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The Best Bikes for Kids: Your Guide to Choosing the Best Bike for Your Child

August 3, 2019

The world of kids’ bikes has been turned upside down in the past decade. Training wheels are out, balance bikes are in. There’s a slew of small bikes with suspension forks and disc brakes for little rippers. And even basic bikes have evolved to make riding easier to learn, more fun, and safer.

To take advantage of these advances, there are a couple of key features to look for when picking up a new kids’ bike. Getting the size and fit right is important too; it will make sure your little one gets the most out of their new ride.

Here’s what to look for, and ​9 of our top recommendations, reviewed and evaluated by our test editors and proven on the road and trail by our crew of test groms.

The Best Bikes for Kids of the Year

1. Strider - 12 Sport Balance Bike

The most popular low-cost balance-bike

Strider wasn’t the first company to make balance bikes, but it's simple, affordable and widely available bikes popularized the design that many now refer to the category as Strider bikes.

Strider - 12 Sport Balance Bike, Ages 18 Months

This model has a few nice upgrades over the original, including a padded seat and thinner grips that make it easier for small kids to hold on. Despite a steel frame, it weighs just 6.7 pounds.

Strider - 12 Sport Balance Bike

To keep costs low (and the bikes maintenance-free) Strider uses foam tires. You’ll never have to fix a flat, but the tires lack the grip of air-filled rubber options and can slip on cement and hardwood floors. 

Strider - 12 Sport Balance Bike, Ages 18 Months to 5 Years

2. Woom 1 Balance Bike 12”

Beginner balance bike with hand brake

Like Strider, Woom specializes in kids’ bikes. With 12-inch wheels and a saddle that can be set low to the ground, the Woom 1 balance bike can fit kids as young as 18 months, giving them a head start on the competition.

woom 1 Balance Bike 12", Ages 18 Months to 3.5 Years

It comes with air-filled rubber tires for excellent grip on all surfaces, adjustable seat, and handlebar, and a feature we love a rim brake, which teaches kids how to stop right from the start (and saves wear on their shoes).

There’s also a built-in steering limiter to keep your aspiring Kate Courtney from jackknifing on sharp turns. Despite all the features, an aluminum frame keeps weight to just about 7 pounds. 

3. ​Cleary Bikes Gecko

The best bike for teaching kids to ride

The Gecko is the bike to get when you have a tot who’s ready to pedal at an early age. The 12-inch wheels and stretched-out wheelbase make it incredibly stable and easy for little ones to keep their feet on the ground when they’re getting on and off.

Cleary Bikes Gecko 12in Single Speed Freewheel Bike

It comes with a freewheel and front and rear brakes, so kids can focus on learning to pedal with their feet and using their hands to brake. It has a light aluminum frame and top-quality parts, so it will last.

That’s good. Given the price, you’ll want to eke out every mile of this model, and then pass it on to the next kid in line.

​4. Guardian Kids Bikes Ethos

The best safest bikes for children

The Guardian Ethos line taking the safety and design elements of the Guardian Original line, and bringing them into a more economical line of bikes.

Guardian Bike Company Ethos Safer Patented SureStop Brake System

Every Ethos kids bike comes equipped with the award-winning SureStop Brake System, a patented technology that prevents head-over-handlebar accidents and allows kids to stop faster. 

SureStop uses just one brake lever to activate both wheels, allowing children to brake with ease and confidence. The Ethos line also features a special frame design that lowers the center of gravity to prevent tip-over accidents, kid-specific parts designed to make riding easier for children, and eye candy decal patterns hand-picked by children so you know they will love their bike!

Guardian Bike Company Ethos Safer Patented SureStop Brake System 16" Kids Bike

5.Specialized RipRock 12 Coaster

A lower-cost, reliable bike that makes learning to ride easy

We generally prefer rim brakes to coaster brakes, but this bike has a lot of other things going for it: Good tires, a lower, stretched-out geometry, durable parts, and a good price.

Riprock 12 Coaster

An aluminum frame helps keep weight low and the 2.3-inch-wide tires provide good grip on most surfaces. Their wider platform also helps balance and control.

The RipRock’s low bottom bracket makes it easier than some for kids to hop on and off, which is great when they're learning to ride. The bike comes with training wheels, but they are easy enough to yank off.

6. Prevelo Alpha 1 14-inch

Premium ride for kids who want it all

Prevelo is a new brand on the kids’ bike scene, and we’re glad it's here. The company makes premium bikes that have a ton of smart features and designs to help little ones ride sooner, better, and safer.

Prevelo Alpha 1 14-inch

The Alpha 1 has 14-inch wheels, which is a bit of tweener size that might not work for all riders but is invaluable to kids who graduate from 12-inch pedal bikes but yet aren’t ready for a 16er.

You get an aluminum frame and fork, front, and rear rim brakes (opt for the optional rear wheel with freewheel hub), custom-sized cranks with narrow Q factor, grippy rubber tires, and a low bottom bracket and short seat tube to increase stability and make it easier for kids to get on and off.

7. Spawn Yoji 16

The bike for kids who dream of winning Red Bull Rampage

The stout frame, sloping downtube, burly tires, and aggressive lines make this bike look like an all-mountain hardtail ready for Red Bull Rampage.

spawncycles yoji16

Still, it weighs just a bit over 14 pounds, so your little huckster will be able to pedal it uphill and cruise for miles on bike paths. The parts are just as impressive: Spawn’s own Loadstar 1.9-inch mountain bike tires, three-piece cranks with a 64mm BCD (so you can easily change chainring sizes), a sleek Pivotal saddle, and a threadless stem that you can flip over to change bar height as you kid grows. This is the bike for kids who are ready to move from the sidewalk to the skatepark.

