BIKES THAT WON'T BREAK THE BANK
Riding a bike can be one of life's simple pleasures, but choosing the best kids' bike can be far from simple for parents. It can also be costly, whether you shell out a lot of money for a bike your child will outgrow in a year or two, or choose a bike that's incredibly cheap but so poorly made that it falls apart in no time or, worse yet, poses an actual risk to your child. Our advice: Pay a little more but don't pay too much for a solid, good-quality kids' bike from a reputable brand.
We've rounded up the best kids' bikes for the money and for your needs, whether your child is just learning how to ride or has a few years of experience. The bikes we recommend come from well-respected names like Striker, Raleigh, Specialized, Trek, Mongoose, and more, and all provide a great balance of value and performance. Many offer features that let them "grow" with your child, from balance bikes that can be fitted with pedals to models with highly adjustable seat and handlebar stems. All are made to withstand the punishment a young rider can dish out over a few years of enthusiastic use.
To make our picks for the best kids' bikes, we read through expert assessments on enthusiast sites such as Two Wheeling Tots, Rascal Rides, and BikeRadar, among others. We also consulted product reviews from sources like Wirecutter, where they conduct rigorous hands-on testing. Consumer reviews of kids' bikes on retailer and manufacturer sites also provided valuable feedback on how these models fare with real-world use over time.
An important word of caution from the experts: Don't buy a bike that's too large for your child to ride under the assumption that they'll grow into it. Riding a too-big bike is an invitation to an accident. A child should be able to easily get on and off a bike and straddle it standing with flat feet. Not sure what size bike your child needs? Kids' bikes generally are broken into four categories grouped roughly according to wheel size: 12 inches for ages 2 to 5; 16 inches for ages 4 to 8; 20 inches for ages 6 to 10; and 24 inches for ages 10 and up. To be sure you're getting the right size, measure the inseam of your child's leg and use this International Bicycle Fund chart to select the appropriate fit.
*Prices and availability are subject to change.
STRIDER 12 SPORT
Best Balance Bike for Toddlers
Est. Price: $110 | Buy it on Amazon
- No tools needed to adjust handlebars and seat.
- Sturdy steel frame and puncture-proof foam-rubber tires.
- Protective tips on handlebars.
- Tires may be prone to sliding on smooth surfaces.
Takeaway: Parents and experts alike say balance bikes are a great way to introduce a toddler to the joys of cycling, allowing them to straddle the low frame and learn how to stay upright, turn, coast, and stop without worrying about taking a tumble. The Strider 12 Sport is named a top pick by Wirecutter, Two Wheeling Tots, and BestReviews, and it earns exceptionally positive user reviews from parents who say it's been an ideal first bike for their children. The Strider 12 Sport is also available in a Baby Bundle version, which includes a base that converts the bike into a rocker for very tiny tots. Unlike bikes for bigger kids this Strider's chubby tires are made of EVA foam rubber, meaning there's no worry of flat tires. But some reviewers say the material isn't as grippy as rubber tube tires are. Strider also sells versions with pneumatic (air-filled) tires as well as 14-, 16-, and 20-inch models with removable pedals that are designed to help older kids, or those with physical or developmental disabilities, learn how to ride.
RALEIGH MXR 16" / JAZZI 16"
- Stripped-down, simple design is ideal for beginning riders.
- Sturdy build with aluminum body to keep weight down (20 lbs.).
- Chain guard helps prevent snags.
- Optional training wheels included.
- Comes with tools for assembly.
- No kickstand.
- Some parents say assembly is challenging.
Takeaway: The Raleigh MXR (for boys) and Jazzi (for girls) are a good choice for when your little rider is ready for his or her first "real" cycle. They offer the feel and look of a big kids' bike but with pedal brakes and a single speed, allowing kids to focus on mastering the basics of safe cycling without all the distractions of fancier features. There's no kickstand, an oversight in some parents' opinions, but some say they were able to add an aftermarket component fairly easily. Others complain that there were no assembly instructions included with the packaging. Those gripes aside, Two Wheeling Tots has declared these bikes the "best for adventurous riders on a budget," saying that although they're more expensive than the bikes you'll find sold at big box stores they're a real deal in terms of their quality and durability. Both models are also available in 12- and 20-inch versions; the 20-incher has hand brakes rather than coaster brakes.
