While we found a decent number of reviews for tricycles and balance bikes, reviews of 20- and 24-inch bikes for older children are few and far between. Several bikes get good user reviews, but there's little consensus. The only professional review of bikes for older kids comes from Bicycling magazine, which recommends the 20-inch Jamis Starlite or Laser (*Est. $215). It's one of the few kids' bikes that has a lightweight aluminum frame, so it weighs about 25 pounds, which is lighter than many 20-inch kids' bikes. The Jamis Starlite (for girls) and Laser (for boys) are sold through independent bike shops, which is where experts recommend shopping for bicycles. Users can take advantage of a precise fitting and receive expert assembly, unlike bikes sold at big-box stores.
Bicycling magazine says the Jamis Starlite and Laser kids' bikes have comfortable, upright rides that give children a good view in traffic. A big comfy saddle is another plus. "The positioning is upright, letting riders see and be seen, and the padded grips and saddle prevent soreness," says Bicycling. Editors also like that the Jamis Starlite and Laser include a hand brake. "A single rear hand brake supplements the coaster brake, which helps riders learn to use manual controls." Because the Jamis Starlite and Laser are sold at bike shops, there are no online user reviews to back up this professional opinion.
Experts say shopping at a bike store is your best bet when shopping for bikes for older kids and adults. Although they are more expensive, bikes sold at bicycle stores are usually lighter, have better components and are assembled correctly. "Kids bikes fall into two distinct categories: those from "big box" stores and those from bike shops," says VeloNews. "The former are relatively inexpensive, but come with the weight and performance of a boat anchor."
However, there are a few Wal-Mart bikes that get relatively high ratings from owners. The girls' Huffy Daisy Diva Bike (*Est. $85) earns mainly positive reviews at Walmart.com. The light blue steel frame is accented with a front basket, fenders and a chain guard. Other components include a quick-release saddle, hand brakes and a single-speed drivetrain.
Most reviewers say the Huffy Daisy Diva is a good fit for older girls who have outgrown their training wheels. The bike is sturdy, and the wide seat is comfortable. A number of parents say they are happy with the inexpensive price tag. However, the Huffy Daisy Diva's steel frame is heavy compared to aluminum bikes like the Jamis Starlite and Laser. Durability is also a question, because some parents report flimsy fenders and bent wheels. "My daughter never wants to ride it anymore because we have had constant problems with it," says one reviewer. Assembling the bike and adjusting the hand brakes can also be frustrating.
For boys, the Next Chaos Freestyle Bike (*Est. $70) has a BMX-style design that appeals to older kids who want a "grown-up" bike. The steel-framed bike comes with hand brakes, a single-speed drivetrain and front and rear foot pegs for performing tricks. Most parents say their kids love spinning the front wheel and performing other tricks. Even though it's advertised for boys, there are a number of girls who enjoy the Next Chaos Freestyle. Like the Huffy Daisy Diva, the Next Chaos Freestyle has a steel frame that is heavier than comparable aluminum bikes. We also saw similar complaints about durability, especially faulty brakes. "The brakes on this bike are almost non-existent," says one owner. "I replaced them with new pads but the problem seems to be in the tensioning system." We also saw a number of complaints that the chain falls off easily.
We found very few reviews for 24-inch bikes, which is the size recommended for kids who are 12 older. Reviews for these bikes may be scarce because many kids at this age can fit on an adult bike. Bicycling magazine has one recommendation, the Redline Conquest 24 (*Est. $600). The bike has an aluminum frame, a double crankset, 8-speed Shimano shifter and Tektro Mini linear-pull brakes.
Bicycling magazine says the Redline kids' bike is versatile enough for pavement or packed-dirt trails. VeloNews also tests the Redline Conquest 24, saying it's very close to an adult bike and suitable for kids who want to get into bicycle racing. The bike offers a wide gear range, and braking performance is also very good. The only downside is the Shimano STI shifters, which may be too large for kids with smaller hands. "The upshift, however, still requires a relatively big lateral push on the brake lever," says VeloNews. "For this, 9 seems about the youngest age for which this is feasible."