Best kids bikes - as picked by them

Schoolchildren rate seven bicycles for us

Christmas will be with us again in no time at all and if you have kids they'll no doubt have already been dropping unsubtle hints about what they want from the big white-bearded fella this year. Topping many a wishlist will be a sparkling new bike to impress their mates, but with so many to choose from it’s not an easy decision for parents to make.

So, together with UK charity Sustrans, we thought we’d try to make things a little easier. After getting our hands on a bunch of bicycles that might make your shortlist, all we needed were some children to test them out. We headed to Bristol and let pupils from two primary schools - St Matthias and Dr Bell's CofE VA Primary School and Chester Park Junior School - decide the cream of the crop for us. Bikes from Specialized, Islabikes, Scott, Ridgeback, Raleigh, Apollo and Trax were put through their paces by six bike-hungry eight-year-olds, with the results combined to determine the winner. Here’s what they had to say.

Islabikes Beinn 24

British brand Islabikes have firmly established themselves as leaders in the manufacture of kids' bikes, designing their frames with child-specific geometry and fitting them with lighter, proportionally sized components. It sounds great on paper, but what did the kids think?

All six remarked on how smooth and comfortable a ride it was and the thin tyres meant speed could be picked up and maintained easily – always a plus point with eight-year-olds ("loved the fastness" was how one put it). At 10.3kg, this was the lightest bike on test and this clearly contributed to its whippy performance.

The brakes got plenty of kudos; the general consensus was that they were responsive without being too jerky. One tester was unhappy with the red colour, suggesting purple would make her want it more (purple is actually an option on Islabikes' website). The easily-operated GripShift gears had plenty of fans as well.

Negatives included the uncomfortable saddle (which could be wider and softer) and handlebar, and an "uncool" patch of grey on the down tube. The Beinn's name copped a bit of flak, too – something with "speed" in it would have impressed more. But apart from the colour, which was a bit "boyish" according to the two girls, they felt this was a bike that would attract plenty of attention in the playground.

Overall score: 2.5 out of 3

  • Age: 7+
  • Price: £299.99
  • Gender: Unisex
  • Frame: Aluminium mountain bike
  • Fork: Steel, rigid, with mudguard eyes
  • Brakes: V type
  • Chainring: 32T
  • Cassette: 11-32T, eight-speed
  • Rear derailleur: SRAM X4
  • Wheels: 24in
  • Weight: 10.3kg (22.7lb)
  • Setup: Release front V-brake cable, slot wheel into fork dropouts, tighten quick-release skewer, reattach V-brake cable
  • Tools required: None
  • Tools supplied: None
  • Available from: Islabikes

Scott Voltage JR 24 (V-brake version)

Scott are a brand renowned the world over, but would this count for anything among the kids? The Voltage JR range has design features and finishes borrowed from the company's adult bikes and as the most expensive bike on test, a lot was expected.

Our testers praised the smooth, fast, colourful bike, with props going to the green neon brake cables. Points were knocked off for the suspension fork, which some of the children deemed too "bouncy", and an uncomfortable saddle. The Scott brand itself took a bit of a pounding too, with some wondering what possessed the bosses to name their bike company after a boy. The girls didn't like it at all but this is a boys' bike after all and they loved it.

Overall score: 2.0 out of 3

  • Age: 8+
  • Price: £339
  • Gender: Boys
  • Frame: Aluminium mountain bike
  • Fork: RST Capa T24 suspension fork, 50mm travel
  • Brakes: V type
  • Chainrings: 42/32/22T
  • Cassette: Shimano 14-28T, six-speed
  • Derailleurs: Shimano
  • Wheels: 24in
  • Weight: 12.5kg (27.6lb)
  • Setup: Mount quick-release front wheel (as above), attach handlebar to stem and align with front wheel, attach pedals, adjust seat clamp
  • Tools required: Allen key set, pedal spanner
  • Tools supplied: None
  • Available from: Scott Sports

Ridgeback MX24

Last but not least is a boys' bike from long-established British brand Ridgeback. Its polished silver aesthetics with a splash of red drew some admiring glances and it was agreed that it was the best looker of the day. The saddle was up there in the comfort stakes and it was a fun bike to ride, being both fast and smooth. 

One of the girls complained that the 21 gears provided by the MX24's triple chainset was too many. The boys disagreed – the more the better, right? Our testers were agreed on one thing, though – the brake levers were too narrow so they couldn't wrap all their fingers around them.

Overall score: 2 out of 3

  • Age: 8-11
  • Price: £239.99
  • Gender: Boys
  • Frame: 6061 aluminium mountain bike
  • Brakes: V type
  • Chainrings: 42/34/24T
  • Cassette: Shimano 14-28T, seven-speed
  • Derailleurs: Shimano
  • Wheels: 24in 
  • Weight: 12.29kg (27.1lb)
  • Setup: Minimal – just tighten bolts and adjust seatpost clamp
  • Tools required: Allen key set
  • Tools supplied: None
  • Available from: Madison

Specialized Hotrock 24

Specialized have a formidable reputation in the cycling world but when faced with a bunch of eight-year-olds, will that count for anything? The flash of pink was a plus point on this girls-specific bike but they wanted more, much more. Both girls said they had a lot of fun on it and enjoyed the suspension, which they didn't find too "spongy".

