So, you’re on the hunt for the BEST kids bikes for your child (or grandchild)? The good news is that you’re in the right place!
The bad news is that there are a TON of sub-par kids bikes. These bikes are heavy, have poor geometry, and make learning to ride (or getting better at biking) a challenge. They can also fall apart quickly and end up in the landfill.
To help you avoid unknowingly fall into THAT trap, we’ve put together this guide. Over the past 9 years (since our son was born), we’ve tested LOTS of kids bikes to find the best ones.
As avid cyclists and bike geeks, we love to see kids get outdoors and have fun on their bikes. And a GOOD bike helps them do that.
We’ll share our top picks (by brand and by size), explain the different types of kids bikes, and give you tips on things to look for and consider when choosing the BEST bike for YOUR child.
Table Of Contents
Best Kids Bike Brands Woom Prevelo Cleary Frog Pello Early Rider Spawn Guardian Best Kids Bikes By Size Best Budget Bikes Best Girls Bikes Types Of Kids Bikes Balance Bikes Neighborhood Mountain Bikes Dirt Jumpers BMX Road/Cyclocross Electric Bikes How To Choose A Kids Bike Where To Buy A Kids Bike
Best Kids Bike Brands
Here at Rascal Rides, we spend a lot of time reviewing specific bikes or talking about the best bikes for a certain age range, but it is even more helpful to help people get familiar with the best BRANDS for kids bikes. Many of these brands offer great options across the board, from balance bikes to first pedal bikes to 24″ mountain bikes.
In general, we prefer brands that make kids bikes exclusively. Of course, you can buy a nice kids bike from Trek or Cannondale, especially in larger sizes, but they are often an afterthought to these company’s more lucrative adult bikes.
Over the last few years, more and more companies have been entering the market making bikes specifically designed and built for the youngest riders. The brands on this list make lightweight, quality bikes that are safe, enjoyable, and will get your kids stoked on biking.
For each brand, we’ve listed their lineup of bikes by size and type of bike. If you’re not sure what size bike your child needs, or how to pick the best bike for your unique child, we’ve included additional resources down below.
(Note: There are some mountain bikes on this list, but if you are looking for mountain bikes specifically, check out our list of the best kids mountain bike brands instead).
|Brand||Why We Love Them|
|1||Woom*||Ultra-lightweight, intelligently designed|
|2||Prevelo *||Great customer service, real kid-sized mountain bikes|
|3||Cleary*||Beautiful, durable steel frames|
|4||Frog*||Huge offering, variety of colors/designs|
|5||Pello*||Brand-name components, kid-specific geometry|
|6||Early Rider*||Gorgeous brushed aluminum frames|
|7||Spawn||High-quality mountain bikes|
|8 (bonus!)||Guardian *||Emphasis on safety, affordable options|
Woom makes our favorite kids bikes, hands down. If you want the BEST bike for your child, get a Woom.
Why do we recommend them so highly? First off, they are the lightest weight bikes around. A lightweight bike makes an enormous difference in how well your child is going to do.
Secondly, Woom has put a huge amount of thought into the design of their bikes. From the kids-specific geometry of their frames, custom components, and color-coded brake levers–everything has been agonized over and perfected for young riders.
While most kids will be best suited by the Woom Original bikes (intended for every day neighborhood riding), Woom also offers a line of mountain bikes and even some of the only kids e-bikes around.
Woom bikes are also in high demand on the used market, and their high-quality allows them to be handed down from child to child. Or if you prefer, Woom offers a Trade-In program when your child is ready to move up to the next size.
