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Best Kids Bikes

By: Saundra Latham on April 27, 2017

Editor's note:
The high-quality ByK E-350 takes the top spot as our best 16-inch kids' bike this year. With its lightweight frame and lower center of gravity, it's worth a small splurge. We've also picked the aluminum-frame RoyalBaby Space No. 1 as the best 12-inch kids' bike – it strikes a good balance between weight and price.

ByK E-350 Review
Best Reviewed
Specs that Matter Frame: Aluminum Weight: 17.5 pounds Max. seat height: 23 inches

Best 16-inch kids' bike

The ByK E-350 proves that well-engineered kids' bikes don't have to cost an arm and a leg. While it does cost more than a big-box store bike, experts and parents say the low, lightweight frame and larger wheels help their little riders build the confidence for fast riding on flat pavement. Other perks include a bell and training wheels for kids not quite ready to ride on their own. A quick-release seat post also makes it easy to adjust the bike for a growing child.

Buy for $234.99
ByK E-450 Review
Best Reviewed
Specs that Matter Frame: Aluminum Weight: 20 pounds Max. seat height: 29 inches

Best 20-inch kids' bike

Bigger kids who are ready to ride with more speed and confidence have a winner in the ByK E-450, experts and owners say. Though more expensive than bikes more readily available at big-box stores, spending a little more gets buyers a lighter, faster, higher-quality ride. The ByK features an aluminum frame that makes it easier to pedal, a low-center-of-gravity design that's more manageable for kids, hand brakes and an easy-to-adjust seat. Extras include a bell and kickstand.

Buy for $249.99
Schwinn Roadster Review
Best Reviewed
Specs that Matter Frame: Steel Weight: 21 pounds Max. seat height: N/A

Best tricycle

The Schwinn Roadster has a classic look and timeless appeal that draws many parents, but its durable construction is what earns raves. The steel frame and rugged air-filled tires are built to last and allow for better traction outdoors, parents say. Other features parents will appreciate include an adjustable seat, easy assembly, and a low center of gravity that helps the trike resist tipping. Kids will like the shiny bell and streamers.

Buy for $82.99
Strider 12 Sport Review
Best Reviewed
Specs that Matter Frame: Steel Weight: 6.5 pounds Max. seat height: 19 inches

Best balance bike

Reviewers say the Strider 12 Sport is a great investment for parents who want a balance bike that will grow with their children from toddlerhood into the preschool years and beyond. Two included seats (small and large) and a wide range of adjustability keep the bike comfortable for younger and older kids, and a lightweight frame means even the smallest kids can maintain control. The no-flat foam tires and easy-to-adjust seat also win raves.

Buy for $109.99
Kinderfeets Balance Bike Review
Runners Up
Specs that Matter Frame: Wood Weight: 8 pounds Max. seat height: 16 inches

Wooden balance bike

Wooden balance bikes have more of a toy-like, heirloom appeal than their metal counterparts, and reviewers say the Kinderfeets Balance Bike delivers on those points. The eco-friendly birch frame, Dutch design and range of color choices please most parents, and kids like the chalkboard-painted finish that lets them draw on their bikes. Removable wooden footrests, a washable seat pad and no-flat rubber tires are among the other features reviewers appreciate.

Buy for $85.98
RoyalBaby Space No. 1 Review
Best Reviewed
Specs that Matter Frame: Aluminum Weight: 17 pounds Max. seat height: 21.3 inches

Best 12-inch kids' bike

Lightweight but not too pricey, the RoyalBaby Space No. 1 is a solid choice for parents who want their tots to start on a pedal bike as young as possible. The aluminum frame won't weigh down tiny riders as much as steel-frame bikes, and parents appreciate the range of extras that comes with this bike: training wheels, a bell, a water bottle, and even a hand brake on top of the regular coaster brake. They also say assembly shouldn't require expert assistance.

