Best kids’ bikes: a buyer’s guide for Christmas

Our guide to getting your child the perfect bike

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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…

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The best kids’ bikes for Christmas 2019

The most important factors to consider when choosing a bike for your child are their 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.

If you already know what size bike to go for, scroll down to see our suggestions for children of each age group.

Once you’ve found the perfect bike, why not check out our guide to cycling with kids to get things started. Before you know it, the whole family will be out enjoying life on two wheels.

What size bike should I get for my child?

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 read our simple guide that should get them pedalling away in around 30 minutes.

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 sitting 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. This also means the transition to a pedal bike is much quicker – and they probably won’t need stabilisers 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 and having smaller wheels for smaller riders makes the bikes easier to handle.

A few brands, such as Black Mountain Bikes, produce kids’ bikes that can be adapted to fit children as they grow, starting off as a balance bike then transforming into a pedal bike with a few simple swaps.

After a new bike for your child but not sure where to start? Let us help!
After a new bike for your child but not sure where to start? Let us help!
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Ages 4 to 6

For children aged 4 to 6, or roughly 105cm to 115cm / 3ft 5in to 3ft 9in, go for a bike with 14in to 16in wheels. Most of these are simple bikes with pedals and brakes, and many come with a small range of gears.

Ages 7 to 10

For ages 7 to 10 (height 115cm to 135cm / 3ft 9in to 4ft 5in) choose a bike with 18in to 20in 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.

Ages 10 to 13

Children aged between 10 to 13 (height 135cm to 150cm / 4ft 5in to 5ft) will usually move on to a 24in wheel bike and, at this point, you’ll find bikes that are 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 are a good choice, for example.

Teenagers

For teenagers, 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, but most bikes will have 26in, 27.5in or 700c wheels.

Bear in mind that these sizes are a guideline only. If your teen 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.

Best bikes and balance bikes for ages 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 children 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, without needing stabilisers.

For younger kids, a wheel size of 12in is typical. There are also some pedal-powered options for 2 to 4 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
Strider

The Strider Sport Balance bike is suitable for children aged from 18 months and up to 4 to 5 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 so the saddle and handlebar height can be adjusted without tools.

  • £88 / $119.99 / AU$139

Islabikes Rothan

Islabikes Rothan balance bike in pink
The latest Islabikes Rohan is an accomplished balance bike.
Islabikes

Islabikes is a British company founded by Isla Rowntree, who is dedicated to creating high-quality bikes designed so that children develop a passion for cycling. Great care is taken to ensure the 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 grip and it even features a brake designed for smaller hands.

  • £179.99 / $199.99
  • Buy direct 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.
Frog

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, as well as quality Tektro brakes for plenty of stopping power. There are also bespoke cranks designed to make pedalling easier for little kids.

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

Frog also makes balance bikes and bikes for older children.

  • £270 / $360

Black Mountain Bikes Pinto

The PINTO from Black Mountain Bikes starts off as a balance bike
The PINTO from Black Mountain Bikes starts off as a balance bike.
Black Mountain Bikes

Black Mountain Bikes are designed to grow as kids grow. This means one bike will last your child for longer and is designed to fit children even better as they get taller. The brand says its bikes are “three bikes in one”.

The Pinto can start off life as a balance bike, then work as a pedal cycle on the 14in wheel option. The frame is designed to be light (a claimed 6kg), which is easier for smaller kids to handle, has a low-maintenance belt drive and short-reach brake levers for smaller hands, plus a raft of other features.

The gearing can also be made harder as your child grows thanks to a removable sprocket ‘jacket’.

There are four colours available including orange, neon green, purple and sky blue.

  • £329 (most international delivery available, but Black Mountain does not currently ship to the US)

Cube Cubie 120 Walk

Cube Cubie Walk Action Team 120
Two seatposts allow room to grow.
Cube

This cutely named bike weighs 3.96kg, making it a good lightweight option for your child to get started on.

Cube has incorporated a special handlebar set-up that limits how far the rider can turn the bar, saving them from some of the inevitable accidents when they’re learning.

Rolling on 12in wheels with Kenda Team Cube tyres, it has a low standover height and even comes with two different length seatposts to allow growing room.

  • £149 / €130

Cannondale Trail Balance 12

The instantly recognisable Lefty fork is good to see on a kids' bike
The instantly recognisable Lefty fork is good to see on a kids’ bike.
Cannondale

The Trail Balance 12 comes with Cannondale’s single-legged Little Lefty rigid fork, proper pneumatic tyres, lightweight alloy wheels and comfortable grips.

