Best kids' bikes: a buyer's guide

Our guide to getting your child the perfect bike

Buying your child a new bike? Finding it hard to pick the best one? Relax, we've put together a simple guide to help you choose wisely…

The most important factors to consider are your child's age, height and ability. The weight of the bike will also affect its handling, and bikes at the very low end of the price spectrum are often the heaviest.

A simple guide to kids' bike sizes

The first question is ‘what size bike should I get for my child?’

Preschool

For younger children of preschool age, balance bikes are perfect. These are simple bikes without pedals or gears that the child pushes along with their feet while sat in the saddle.

The simple set-up means that children get the feel of pushing off and balancing on the bike while it’s moving, which also means the transition to a pedal bike is much quicker — and they probably won’t need stabilizers when the time comes either!

As children grow, they will of course need bigger bikes. Children’s bikes grow in wheel size as well as frame size: having smaller wheels for smaller riders makes the bikes easier to handle.

Aged 4 to 6

For children aged four to six, or roughly 105cm–115cm / 3’5”–3’9”, go for a bike with 14- to 16-inch wheels. Most of these are simple bikes with pedals and brakes, and many come with a small range of gears.

Aged 7 to 10

For 7- to 10-year-olds (height 115cm–135cm / 3’9”–4’5”) choose a bike with 18- or 20-inch wheels. You’ll also start to see a wider range of gears appearing at this price point, and you may find bikes with front suspension, which are more suitable for rough terrain.

Aged 10 to 13

Children aged between 10- and 13-years-old (height 135cm–150cm / 4’5”–5’) will usually move on to a 24-inch wheel bike and at this point you’re looking at a bike that’s essentially a smaller version of an adult bike.

You’ll also start to see different types of bike, from junior-sized road bikes and mountain bikes to hybrid/leisure bikes. Choose a bike type that’s going to suit the majority of the riding your child will be doing: if it’s mostly going to be off-road, wide tyres with a grippy tread is a good choice, for example.

Teenagers upwards

For teenagers upwards, you’re going to be looking at adult bikes in smaller sizes. There are smaller wheel-size options for junior road bikes, such as 650b, though most bikes will have 26-inch, 27.5-inch or 700c wheels.

Bear in mind that these sizes are a guideline only. If your child is taller or smaller than average, or more or less confident, they may be better off on a different size. If in doubt, talk to your local bike shop.

Also, although it can be tempting to go for a bigger bike that your child can ‘grow into’, this is best avoided. A bike that’s too big will be hard to handle and steer.

Of course, you’ll need to teach them to ride too, so check out our simple guide that should get them pedalling away independently in around 30 minutes.

Best bikes and balance bikes for children aged 1 to 4

Once your child is up, toddling around and stable on two feet, they’re ready for their first set of wheels.

There are two options at this point: a balance bike or a trike.

Trikes might seem like an attractive option, because they are stable and allow kids to start peddling along themselves, but in our opinion balance bikes are a much better choice.

This is because a balance bike will help your child develop key skills such as balance and steering first, so they are more likely to make the transition to a pedal-powered bike quickly and without needing stabilisers.

For younger kids, you’re usually looking at a wheel size of 12 inches. There are also some pedal-powered options for two- to four-year-olds, and many will come with brakes: either lever-operated ones or coaster brakes that work by back-pedalling, and sometimes both.

Strider 12 Sport Balance Bike

Strider is a very popular make of kids' bike
Strider is a very popular make of kids' bike

The Strider Sport Balance bike is suitable for children aged 18 months up to four or five years. It features a long seatpost that can be lowered fully or raised high to fit your child.

A durable steel frame should withstand some rough treatment, and the tyres are designed to be puncture proof.

We like the built-in footrests, so when your child gets the hang of gliding along on the bike they’ve got somewhere to rest their feet. Perfect preparation for moving on to pedals.

The bike is also designed to allow you to adjust the saddle and handlebar height without needing tools.

Islabikes Rothan

Islabikes makes everything from balance bikes through to race-ready bikes for juniors
Islabikes makes everything from balance bikes through to race-ready bikes for juniors

Islabikes is a British company founded by Isla Rowntree, who is dedicated to creating high quality bikes designed for children to ensure they grow a passion for cycling. Great care is taken to ensure bikes fit well, ride well and aren’t too heavy for little riders to manage,

Available in a range of bright, cheerful colours, the Rothan has a lightweight aluminium frame, chunky tyres with plenty of grips and it even features a brake designed for smaller hands.