Buy for $149.99

Types of Kids Bikes

16- and 20-inch Bikes

Kids' pedal bikes are typically categorized by wheel size, and two of the most common are 16- and 20-inch models. It's best to have your child try a bike before you buy it to check for proper fit, but, in general, 16-inch bikes are best for 3- to 6-year-olds; 20-inch models are typically a better bet for 6- to 10-year-olds. Most 16-inch kids' bikes still come with training wheels and easy-to-use pedal-controlled coaster brakes; they may also have extras such as bells, horns, streamers or baskets. Once your child is old enough for a 20-inch bike, you'll have more "serious" features to choose from, including hand brakes, suspension systems and multiple gears. Training wheels are less common on this size bike, however.

Tricycles

Parents with very young children often start their children on a tricycle. On tricycles, children can learn to steer and pedal without fear. Trikes are generally low to the ground, and the third wheel adds stability compared with two-wheeled bikes. While classic trikes with metal frames and shiny chrome accents are still out there, others are made of heavy-duty plastic. Unsurprisingly, the former is usually more durable, but also more expensive.

Balance Bikes

Traditional tricycles can help teach your child confidence, pedaling and control, but they will not help develop balance. That's where balance bikes come in. These lightweight bikes look much like a regular pedal bike -- except there are no pedals. Children scoot along using their feet to start and stop, learning how to balance during the brief time that both feet are off the ground. Most balance bikes have metal frames, but others are made of wood. Metal balance bikes are a bit more durable for outside play, while wooden models have equal appeal as an indoor toy.

12-inch Bikes

If a trike or a balance bike doesn't seem quite right, there's a third option. Twelve-inch bikes with training wheels are also available for smaller riders (roughly ages 2 to 4). Steel-framed 12-inch bikes, often plastered with cartoon characters, are a common sight at big-box stores. But parents should note that they're often extremely heavy, making it hard for children to pedal and steer independently. Higher-quality 12-inch bikes with lighter aluminum frames are available through specialty bike shops or online, but they're usually much pricier -- up to $300 compared to $70 or $80 for a typical big-box store bike.

Finding The Best Kids Bikes
Our Sources
"Pedal Bikes: Comparison Charts and Ratings"
"Children: Choosing a Bike/Buying a Bike"
"The Definitive Guide to Kids Bikes Sizes (Don't Buy the Wrong Bike)"

Expert reviews of kids' bikes are relatively scarce. One exception is TwoWheelingTots.com, a site run by avid cyclists with several comparative reviews of balance bikes and pedal bikes. Sites such as IBike.org and IceBike.org include helpful buying and sizing guides, but don't recommend specific bikes. Most helpful are parents' reviews at sites including Amazon.com, Target.com, and ToysRUs.com. We considered reviewers' perspectives on bike performance and durability while evaluating our sources to help you find the best kids' bikes.

The best bikes for older kids

Buyers who can afford to spend a bit more on a lightweight bike that can help foster a love of riding should take a close look at the ByK E-350 (Est. $260), reviewers say. Though it technically has 18-inch wheels, the long, low frame is sized like that of a 16-inch bike. It's recommended for 4- to 6-year-olds who are roughly 38 to 46 inches tall, and it comes with removable training wheels and a bell. Seat height ranges from 18 inches to just over 23 inches. Available colors include white with blue, red, purple or pink accents.

At about 17½ pounds, the ByK E-350 is much lighter than most bikes that are readily available in big-box stores thanks to its aluminum alloy frame. Experts with TwoWheelingTots.com say the ByK also has narrower tires and higher gearing than other similarly sized bikes, making it ideal for faster riding on flat pavement. It has both a rear coaster brake and hand brakes, but experts warn the hand brakes may be tricky to operate for small hands. There is a quick-release seat post for easy seat adjustments, and while parents report few issues with assembly, some say the directions are lacking.

Reviews are happy with the quality of their ByK, but there are few reviews that speak to long-term durability. ByK warranties most components for one year, but extends that to 10 years for the bike frame and fork.