Woom Bikes Line Up
|Bike||Size/Bike Type||Price (MSRP)||Review|
|Woom 1||12″ Balance Bike||$199||Read: Woom 1 Review|
|Woom 1 Plus||14″ Balance Bike||$269||Read: Woom 1 Plus Review|
|Woom 2||14″ Pedal Bike||$359||Read: Woom 2 Review|
|Woom 3||16″ Pedal Bike||$389||Read: Woom 3 Review|
|Woom 4||20″ Pedal Bike||$499||Read: Woom 4 Review|
|Woom 4 OFF / OFF AIR||20″ Mountain Bike||$799 /$949||Read: Woom OFF Review|
|Woom 5||24″ Pedal Bike||$529|
|Woom 5 OFF / OFF AIR||24″ Mountain Bike||$849 /$999||Read: Woom OFF Review|
|Woom 5 UP||24″ Electric Bike||$3,599||Read: Woom UP Review|
|Woom 6||26″ Pedal Bike||$569|
|Woom 6 OFF / OFF AIR||26″ Mountain Bike||$899 / $1,049||Read: Woom OFF Review|
|Woom 6 UP||26″ Electric Bike||$3,749||Read: Woom UP Review|
We like Cleary Bikes because they aren’t just more cookie-cutter kids bikes. The most unique thing about Cleary bikes are the beautiful and durable steel frames. (Most kids bikes are made of aluminum).
And don’t worry–in this case, steel doesn’t mean heavy. Cleary bikes are (for the most part) amongst the lightest kids bikes around.
The gorgeous powder coated frames and completed with top-shelf components like Tektro brakes and FSA sealed bearing hubs and headset.
These bikes do tend to be a little more leaned over than the Woom bikes, for instance, so are best suited for more aggressive riders.
Cleary serves both sides of the age spectrum well, offering one of the tiniest first pedal bikes out there (the Gecko) as well as really nice 24″ and 26″ mountain bikes.
Cleary Bikes Line-Up
|Bike||Size/Bike Type||Price (MSRP)||Review|
|Cleary Gecko||12″ pedal bike||$310||Read: Cleary Gecko Review|
|Cleary Hedgehog||16″ pedal bike||$390||Read: Cleary Hedgehog Review|
|Cleary Owl||20″ pedal bike||$430||Read: Cleary Owl Review|
|Cleary Meerkat 24||24″ pedal bike||$500||Read: Cleary Meerkat Review|
|Cleary Meerkat 26||26″ pedal bike||$680|
|Cleary Scout 24||24″ mountain bike||$940|
|Cleary Scout 26||26″ mountain bike||$980|
Whatever kind of riding your family does, and however old your child is, Prevelo has a bike for you. Their Alpha line of bikes is ideal for around-town and paved riding, while the Zulu line offers some of the best pint-sized mountain bikes on the market.
We appreciate Prevelo for their child-specific geometry, custom cranks, and top-shelf components. Perhaps even more importantly, Prevelo has superior customer service that you can’t get from a big bike brand.
Like Woom, Prevelo also offers a trade-up program that can help make your initial investment a little less painful.
Prevelo Bikes Line-Up
|Prevelo Alpha Zero||12″ balance bike||$199|
|Prevelo Alpha One||14″ pedal bike||$359|
|Prevelo Zulu One||14″ mountain bike||$459|
|Prevelo Alpha Two||16″ pedal bike||$369||Read: Prevelo Alpha Two Review|
|Prevelo Zulu Two||16″ mountain bike||$469+|
|Prevelo Alpha Three||20″ pedal bike||$499||Read: Prevelo Alpha Three Review|
|Prevelo Zulu Three||20″ mountain bike||$899+||Read: Prevelo Zulu Three Review|
|Prevelo Alpha Four||24″ pedal bike||$499|
|Prevelo Zulu Four||24″ mountain bike||$899|
Frog is a U.K. kids bike company that’s wildly popular at home, but less well known in the North American market. While they are a little harder to get your hands-on (they don’t sell direct-to-consumer), it would be a mistake to overlook this brand.
Frog has the largest line of any of the kid’s bike brands so you are sure to find what your child needs. Their offering includes a hard-to-find 20″ road bike as well as some of our favorite first pedal bikes. Even their balance bike, the Tadpole, comes in three different sizes.
In addition to being well designed and lightweight, the Frog bikes come in a variety of fun, bright colors and designs. No matter what your child’s favorite color is, you’ll probably find a Frog to suit their fancy.