  • Price: £169.99 / $199.99 to $249.99 / AUS$TBC
  • More info:Islabikes
  • Order now from Islabikes (Islabikes offers international shipping to Australia and recommends you get in contact directly for a quote)

Frog 43

Frog Bikes are designed for junior riders and come in a range of colours, including this cool polka dot design
Frog Bikes are designed for junior riders and come in a range of colours, including this cool polka dot design

If your child has already mastered gliding and is ready to move on to a bike with pedals, the Frog 43 is one to consider.

The Frog 43 has an aluminium frame and fork and quality Tektro brakes for plenty of stopping power, in addition to bespoke cranks designed to make pedalling easier for little kids.

Two more big selling points are the fact that it comes with two sets of tyres: one for riding off-road and one hybrid set perfect for riding on roads, pavements and parks, plus a five-year warranty on frame and forks.

Frog also makes balance bikes and bikes for older children.

  • Price: £240 / $340 / AU£370.50
  • More info:Frog Bikes
  • £240 via Tredz and $340 from Frog Bikes (Frog Bikes ship direct to Australia from the UK, with shipping for one or two bikes around AU$59, and shipping for three or more bikes free.)

Early Rider Lite 12”

We love the go-faster flames on this wooden Early Rider bike
We love the go-faster flames on this wooden Early Rider bike

The Lite by kids' bike company Early Rider is a great starter bike.

Made of wood, which is lightweight and robust, with a cool flame motif, it’s designed to work especially well in close confines, so indoors and small gardens are no obstacle.

The seat height has some adjustability and the birch-wood frame has been weather treated, so don’t worry about playing in the puddles.

Early Rider also does some amazing-looking bikes for older children made from brushed aluminium with urban and mountain bike options. There’s even a balance bike with dropped handlebars if you’re looking to cultivate your child into the next Marianne Vos or Chris Froome.

  • Price: £109.99 / $125.35 and AU$157.14 via Evans Cycles
  • More info:Early Rider

Best bikes for kids aged 4 to 6

When your child is a bit older and taller they can move to a bike with 14- or 16-inch wheels.

If the bike was already supplied with stabilisers, and your child is confident riding without them, then remove them ASAP.

The key things to look at here are a low weight, so the child is able to handle the bike, and brakes that have an easy action and small size to suit smaller hands.

Most kids' bikes at this price bracket should allow you to adjust the reach to the brakes. Many also have coaster brakes rather than lever-operated brakes, which are operated by back-pedalling.  

Trek Precaliber 16

Once your child has mastered gliding along on their balance bike, it's time to introduce pedals
Once your child has mastered gliding along on their balance bike, it's time to introduce pedals

The Precaliber is a rugged bike with an aluminium frame designed for smaller riders. It comes fitted with a chainguard and stabiliser, the latter of which you may want to remove if your child has been confidently gliding along on a balance bike.

It’s also fitted with both handlebar brakes and a coaster brake, which operates by back-pedalling, and 16-inch wheels suitable for kids aged about five to six years old.

Early Rider Trail Runner 14”

A balance bike that's rugged enough to take on mountain bike trails
A balance bike that's rugged enough to take on mountain bike trails

As the name suggests, this is a bike designed for adventure. Knobbly, grippy mountain bike tyres are perfect for giving grip on those thrilling muddy slopes, rolling over roots, or zooming across gravel.

The shiny aluminium frame looks good and is lightweight, and overall this is a bike that’s been built with care and attention to detail. It’s designed to be more responsive and manoeuvrable, with a saddle that can be adjusted in height without using tools.

Liv Adore C/B 16

Available in a range of colours, the Adore from Liv has a detachable basket and bright colours
Available in a range of colours, the Adore from Liv has a detachable basket and bright colours

Liv, the sister company to Giant Bicycles, has in its range of kids bike the Adore.

Fun coral, blue and yellow colours bedeck the aluminium frame, with a chainguard and stabilizer wheels already attached. It has low standover like the other bikes mentioned here, which allows the child to reach the floor with both feet when standing or sitting on the bike.