With a light, strong alloy frame, it’s a great option to get your little one rolling. It’s good to see the Lefty fork make an appearance on a kids’ bike too.

  • £170 / $199 / AU$TBC

Specialized Hotwalk

Specialized Hotwalk
Specialized’s Hotwalk has little foot platforms.

Specialized’s Hotwalk comes with foot platforms, which are great for when little ones have got the hang of balancing, before transitioning to pedals.

It’s available with a step-through frame or a top-tube frame, and there’s also an adjustable bar-height option for growing children.

Specced with Specialized’s Rhythm Lite Sport tyres, it’s equally at home on dirt or tarmac.

  • £130 / $175 / AU$220

Best bikes for ages 4 to 6

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

Early Rider Trail Runner 14in

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.
Early Rider

As the name suggests, this is a bike designed for adventure. Knobbly, grippy mountain bike tyres are perfect for carving 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. Its saddle can be adjusted in height without using tools.

  •  £149.99 / AU$299

Orange Pop

The attention to detail in the Orange Pop is impressive
The attention to detail in the Orange Pop is impressive.
Orange

A great transition from striding to pedals is the 16in Orange Pop. It’s a proper shrunken mountain bike for the promising young ripper.

The frame follows the same long, low and slack mantra of Orange’s big bikes. It’s a singlespeed, so there are no gears to struggle with or break and the proper 2.15in Kenda tyres are another highlight. The frame comes in one size and a range of colours (for an extra cost).

Black Mountain Bikes Skøg

Regal purple is one of four bright colour choices for the Skøg
Regal purple is one of four bright colour choices for the Skøg.
Skøg Black Mountain Bikes

Like its little sibling the Pinto, Skøg works essentially like three bikes in one.

Without wheels, it’s a balance bike. Pop the pedals on and it will work as a regular pedal bike except – and here’s the cool bit – the frame and gearing can be adapted to suit the rider. So smaller kids can have as good a fit as possible and the bike can change with them.

The bikes are designed to be light and therefore easier for smaller people to ride, and have good quality brakes with levers designed for small hands.

It’s available in four bright colours including purple, green, light blue and orange.

  • £339 (international delivery available, but Black Mountain does not currently ship to the US)

Best bikes for ages 6 to 10

Look for bikes with 18in to 20in wheels. At this point you’ll start to see more gearing options and lever-operated brakes only. You’ll also start to see suspension making an appearance (usually front suspension forks only).

Bear in mind that cheaper suspension bikes can be heavier than their non-suspension alternatives, and 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

Giant XtC Jr 20w
Is your kid ready to venture off-road? Bring on the roots, rocks and mud!
Giant

The Giant XtC Jr is a 20in-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 also has a bell and kickstand fitted.

  • £269 / $255

Specialized Hotrock 20

Specialized Hotrock 20 2020
The Specialized Hotrock is a popular choice and for good reason.
Specialized

The Hotrock is one of the most popular kids’ bikes out there, and is another 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 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 24in wheels for bigger kids.

  • £335 / $344 / AU$480

Scott Scale 20

scott Scale JNR 20
The Scott Scale Junior packs in the features from the adult bike range into a junior package.
Scott

Bringing together the simplicity of a rigid bike (no suspension) with the chunkier tyres of a mountain bike, the Scale 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.

  • £279 / AU$399.95

Trek Roscoe 20

Trek Roscoe 20
Chunky tyres add bags of grip (and therefore confidence) to this ride.
Trek

Trek’s mid-fat Roscoe 20 is designed to inspire youngsters’ confidence with large 2.8in tyres that are able to take on the trails and the streets.

It has a rigid fork for simplicity and savings on weight and cost, but you’ll spot plenty of details shared from Trek’s adult-size bikes. These include a durable aluminium frame (with kid-specific geometry), a fuss-free 1×8 Shimano drivetrain with wide-range cassette, and Tektro mechanical disc brakes.

All of this adds up to a great base for building young riding skills. The Roscoe 20 is relatively affordable too, making it a wise choice for the budget conscious.

  • £400 / $489.99

Early Rider Trail 20

Early Rider Trail 20
All you need to do is pop the pedals and handlebars on and this bike is ready to ride.
Early Rider

The Trail 20 has a brushed aluminium frame with a rigid fork to match, SRAM components, Maxxis Max Daddy tyres and Early Rider’s own grips and saddle, so it’s ready to rip on the trails.