Frog Bikes Line-Up
|Frog Tadpole Mini||10″ balance bike||$210|
|Frog Tadpole||12″ balance bike||$215|
|Frog Tadpole Plus||14″ balance bike||$260|
|Frog 40||14″ pedal bike||$360|
|Frog 48||16″ pedal bike||$395||Read: Frog 48 Review|
|Frog 52/ Frog 55||20″ pedal bike||$510/$520|
|Frog 58||20″ road bike||$670|
|Frog 62||24″ pedal bike||$550|
|Frog MTB 62||24″ mountain bike||$880|
|Frog Road 67||24″ road bike||$700|
|Frog 69 / 73 / 78||26″ pedal bike||$590 / $600 / $620|
|Frog MTB 69 / Frog MTB 72||26″ mountain bike||$890 / $900|
|Frog Road 70||26″ road bike||$720|
Pello has a simple formula for their kids’ bikes: orange (or pink) frame plus beefy tires. And it works.
These bikes perform particularly well on dirt–whether that is singletrack or the bike skills park–but can do double duty as a school-commuter as well.
If you’re looking for brand-name components, Pello offers them. Kenda tires and a Cane Creek headset are just a few of the parts you can expect to find across sizes. They also tend to be a bit more affordable than other bikes with similar components.
Pello Bike Line-Up
|Bike||Size / Type||Price (MSRP)||Reviews|
|Pello Ripple||12″ balance bike||$198|
|Pello Romper||14″ pedal bike||$219||Read: Pello Romper Review|
|Pello Revo||16″ pedal bike||$349|
|Pello Reddi||20″ pedal bike||$399||Read: Pello Reddi Review|
|Pello Rover||20″ pedal bike / 20″ mtb||$499+||Read: Pello Rover Review|
|Pello Reyes||24″ pedal bike / 24″ mtb||$599+|
The Early Rider bikes are grown-up bikes sized down for kids. Their brushed aluminum frames and faux leather saddles look just like something you would buy for yourself.
Fortunately, they ride as well as they look. If you want a top of the line bike, consider Early Rider. The only downside is the price–they are the spendiest kids bikes around.
Early Rider Bike Line-Up
|Bike||Size/ Type||Price (MSRP)|
|Early Rider Lite||12″ balance bike||$129|
|Early Rider Classic||12/14″ balance bike||$149|
|Early Rider Bonzai||12″ balance bike||$199|
|Early Rider Charger 12 / Big Foot 12||12″ balance bike||$219/$229|
|Early Rider Belter 14 / Seeker 14||14″ pedal bike||$419/$429|
|Early Rider Belter 16 / Seeker 16 / Seeker 16x||16″ pedal bike||$439/$449/$529|
|Early Rider Hellion 16||16″ mountain bike||$729|
|Early Rider Belter 20 / Seeker 20||20″ pedal bike||$749|
|Early Rider Hellion 20 / Hellion X20||20″ mountain bike||$1,349/$1,899|
|Early Rider Belter 24/ Seeker 24||24″ pedal bike||$899|
|Early Rider Hellion 24 / Hellion X24||26″ mountain bike||$1,499/$1,999|
Most mountain bike parents have heard of Spawn Cycles. For little rippers between 3 and 10, Spawn is one of the best companies out there.
They offer mountain bikes that are oriented to both cross-country and downhill riding. If you head to Whistler bike park, you are likely to see lots of Spawns on the trails.
In the smaller sizes, the Spawn bikes are also good for simple neighborhood and around-town riding.
Spawn Cycles Line-Up
|Spawn Tengu||12″ balance bike||$195|
|Spawn Yoji 14||14″ pedal bike||$385|
|Spawn Yogi 16||16″ pedal bike||$395|
|Spawn Raiju||20″ pedal bike||$635|
|Spawn Yama Jama 20||20″ mountain bike||$1,095|
|Spawn Kotori 20||20″ mountain bike||$1,125|
|Spawn Rokkusuta 20||20″ mountain bike||$1,950||Read: Spawn Rokkusuta Review|
|Spawn Yama Jama 24||24″ mountain bike||$1,295||Read: Spawn Yama Jama Review|
|Spawn Kotori 24||24″ mountain bike||$1,175|
|Spawn Rokkusuta 24||24″ mountain bike||$2,195|
|Spawn Rokk 24||24″ mountain bike||$2,350|
|Spawn Yama Jama 26||26″ mountain bike||$1,395|
|Spawn Kotori 26||26″ mountain bike||$1,075|
|Spawn Rokk 26||26″ mountain bike||$2,450|
Guardian Bikes are unique in that they feature the proprietary SureStop braking system. In a nutshell, this means that a single brake lever applies appropriate force to both the front and rear v-brakes, helping to prevent over-the-bars accidents.