The Adore comes with a coaster brake, which you backpedal to operate, and an optional basket, which can be fitted to the bars.

Best bikes for kids aged 7 to 10

Look for bikes with 18- to 20-inch wheels. At this point you’ll start to see more gearing options, and lever-operated brakes only.

You’ll also start to see suspension beginning to make an appearance, usually front suspension forks only.

Bear in mind that cheaper suspension bikes can be heavier than their non-suspension alternatives, and that if the bike is to be ridden off-road, some good-quality, wide, puncture-resistant tyres should be a higher priority.

Giant XtC Jr 1 20

Is your kid ready to venture off-road? Bring on the roots, rocks and mud!
Is your kid ready to venture off-road? Bring on the roots, rocks and mud!

There’s no missing this green machine. The Giant XtC Jr is a 20-inch wheel mountain bike with a front suspension fork with 50mm of travel.

It comes with seven gears with grip shift which makes moving between gears easier for small hands.

The aluminium frame is designed for young riders, with low-rise handlebars and a junior saddle. It even has a bell and kickstand fitted.

Specialized Hotrock 20

The Hotrock from Specialized is one of the most popular bikes out there
The Hotrock from Specialized is one of the most popular bikes out there

The Hotrock is one of the most popular kids' bikes out there, and is another bike that's designed to tackle those beginner off-road routes, as well as being at home in the park, forest trails and fire roads. It’s also perfectly suited to the local pump track.

The aluminium frame is paired with SR Suntour XCT-JR forks with 50mm of travel, a good amount for getting to grips with rough surfaces.

Shimano Tourney 7-speed gears provide plenty of range for tackling climbs, and there's a grip shift for easier gear shifting. The rim brakes also have adjustable levers so you can adapt the reach as the child grows.

The Hotrock also comes in a range of colours, and there’s a larger version with 24-inch wheels for bigger kids.

Scott Scale JR 20

The Scott Scale Junior packs in the features from the adult bike range into a junior package
The Scott Scale Junior packs in the features from the adult bike range into a junior package

Bringing together the simplicity of a rigid bike (no suspension) with the chunkier tyres of a mountain bike, the Scale JR 20 is a versatile aluminium frame bike designed for junior riders.

Shimano 7-speed gearing is grip-shift operated, and child-specific v-brakes provide the stopping power. Handlebars, saddle and pedals are all designed with a junior rider in mind.

Best bikes for kids aged 10 to 13

With wheel sizes of 24 inches comes many more features. These bikes are essentially smaller versions of adult bikes, with the variation, style and focus that goes with it.

You can get everything from drop-bar road bikes, front- and full-suspension options with disc brakes for budding mountain bikers, or sturdy and versatile flat-handlebar bikes.

Quality models will have light alloy frames, and the spec should be comparable to an adult bike at the same price point.

Canyon Grand Canyon 24

Canyon hasn't stinted on parts or design for its junior range
Canyon hasn't stinted on parts or design for its junior range

Inspired by the adult Grand Canyon range, this is a 24-inch wheel hardtail mountain bike that’s designed to provide a competent introduction to the world of off-road riding. It’s the largest size bike in Canyon’s Young Heroes kids bike range.

The aluminium frame is fitted with 65mm Spinner Grind Air 24 suspension forks while SRAM Level hydraulic disc brakes provide plenty of easy-to-use stopping power. The Grand Canyon 24 has nine gears, made up of a SRAM and Canyon groupset.

Grips, saddle, pedals and cockpit are all Young Heroes branded, designed to suit smaller riders.

If you’re feeling flush, Canyon also produces the carbon Exceed CF with a 24-inch wheelsize, a serious piece of kit for kids keen to race.

Commencal Supreme Shiny Alu

Want a beautifully designed full-suspension bike for your budding enduro rider?
Want a beautifully designed full-suspension bike for your budding enduro rider?

No shortcuts here: this is a serious full-suspension bike for junior riders.

The Supreme Junior features top notch parts: RockShox Yari RC forks with 160mm travel coupled with a RockShox Monarch R 200x57 shock, SRAM NX 1x11 groupset with 165mm cranks, SRAM Level hydraulic disc brakes, tubeless-ready WTB STP i23 rims with Formula DH hubs in 650b and a claimed weight of 14.7kg.

