Best Kids Bikes: How To Choose, Reviews, & More!

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.

woom kids bike helmet

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).

BrandWhy We Love Them
1Woom*Ultra-lightweight, intelligently designed
2Prevelo *Great customer service, real kid-sized mountain bikes
3Cleary*Beautiful, durable steel frames
4Frog*Huge offering, variety of colors/designs
5Pello*Brand-name components, kid-specific geometry
6Early Rider*Gorgeous brushed aluminum frames
7SpawnHigh-quality mountain bikes
8 (bonus!)Guardian *Emphasis on safety, affordable options


Woom Bikes

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.

Learn More: 5 Reasons To Love Woom Bikes (Plus Detailed Reviews)

Woom Bikes Line Up

BikeSize/Bike TypePrice (MSRP)Review
Woom 112″ Balance Bike $199 Read: Woom 1 Review
Woom 1 Plus14″ Balance Bike $269 Read: Woom 1 Plus Review
Woom 214″ Pedal Bike $359 Read: Woom 2 Review
Woom 316″ Pedal Bike $389 Read: Woom 3 Review
Woom 420″ Pedal Bike$499Read: Woom 4 Review
Woom 4 OFF / OFF AIR20″ Mountain Bike$799 /$949Read: Woom OFF Review
Woom 524″ Pedal Bike$529
Woom 5 OFF / OFF AIR 24″ Mountain Bike$849 /$999Read: Woom OFF Review
Woom 5 UP24″ Electric Bike$3,599Read: Woom UP Review
Woom 626″ Pedal Bike$569
Woom 6 OFF / OFF AIR 26″ Mountain Bike$899 / $1,049 Read: Woom OFF Review
Woom 6 UP26″ Electric Bike$3,749 Read: Woom UP Review

Cleary Bikes

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 Gecko12″ pedal bike $310  Read: Cleary Gecko Review
Cleary Hedgehog16″ pedal bike $390Read: Cleary Hedgehog Review
Cleary Owl 20″ pedal bike $430Read: Cleary Owl Review
Cleary Meerkat 24 24″ pedal bike $500 Read: Cleary Meerkat Review
Cleary Meerkat 2626″ pedal bike $680
Cleary Scout 2424″ mountain bike $940
Cleary Scout 2626″ mountain bike $980

Prevelo Bikes

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

BikeSize/TypePrice (MSRP)Reviews
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 Bikes

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

BikeSize/TypePrice (MSRP)
Frog Tadpole Mini10″ balance bike$210
Frog Tadpole12″ balance bike$215
Frog Tadpole Plus14″ balance bike$260
Frog 4014″ pedal bike$360
Frog 4816″ pedal bike$395Read: Frog 48 Review
Frog 52/ Frog 5520″ pedal bike$510/$520
Frog 5820″ 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 Bikes

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

BikeSize / TypePrice (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 Rover20″ pedal bike / 20″ mtb$499+Read: Pello Rover Review
Pello Reyes24″ pedal bike / 24″ mtb$599+

Early Rider

Early Rider Belter 20 trail

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

BikeSize/ TypePrice (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 1414″ pedal bike$419/$429
Early Rider Belter 16 / Seeker 16 / Seeker 16x 16″ pedal bike $439/$449/$529
Early Rider Hellion 1616″ mountain bike$729
Early Rider Belter 20 / Seeker 2020″ pedal bike$749
Early Rider Hellion 20 / Hellion X2020″ mountain bike$1,349/$1,899
Early Rider Belter 24/ Seeker 2424″ pedal bike$899
Early Rider Hellion 24 / Hellion X2426″ mountain bike$1,499/$1,999

Spawn Cycles

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

BikeSize/TypePrice (MSRP)Reviews
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 $1,950Read: 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

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

BikeSize/Type Price (MSRP)Reviews
Guardian AIROS 1616″ pedal bike$379Read: Guardian AIROS 16 Review
Guardian Ethos 16 16″ pedal bike $279Read: Guardian Ethos 16 Review
Guardian AIROS 20 Small20″ pedal bike$409
Guardian Ethos 20 Small 20″ pedal bike $309
Guardian AIROS 20 Large 20″ pedal bike $459Read: Guardian AIROS 20 Review
Guardian Ethos 20 Large 20″ pedal bike $359
Guardian AIROS 2424″ pedal bike$479Read: 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

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.

Our Reviews: Cnoc 14, Beinn 20

Stampede Bikes

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.

Our Reviews: Charger 12, Sprinter 14, Sprinter 16


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 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.