Turn-offs included a handlebar that was too high and wide, uncomfortable grips and a name that was "a bit chavvy", which apparently translates to "a bit douchy" for our US readers. The colour got bashed the most though; even the pink was too dark for their tastes. A comfier saddle wouldn't have gone amiss either.

Overall score: 1.7 out of 3

  • Age: 8+
  • Price: £270
  • Gender: Girls
  • Frame: Aluminium mountain bike
  • Fork: SR Suntour suspension fork, 50mm travel
  • Brakes: V type
  • Chainrings: 42/34/24T
  • Cassette: Shimano 14-28T, seven-speed
  • Derailleurs: Shimano
  • Wheels: 24in
  • Weight: 12.56kg (27.7lb)
  • Setup: Mount quick-release wheel (as above), attach handlebar to stem and align, attach pedals, adjust seat clamp
  • Tools required: Allen key set, pedal spanner
  • Tools supplied: None
  • Available from: Specialized

Trax TR.20

Trax are one of high street chain Halfords' in-house brands, offering both kids' and adult bikes at budget prices. At just £79.99, the TR.20 was the cheapest on show so could it challenge the more expensive competition?

Silent and smooth were two of the descriptions that kept cropping up, and the unfussy black colour and polished silver spokes were big hits. On the downside, the hard, uncompromising saddle wasn't to everyone's taste and the brakes were a tad unforgiving. Again, the TR.20 name didn't resonate with the kids – they were looking for something a bit "faster" sounding. Though we couldn't get a weight confirmed, the kids reckoned it was one of the heaviest on test. Not a favourite.

Overall score: 1.2 out of 3

  • Age: 7-9 
  • Price: £79.99 
  • Gender: Boys
  • Frame: Steel mountain bike
  • Fork: Steel, rigid 
  • Brakes: V type
  • Wheel size: 20in
  • Weight: Not specified
  • Setup: Line up handlebar with front wheel, then tighten headset; tighten (poor quality) seatpost bolt; adjust saddle angle; attach one pedal; tighten axle bolts
  • Tools required: Pedal spanner
  • Tools supplied: All basic tools needed
  • Available from: Halfords

Raleigh Xtreme 20.1

Next on test was Raleigh’s flashy Xtreme 20.1, weighing a whopping 14kg (30.1lb). Our young testers found that once they'd got it up to speed, its weight lent extra momentum and stability which could come in handy on the flat and downhill. But it became a struggle when they tried to shift this beast uphill.

In the Xtreme’s favour was a comfortable saddle and eye-catching colours, which got the thumbs up all round. However, the Raleigh was summed up best by one boy who said his mates would certainly be impressed if he brought this out to play – until they had a spin on it themselves!

More than one tester thought it was too heavy, and the handlebar was deemed to be too high and wide. The brake levers were also a long way from the handlebar grips, making them difficult to use with small hands. When asked whether they’d trade this bike for the one they have at the moment, the answer from our testers was a resounding no.

Overall score: 1.0 out of 3

Full specification and out-of-box setup

  • Age: 8+
  • Price: £160
  • Gender: Boys
  • Frame: Steel BMX
  • Fork: Steel, rigid
  • Brakes: Tektro alloy V
  • Handlebar: BMX, two-piece
  • Wheels: 20in
  • Weight: 14kg (30.1lb)
  • Setup: Align handlebar, attach pedals, adjust seat clamp, tighten stunt pegs, tighten axle bolts
  • Tools required: Allen key set, pedal spanner, 13mm spanner, large wrench.
  • Tools supplied: Allen key (wrong size for most adjustments), pressed metal multitool (uncomfortable to use)
  • Available from: Cyclelife

Apollo Moonstone 20

Apollo are the second brand from the Halfords stable on test and like Trax, their bikes are aimed at the budget end of the market. The Moonstone was the second girls' bike to be presented to our testers. How would they contend with this 13.5kg (29.8lb) behemoth?

One thing Apollo got right was the name, with all the kids loving the Moonstone moniker. The chunky, grippy wheels got the thumbs up while the girls felt they were in a good position on the bike and didn't have too reach to far to the handlebar like they did on some of the others. 

The bike's weight held it back, though. It was simply too cumbersome for the girls, who found it difficult to pedal and pick up speed even on the flat. Other negatives included a colour that would get dirty quickly, suspension that didn't seem to do anything and stiff gear shifting.

Overall Score: 1.0 out of 3

  • Age: 7-9
  • Price: £109.99
  • Gender: Girls
  • Frame: Steel mountain bike
  • Fork: Suspension
  • Brakes: V type
  • Wheel Size: 20in
  • Weight: 13.5kg (29.8lb)
  • Setup: Line up handlebar with front wheel and tighten headset, attach one pedal, tighten (poor quality) seatpost clamp, check and tighten axle bolts
  • Tools required: Allen key set, pedal spanner, large wrench
  • Tools supplied: All needed
  • Available from: Halfords

And the winner is...

After some pretty thorough testing by our kids, the Islabikes Beinn 24 was our clear winner. While it wasn't the cheapest of the seven, it was the lightest by a big margin and above all else, that's why it was rated so highly.

UK charity Sustrans are running a 'Design a bike sticker' competition this winter and first prize is an Islabike. To enter, you'll need to visit their Free Range Kids website, download the template and let your children create a design.

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