This makes the bikes ideal for kids just learning to ride, those with poor eye-hand coordination, and any child who simply struggles with riding and/or braking. OR for moms who place a high emphasis on safety.
The only families we don’t recommend the Guardian bikes for are ones who enjoy mountain biking or riding at the pump track, as these activities require use of the front and rear brake independently of one another. Also, if your kiddo has already mastered hand brakes, we would keep them on a bike with dual handbrakes.
Finally, we should mention that Guardian makes their bikes in two versions: Orignal and Ethos. The Ethos line is more affordable, and a good option for families on a budget.
Guardian Bikes Line-Up
|Guardian AIROS 16||16″ pedal bike||$379||Read: Guardian AIROS 16 Review|
|Guardian Ethos 16||16″ pedal bike||$279||Read: Guardian Ethos 16 Review|
|Guardian AIROS 20 Small||20″ pedal bike||$409|
|Guardian Ethos 20 Small||20″ pedal bike||$309|
|Guardian AIROS 20 Large||20″ pedal bike||$459||Read: Guardian AIROS 20 Review|
|Guardian Ethos 20 Large||20″ pedal bike||$359|
|Guardian AIROS 24||24″ pedal bike||$479||Read: Guardian AIROS 24 Review|
|Guardian Ethos 24||24″ pedal bike||$379|
The Brands That Were
We’ve lost several awesome kids bike brands. Stampede discontinued production altogether, and Islabikes quit distributing bikes in the U.S. market. I’ve left info on these brands below in case you are fortunate to find one used or happen to be in the European market.
Islabikes is the original kids bike company. They revolutionized what is considered a good kids bike–lightweight, sized correctly for small bodies, dual handbrakes and no coaster. They are pricey, but live up to the high pricetag.
Stampede was our go-to recommendation for cost-conscious parents. They managed to make quality bikes for a fraction of the cost of a lot of the other bikes on this list. Their bikes don’t have brand name components, but they do hold up well and ride nicely. Their balance bike was my sons favorite as a toddler.
Best Kids Bikes By Size
If you prefer to shop by size rather than by brand, check out the following articles. We’ve picked out our favorite bicycles in each size and age range.
Need help knowing which size your child needs? Keep on scrolling. We’ll go over how kids bikes are sized in a moment.
- Best Balance Bikes for Toddlers (12 months to 3 years)
- Best Balance Bikes for Preschoolers (3 to 5 years)
- Best 12″ and 14″ Bikes (3 to 5 years)
- Best 16″ Bikes (4 to 6 years)
- Best 20″ Bikes (5 to 7 years)
- Best 24″ Bikes (7 to 10 years)
- Best 26 Inch Bikes (10+)
Best Budget Bikes
As I’ll explain a little bit more later in our section on picking a kids bike, I’d highly recommend spending a bit more to get a really good quality kids bike. The investment is often much better as there is a strong resale market and the bikes are durable enough to be used through multiple children.
That said, we understand not everybody can afford a top of the line kids bike, and we fully believe any bike is better than no bike.
Here are our favorite brands of budget kids bikes. Yes, some of these are still quite spendy–think of them as good “bang for your buck” bikes.
|Brand||What We Like|
|1||Belsize||Low maintenance belt drive|
|2||Vitus||Brand name components for less|
|3||Park Cycles||Kid appropriate geometry|
|4||Co-Op Cycles||Use your REI dividend|
|5||Polygon||Lightweight, great value|
We’ve heard some criticize Belsize for copying the Early Rider bikes. Yes, they have a belt drive and brushed aluminum frame like Early Rider, but overall, we think they are doing their own thing and doing it well.
These are REALLY excellent bikes for the price. If you want a good bike but want to save a bit of cash compared to our “best of” list, we’d highly recommend Belsize.
