Editor’s note: Inventory can be unpredictable this year with COVID-19, so some of the items in this list might be temporarily out of stock when you read this guide. We’ll do our best to update it accordingly.
Learning how to ride a bike is a defining moment in a child’s life. The freedom that comes with pedaling down the neighborhood is exhilarating. And you can help stoke that excitement early by getting your child into a kids‘ bike that’s right for them and encouraging that sense of freedom as the child grows and becomes more confident.
There are a lot of bike options out there, but which is best for your child? We asked our team of experts to weigh in on their six favorites. There’s a bike for every kid, from toddlers learning to balance on two wheels for the first time to a ‘tween looking to shred dirt solo. So read on for our favorite picks.
For quick recommendations, check out our roundup below, or scroll down for more in-depth reviews.
- STRIDER 12 Sport Kids’ Balance Bike
- Cannondale Kids‘ Trail 12
- Co-op Cycles REV 16 Kids’ Bike
- Cannondale Kids’ Quick 20
- Co-op Cycles REV CTY Step-Through
- Co-op Cycles REV DRT Kids’ Bike
Best Kids’ Balance Bike
- Recommended age: 18 months to 5 years
- Frame material: Steel
- Weight: 6 lbs. 11.2 oz.
- Wheel size: 12 in.
- Price: $110
If you want to instill confidence early, start kids off with the STRIDER 12 Sport. A balance bike ditches pedals for a more intuitive foot-driven system (think the Flintstones but with shoes). The company’s best-selling 12 Sport allows toddlers as young as 18 months to scoot and glide on the bike by pushing off with their feet, giving them a little taste of freedom while laying down the foundation for solid biking skills. Gliding without pedals helps kids learn how to balance and steer and helps them transition more easily to pedaling.
“At under 7 pounds, this bike is so lightweight that my toddlers could steer and handle the bike with ease,” says one of our editors. Both her sons learned on the same STRIDER, starting at age 2, first scooting and then later lifting up their feet and cruising. They easily moved on to pedals soon afterward and skipped training wheels entirely, she says. Features on the bike make it easy to grow with the child or pass down between kids. For example, the seatpost and handlebars can be adjusted without tools so the bike can accommodate toddlers to kids about 5 years old. Another parent bonus: The EVA polymer tires remove worry about getting flats. Buy here.
Best Beginner Pedal Kids’ Bike
- Recommended age: 2 to 5
- Frame material: aluminum
- Weight: 15 lbs. 9.6 oz.
- Wheel size: 12 in.
- Price: $260
Nothing makes a child feel like a big kid than pedaling their first bike, with or without training wheels. The Cannondale Kids‘ Trail 12 balances a child’s need for confidence and desire for freedom, but pairs that with easy-to-handle 12-inch wheels, lightweight alloy frame and a low standover height suitable for smaller children. What’s more, thick, 1.75-inch rubber tires handle sidewalks as well as dirt, gravel and greenways. “With its bright colors and single-speed setup, the Cannondale Kids‘ Trail 12 is a great beginner bike for fun summer rides around the neighborhood or at the park,” says Elizabeth Nguyen, an REI bike shop adviser in the Atlanta store. “Training wheels can be taken off without any tools, making it much simpler than other bikes in its category.”
Meanwhile, the single-speed drivetrain keeps things simple by removing the need for kids at this age to learn to shift. And the coaster brakes are intuitive to operate even for the youngest kids (just pedal backward to stop). The cruiser-style handlebar with soft grips also enhances comfort for little hands. A chainguard helps keep pants free of the chain and bike grease, while an adjustable seatpost means you won’t be in the market one year from now. Buy here.
Best 16-inch Kids’ Bike
- Recommended age: 5 to 8
- Frame material: aluminum
- Weight: 16 lbs. 14.4 oz.
- Wheel size: 16 in.
- Price: $229
Bigger wheels mean a little more speed and freedom to roll for a child who is growing into a larger bicycle. Co-op Cycles uses a quality, light aluminum for the frame of the Rev 16—the same 6061 aluminum used for many adult bikes—and also adds a steel fork for extra durability. The result is a bike that’s modeled after their larger-size bikes in quality and value. The aluminum upgrade adds a little weight, but this bike handles up to 80 pounds. That’s key if you’re looking for a bike that can grow with your child or be handed down from one kid to the next. And training wheels detach without tools when it’s time to fly without an assist.
The Rev 16’s more upright geometry helps keep the rider sitting up and comfortable, while the handlebars (which do not adjust) and stem are inspired by BMX designs. The inflatable 1.75-inch tires are built for cruising pavement but can handle dirt paths, too.
Not to be overlooked: the fun factor. Each Rev 16 comes with a bell and a pack of stickers to customize the frame. You can even mount streamers (sold separately) to the handlebars. “The bike is lightweight, hubs spin smooth and free, and my little girl is FLYING,” says one customer reviewer. “She LOVES her stickers.” Buy here.
Best 20-inch Kids’ Bike
- Recommended age: 6 to 10
- Frame material: aluminum alloy
- Weight: 20 lbs. 3.2 oz.
- Wheel size: 20 in.
- Price: $435
The jump to a bike with 20-inch wheels is a big leap for budding riders. That’s because bikes of this size introduce two key concepts: handbrakes and shifting. The first few rides may take adjusting, but kids catch on quickly. When they do, they’ll love the control that the Cannondale Quick 20’s features add to their ride. Rim brakes offer reliable stopping power, and the 7-speed Shimano Revo shifting gives them the ability to churn up some steeper hills with ease as well as more speed on the flats.