The suspension has been adapted for lighter riders and the geometry of the frame itself has been designed to be shorter and thereby give more comfort and control. There’s even a KS dropper seatpost.

The Junior size is suitable for riders from 140cm to 160cm.

  • Price: €2,499 / £2,209.12  / $2,499 / AU$3,599
  • More info:Commencal

Frog 69 and Frog 73

Versatile enough for random adventures and cycling to school
Versatile enough for random adventures and cycling to school

Frog, a British company dedicated to making lightweight bikes for children, has a range of options including road bikes, mountain bikes and the ever popular hybrid bike.

The 69 and 73 are both flat-bar hybrid bikes that are versatile enough to deal with the ride to school and after school antics.

The number refers to the frame size, with the 69 suitable for children aged 10 to 12 and the 73 for children aged 12 to 14 or thereabouts.

  • Price: Frog 69 — £300 / $500 / AU$TBC
  • Price: Frog 73 — £350 / $530 / AU$TBC
  • More info:Frog Bikes

Best bikes for kids aged 13+

For teenagers, you’ll be able to pick from a wide range of bikes including small sizes of adult bikes. You can also get junior versions of bikes that have a slightly smaller wheel size, such as road bikes with 650b wheels rather than the adult 700c wheels, and mountain bikes with 26-inch wheels rather than the now more common 27.5-inch wheels or even 29ers.

You may want to consult (stealthily if it’s supposed to be a surprise purchase) with your child about the type, brand and colour of bike they’re after.

If your teenager is getting really into their sport, there are now plenty of high-quality race-ready road and mountain bikes that will cultivate their competitive edge produced by brands such as Commencal and Isla Bikes, and we’ve included a few of these below.  

Islabikes Creig Pro 26

The Islabikes Creig is designed for off-road use with a bespoke frame geometry for junior riders
The Islabikes Creig is designed for off-road use with a bespoke frame geometry for junior riders

Islabikes makes an appearance again here. The Creig is an aluminium-framed hardtail mountain bike with geometry designed to suit a smaller rider. High-quality RockShox 30 TK air forks can be tuned to suit the child's weight and the riding conditions.

An 11-speed SRAM GX groupset with an 11-42t cassette gives a huge range of gears for conquering hills and sprints, and powerful SRAM DB5 hydraulic disc brakes give smooth stopping power with levers designed to suit smaller hands.

Islabikes also does a 24-inch wheel size version of this bike, making the range suitable for children aged eight upwards.

The Pro series also includes the Luath cyclocross bike, with the 700c version coming with an alloy frame, carbon seatpost, Shimano Ultegra 11-speed groupset and Avid BB7 cable disc brakes.

  • Price: £1,499 / $1,249.99 / AU$TBC
  • More info:Islabikes

Specialized Allez Junior

The Allez Junior features smaller wheels for smaller road cyclists
The Allez Junior features smaller wheels for smaller road cyclists

If your kid is getting into road cycling and loves nothing more than bombing along on tarmac, then the junior version of the ever-popular Specialized Allez is one to consider.

It’s a road bike designed for younger, smaller riders, with 650b wheels, a smaller frame and suitable spec.

This includes shallow drop handlebars and short-reach brake levers/shifters to suit smaller hands, and a Specialized Youth saddle.

The premium aluminium frame is also fitted with Tektro caliper rim brakes and eight-speed gearing with Shimano Claris and Sunrace parts.

Updated 30 November 2017
Aoife Glass

Women's Cycling Editor
A mountain biker at heart, also drawn to the open road. Likes big long adventures in the mountains. Usually to be found in the Mendip Hills or the Somerset Levels in the UK. Passionate about women's cycling at all levels.
  • Discipline: Mountain, road
  • Preferred Terrain: Rocky, rough and a long way from anywhere.
  • Current Bikes: Liv Avail Advanced Pro 2015, Juliana Furtado 2013, Canyon Roadlite AL
  • Dream Bike: Juliana Roubion, Liv Avail Advanced SL
  • Beer of Choice: Red wine for the win!
  • Location: Weston Super Mare, Somerset, UK

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