The bikes are made by a Chinese sporting goods manufacturer, so you’re probably not going to see the same level of customer service as you would from Woom or Cleary….but in this case you still get more than you pay for so that’s a tradeoff you might be very willing to make.
The Vitus kids bikes offer crazy good value for the price. They use brand name components and offer light weight and good geometry. So what are you giving up compared to the more expensive bikes? Not much.
The only small issue with Vitus is that you have to ship it all the way from the UK which can help eat into some of the cost savings.
Park Cycles uses the geometry of many of the higher end kids bike brands, but uses slightly cheaper/ non-brand name components to keep the cost down. The result? A superior budget bike!
We especially like the bright, beautiful colors. These bikes aren’t just functional, they are pretty too.
Co-Op Cycles is the REI brand bicycle line. If you have an REI dividend, or there is a member sale, these bikes can be the best deal around.
They do tend to be heavier than we would prefer, but have decent components and geometry. They are also more durable than anything you could find at a big box store, and won’t fall apart.
Read Our Review: Co-Op Cycles REV 12
The Polygon bikes are a direct to consumer online brand sold by BikesOnline.com. We’ve bought a few bikes from them before, and they have decent customer service, though nothing like what you’d get from a company like Prevelo.
Still, these bikes are lightweight and have good entry-level brand name components. If you’re budget savvy, these bikes are a top pick.
Best Girls Bikes
First things first: there’s no such thing as a “girls bike.” Unlike adult bikes, where there may truly be gender differences between bikes (such a step-thru frame or women’s-specific saddle), kids bikes are kids bikes are kids bikes.
So keep that in mind. If you see something being advertised as a “girls bike” it’s just a unisex bike with girly decals. And these bikes usually aren’t the highest quality bikes either.
That said, we totally get that there are girls out there who want a pink bike or a basket or frozen decals. If that’s your child, no worries!
We’ve rounded up a list of high quality kids bikes that come in feminine frame colors. We also have suggestions on how to add girly accessories (baskets, decals, etc) as well as components (saddles, grips, etc). That’s linked right here:
Types Of Kids Bikes
The VAST MAJORITY of kids are going to be best served by what we like to call a “neighborhood bike.” That said, toddlers and real little kids will do best on a balance bike, while older kids may benefit from a more sport specific bike. We go into each of these sub-types of kids bikes here.
If your child hasn’t yet learned to pedal, don’t get them a pedal bike, get them a balance bike! Balance bikes are intended mostly for toddlers but can also be used by older kids that haven’t learned to ride a bike.
Balance bikes are bikes designed without pedals, and true to their name, they teach your child to balance. We’d recommend these over training wheels pretty much all of the time.
Learn More: Everything You Need To Know About Balance Bikes
Neighborhood bikes are what most kids need. These are casual bikes for–you guessed it–riding around the neighborhood, but also for biking to school or cruising the greenbelt path with mom and dad.
We like neighborhood bikes that don’t have suspension (suspension adds a TON of weight) and that have tires that are slick enough to roll fast on pavement but knobby enough to handle grass fields and mellow dirt trails as well.
Most kids can use a good quality neighborhood bike (like the Woom Original bikes, for instance) for a little mellow mountain biking. That said, if your child is doing REAL mountain biking like riding technical trails, going off jumps or drops, or heading to the ski lifts, they need a REAL mountain bike.
A good mountain bike will have a high quality air-sprung suspension fork, hydraulic disc brakes, and a reasonable weight. For more info, and our top picks for true kids mountain bikes:
Okay, yes, these do belong to the mountain bike family, but they’re their own special type of bike. Dirt jumpers are intended not for trail riding, but for going off dirt jumps and playing at the skills park.
Dirt jumpers aren’t made for smaller kids, but older kids and young teens can find quite a few options.
- Read: 5 Best Kids Dirt Jumpers
We’ve lumped them together, but BMX bikes really come in two different flavors: freestyle BMX bikes (for riding at the skatepark) or race BMX bikes (for the track). The type you want will be dependent on the type of riding your child wants to do.
