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Consider durability and convenience

As your children grow, so too, should their bikes. Usually between the ages of 3 to 5, your child is ready to move up to a 12-inch bike. There are a wide variety of models to choose from, ranging dramatically in quality. To find the best value, there are a few things to consider.

Most 12-inch bikes come with removable training wheels. Most children will require these for at least a little while. The Kettler Classic Flyer Retro Bike (Est. $100) and the Schwinn Grit and Petunia (Est. $100) come equipped with removable training wheels as well as adjustable seats. The Schwinn models can be steered by the parent, using the handle that protrudes from the rear of the bike. This allows quite a bit of control over the bike without straining your back and makes teaching your child how to ride a "real" bike easy. The handle is removable when your child is ready for more independence.

The Kettler bikes tend to be more durable than Schwinn models, according to reviews. We read a number of complaints from parents who say the Petunia and Grit arrived in the box with missing or damaged parts. While there are better bikes on the market in this size, these models present the best bang for your buck. Since children grow quickly, sticking to a smaller budget is smart for early bicycle stages. That being said, the Kettler Classic Flyer Retro Bike is a sturdy, durable bike that will probably last longer than you need it to and is therefore our top choice in this category.

16-inch kids' bikes

Around the ages of 4 to 7 years old, your little one will probably be ready to move up to a 16-inch bike. There are not many major differences between the 12- and 16-inch bikes aside from wheel and frame size. However, some increases in quality are apparent as bikes move up in size. At this stage, they become less of a toy and more of a bike.

As your child grows larger, he or she will undoubtedly pedal faster as well. This will make stopping power all the more important when choosing a next bike. The Schwinn Scorch and Jasmine (Est. $100)  feature not only a coaster brake (allowing the child to stop the bike by pedaling backward), but also front and rear hand brakes. The front brake may be a bit excessive and possibly even dangerous as stopping too quickly could cause a nasty spill over the handlebars. However, the addition of both hand brakes allows children to grow accustomed to the adult style.

The Huffy Pro Thunder and So Sweet (Est. $85) models are easy to assemble and cost relatively little, but in reviews some parents call them "flimsy" and say they are packaged with damaged or missing parts. In comparison, Schwinn models are heavy, but stable and reportedly very durable. They should last as long as your child will need them and then some.

Ultimately, we chose the Schwinn Scorch and Jasmine as our best 16-inch kids bike because of its sturdy construction, kid-friendly stopping power and ability to help your child grow more comfortable on two wheels.

20-inch kids' bikes

Parents of children ages 7 to 10 years old should consider upgrading from a 16-inch bike to a 20-inch model. In the realm of 20-inch bikes, there is a wider variety of styles to choose from. There are mountain bikes, road bikes, BMX bikes, cruisers and more. Deciding which one you will need depends a lot upon your child's personality and where they will be riding it. This is also where you will see a jump in both quality and price, with bikes in this size costing between $100 and $500. If you are unsure about which type of bike to choose, consider an all-around versatile bike.

Islabike Beinn 20 (Est. $450) has the same features found on full-size bikes. It comes with six Shimano gears and a lightweight aluminum frame. Compared to the Jamis Laser and Starlite (Est. $215) , the Islabike Beinn 20 is lighter, faster and more versatile. However, shifting gears might be too much for your novice rider to think about, reviewers say, and there is probably no need for all of these bells and whistles on a bike that your child will eventually outgrow.

The Jamis models are well-made, comfortable bikes that offer a coaster brake as well as hand brakes for a safer ride and quick emergency stops. They are less than half the price of the Beinn 20 and are still more than worthy of your average child rider. But Islabike appears to have thought of everything, and the Beinn 20 is one of the best kids' bikes on the market.

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Huffy Boy's Pro Thunder Bike (12-Inch, Silver/Blue)
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from Amazon.com
New: $64.99 $49.99   
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Kettler Kid's Classic Flyer Retro Bike, 12-Inch
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New: $139.00 $106.10   
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Average Customer Review:  
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Schwinn Girls' Petunia 12-inch Steerable Bike
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from Amazon.com
New: $119.99 $83.99   
In Stock.
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