8. Priority Start 16

Smart, sensible, and super fun

This bike won us over with its smart design that ditches the chain for a belt-drive system that will never rust and doesn’t require any maintenance. And because you don’t need to lube it, your kids’ pants and legs will escape the dreaded chainring tattoos.

PRIORITY START 16"

Other features impress too: There’s an aluminum frame, freewheel with front and rear rim brakes, a narrow Q factor, and a total weight just under 16 pounds. The smooth tires roll great and stick to city streets and sidewalks, but have less grip than those on the Spawn or Pello. If your kid wants to ride more dirt or gravel, consider a tire swap.

9. Diamondback Junior Venom

A good, durable, low-cost option

Junior dirt-jumpers and future BMX champs will be stoked to burn off energy on this silver single speed with old-school styling.

Designed for cruising around or shredding the bike park, the Venom has everything a kid needs in a first BMX or trail bike: 20-inch wheels with Kenda KidBlock tires; high, wide handlebars, and a single rear rim brakeIt's heavier than some other options, but its sturdy steel frame and fork can handle a lot of cased jumps and wayward endos.

Diamondback Bicycles Jr Venom Bike, 20" Wheels, Gloss Silver

Get the Right Fit

Bike fit is just like finding the right pair of kids’ pants. If they fit right, they’ll get used all the time. Too tight or too large and, just like pants left in a drawer, the bike at best will go unused in a garage. At worst they can be a safety hazard ill-fitting bikes can be dangerously hard to control.

And just like pants, most bike sizes are based on inseam length. Many brands include on their web sites basic sizing info based on inseams or clothing sizes.

Get the Right Fit of kids

Check it carefully. Wheel sizes also are critical to a good fit. They, in part, determine the bike’s balance and stability, and how easily your child can get on and off the bike, as well as control the bike.

Shane Cusick, owner of Pello bikes says that a child’s skill and demeanor also play a part. If they are just learning to ride or ride cautiously it can be helpful to go down a size, especially if their inseam falls between wheel sizes.

Yeah, Count Grams for Kids Too

Adults obsess over the weight of their bikes. You know what? Weight matters even more for kids’ bikes. A three- or four-pound difference in bike weight for a 30-pound rider with just-developing leg muscles is like a 20-pound difference between adult bikes.

If you wouldn’t ride a 40-pound road bike, don’t expect your little one to schlep around an extra-heavy bike when they don’t have to (and likely one with no gears!).

Strider - 12 Classic No-Pedal Balance Bike, Ages 18 Months to 3 Years, Green

Bikes with aluminum frames weigh considerably less than the more common steel ones. Going to a rim brake from a coaster brake can save a pound or more. Some brands hide a lot of weight in the wheels. A bike with aluminum rims and fewer spokes can save another pound.

Geometry Matters for Kids

Just like it sounds, bike geometry can be as complicated as a college math class. You don’t need to pull out the protractor to find the right bike, but there are a few things to consider.

As with adult bikes, kids’ bikes are getting lower and longer. A lower bottom bracket (the piece that holds the cranks) lowers the bike’s mass, making it more stable and also easier for the kid to get on and off.

20-inch Huffy Pro Thunder Boys' Bike

A longer wheelbase makes the bike less twitchy, which is a good thing as kids develop riding skills. Many bike-shop brands and most kids-only brands like Spawn, Cleary, Pello, and Prevelo have adopted similar bike geometry (though there are key differences). But many department store bikes still look smooshed together. They work, but make riding more difficult.

Buh-Bye Training Wheels

Training wheels, with all their good intentions, probably discouraged more kids (and their frustrated parents) from riding than anything else. They are unstable and do little to teach kids how to balance on their bike.

Royalbaby Space Shuttle kid's bike, lightweight magnesium frame with training wheels, 14 inch wheels

They were a necessary evil before balance bikes came along. Now, there’s no reason for them. To teach kids to ride, start them on a balance bike which teaches balance and body control while kids can still put their feet on the ground.

Rim Brakes Over Coaster Brakes

The CPSC requires kids’ bikes to come with coaster brakes. There is some good reason for it: Most small bikes are inexpensive options sold at department stores.

The rim brakes on those bikes are often poorly assembled and of poor quality not something you’d trust to stop in an emergency. Plus, rim brakes require maintenance.

So: simple, reliable, coaster brakes. But, coaster brakes weight about a pound more than rim brakes, and they work by pedaling backward the exact opposite motion you want to enforce when teaching a child to ride. Our suggestion: Go with rim bikes if you’re purchasing a bike over $200 and you’re able to do simple maintenance on them.

More Key Considerations

Tires: Go with air-filled rubber tires whenever possible. Generally, wider mountain bike style tires are better for younger riders, says Cusick. You can run them at lower air pressures so they cushion the ride, and they provide better traction on all surfaces. Save the skinny road-style tires for later when kids start doing long rides on the pavement.

Gearing: Most kids bikes will be single speed, and use different gear combinations. Some will be easier to pedal (better for hills) and others will be set up with a slightly harder gear (faster on the flats). Most manufacturers will list chainring and rear cog sizes so you can compare.

Components: To get the most use out of the bike, look for models that have saddles that can slide on rails, and handlebars you can raise and lower as well as position forward and back.

If you want to geek out, look at the crank length to make sure it’s sized right for your kid's bike (not all are) and has the narrowest possible stance width (the distance between the crank arms, also known as Q factor) because kids generally have narrower hips than adults.