Note that BMX bikes are sized quite differently than regular kids bikes, so if this is the kind of bike you’re looking for, make sure to check out our guides:
- BMX Race bikes: 7 Best Kids BMX Race Bikes (Micro Mini, Mini, Junior, Expert)
- Freestyle BMX bikes: 12 and 14 Inch, 16 Inch
Road & Cycloross
We don’t know a lot of kids that are into serious road riding or cyclocross riding, but there are some rad kiddos that love it! If this describes your child, you’ll find that it’s quite challenging to find pint sized bikes with drop bars. We’ve put together a guide to help:
While they’re certainly not for everyone, electric bikes (more accurately pedal-assist bikes) can be a great option for kids. We particularly like them as an introduction for dirt bikes, for families who do BIG mountain bike rides, for kids with disabilities, for those that love in hilly cities, and heck anybody else who wants one.
How To Choose The Best Kids Bike For YOUR Child
We understand: shopping for kids bikes can be confusing. For starters, kids bikes are sized strangely, and many of the best brands are different from those in the adult market.
And then there are the more subtle questions: What’s better–coaster brakes or hand brakes? And, how much should one expect to spend to get a quality kids bike?
Take a deep breath and relax. We’re about to help cut through the confusion and provide the down-low on how to choose the best bicycle for your child.
Here are some of our top tips and what to look for.
How Kids Bikes Are Sized
Kids bike sizes reference their wheel (tire) size. This is different than adult bicycles that are generally measured by the size of the bicycle frame.
The typical wheel sizes for kids bikes are 12”, 14”, 16”, 18”, 20”, and 24.” The bigger the child, the bigger the wheels.
The chart below gives you a rough indication of what age and height correlates with which bike size. That said, the best way to know which size bike is appropriate for your child is to measure their inseam.
A bike suggested for a 5 year old may fit one child at 4 and another at 6. Each kid is different, and each one deserves a bike that fits. Good bike manufacturers will disclose the appropriate inseam length for each of their bikes.
To measure your child’s inseam, grab a tape measure, a book, and a kiddo. Ask them to stand against a wall, either barefoot or with socks.
Have them hold a book between their legs, as close to their crotch as possible, and mark the wall at the top of the book. Then, use a tape measure from the floor to the mark. Easy!
When it’s time to go bike shopping, have that info on hand. Choose a bike that is within the low end of the recommended inseam range so that your kiddo has a bit of room to grow.
Whatever you do, don’t buy a bike that’s a size up. Riding a bike that is too big is both frustrating and dangerous.
Learn More: Kids Bike Size Guide
Choose A Lightweight Bicycle
Most kids bikes on the market are ridiculously heavy. It’s common for children’s bikes to weigh as much as 50% of their body weight, and weigh more than an adult bike. If you are going to pick a bike based on any one factor, pick it based on weight.
A bike that is too heavy is going to be hard for a child to maneuver and exhausting to ride very far. I had a Dad tell me the other day that his 8 year-old son hated riding his bike and refused to go more than 5 miles.
Dad finally broke down and bought him a more-expensive, much-lighter bike and was shocked to find that his son did a complete 360. He suddenly was begging to go biking and riding long distances fast.
An aluminum or titanium frame is going to be lightest. Don’t completely write off steel though. If the wheels and other components are light enough, steel can still be a sturdy, quality option.
Contrary to popular belief, coaster brakes are not the safest option for kids. On cheaply made bikes, inferior hand brakes can be difficult for children to pull, making a coaster brake necessary.
On a well-made bike, however, the brake levers will be designed for small, weak hands. An adult should be able to squeeze the lever with their pinky finger.
The reason I don’t recommend coaster brakes is two-fold. First, you can’t back pedal with a coaster brake, which is incredibly difficult for a child just learning to ride.
For kids going directly from a balance bike to a pedal bike without training wheels (which I highly recommend), when they backpedal, they stop suddenly and fall over. Watching my son do this repeatedly, I realized I would suggest any child—even very young ones—start on a bike without a coaster.
The second problem with coaster brakes is that there is no modulation—they are either “on” or “off.” For families doing serious riding, down hills, etc, this is a real problem. In the “off” position it is easy to skid or lock-up.
One of the arguments for coaster brakes is that young kids are not coordinated enough for hand brakes. I don’t buy that.
