Almost completely gone are the days of training wheels on kids’ bikes. Instead, expect to see toddlers getting around on balance bikes. As they grow beyond balance bikes, there’s a whole range of bikes designed to be ridden to the max, some even coming with suspension forks and disc brakes.
There a few factors to think about when buying a new kid’s bike, including size, geometry, weight and, of course, style. So to make sure you pick the right one, here are what we consider the best bikes available to buy for your youngsters right now, and some advice on what you should be looking out for when bike hunting.
If your child is between 18 months and 5 years old, you’ll likely want your kid to get on a balance bike, perfect for them to get used to steering and balancing on a bike before moving on to the real thing. The Strider 12 Sport is an affordable option for getting your child on a balance bike, helped by the heaps of adjustability it is, perfect for taking your kid from baby steps to zooming around, without having to even get a toolkit out. In fact, the saddle can be dropped as far down as an industry-low 28 cm and be raised to 48 cm, with handlebars that are also adjustable.
Whilst it has a sturdy feel to it, the bike comes in at just 2.9 kg. It also comes with wide, knobbly EVA foam tyres that will never go flat, but give your child lots of control on the bike. When your kids get up to speed one something like a small descent, the bike has handy footrests to allow them to get in a safe position and coast.
The Alpha Zero is the entry point to Prevelo’s range of balance bikes. That doesn’t mean they’ve skimped on the specification though. It comes with a lightweight aluminium frame and forks and a chromoly steerer. An easy-to-reach brake lever is attached to a powerful Tektro v-brake for easy, safe stopping. You can customise your ride with coloured grips, and for $20 the rider’s name on the bike; just like the pros.
The bike is finished with great touches like rounded hex bolts so should your kid’s legs hit them they don’t get scratched. Another brilliant additional is the option to join Prevelo’s trade-up club for $69 a year. If you do, then when your kid grows out of their bike you can trade it in for the next model up with 40% off the original purchase price.
The LittleBig begins life as a balance bike, suitable for kids as young as 2 to practice getting their coordination on a bike and give them that first bit of freedom to explore. That’s not all the bike is capable of though; simply flip the rear end of the frame upside down converts the big into a larger balance bike with a higher saddle and a longer arm reach. This makes it perfect for any child who is still getting used to balancing but has outgrown the smaller balance bike.
Once they’ve mastered balancing the bike can be converted into their first pedal bike with a simple attachment. The lightweight frame comes with air-filled tyres and a set of high-performing v-brakes for safety. If you’re in the market for a more sustainable approach to getting your child into cycling, then this bike could be perfect for you.
12 & 14 inch bicycles
The Gecko is small enough for the very smallest of riders and great for those who have mastered their balance bike and want their first pedal bike. The small 12 inch wheels and stretched-out geometry make it incredibly stable and easy for toddlers to put their feet on the ground when they are starting and stopping. There is a rear freewheel, and front and rear brakes so they can focus on learning to ride in the style of an adult bike from the start.
The lightweight frame, easy gearing and 2 1/8 inch Kenda tyres mean this bike will excel from standing starts when heading uphill, and on the pump track. Compared to some others, it does have a fairly aggressive riding position, and whilst any kid should quickly master any riding position, if your child is a little on the cautious side, you may want to look elsewhere.
Frog bikes have gained a reputation for quality, and the 43 is a perfect example of why. The Frog 43 is part of their “First Pedal” range, designed specifically to be a child’s first pedal bike. As you’d want for your young child, it’s a lightweight machine, meaning there should be no issues for newly-pedalling cyclists. The bike also comes with a simple single-speed gear with an easy-to-push gear ratio.
The aluminium wheels are both lightweight and strong enough to take a bit of a battering from your child. One brilliant addition is the two sets of tyres the bike comes with. The hybrid-style tyres are perfect for roads and smooth paths, whilst the knobbly set can be installed when your kid gets confident enough to take it on some muddier trails and paths. Powerful Tektro mini v-brakes finish off the bike and will give you child confidence with braking.
16 & 20 inch bicycles
The Spawn Yama Jama is a serious bit of kit. A sturdy aluminium frame, aggressive off-road tyres, and high-quality parts make this bike ready to take anything your kid can throw at it. The hand-laid carbon fibre fork, with lockout, 15mm through-axle and 80mm of travel should give you an idea of how Spawn expects your little one to use this bike.
130mm cranks offer up suitable crank lengths for your youngsters, but the SRAM pattern direct mount chainring interface means chainrings can be swapped in and out, and the sealed external bottom bracket keeps things spinning smoothly. The groupset is SRAM’s 10-speed GX, pairing a 30T chainring with a 10-36 cassette. Tektro’s Auriga hydraulic discs provide the stopping power. As expected, there’s plenty of saddle and handlebar height adjustment as well, so the bike can grow with your child.
Four times Olympic champion Sir Chris Hoy was part of the British squad that were sticklers for detail, so it comes as no surprise that we see this approach in the design of the bikes that adorn his name. Following a redesign of the bike, they focused on stripping as much weight off the bike as possible to increase the amount of fun a child could have when riding it. They’ve improved the frame, installed lighter-weight components and even saved weight on the saddle to reach their aims.
