Watching kids ride has taught me a lot about bikes, but learning which bike they prefer, has taught me more. In the beginning, they often choose their favorite color (or cartoon character), but once the initial excitement of the bike fades, performance almost always trumps looks. Kids want a bike that is fun to ride, not merely fun to look at. But what makes a bike fun to ride?
**If you are interested in the WOOM3 16″ bike, please read our new WOOM3 review.**
Over the last two months, essentially all of our testers have singled out WOOM bikes as their favorite amongst other high-end bikes. When given the option between the Cleary, Islabikes and Early Rider, one-by-one they individually chose WOOM. When asked why, their answered ranged from “fun” to “fast”, but they were certain that the WOOM was their top pick. Upon first glance, the WOOM doesn’t appear to be that different that the others, yet according to the kids, it was. So what was so different about the WOOMs? After additional observations and several emails exchanges with WOOM, we found WOOM’s success to be based in their unique combination of bike geometry, frame design and brake configuration. When working in unison, these attributes create a natural riding environment for kids, which makes not only easier, but a lot more fun as well.
A child’s body position on a bike plays a huge role in how comfortable they are on the bike. During research and development, WOOM found that kids naturally want to center their body weight on the seat of bike. Like when walking or standing, they are comfortable and familiar with an upright body position. This is especially true with younger kids, who are learning how to balance on a bike. As a result, the WOOM’s balance bike, 14″ and 16″ pedal bikes, all place a child’s center of gravity over the seat. When compared to other bikes of the same tire size, the difference in body position in quite clear.
An upright position helps kids to naturally balance the bike and also prevents them from straining their neck to look forward. As our 5-year-old tester in 4T clothes demonstrates below, both the 14″ WOOM2 and the 16″ WOOM3 have more upright body positions than their competitors. In order to help maintain their natural body position, the WOOM’s also have a narrow q-factor, which prevents kids from having to splay their legs out in order to pedal (further examples of q-factor shown here).
While an upright geometry is more comfortable for kids, it also produces an overall higher center of gravity for the rider. Previously, we found that a higher center of gravity makes a bike more difficult to balance and therefore, should be avoided (as explained here). To counteract the high center of gravity of the rider, WOOM made some clever changes to their frame. First, they built the bike on an extended wheelbase. As demonstrated by essentially all big-box store bikes, a bike with a short wheelbase and an upright rider are challenging and uncomfortable to ride. In addition to cramping the rider into a small space, the narrow base of the bike leads to a twitchy and unstable ride.
Secondly, they lowered the seat tube of the bike, which places the rider lower on the frame of the bike. The is particularly noticeable in the 5-year-old tester’s pictures above. By comparing the position of the seat to the rear tire, you can see how much higher he sits on the Next 16″ vs. the WOOM3. Lowering the seat tube also allows for a lower minimum seat height. The minimum seat height of the WOOM3 is 18.8″, but is 22.9″ on the Next 16″. Lower minimum seat heights also allow younger kids to ride a larger wheel size, which additionally helps to increase the overall stability of the bike.
**The current WOOM2 weighs 11.7 lb. and the WOOM3 weighs 13 lb.**
Lastly, they lowered the top tube of the bike. In addition to providing more space for kids to get on and off the bike, it also lowers the overall center of gravity of the bike itself.
Wanting to provide the best for kids, WOOM bikes include dual, easy-reach, V-pull hand brakes. Essential to stopping quickly and efficiently, dual hand brakes gave our testers confidence to ride faster as they knew they could stop faster. As a word of caution, be sure to teach kids to only use their right hand (which is attached to the rear brake) when braking really hard. Braking with their left hand, or front tire brake, can cause them to fly over the handlebars. As required by the CPSC, the WOOM2 comes with a coaster brake (back pedal brake). The updated WOOM3 does not come with a coaster brake. A nuisance to all riders, coaster brakes are not only inefficient, they often delay a child’s mastering a pedal bike. When learning to pedal, kids (and adults!) naturally pedal backwards at times. With a coaster brake, however, the backward pedaling motion quickly activates the brakes, creating an unexpected stop. In addition to loosing all the momentum they gained, kids are often not prepared to stop and often fall as a result. Luckily, WOOM sells a $19 Free Wheeling Kit that allow you to “deactivate” the coaster brake. The Freewheeling Kit is actually an entirely separate rear tire and that is fitted with a freewheeling hub, which allows kids to pedal backwards without stopping.
In addition to its unique low center-of-gravity design, WOOM frames are made of 6061 aluminum tubes are are lighter than many bikes their size. While not as light as their high-end competitors, their low center-of-gravity made them easier to handle and maneuver.
**The current WOOM2 weighs 11.7 lb. and the WOOM3 weighs 13 lb.**
A rare find on pedal bikes, the WOOM’s also have an elastic, removable steering limiter. While not necessary for confident riders, the gentle correction they provide is a great help to beginning riders. The quick-release seat post clamp is also a huge plus, while the seat height windows easily prevent over extension of the seat post.
The lightweight “WOOM-SOOPA-DOOPA-HOOPS” alloy rims are connected to industrial bearing hubs by stainless steel spokes. The tires are also wider than most (50 mm) to provide extra cushioning and also have a reflective safety strip for added visibility. The stem and handlebars are positioned at the appropriate reach and height to maintain the proper body position while still being adjustable to allow for fine tuning.
WOOM vs. Islabikes
One of their biggest competitors, there are several noticeable differences between the Islabikes and the WOOM. While their frames have a similar wheelbase, the WOOM2’s top tube is an inch shorter, which allows for a minimum seat height of 16.7″ vs. CNOC’s 18.5″. The handlebars of the CNOC are also much lower than those on the WOOM, which leads to a more aggressive riding position. The Islabikes CNOC 14″ is also 1.5 lbs. lighter than the WOOM2, but does not have a rear hand-pull brake. The coaster brake on the CNOCs are not removable. Kickstands are also available for $15 on the WOOM2 and 3, but are not available on the CNOCs. The last major difference between the two is their gear-ratios. The Islabikes have a higher gear ratio which makes it easier to get pedaling the bike, but doesn’t allow kids to gain as much speed. The WOOM has a lower gear-ratio, which makes it slightly harder to start pedaling, but allows the rider to gain more speed once moving.
The Upcycle Program
Another rare, and impressive feature of the WOOM bikes is their Upcycle Program. By purchasing a one time $59 membership fee, you will be entitled to trade in your outgrown WOOM for a refund of 40% off your original purchase or the a credit of your original purchase price towards the purchase of a new WOOM bike. All trade in’s must occur within 24 months of the purchase date of the bike. The program allows has no limits to the number of bikes you can trade in, but the bikes need to be in “good” condition upon return. More information on the Upcycle program can be found on WOOM US website.
Bottom Line: Well loved by all of our testers, the WOOM2 and 3 are our top picks for 14″ and 16″ bikes. Especially beneficial for hesitant riders, the WOOM make riding more natural, more fun and a lot easier.