SPECIALIZED HOTROCK 20
Best Value Kids' Mountain Bike
Est. Price: $370 | Buy it from Specialized
- Adjustable brake levers to grow with your child.
- Quality components that would satisfy most adults.
- Aluminum frame (27 lbs.) for less heft than cheaper, steel-framed kids' bikes.
- Free tune-up included.
- Some parents say the front fork is too stiff for their kids.
- May be harder to find; sold primarily in bike shops.
Takeaway: This enormously popular kids' mountain bike earns high praise from BikeRadar for being at home in a variety of settings, from entry-level off-roading to neighborhood streets. Fitted with components that are similar to those found on an adult-sized mountain bike, the Specialized Hotrock 20 has easy 'twist"/grip shifters paired with a 7-speed drivetrain — just enough gears to negotiate all sorts of terrain without getting all caught up in when (or how) to shift. The bike also leaves room to grow, with adjustable brake levers and mounts to swap its rim brakes out for disc brakes once kids increase their skills. Some reviewers say more serious riders would benefit from upgrading the fork (which connects the front tire to the frame and serves as a shock absorber) and drivetrain, as well. Another nice perk: Specialized offers a free tune-up at the six-week mark to make sure everything's in good working order. The Hotrock is also available in a 24-inch version with 8-speeds.
TREK ROSCOE 20
Best Kids Trail Bike
Est. Price: $490 | Buy it from Trek Bicycle Superstore
- 2.8-inch "mid-fat" tires offer great traction and stability.
- Components are of similar quality to those on adult bikes.
- Comparatively lightweight aluminum frame is only just over 23 lbs.
- Although considered "affordable" by most experts, still relatively pricey.
- Mostly sold in bike shops, and shipping not permitted (must be picked up from shop even if purchased online).
Takeaway: Trail bikes, also called plus bikes or mid-fat bikes (on account of their chubby, but not quite "fat" tires), have become the bike of choice for many off-road riders, who say the thick, knobby tires offer more stability on uneven terrain, gravel, and sand than the skinnier tires of a traditional mountain bike. Although the price of the Trek Roscoe enters splurge territory for many parents, you get what you pay for. In this case that means high quality, adult-grade components (including disc brakes and 'trigger"/thumb shifters) paired with well-thought-out kid-friendly features like a tucked-in rear caliper to prevent damage if the bike is dropped and a sloping top tube for easy mounting and dismounting. The Roscoe is available in 20- and 24-inch models, both have 8-speed drivetrains.
FIRMSTRONG URBAN BOY/URBAN GIRL
Best Kids Cruiser Bike
Est. Price: $190 | Buy it from Target
- Balloon tires offer cushy ride and handle well on a variety of surfaces, including sidewalks and sand.
- Stout frame is sturdy and stable; generously-sized seat is comfortable.
- Looks are as hip as the name.
- Widely available from a number of retailers.
- Fairly heavy at around 30 lbs.
- Only offered in a 20" size.
- Some parents struggle with assembly.
Takeaway: Cruiser bikes are a good first ride for children who prefer biking around neighborhood streets or boardwalks to tackling more demanding trails and bike parks. This Firmstrong Urban kids' beach cruiser comes in two models, the Urban Boy and the Urban Girl, both featuring chunky frames and thick tires that provide a very smooth and secure-feeling ride. The single-speed drivetrain and coaster brakes also make it easy for inexperienced cyclists to improve at their own pace. The brand is highly praised for its array of well-made and stylish adult bikes, and most parents say their kids are equally thrilled with this pint-sized version's cool retro looks and cushy ride. This bike doesn't come with training wheels, however, and some say they've had a hard time attaching aftermarket wheels to the bike due to the configuration of its rear axle.
MONGOOSE LEGION L40
Best Kids' BMX Bike
Est. Price: $207 | Buy it on Amazon
- Affordable entry-level bike experts and owners say is particularly well-suited to young kids and tweens.
