specialized Hotwalk Carbon, but the exorbitant $1,000 price tag keeps us from recommending it).
Pros: Pneumatic air tires, low stand over, durable
Cons: A little heavy, no quick release on the seatpost, no hand brake
Read Review: Specialized Hotwalk
Specialized Riprock Coaster
Bike Type: Pedal bike
Wheel Size: 12″ / 16″/ 20″
Weight: 15.5 lbs / 20.25 lbs / 24 lbs
Price: $275 / $300 / $325
Do we recommend? Mostly no.
The Specialized Hotrock was our son’s first bike. It’s a durable little pedal bike with child-appropriate geometry. We thought it was the perfect first pedal bike–until we got him the Woom 2 and realized how much better it was.
The biggest issues with the Specialized Hotrock Coaster are ones we already mentioned earlier in the article. It has a coaster brake with no freewheel option and no hand brake to practice with. It’s also heavy compared to higher end kids bikes.
Those things said, what the Specialized Hotrock Coaster does provide is a moderately priced bike (the Woom 2 costs $100 more than the Hotrock 12) that provides kids an opportunity to learn riding bikes. Many of our favorite kids bikes do NOT come with training wheels (for good reason), but if you are determined you want training wheels, then the Hotrock Coaster is a good option.
Pros: Durable, child appropriate geometry, moderate price
Cons: Coaster brake and no freewheel option, heavy
Read Review: Specialized Riprock Coaster
Bike Type: Mountain bike
Wheel Size: 20″ / 24″
Weight: 22.6 lbs / 24.7 lbs / 26.4 lbs
Price: $650 / $700 / $1,500
Do we recommend? Yes, with reservations.
The Specialized Riprock (not to be confused with the Riprock Coaster above) is a sweet little mountain bike. It comes in 20″ and 24″ wheels, as well as the 24″ “Expert” version that has a suspension fork.
All models of the bike have hydraulic disc brakes for superior stopping power, nice knobby tires, and modern mountain bike geometry. This makes them a good choice for kids who want to spend more time riding off-road than on.
The Microshift drivetrain is a good one and has extended gearing for tacking big climbs. The 24″ Riprock Expert makes going downhill a blast with the high-quality Junit 100mm fork. This is a much more enjoyable fork than cheaper forks found on most kids “mountain bikes.”
In terms of weight, the Riprock is good but not great. While the Riprock 20 weighs in at a respectable 22.6 lbs, the 20 inch Woom OFF weighs in over 5 pounds lighter. If your child is doing much climbing, that weight difference will make a huge difference.
That said, we do appreciate that the Specialized Riprock has a more approachable price point than the Woom OFF or mountain bikes like the Trailcraft Blue Sky 20 or the Prevelo Zulu.
Pros: High quality components, hydraulic disc brakes, reasonably priced
Cons: Heavier than the the competition
Read Review: Specialized Riprock
Bike Type: Pedal bike for neighborhood/street riding
Wheel Size: 16″ / 20″ / 24″
Weight: 15.2 lbs / 19.3 lbs / 20.5 lbs
Price: $400 / $500 / $550
Do we recommend? Yes.
The Specialized Jett is the lightest weight bike in their line-up and our favorite. While it doesn’t look as “cool” as the Specialized Riprock, it is a perfect bike for the vast majority of kids who spend their time riding on paved surfaces–to school, to friends houses, to ice cream with mom and dad.
The bike is offered with 16″, 20″, and 24″ wheels. Even the 16 inch version comes with dual handbrakes and no coaster, which we really appreciate.
The bike is also designed to grow with your child, thanks to the adjustable handlebar, longer than average seatpost, and dual crank holes on the 20″ and 24″ versions. The Specialized Jett fit tool is also helpful, showing parents which settings they should use for the handlebar, seat, and cranks.
The only minor cons about the bike are the long seat tube which keeps the saddle from being lowered as far as one might like, and the fact that there is no quick release collar on the seatpost.
Pros: Grows with your child, easy to operate trigger shifters, ergonomic saddle and grips, no coaster
Cons: Long seat tube, no quick release seatpost collar
Read Review: Specialized Jett
Bottom-Line: Specialized Kids Bikes Are (Mostly) A Solid Choice
So should you buy a Specialized kids bike? It depends.
We know there are a lot of you that are die-hard Specialized fans (and or Local Bike Shop supporters) and we respect that. If that’s you, just make sure to opt for the lighter weight offerings from Specialized. We particularly like the Specialized Jett. Not all the lines from Specialized are created equally.
It also depends on what your starting point and budget are. If you are debating between a Schwinn kids bike off of Amazon or a Specialized kids bike, go with the Specialized. The value, durability, and your child’s enjoyment will be significantly higher with the Specialized bike.
Similarly, if you’re comparing the Specialized kids bikes to those from Trek, we prefer the Specialized Jett and Riprock to most Trek offerings. (The Trek Wahoo* is a notable exception).
If, on the other hand, you’re comfortable buying from a direct to consumer brand, you’re a bicycle enthusiast, or you have a higher budget, you may want to consider a more boutique kids bike brand like Woom. While these bikes are more expensive, you’ll also find that they are (for the most part) far lighter.