While the Quick 20 represents a notable step forward for a child, the bike is still designed for those who are getting the hang of cycling’s nuances. For instance, the Quick 20’s step-through frame allows smaller kids to more easily straddle the bike. “Cannondale's ‘Kid Correct‘ fit uses age-appropriate sizing, including a longer reach for larger kids and lower stack height to offer improved control when riding at faster speeds,” says Johanna St. Pierre, a service adviser at the REI store in Denver who has sold bikes for seven years. The adjustable seatpost can be fine-tuned for fit as the child grows. Buy here.
Best 24-inch Kids’ Bike
- Recommended age: 8 to 12
- Frame material: aluminum
- Wheel size: 24 in.
- Price: $399
Consider this a smaller version of a city bike–ideal for cruising sidewalks, streets and trails and with an incredible cost-to-feature value. The Co-op Cycles Rev CTY matches a durable 6061 aluminum frame with quality components, including a Shimano drivetrain that offers 21 gearing options for tackling hills, flats and other terrain.
Features throughout the bike make the Rev CTY ideal for school commutes, cruising around town or rail trails, including a step-through design for easy on and off and an upright geometry provides easy-to-ride confidence to younger riders. Meanwhile, rim brakes offer responsive stopping power and are easy to adjust. This is a city bike with 1.5-inch all-terrain tires, designed to excel on pavement and some trails. If you have dreams of getting the family to cruise greenways, the Rev CTY offers plenty of bang for the buck. Buy here.
Best Kids’ Mountain Bike
Recommended age: 8 to 12
Frame material: Aluminum
Weight: 31 pounds
Wheel size: 24 in.
Take Co-op Cycles' emphasis on best-in-class value and apply it to mountain bikes and you get the REV DRT, a knobby-tired machine built to shred dirt. Every detail was designed to handle whatever the trail and your kid dish out—from the bomber 6061 aluminum frame to the Suntour front-suspension fork with its 80 mm of travel. A Shimano Tourney 1x8 drivetrain provides enough gears to handle elevation changes on the trail without adding too much weight or overwhelming the mind with options.
Our staffers also like the ultra-wide 2.6” tires. They dampen chatter from the trail while also offering a wider and more secure platform for newer mountain bikers who want to build up their confidence. “The best feature on this beginner mountain bike may be its hydraulic disc brakes which delivers accurate and responsive stopping power,” says Nguyen, the Atlanta bike shop adviser. The upgrade in brakes means you get a consistent smooth stopping motion under many conditions; they’re especially tenacious in wet conditions—just what you want when the going gets sloppy and muddy. Put it all together and you’ll know your child is on a machine that can handle trails with confidence. Buy here.
Buying Advice for Kids' Bikes
Consider these factors when buying a bike for your kids.
What size bike does the child need?
Kids’ bikes are separated by the wheel size—12-inch-diameter wheels like the STRIDER 12 Sport Kids’ Balance Bike and Cannondale Kids‘ Trail 12 for the smallest humans to 24-inch wheels like the Co-op Cycles REV CTY Step-Through for big kids. (Adult bikes start at 26-inch wheels and are measured based on the frame size). For riders who may be too big for a 24-inch wheel kid’s bike but aren’t ready to jump to a much larger bike, they may want to test out a XXS frame adult bike with 26-inch wheels to see if they feel comfortable with the weight and handling. Age factors into the buying decision too, but there’s a wide range of appropriate ages for each size. Your child could be 5 years old and riding a 12-inch bike or a 20-inch bike, depending on height and leg length. In short, pay more attention to how your child fits on the bike than the recommended age range. Can they reach the handlebars and put their feet flat on the ground while sitting on the seat? Or are their knees in their chest when they pedal? Learn more in How to Choose Kids Bikes.
Where will they ride?
The majority of bikes for children and adolescents are built to handle many surfaces, from concrete to dirt trails. That said, there’s still some specialization once you enter “big kid bikes” in the 20-inch to 24-inch wheel range. Choose a bike by the type of terrain your child will ride most of the time. If you’re surrounded by greenways and sidewalks, a more street-centric bike is a good option; it will be lighter with skinnier tires and a rigid fork. If you’re hoping to raise a singletrack shredder, look for mountain bikes with wider tires and a suspension fork such as the Co-op Cycles REV DRT. These bikes will be a little heavier, but they’re built to roll over uneven terrain and come back for more.
A key tip from our experts: To keep your child confident and having fun, increase the size of the bike incrementally as your child grows. Introducing a bike that’s too large too soon can frustrate a young rider and turn him off from riding. And nobody wants that.
We asked our team of employees at REI to detail their favorite picks for kids‘ bikes. They reported back with their top choices for a wide range of children, from toddlers who can barely say the word “bicycle” to big kids starting to shred singletrack.
Remember: Safety is your responsibility. No internet article or video can replace proper instruction and experience—this article is intended solely as supplemental information. Be sure you’re practiced in proper techniques and safety requirements before you engage in any outdoor activity.
Article by Graham Averill. Graham is a senior writer at Bike and a regular contributor to Outside, Backpacker and the Co-op Journal. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina, where he rides his mountain bike as much as possible, but never enough.