Weighing 9.3kg, this 9-speed hardtail should help your youngster take on everything in their path.

The bike comes assembled, you just need to attach the bar, pop on the pedals and add pressure to the tyres.

  • £549.99
  • Shipping to Europe available. Check the Early Rider website for more information.

Best bikes for ages 10 to 13

With a wheel size of 24in 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.

Transition Ripcord

Transition Ripcord bike
The Transition Ripcord is a bike for the true junior shredder
Transition

With 100mm of front and rear travel, this full-susser is for young shredders who want to take on everything and anything.

The Ripcord offers a low standover height, progressive geometry, RockShox Recon fork and Monarch R shock, plus Shimano brakes and a SRAM 1x drivetrain.

Transition says the bike is designed for everything from trail shredding to bike-park ripping. With an air fork and shock, there’s a good deal of adjustability too.

It’s no surprise that the Ripcord is high on price with this spec, but this is a bike that won’t be holding any child back.

  • £1,600 / $1,699

Kona Process 24

Kona Process 24 kids bike
Only the luckiest of kids will be riding a Process 24.
Kona

The Kona Process is a very popular bike with the grownups, and now kids can get in on the action too.

This scaled-down version keeps the progressive geometry and high spec, and also offers a seriously fun and performance-focussed ride for kids who want to race and ride hard.

100mm of front and rear travel is tuned for light riders, with a Manitou Machete Comp Air fork and RockShox Deluxe Solo Air shock with Shimano drivetrain and Kendra Kinetics tyres.

  • £1,899 / $1,999

Canyon Grand Canyon AL 24

Canyon Grand Canyon AL 24
The Grand Canyon AL 24 is a quality way to get into mountain biking.
Canyon

Inspired by the adult Grand Canyon range, this 24in-wheel hardtail mountain bike is designed to provide a competent introduction to the world of off-road riding.

The sleek aluminium frame is fitted with 65mm Spinner Grind Air 24 suspension forks for control as well as comfort, while SRAM Level hydraulic disc brakes provide plenty of easy-to-use stopping power. The Grand Canyon 24 has nine gears from its SRAM groupset.

Grips, saddle, pedals and cockpit are all Canyon’s own, designed to suit smaller riders.

  • £699

Frog 69 and Frog 73

Frog 69
Versatile enough for random adventures and cycling to school.
Frog

Frog, a British company dedicated to making lightweight bikes for children, has a range of options including road bikes, mountain bikes and hybrids.

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

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

  • Frog 69: £360 / $590
  • Frog 73: £380 / $600

Best bikes for teenagers

For teenagers, you’ll be able to pick from a wide range of bikes including smaller 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 26in wheels rather than the now more common 27.5in 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 Islabikes, and we’ve included a few of these below.

Islabikes Creig

Islabikes Creig 24 in charcoal
The Islabikes Creig is now available for younger and older riders for 2020. Its geometry looks pretty rad too
Islabikes

The Creig is an aluminium-framed hardtail mountain bike with progressive geometry that’s designed to suit a smaller rider. High-quality RockShox 30 Gold air forks can be tuned to suit the child’s weight and the riding conditions.

Four wheel sizes mean there’s a Creig for riders aged from just eight years right the way through to teens.

Spec highlights include an adjustable RockShox air fork, SRAM Level hydraulic disc brakes and a single-chainring transmission from SRAM.

  • £1,499 / $1,249.99

Islabikes Luath

Islabikes Luath 26 in teal
The Luath is versatile enough to take on cyclocross competition, road riding or gravel riding.
Islabikes

The Luath from Islabikes is such a versatile bike that you can order it with road, cyclocross or gravel tyres. Like the rest of Islabikes range, it’s a proper scaled-down version of a serious bike that will do justice to even the most committed of kids.

Spec highlights include a lightweight aluminium frame with a carbon fork, Tektro cable disc brakes with levers designed specifically for smaller hands and a 1x drivetrain that keeps things simple, secure and light.

Four sizes mean there are options for riders from just eight years old through to mid-teens.

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Kids’ helmets and essential advice

Once you’ve got the bike, you may want to get a few other bits and pieces to keep your child safe, secure and comfortable while they’re riding.

Our buyer’s guide to kids’ helmets offers a few recommendations, as well as help to ensure you get a well-fitting helmet for your child.

Finally, if you are considering doing the school or nursery run by bike, we have plenty of advice for commuting with kids.