BrandWhat We Like
1BelsizeLow maintenance belt drive
2VitusBrand name components for less
3Park CyclesKid appropriate geometry
4Co-Op CyclesUse your REI dividend
5PolygonLightweight, great value

Belsize

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.

Read Our Reviews: Belsize 12, Belsize 16, Belsize 20

Vitus

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

park 16

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

co-op cycles 16

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

Polygon

polygon premier 20 kids bike

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

guardian original 16 learning to ride

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:

Read: 7 Best Girls Bikes (Big Girl and Little Girl Bikes)

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.

Balance Bikes

yedoo too too 18 month old

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

woom 5 in action

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.

Mountain Bikes

trailcraft blue sky 20 in action

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:

Dirt Jumpers

norco youth rampage kids dirt jumper

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.

BMX

bmx

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:

Road & Cycloross

frog road bike
Photo credit: Ready, Set, Pedal*

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:

Electric Bikes

climbing on the woom up

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.  

Kids Bike Sizes

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.  

How to Fit a Kids Bike

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

islabikes beinn 20 in action

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.

Woom 3

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.

Brakes

Prevelo Alpha Two Prevelo Brakes

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.

woom 2 color coded brake lever

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. 

Gears

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).

priority start 3 speed drivetrain

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.

belsize 20 belt drive

Chain Guards

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.

Geometry

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.

Components

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.

Fork

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.

Quick Releases

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.

quick release seatpost collar

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:

About Us

rascal rides family

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!

16 thoughts on “Best Kids Bikes: How To Choose, Reviews, & More!”

  1. Hey, Check out SPOKES Bike Lounge’s Family Bike Collective. It is the only bike shop in the world with Woom Bikes, Cleary Bikes, Islabikes, Frog Bikes all comparatively in the same shop. They have a membership program were you can Upcycle to the next size bike of any of the brands. If you want a used bike it is $75 to Up-cycle and if you prefer new bikes you get 50% trade in on the current bike credit toward your next bike. Whats cool is you can trade between brands and get a full-service contract and 15-20% off labor for your other family purchases. The Family Bike collective is looking for other community bike shops dedicated to lightweight size appropriate bikes for kids. They also do demos where they teach kids to ride on all the bikes each month.

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  2. WOW! $300-$1000 for a bike “won’t break the bank”…. rich people is crazy!
    Nope, I rather go “big box” for a $40 bike. If it breaks, I still can buy 3 more bikes without “breaking the bank”.

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    • What you are describing is not a bicycle but rather a disposable bike shaped object. I am a bicycle mechanic and it is my opinion that department store bikes should be banned. They are heavy, non functional, difficult to ride, and dangerous. Why put a kid who is learning to ride at such a disadvantage? For comparison, new adult bikes are worth roughly 18 times less than a new car. That means a $1,000 bike is equivalent to a new $18,000 car. A $500 bike is the equivalent a brand new $9,000 car. Obviously, the quality level of cars doesn’t go that low. A $179.00 department store bike is the equivalent of a brand new $3,000 car. That would be down right scary to drive and bicycles are no different. Don’t put your kids on these dangerous bike shaped objects. Buy used or something. Spend a little more. Your kids are worth it.

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      • Some of us literally do not have the money for a $400+ bike every year for a growing child — or even ONE year! If we didn’t have big box bikes, millions of kids would probably never ride one. They are inaccessible for so many of us. I’m here looking for a lightweight bike for my special needs son who doesn’t have the strength to pedal a heavy, poorly formed bike and, low and behold, they are far too expensive for us.

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  3. I remember when my I started playing soccer at 5yrs old, Dad bought me plastic football boots because they were cheap, as I would outgrow them quickly. They were so uncomfortable and they gave me blisters. I have never forgotten this simple act.

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  4. I’m a single mom and by no way – rich people – like John Prez stated. But buying a bike designed specifically for kids made the difference in my son being able to bike with me. I originally purchased a $40 box store bike and in our first outing my son pedaled two streets and walked two streets-then we came home because it was a horrid experience. After checking it out, he was trying to pedal a bike that was the same weight he was. I researched and found Isla Bikes and bought our first Beinn. He hopped on and rode 4 miles his first outing, with only water breaks. That made the difference in us actually being able to cycle together. After two Beinn bikes we were ready to purchase the 3rd when they closed US distribution. I am heartbroken. We will purchase a Woom next month, and I am confident that investment will be as successful an experience as our Isla bikes. So if biking as a family is important to you, invest in a bike made specifically for kids. The investment in a bike designed specifically for a child is well worth it!

