Learning to ride a bike is a childhood rite of passage. For the youngest set, pedal-less balance bikes have taken favor over the training wheels we grew up learning on, creating confident, comfortable riders who are ready for pedal bikes at an impressively young age. If your kiddo is ready to cruise with the big kids, it's time to start looking for a kids' bike.
When it comes to what makes the best kids' bike, there are a few factors to consider. Most important? The fit. Unlike clothes, experts advise against purchasing a bike your child can "grow into." A too-big bike makes learning to ride all the more difficult and we can all agree, it's hard enough even with the best equiptment.
So, you're probably wondering—how do you measure a kids' bike?
Most manufacturers size bikes by wheel diameter, but frames and dimensions vary quite a bit from brand to brand, making it confusing to figure out which is best for your kid. (They may be a 16-inch in one style and 20-inch in another.) Age isn't a great indicator either. (One glance at your child's class marching into school can tell you that.) The best way to measure your child for a bike is by their inseam. Compared with the seat height of the bike, you'll determine the most accurate fit. Guardian Bikes offers a fantastic visual on how to get that measurment, and most of the other brands we've included have super informative size charts as well.
Another factor to consider is weight.
Many of the cheapest bikes on the market are disproportionately heavy for the small people they're accomodating which makes maneuverability challenging. When possible, it is best to purchase a bike no greater than 30% of your child's weight. (Fun fact: Most adults ride bikes that are around 20% of their weight. No wonder it's tricky for little ones!)
Like so many of the decisions we make as parents these days, choosing the right bike for your sweet, eager kiddo can be overwhelming. But Iet me remind you that the vast majority of us learned to ride on two-ton, janky department store bikes and surprise! we turned out just fine. This is meant to be a helpful guide to the best of the best, but rest assured that you don't have to spend a fortune in order for your kid to unlock the joy of expertly riding a bike.
Where should you buy a kids bike?
Currently, new bikes are hard to come by. Many popular companies are struggling with inventory, (for the sake of frustration, we've noted wait times where applicable.) But new isn't always best. In fact, since cheap bikes tend to fall apart and often aren't the most kid-friendly when it comes to proportions, a used quality bike might be more worthwhile. If it's bike or bust this summer, we recommend hitting up your local bike shop, community bike swaps or good old-fashioned yard sales. On the bright side, if you have one your child has outgrown, there's never been a better time to sell it.
Check out the best bikes for kids below and don't forget the bike helmet!
Without a doubt, Woom is the gold standard of first pedal bikes. Not only are they the lightest on the market, but the kid-specific geometry makes learning to ride as easy a possible. The handlebars are nice and wide, offering confident control while low entry, low sitting position and a long wheelbase help them master balance. They also feature a detachable rubber ring steering limiter which can prevent accidents due to overcorrection. And since learning how to stop is as important as learning how to go, Woom bikes feature a sophisticated freewheel pedal system (which allows them to pedal backward to balance) + kid-sized double hand brakes instead of coaster brakes which can send them sailing just as they get the hang of it. (Note that do they ship with coaster brakes installed as it is a requirement of USCPSC regulations. Swapping for the hand brake system is an easy at-home fix.) Prices start at $359
- Models will be restocked on their site throughout the summer but exact dates are uncertain.
The low maintenance rides from Priority are ideal for families who prefer a get-on-and-go approach to bike ownership. If fiddling with gears and chains is not within your realm of expertise, no sweat! Priority Bikes feature belt drives and internally geared hubs, eliminating the traditional greasy (and slippable) chain and derailleurs. For kids who are rough on their bikes (read ditch them on their side in the driveway like they're on fire), internal hubs are a major plus since derailleurs can often get damaged. It comes equipped with a kickstand and full reflector kit and is available in 16, 20 and 24-inch sizes.
With a super-long wheelbase and low center of gravity, Cleary bikes allow new riders to feel confident and comfortable on all kinds of terrain. Their steel frames make them a bit heavier than the competition, but it also makes them super rugged and durable. (A plus for handing down or reselling!) And if you've got a budding Evel Knievel on your hands, this brand comes highly recommended for aggressive riders due to its slightly more forward riding position. They're available in 12, 16, 20 and 24-inch sizes. Prices start at $310.
- 12 and 20-inch models are currently available here and all models will be restocked with late June shipping on their own site.
The quality and innovation of Btwin bikes make them a stand out in this price range. Compared to others, they're lighter and more durable (bonus points for the chain guard which keeps the derailleurs safe and pants clean) and are designed with similar proportions to the more expensive Woom and Priority. Most impressive, however, is the Stop Easy brake lever which is specifically designed for kid-sized hands, requiring 30% less effort than traditional levers. Available in pink and orange, the full package comes with some cool accessories as well: front and rear mudguards, finger-safe bike stand, front and rear battery-powered lights, and bell. It's currently on sale, so snag one while you can!
This British brand is a favorite among experts and parents alike. Not only are they incredibly lightweight and built from top of the line components, but their exceptionally long wheelbase and reduced distance between pedals makes it easy to balance and maneuver while they're still learning. Parents (and kids!) will also appreciate the safety steering lock which helps prevent oversteering and the crashes that occur when they nervously over-correct. What's more, if they're still nervous about the jump from balance bike to pedals, both Frog 40 and Frog 44 can operate as balance bikes by removing the pedals. Prices start at $430.
- Frog 40 is available for pre-order here and will be restocking on their own site throughout the summer.
- Frog 44 is currently in stock here and will be restocking on their own site throughout the summer.
The award-winning rides from Guardian Bikes are a top pick for new and experienced riders given their totally kid-centered design. Most impressive is their patented SureStop braking system which leverages a single hand brake that's perfectly placed for small hands (as opposed to pedal brakes which can stop them just as they get their balance) and prevents flipping, even if they brake fast and furiously. Their 16, 20 and 24-inch bikes come in two models which have all the same features but one main difference. The more economical Ethos is made from lightweight steel, while the premium Airos is made from even lighter-weight aluminum. We also love how their size guide makes it easy to find the right bike for your kiddo by measuring their inseam. But best of all? It shows up on your doorstep nearly fully assembled with the tools to finish the job in five minutes. 🙌 Prices start at $279.
Schwinn's been making bikes since 1895, but a lot has changed over the years—most notably with their line of SmartStart bikes. Like their more expensive counterparts, the geometry is designed to better match a child's body type, as opposed to simply shrinking an adult bike. Available in a wide range of sizes, the Schwinn Elm is a solid budget option. It's a bit on the heavier side and requires a fair amount of assembly, but is overall a great value for the price. (And it comes with a kickstand and basket!) Prices start at $79.99
Like the Elm, the Koen offers a solid ride for a decent price. It's also from the SmartStart line which means kid-friendly proportions make it easier for beginner riders to hop on and go. In particular, the lengthened wheelbase provides ample room for their knees while pedaling—a feature that greatly contributes to more comfortable riding. It's available in a few different colors and 12, 14, 16, 18 and 20-inch sizes. Prices start at $140