Particularly for children that learned to ride on a balance bike with a hand brake, a transition to a pedal bike with hand brakes as opposed to coaster brakes can actually be easier. My son learned to use his hand brake at 2.5 years old.
2.5 years folks! Even if he was some kind of prodigy (which he’s not), an average 4 year-old should totally be capable of mastering a hand brake. We especially like the color-coded brake levers on the Woom bikes.
If you do feel safer going with a coaster brake, pick a bike that has both a coaster and a hand brake. Almost all bikes with wheels larger than 20” have hand brakes, so it is important for kids to learn how to modulate and ride with a hand brake while they are still young.
To read more on this topic, check out this article outlining the pros and cons of hand brakes versus coaster brakes.
Smaller bikes (16 inch and below) generally do NOT have any gears. That’s because younger kids simply don’t have the dexterity yet to shift.
Beginning with 20 inch bikes, you’ll start to notice gears being introduced. That said, you can still find singlespeed (one speed) bikes in the larger sizes.
If you live in a flat area, or your child hasn’t yet mastered pedaling, staying on a singlespeed bike can be a good choice. It’s simpler and there is less maintenance involved.
Still, most older kids will benefit from a bike with gears. You’ll notice that there are two types of shifters: grip shifters and trigger shifters.
Both come with their challenges, though we generally prefer trigger shifters. Trigger shifters make nice clean shifts and can actually be easier for little hands to operate.
That said, grip shifters are pretty common on kids bikes. They tend to be more intuitive and easier to learn, though harder to actually operate.
As far as the drivetrain goes, you’ll notice most kids bikes have a traditional rear derailleur though a few may have an internally geared hub instead. Internally geared hubs are great if you don’t want to deal with much maintenance AND you only need a few gears. (Most of these hubs will have 3 to 5 gears).
Does your child need a lot of gears? For the most part, no.
You’ll notice kids bikes generally only have a rear derrailur (or internally geared hub) and no front derailleur. This means that most kids bikes will have around 7 to 10 gears. That’s plenty.
If you want to get really geeky, you may also want to consider how the bike is geared. (Most parents don’t need to worry about this as it’s complicated).
The gain ratio will tell you how heavy the bike is geared. If you live in a hilly area, you’ll want a lower gain ratio. If you live in a flat area, you’ll want a bike with a higher gain ratio.
Chain vs Belt Drive
Most kids bikes (and most adult bikes for that matter) have a chain. Still, you may notice that some kids bikes (Early Rider, Priority, Belsize) have a belt drive rather than a chain.
Belt drives are super low maintenance (you don’t have to worry about lubing them), and won’t rust if you live in a wet or humid climate.
Chain guards help protect your child from the chain. This included getting grease on their pants, but it can also be a safety issue.
Unfortunately, we see a lot of kids bikes take this a little too far. Many chain guards are huge and bulky and add weight to the bike.
We prefer a more minimalistic chain guard like the ones found on the Woom bikes. They weigh less, look better, and are less likely to get bent and interfere with the drivetrain operation.
Buying a kids bike with child appropriate geometry is HUGELY important, and is one of the biggest differentiators between the best kids bike brands and cheaper, inferior kids bikes.
All of the best kids bikes will have a low center of gravity and a long wheel base. They also have a narrower q-factor which is the distance between the cranks–this makes pedaling more efficient.
Where good kids bikes may differ is in frame angles. Some may be more leaned over and agessive (Cleary) while others are more relaxed and upright (Woom). Which of these is best for your child, is largely dependent on their style and experience.
The other way good kids bikes can differ in their geometry is in both the standover and minimum seatpost heights. While two bikes may both have the same wheel size, one might have a much higher standover and seatpost height, while another may have a more sloped top tube allowing for a smaller rider to fit better.
Before buying a kids bike, spend a little time looking at the components. The best kids bikes will usually have recognizable, brand name components like Jagwire, Tektro, and Ahead.
Of particular interest is the drivetrain. Is it SRAM or Shimano? These are the only two I would recommend.
You may also want to take a look at the tires. Are they smooth or knobby or somewhere in between? (Smooth tires are good for riding on pavement, knobby tires are great for dirt and grass).
