Really feels like an adult mountain bike that's been shrunk in the wash
We test the Early Rider Seeker 14; a scaled-down mountain bike with chunky tyres and an alloy frame aimed at adventurous kids aged four and over
Put yourself in the shoes of a children’s bike designer. Do you a) design a bike that appeals to a kid, or b) one that proves irresistible to a parent? In the case of Early Rider, with its monochromatic, gender-neutral colour schemes and minimalist aesthetic, it certainly stopped me in my tracks. And this was long before I had a child of my own. In many ways then, for Early Rider this fact alone should guarantee success.
Although, of course, getting eyeballs on your product is just stage one. In an increasingly competitive market, with the likes of Islabikes, Frog, Black Mountain and others producing excellent kids bikes, you have to back up those vital first impressions with sound design and impeccable ride quality. Fortunately, Early Rider doesn’t fall short in this regard. More on that in a minute, but first a quick overview of the range.
Early Rider Seeker 14 review
Recently refined for 2020, the new range is divided broadly into two camps; Urban (with slick tyres and faux leather saddles) and Adventure, with knobbly tyres and broad flat pedals. Within each category you can choose your wheel size from 14in, 16in, 20in or 24in. Not ready for pedals? There are five balance bikes to choose from. Already being shown up by your offspring? The Bike Park range offers three models for the serious little shredder.
Prices are towards the upper end of the market, commanding a slight premium over Islabikes and a good chunk more than the nearest equivalent from Frog. But second hand models still command decent prices if kept in good condition, so the true cost of ownership can be much less than the initial purchase price suggests. And Early Rider is also the bike of choice for Hopetech’s Academy scheme, where you effectively rent the bike, exchanging it for a larger size as your child grows. So if you don’t want to take a hit upfront, there are alternative ways to spread the cost.
For £309 (or £300 for the Belter 14, without the chunky tyres) the Seeker 16 gets you a beautifully finished aluminium frame that builds into a complete bike that we weighed at only 5.84kg. That’s important because it makes the bike easier to pedal, turn, slow down as well as pick up when it falls over. You’ll also be thankful of that figure when your kid runs out of puff and you have to carry them both home.
The radially spoked wheels look cool, but more importantly they run on high quality, low maintenance, sealed cartridge bearings and are wrapped in fat 2.25in Vee Crown Gem tyres. With widely-spaced knobs and a big air volume they provide excellent grip for off-road excursions and just the right amount of suspension to bump up curbs and roll down stony paths. Don’t underestimate their value – they make a huge difference to where your child can go and how much energy they will use getting there.
The drivetrain is a single-speed affair using a belt drive that’s clean, smooth, quiet, safe and completely maintenance-free. That means no more oily hands or rusty chains. And as a parent, that’s priceless.
There’s a pleasing click from the freewheel when coasting, and the Seeker 14 rolls along almost effortlessly – it’s very easy to centre the V-brakes so that they don’t rub on the rims and rob your kid of precious energy.
But when it’s time to slow down, the dinky Tektro brake levers are within easy reach of small hands, and only a light touch is required to slow down or stop. The Ritchey cockpit is superb, with a perfectly proportioned stem, bars and grips along with a proper Aheadset that can be adjusted with just a couple of Allen keys and doesn’t come loose all the time. Out back, a quick-release lever lets you tweak the saddle height without any tools.
It’s difficult to find fault with the Seeker 14. The only thing that bugged me about our test bike is that the front brake noodle rubbed against the head tube when turning the bars, which has scored through the paint. But that’s a problem that was easily solved with a zip-tie as soon as I noticed it.
With zero slop, play or unwanted flex, the Seeker 14 really feels like an adult mountain bike that's been shrunk in the wash. It's certainly not cheap, but it feels impressively rugged and genuinely built to last. By that reckoning I think it's worth every penny, particularly when you factor in what you may get back at resale. In a world where we should be increasingly focussed on reuse rather than replacement, the sleek sliver Seeker 14 is pleasingly green.