At less than 8 kg it is certainly a lightweight bike, and it comes with small child-friendly brake levers to give your child more control of their bike. Knobbly 1.75 inch Kenda tyres offer plenty of grip off-road, whilst an easy-shift gear lever attached to 6-speed Shimano gears give your kids a great range of gears to get uphill or ride fast on the flat.
24 & 26 inch kids’ bikes
This is a serious piece of kit for any aspiring mountain biker. The huge 2.8-inch tyres, sturdy aluminium frame and 70mm Suntour suspension fork make it perfect for some tough love as a first off-road bike. The eight-speed Shimano gears mean your kid will be fine going uphill and the Tektro disc brakes will take care of them heading downhill.
The dropped-frame design means there’s plenty of room to grow with this bike, so long as they can push the weight of what is a sturdy bike. This is an ideal bike for a child who is growing more confident with riding and is looking to push their skills to the next level off-road or on the trails with their parents.
Giant claims that the aluminium frame at the centre of this bike is the lightest in its category, meaning it should zip up climbs with ease. They can’t see why lightweight bikes need to be the preserve of the MAMIL, so have designed the ARX to be lighter, quicker and therefore more fun for younger riders.
The frame features a low centre of gravity to help with handling and stability, to which they’ve fitted ever-reliable Shimano shifters. 1.5-inch tyres will allow your kids to ride with speed and confidence on road, gravel and even some dirt. The bike has adjustable saddle and handlebar positions to allow the bike to grow alongside your kid.
Frog has a great reputation for making great value do-it-all bikes for good reason, and the Frog 73 is a prime example of what they have to offer. The Frog 73 is built from lightweight aluminium, and the whole bike comes in at an impressive 10 kg. The bike is kitted out with 8 speed Shimano gears and powerful Tektro bikes.
As your child begins to crave more independence, they’ll want a bike that can do it all and the 1.5-inch hybrid tyres are ideal for mixed riding on both on and off-road, allowing them to go almost wherever they want when exploring.
Things to consider: Size, geometry & weight
Getting the correct size bike is vital to your kid having as much fun as possible on it. Obviously, if you buy a bike that is far too big then they might not be able to reach the pedals or bars, but the size of the bike also affects its handling, and the wrong size could be difficult to control. Most brands will have their own sizing charts to help you decide which size you should be buying. However, here is a quick guide to help you out based on the size of the bike’s wheels:
|Balance Bikes||18 months – 5 years|
|12 inch||Under 4|
The geometry of kids’ bikes is also changing. Just like adult bikes, those with shorter wheelbases will be more responsive, even feeling slightly twitchy. With younger or more inexperienced children especially, you should consider bikes with more relaxed, longer wheelbases. This will make the bike feel more settled, helping your kid to learn how to balance their bike and develop their skills.
Obsessing over the weight of bikes might be the preserve of road cyclists, but it surely matters even more for children. Given the size of children, a small difference in the weight of the bike could make a huge difference in how it feels and to their enjoyment. Steel bikes might be cheaper, but aluminium ones will be much lighter, and perhaps more enjoyable.
The only thing more important than having fun on a bike is making sure you’re doing so safely. In the US, kids’ bikes are required to come with coaster brakes at a minimum. For good reason too; they’re virtually maintenance free, and intuitive for a child to use. You might want to look out for bikes which also have lever-controlled rim brakes though. Learning this action as a toddler will get them used to handling a bike in the same way they’ll need to as they grow up and start using larger bikes. They do require a certain amount of simple maintenance, and if you’re not comfortable with doing this, it’ll only cost a small amount to have a shop do it for you.
Training wheels or stabilisers are being phased out of the market, and for good reason too. In the short-term, they might stop your child from toppling over, but they do little to teach them how to balance on a bike. That’s where the wonderful balance bikes do their magic. They allow kids to develop their balance and control on a bike whilst they still have the safety net of their feet on the ground, before they move up to bikes with pedals.
To allow your child to get as much use of the bike as possible, look out for bikes that can be adjusted as they grow older. In particular, you’ll want a saddle that can be moved up or down and slide back and forth on rails, and handlebars that can be raised as needed.
The gearing on most children’s bikes is simple with the use of single-speed systems. However, there might be small variations in gearing that is used, with some bikes being more suited to the flat than hilly terrain. If you want a bike that can be used off-road or to go uphill, keep an eye out for easier gear ratios. Some of the larger kids bikes will come with 6 or 8-speed gearing systems, and these should have the range of gears that your child needs to get them everywhere they want to go.
Most children’s bikes will come with tyres much wider than those you’ll find on a road bike. This will have the benefit of being more comfortable, offering more balance, and being grippier. Some bikes will come with solid tyres and whilst these will offer full puncture resistance, if you can, get air-filled tyres which will allow you to adjust the pressure in them depending on the kind of ground your child is riding on.