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.
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.
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.
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
"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.
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 (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
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
Parents looking for a 16-inch bike that strikes a good
balance between price and quality will want to investigate the (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
Parents who want a slightly lower-cost 16-inch bike with
more color choices will want to look at the (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
If you're looking for a 20-inch bike for a slightly older,
taller child, reviewers say the (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.