Get the right bike and you'll have no trouble keeping your kid riding.
How to choose wisely from the mass of kids mountain bikes that are available. We show you what’s important and what isn’t. PLUS tips on keeping kids riding.
What bike for what age?
- 2 – 3 yrs old = 12″ wheel balance bike
- 3 – 4 yrs old = 14″ wheel (pedal bike or balance bike if need be still)
- 4 – 5 yrs old = 16″ wheel
- 5 – 7 yrs old = 20″ wheel
- 8 – 10 yrs old = 24″ wheel
- 12+ yrs old = Adult bike
Less is more
With kids bikes the main thing to keep reminding yourself – and your offspring – is that less is more. This is the golden rule.
More features, more functions, more… stuff just adds to the weight of the bike. And bike weight for kids bikes is more important than any bells and whistles. A hefty lump of a bike will get left at home, unridden.
Be warned, your child will not understand and may not like being faced with a bike that isn’t “like Mummy’s/Daddy’s bike” with loads of gear, disc brakes, suspension and dropper posts and all that stuff. Well, tough! They’ll thank in the long run. Avoid gears until they’re on 20″ wheel bike at least.
The other golden rule is: AVOID STABILISERS. They stop kids learning how to balance. They stop kids learning that momentum keeps them upright. Get a balance bike instead.
Oh and another thing, try not to buy a bike that’s too big for your kid. It’s tempting to do this and think “they’ll grow into it and get more money’s worth”. They won’t. They’ll just be scared and overwhelmed by a massive bike and never ride it. You can always re-sell the bike once it’s done with and if it’s a good quality one you’ll get a surprising amount for it on the second-hand market.
Kids mountain bikes
Seven options to get your kids rolling on real bikes.
1. The Hope Academy
Kicking off with something a bit different. The Hope Academy is essentially a subscription service to a whole range of kids bikes. The idea being that pay your £6 a month and when the time comes you simply request the next bike in the scheme for your ever-growing little one. As you’d expect from Hope the bikes are all ‘proper bikes’ with great spec and a keen eye on keeping thing lightweight
2. Wishbone Bike
The £160 Wishbone is two bikes in one; it’s a three wheeler that converts into a two wheeler. The idea being that when your kid is really young they can use the trike option and when their legs have grown and it’s time to learn about two wheels, you can convert it onto a balance bike. Not only that but it’s also two balance bikes! A clever bit of design allows you to flip the bike over, swap the seatpost upside-down and you have a larger size balance bike. Cunning and money saving too.
3. Cube Cubie 120
Dig the whole Plus bike vibe and function on the £120 Cube Cutie. The large balloon-like tyres afford the rollover and comfort of a much larger wheel rim – and the extra stability and traction of a mini Plus bike – even though the rims used here are still only 12in diameter. You could also run smaller 12in tyres on it to ‘slam’ the bike down if your kid hasn’t quite got the leg length yet (put the balloon tyres back on when your kid has grown a bit – sorted).
4. Islabikes and Islabikes Pro Series
Islabikes are the go-to brand when it comes to cyclists buying bikes for their sprogs. Islabikes started the whole ‘proper bikes for kids’ thing many years ago and they are definitely well worth checking out. Their standard range is extremely well thoguht out and uncompromising in design.
The more costly Pro Series is a new concept from Islabikes. Super lightweight, top spec, carbon stuff, RockShox forks, 1x drivetrains…all with a price tag to match.
5. Orange Zest
26in wheels aren’t dead! In a funny way, kids bikes accidentally reveal a lot about how modern mountain bike sizing and geometry is headed. Namely, matching your height to your wheel size. The £975 Orange Zest is very much in the vein of any modern Orange hardtaill; contemporary geometry designed to handle technical trails and inspire fun and confidence. Single-ring setups and dropper post cable routing too.
6. Canyon kids bikes
Mail order bike brand Canyon has just revealed a range of Canyon kids’ mountain bikes. Three models in total for children aged 3 and up. The age range is 3 years and up. Or, in height terms, 98cm and taller. No they ain’t cheap but they are impressively specced and designed.
7. Early Rider
You may recognise these bikes form the Hope Academy listing at the start of this guide. Early Rider bikes are known for being lightweight and well made with a heavy emphasis on being stylish in a minimalist sort of way. It’s not just a case of form over function though. It’s more a case of having the function and sticking a bit of form on there too, just because. Everyone likes a cool looking bike. Their Belter bikes use a belt drive rather than a metal chain for a couple of reasons, 1) it won’t rust and go all grimy-oily and, 2) it’s much lighter than a hefty metal chain.
How to get your kids riding
Too busy childminding to ride? Follow our guide and take your mini shredders with you…
1. Know your route
Start with what you know best and don’t get fixated on finishing a specific route. If they can stop, play, or do bits again, that’s no problem. You can’t make it too easy for the first ride — your only goal on the first outing is to guarantee a fulfilled and happy finisher.
The first-timer distance calculator is half a kilometre for every year (so 2.5km for a five-year-old). Do a tiny loop you can finish in half an hour, tops — you can always add more if you think they can make it.
2. How hard?
Keep it easy. Being bumped about is tiring and demoralising, so stick to simple, smooth trails — they’ll soon go looking for challenges once ready. Dry trails on warm days are best — a bit of mud can be fun but wallowing through cold and wet is an acquired taste. Take the time to drop their saddles for obstacles; raise afterwards to make pedalling easier. Trail centres are ideal as there will be other mountain bikers cheering them on.
3. Bike choice
As we all know, wheel size matters — even more so for the tiny tearaway.
It might be a small step for you but their wheels are smaller and their bikes relatively heavier than yours. For 2 years + look at 12in wheels. 3+ go to 14in. 4+ should be 16in. 5+ to 20in. 7+ to 24in. 8+ to 26in.
4. Take the weight
Carry everything to feed them well, keep them warm and dry, replace their inner tubes, fix their bikes, bumps and bruises. Other than a (500ml) water bottle in a bottle cage, leave them burden-free. Kids on bikes can make The Tiger Who Came to Tea seem like a light eater, so take proper food: sandwiches, sweets, biscuits etc. Use energy products sparingly.
5. Accentuate the positive
We can all get a bit over-ambitious for our little loves but it’s not fun for them if we’re constantly coaching ‘at’ them and highlighting problems. Give a couple of broad tips before the start (the attack position/cruise on the pedals position and outside pedal-down on turns) and ‘big them up’ from time to time when they put the theory into practice.