- Components and frame are built to withstand the abuse of a bike park.
- Quality rivals more expensive freestyle bikes.
- 40-lb. steel frame may be a challenge for some.
- Some complaints of missing parts in packaging.
Takeaway: The Mongoose line is an excellent choice for young BMXers who are beginning to discover the joys of trick riding. Enthusiast site Thrill Appeal describes the Mongoose Legion L40 as "a very meaty bike meant for serious park rides and street riding." The beefy steel frame is no lightweight at 40 pounds, but that heft makes it sturdy and able to stand up to wheelies and jumps. Reviewers say it's also not necessarily a bad thing if you don't want your kids attempting to catch big air just yet. Like pricier BMX bikes, the Legion has trick-mandatory components such as front pegs and a brake detangler (for safe handlebar spins), and based on the YouTube videos some users have posted, the Legion L40 is, indeed, plenty capable of holding its own on the stunt front.
GUARDIAN ETHOS 20"
Bonus Pick: Kids' Bike with "Safety Braking"
Est. Price: $300 | Buy it on Amazon
- Patented brake system earns accolades from experts and owners.
- Large and small sizes (based on child's height, not just wheel diameter) are available for 20" model; RideSizer tool on manufacturer's website shows how individual child will actually fit the bike.
- Durable steel frame is still comparatively lightweight (23 lbs. on 20" large).
- Very simple to assemble; just add handlebars and pedals.
- 100-day test ride option to guarantee satisfaction.
- Some consumer complaints of issues with shifters.
Takeaway: The Guardian got its start on the TV show "Shark Tank," where it quickly built buzz for its patented "Sure Stop" brake system, something the inventors say is designed to stop the bike faster and prevent head-over-handlebars accidents. Unlike other kids' bikes, which are equipped with coaster brakes (just pedal backwards to stop), the Guardian has a single handle-mounted lever that controls both front and rear brakes. Parents love this technology, as do the reviewers at Two Wheeling Tots, who say this bike is suitable both for new riders who may be unsure of their skills and more experienced kids who need more stopping power. While it's difficult to find parents, or kids, who don't absolutely love this bike, there are some who complain that the handle-mounted shifter didn't always shift smoothly (or at all); but customer service is said to be very helpful in addressing problems. The Guardian Ethos is the less expensive version of the premium, aluminum-framed Guardian Original and is available in 16-, 20-, and 24-inch models; the 20-inch "small" size comes with a single-speed gear system, while the "large" has 6 speeds.
CLEARY SCOUT 24"
Bonus Pick: Splurge-Worthy Mountain Bike for Kids
Est. Price: $840 | Buy it from Cleary Bikes
- High-quality components and durable frame.
- Tubeless-ready rims and tires can be adjusted for any kind of riding.
- Versatile enough for both trails and the bike park.
- Steel frame is relatively heavy at 27 lbs., which may fatigue some riders.
- Premium bike with higher-end price tag.
Takeaway: Although this bike is definitely on the expensive side, most experts would say the return for the money is excellent if you've got a serious young mountain biker in your midst — Two Wheeling Tots gives it an "exceptional" rating and concludes, "If you're looking for a bike that's built to last and will help your kid progress and have a good time on the trails, the Cleary Scout is a solid choice." The bike has a steel frame, rather than aluminum, resulting in a bit more weight but also a stable ride with less vibration on rough roads and unpaved trails. And, unlike many kids' bikes, the Scout is equipped with the same high-end components you'd find on a similar adult model, with 10-speeds, hydraulic disc brakes, an 80mm Suntour fork to cushion the blow on jumps or rough pavement, Shimano Deore M6000 shifter and derailleur (part of the bike's drivetrain), and thick, knobby tubeless-ready tires and rims, which impart a smoother ride than traditional tube tires. Critical reviews are rare, though some riders say the weighty steel frame can weigh you down on long uphill climbs and suggest upgrading the tires if your teen or tween is a serious off-road biker. It's available in both 24- and 26-inch versions.