Parents looking for a 16-inch bike that strikes a good balance between price and quality will want to investigate the Diamondback Mini Viper (Est. $120), reviewers say. Recommended for kids ages 3 to 6 and riders 34 to 45 inches tall, this BMX bike comes with removable training wheels. Seat height is adjustable and ranges from 20 to 24 inches. The bike comes only in blue.  

At just shy of 21 pounds, the Mini Viper is fairly heavy -- a common issue with kids' bikes. Despite its heft, reviewers say it's easy for their kids to maneuver and even carry as they get a bit bigger.  Experts with TwoWheelingTots.com say the Mini Viper has a relatively upright handlebar height that may prove tricky for newer riders, but it doesn't draw complaints from parent reviewers. The bike has an easy-to-use rear coaster brake. It lacks the quick-release seat post that some comparable bikes boast; adjusting seat height requires an Allen wrench. Reviewers say the bike comes mostly assembled, and it's easy to finish the job in about 15 minutes.

The Mini Viper really shines when it comes to quality and durability, especially compared with other bikes at a similar price point. Parents say the steel frame feels sturdy, though a few complain the plastic training wheels are flimsy. A handful of reviewers also say their bikes came with a flat tire. The bike frame comes with a lifetime warranty; other parts have a one-year warranty.

Parents who want a slightly lower-cost 16-inch bike with more color choices will want to look at the RoyalBaby BMX Freestyle (Est. $105). The manufacturer recommends this bike for 4- to 6-year-olds, and the seat height is adjustable from about 21 to 25½ inches. Most reviewers recommend the bike starting around age 4, but there are 12- and 14-inch versions for younger riders. The Freestyle comes with removable training wheels, a water bottle and bell. It's available in blue, green, orange, red or white.

At more than 24 pounds, the Freestyle is too heavy, experts with Two-Wheeling Tots say. Still, they also note that the bike is fairly well engineered for young riders, with easy-to-maneuver handlebars and a lower center bar that's easier for kids to step over. Parents mostly echo that opinion, but there are more complaints about weight than there are with the slightly lighter Diamondback Mini Viper. The bike comes with both a coaster brake and a hand brake, rare for a young kid's model. Though some say the hand brake is a bit stiff, most reviewers appreciate the option. The seat also has a quick-release post that allows parents to quickly adjust seat height without tools. Like the Mini Viper, the bike comes mostly assembled and the process is easy to finish, parents say.

The Freestyle's air-filled tires are wider than the norm, providing a bit of extra traction for young riders just ditching their training wheels. Parents also say the steel frame feels sturdy, but durability and quality control seem to be more of an issue here. Some reviewers say they received bikes with rusty or missing parts, while others say the bike chain or pedals fell off. The bike comes with a one-year warranty.

If you're looking for a 20-inch bike for a slightly older, taller child, reviewers say the ByK E-450 (Est. $290) will provide a quality ride at a mid-range price – higher than big-box options, but still much lower than many comparable-quality models, experts say. ByK recommends this single-speed bike for kids 5 to 8 years old and 43 to 52 inches tall; seat height is adjustable from about 23 to 29 inches. It's available in black or white with green, blue, purple or orange accents. A kickstand and bell are included, but there are no training wheels.

The ByK's biggest advantage over cheaper 20-inch bikes is weight -- its aluminum alloy frame weighs under 20 pounds. Experts with Two-Wheeling Tots say that can make a big difference, and combined with a low center of gravity, kids can ride "easier, sooner and faster" on the ByK. Reviewers echo this praise, saying those features help minimize frustration and build confidence. Experts do note, however, that the ByK has narrower tires than many other choices, which might mean a few more wobbles for hesitant riders. The ByK comes with both a coaster brake and dual hand brakes. A quick-release seat post makes adjusting seat height easy.

ByK warranties most components for one year, but extends that to 10 years for the bike frame and fork. Reviews that comment on durability are minimal. Though it doesn't come with training wheels, the smaller ByK E-350, which we discuss above, has them, or parents can add them independently.

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Kids Bikes buying guide

What every best Kids Bikes has:

  • An adjustable seat and handlebars.
  • A frame that's not too heavy.
  • Reliable brakes.

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