There are about 5-7 choices, only a few of which are readily available, at least in this area.
We bought a used Felt 24 for my 10yr old daughter that I found on the Internet (the Serotta Forum) and paid $400.
It's a great bike and I highly recommend it. It's got internally-routed cables, and lots of great features, including a second set of brake levers on the handlebars for small hands that can't reach the levers from the hoods. My 10-year old is 53" tall and it fits perfectly.
She has now used the bike for a full season of cyclocross and a full crit/TT season. We bought 24" x 1" Intense Micro knobby BMX tires from Dan's Comp, and it works great as a cross bike in all but the muddiest conditions.
The other potential choices are:
Trek KDR 1000 - available used only
Giant OCR 24 - available used only
Specialized Allez Junior - new and used
Orbea Carrera - used only and hard to find
Redline Conquest 24 - new and used.
Pinarello FPO 24 - pricey at $899 new, but it's a Pinarello.
Blue 2Four - $350 MSRP for frameset only - sweet bike and a good deal if you've got a spare groupo sitting around.
I personally like the Felt or the Redline. The Orbea, Giant and Trek haven't been made recently, and the Specialized is pretty expensive. The Redline, being a cyclocross bike, is bombproof, and you can stick road tires on it with no problem and do double duty as a road bike in the spring/summer.
You can expect to pay in the neighborhood of $400 for a used bike, and up to $900 new. The do not seem to lose value very quickly, as they can be hard to find. I expect to get a 100% return when I sell my daughter's Felt 24.
If your child is too big for a 24" bike, there are a ton of choices in the 650c size such as the Fuji 650.
It may take a few months to find a good deal, but keep an eye on Ebay, Craigslist, Slowtwitch, Beginner Triathlete, etc. - they're out there but you have to move fast.
Alrighty, I posted a wanted to buy ad on local Craiglist and got a response from a great guy, self-confessed bike pack rat. Anyhow, he has a couple bikes that could work, but I'm wondering a couple of things and thought I'd ask here.
Basically, one is a 14.5" mountain bike (Univega Aplina 5.3, double butted cromoly, mid-90's, no suspension). The other is a Bridgestone XO-2 (I think also double butted cromoly). He understandably wants $100 more for the XO-2, so I'm kinda leaning to the Univega! But I'm concerned that putting drops on a mountain bike and racing 'cross on it could have some problems, like the geometry of the mtn bike wasn't intended for drops, or something like that. And yes, the final bike has to have drops because my daughter likes them (I don't blame her).
Just to follow up on this in case a similar question comes up for someone (looking for an affordable cross bike for a child), we wound up with the Univega with drops and "skinny" 26 inch tires (1.5 inch). My daughter loves it. I do too, wish it fit me so I could play around with it. It's kind of heavy, but *way* better than her old dept store mountain bike. It's got bar-end shifting, which I'm not very happy with, but the man who built it up for her didn't have any STI stuff around. So that's the next move, but for now, it's a perfectly useable cyclocross / street bike for not a lot of money.
It's a great bike, a real beast, she'll kill in mud, be kinda slower in dry stuff.
BTW, I found some reviews that talked about the XO-2 as not cut out for racing. It seems there's a consensus from owners that it's a great bike for laid back rides -- not the thing for cross!!
Look at Redline's products. I have my 10 year old son on a Redline 44cm with super-short stem and it works with room to grow. What's nice is that the geometry is the same from the "Sport" model all the way up to the "Team", so you can pick your investment.
Hey, old thread, but I finally got the bike together, with pictures. So, my daughter's "monster cross" bike! Nice bike for not a lotta $.
Univega Alpina 5.3 frame, I think 14.5". She's almost 5' 1". It's a tad big for her, which I'm okay with because then she has room to grow. 26" inch wheels, heavy wheelset, tires probably too knobbie, cantis, needed a little piece as a brake stop, Dura Ace 8 speed brifters saved the day from a certain Illinois cross promoter (thanks again!). 1 X 8.
She loves it. I love it. It's kinda heavy. She's not into cleats yet. 2 little brothers to hand it down to. See who if anyone really gets into racing, but it's a great bike for a kid, and again, not a lot of money invested. Success! Rest! (Not that I did the wrenching!)