The width of the tire should also be listed in a bike’s specs. The wider the tire, the more volume it will have for rolling over obstacles, but the more weight it will add as well.
Other things you may want to consider:
- Crank length. The bikes on our list will have appropriately sized cranks, but not all kids bikes do.
- Saddle. Is it comfortable? If not, you can always upgrade later.
- Pedals. Good pedals will have adequate traction to keep little feet firmly on the pedals and aren’t too heavy or bulky. We’ve found that even good kids bikes often have sub-par pedals so we often swap them out for better pedals.
- Grips. For little kids, look for grips that have a flange on the ends to keep their hands from slipping off. For bigger kids, make sure they are comfortable and offer plenty of grip. You can always upgrade grips later as well.
- Bearings. Both the headset and hubs should have sealed bearings.
- Internally routed cables. These are not a must have, been can be a nice to have. Internally routed cables help keep things clean and tidy.
- Steering limiter. For kids just learning to pedal, a steering limiter can help keep them from over-rotating the bars. We like steering limiters that are removable rather than built in, so it can be removed once your child has gotten the hang of things.
Unless you’re buying a REAL mountain bike (which I discussed earlier), opt for a bike with a rigid fork. Compared to a suspension fork, a rigid fork will save a TON of weight.
It’s a small thing, but we REALLY like kids bikes to have quick release seatpost collars. A quick release allows you to quickly and easily change the seatpost height without needing any tools.
Smaller kids bikes will NOT have quick-releases on the wheels (safety issue), but on bigger kids bikes we really like to see quick release skewers. This helps to make it easier to take a wheel off for a tire change or to put onto a roof-mounted bike rack.
Skip The Training Wheels
Unless your child has a disability, we STRONGLY recommend skipping training wheels. Instead, start your child on a balance bike OR remove the pedals from their existing pedal bike.
Consider The Resale Value
The best kids bike brands (Woom, Prevelo, Cleary, etc) have amazing resale value. There are actually entire Facebook buy and swap groups dedicated for most of these brands.
If spending a bit more for a higher quality kids bike is getting you down, consider the long term investment. If you buy a bike for $350 and sell it for $250 (very realistic), that’s a $100 net investment. Compare that to a sub-par $100 bike you can buy on Amazon that your child will struggle on and that most likely will end up in a landfill.
Buy from A Brand Or Bike Shop, Not Walmart.
The bikes at Walmart (or any big box store) are junk. Sorry guys, they just are.
Would you buy skis from Walmart? Scuba gear? Then you shouldn’t buy your bike there either.
That’s not to say all kids bikes at a bike shop are quality bikes. I’ve been in more than one bike shop selling crap bikes. Do your research on what you want before you go shopping.
It’s also become increasingly common to skip a brick and motor store all together and buy directly from a direct to consumer brand. In fact, many of the best kids bike brands (like Woom) are sold only thru their website and not thru local stores.
If you are worried about the expense of buying from a bike shop or high quality direct to consumer brand, consider that a quality bike is going to be more economical in the long run. A good bike will last for several siblings, and as mentioned earlier, can fetch a fair price on Craigslist. Or, you can skip buying new altogether and head right over to Craiglist to look for a good-quality used bike.
Finally, if buying new, look for a bicycle from a manufacturer that will provide a lifetime warranty to the original owner. This is important in case the frame cracks or something similar happens (this has happened to me). There will not be any warranty on your Walmart bike.
For more reading on this topic:
- Where to Buy a Kids Bike
- Used Kids Bikes: 5 Tips for Finding Pre-Owned Kids Bicycles
- Why You Should NOT Buy A Walmart Kids Bike
The Rascals are a family of three. Kristen (mom), Blair (dad), and Parker (kiddo). We started Rascal Rides when Parker was born and we didn’t want to give up our passion for biking. As we learned, we shared. Over the years, we’ve tested hundreds of kids bikes, helmets, bike trailers, and more.
Kristen is a USA Cycling certified coach and loves to share her passion for biking with other families. Blair is a bike geek, mechanic, and mountain bike junkie. Parker is our resident tester and inspiration.
If you see us out on the trail, make sure to say hi!