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    • Hi Dawn,
      Thank you for sharing your story! Couldn’t agree with you more. It is a HUGE bummer that Islabikes has quite US distribution, but I’m confident you’ll really like Wooom too. 🙂
      Cheers,
      KB

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    • So how afford a $300-600 bike?
      There’s no way we could ever spend that on my child bicycle.
      I grew up on “cheapo bikes” and yeah it was heavy to lift, but I rode it ok.
      I do like the idea of something lighter because my 10yo does not weigh a whole lot. But
      Im almost positive my husband would not be willing to buy a used bike. Where we live youd
      pressed to find an adult bike of that quality never mind a kids bike.

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  5. I’m a single mom and in no way-rich people-like John Prez states. But I bought a $40 box store bike for my son and on our first outing he pedaled two streets and walked two streets. We came home, it was a terrible experience and he felt so defeated. I checked and the bike weighed what he did making it impossible for him to pedal comfortably. After researching I found Isla Bikes and purchased our first Beinn. It made all the difference in our being able to cycle together. Our first outing he hopped on and off we went for a 4 mile ride, only stopping for water breaks. After two sizes of Beinns I was ready to purchase another size for him and found out they stopped US distribution and I’d missed the closing sale. I was heartbroken! So researched again and we’ll purchase a Woom next month. Bikes designed specifically for children with lightweight components are an investment. But it is an excellent investment and makes all the difference in kids being able to truly cycle. So if you are looking to cycle with your kid(s) – invest. It is worth it.

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  6. Interesting to see dedicated kids bike manufacturers don’t build 18″ bikes. Guess 5-6 yr olds don’t ride, or ride bikes too small/big for them.

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  7. I totally agree that getting a good quality bike is a great investment. Kids loves bikes, but they love them more if the bikes loves them back. I bought a Woom 4 for my 5 year old (he was tall) and after the initial apprehension coming from the strider, he just loved it. In our third outing we went to the bike path, and he did 16 miles! I had to get serious to turn back.
    In a month he was using the gears, and now he is able to go steep uphills without dismounting. And he flies around other kids with regular bikes that are double the weight.
    Also, in a good bike components are reliable and easy to adjust and fix, another advantage for the parents.
    For those concerned with the big chunk of money, i would point to the reselling value. I am sure you can get half the price back…

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  8. All my kids started on Strider, then rode Cleary and Frog. We just got Frog43 for my 3y.o. and it has been used daily. For 20″ and 24″ it is ok to go to adult bike manufactures.

    $40 bike won’t brake, as kid won’t want to ride it, and it just going to clutter your garage.

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  9. Wow! These are all so expensive! Can’t i get a decent quality bike for around $150 for a kid? looking for 20” wheels for 53” tall boy.

    Reply
    • David,

      If you read some of the comments above you will see there are other parents of a similar mind set, but also parents that are open to providing their children with a quality bike. Stampede had more affordable bikes, but discontinued production in 2018. I would honestly search the used markets for a bike fitting your specifications. There are several Facebook sale groups solely dedicated to specific brands if that is something you are wanting to search for. Good luck with the search.

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  10. A very good article; thank you! I feel for people who say that $400 for a bike is too expensive, particularly for a child. As someone who works on his (used) bikes I have also learned the dangers of cheap bikes and reiterate the need for a good bike. If you live in a major city there is likely a bike donation center and/or a co-op(s) which have bikes for little or no money. Some of these will also have free classes on basic maintenance, which I would strongly recommend (paying almost $200 for a tune-up on a free bike spurred my learning: you will be amazed when you see how easy it is to tune a bike!)

    As above I would suggest finding a used bike. Bicycles are fairly simple machines and with minimal care last for ages. I have rour bikes from the 1970’s and two from the 1980’s, all picked up used and all but two for less than $50. These are adult bikes, but kid bikes can be found.

    You also might do a “bike pool”: go in on a bike with family members or close friends hove have a child a year or two younger — and smaller! — than yours. When your child outgrows the bike or on a predetermined date you tune up the bike and hand it over. You might prorate the second or third buyer; you can work out the details.

    For preteens I suggest a different strategy: a folding bike. These have become popular so are not given away like they were three or so years ago but you can still find deals. Again, as the child is still growing you don’t want to shell out a lot, but the advantage of a folding bike is it accommodates a wide range of people sizes. As they grow you just flip a lever and raise the seat and bars. When they stop growing you/they can decide whether a full-size conventional adult bike is worth it. The bonus here is that such bikes are easily transported to vacation, school or college. And if they go on to bigger bikes, the parents still have a folder they can take on vacation, or pass along to a niece or nephew.

    Reply

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