The best kids mountain bikes and balance bikes PLUS how you can get hold of some of them for less than the price of a Pokémon.
Choose from the best kids mountain bikes you can and your child will be set up for a life of amazing cycling adventures. 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.
Vitus Nippy Balance Bike
Best balance bike!
Incredibly light, unbelievably good value and brilliantly simple, the Vitus Nippy takes all of the elements that makes the Strider such a superb first bike and delivers it at a crushingly competitive price. It’s only 1.9kg, so your child will be able to pick it up and spin it around with ease, and the low frame means that even little legs can start to enjoy the thrill of two wheels. The Nippy should be suitable for most kids over 18 months, and thanks to the height adjustable saddle and bars, keep on providing enjoyment for a good year or so. Another great product from the Vitus stable.
Wheel size: 12in | Weight: 2.47kg |
Pros: Featherlight. No need to pump up any tyres. Tool-less seat and bar height adjustment.
Cons: Expensive. Chainstays are quite wide.
While the low weight is the defining aspect of the Pro 12, it’s the details that reveal the depth of knowledge of the people designing the bike. Details such as the reduced diameter handlebar that accommodates a thinner grip – perfect for smaller hands – the well-padded, but narrow, saddle that allows for slim hips and unhindered striding, the number board that stops the bars from spinning all the way round (and will come in useful if you decide to accept the free invitation to a UK Strider ‘race’ event), and the plastic foot rest for more-accomplished kids to rest their legs on while coasting downhill. At which point you may also want to invest in Strider’s rear brake upgrade.
Cube Cubie 120
This is where it all begins for young riders, with a balance bike. Far better than using a three wheeler or despised stabilisers, a balance bike will teach your child to, surprise surprise, balance. Master this an pedalling on later bikes is usually a cinch and something they pick up in no time.
The Cubie 120 might is simple but very well thought out: some balance bikes come with brakes but not the Cubie 120 — for a two year old there’s plenty to learn without introducing brakes. Then the handlebar has an integrated steering angle limiter that stops the bars rotating too far round and causing an over the bars moment. Then there are proper air filled tyres for rolling ease and a carry handle on the seat for when it all gets a bit much.
Best first pedal bike!
Wheel size: 14in | Weight: 5.84kg |
Pros: High quality and beautifully finished. Tyres provide suspension for comfort and grip.
Cons: More expensive than many competitors.
With zero slop, play or unwanted flex, the Seeker 14 really feels like an adult mountain bike that’s been shrunk in the wash. It’s certainly not cheap, but it feels impressively rugged and genuinely built to last. By that reckoning I think it’s worth every penny, particularly when you factor in what you may get back at resale. In a world where we should be increasingly focussed on reuse rather than replacement, the sleek sliver Seeker 14 is pleasingly green.
Wheel size: 26in | Weight: 11.4kg |
Pros: Light and well-proportioned hardtail.
Cons: Fork is over-damped at low pressures. Needs grippier pedals and smaller chainring.
Making bikes that are easy and fun for kids to ride is about more than just flashy paint jobs, it takes dedicated child-friendly components and the lightest frames possible to let them progress and have fun, Frog says. Take the MTB 62 here, it has a specially designed narrow Q-factor to improve the pedalling efficiency of little legs, while the brake levers are dinky enough to be reached by small hands. Suspension becomes viable for the first time on a bike for this age of kiddo (eight years or so) as they get stronger and relatively heavier to the bike, so the MTB 62 is equipped with an air-sprung fork.
Wheel size: 24in | Weight: 11.2kg |
Pros: Confidence-inspiring tyres. Compact frame size. Excellent components.
Cons: Relatively heavy.
With a sleek hydroformed aluminum frame, Cannondale’s chunky Cujo gets larger volume tyres to add an element of suspension to the ride. With 24in diameter wheels and 2.6in wide tyres, there’s more rubber in contact with the ground and you can run lower pressures, so it generates more grip, comfort and confidence. This extra comfort and stability and makes them a surefire winner for beginners as well as light kids that won’t need the extra weight of proper suspension. It’s s a great bike for any adventurous kid looking to venture beyond tarmac and our tester was soon learning to ride no-handed, pulling little wheelies and regularly racking up fifteen miles without complaining about being uncomfy, and that’s got to be a total win in any parent’s book.
Wheel size: 24in | Weight: 13.9kg |
Pros: Good looking. Sensibly priced and specced. Growing room to upgrade to 26-inch wheels. Confidence inspiring handling.
Cons: Lack of seatpost adjustment. Heavy wheels and tyres. Suspension feels over-damped. Some cheap bits.
Kids’ bikes are a tough market to crack, given the balance to be struck between affordability for parents and a spec to inspire little riders. As such the Marin Rift Zone Jr provides solid foundations and a carefully considered build that can be upgraded and adapted to suit different applications as your kid’s riding progresses. The fact you can switch the wheels out from 24in to 26in means the Rift Zone Jr could last two ‘buying cycles’ as well, which is a bonus given kids can grow out of bikes faster than they do school shoes, and are often ready to go up a wheel size before you might think.
Wheel size: 24in | Weight: 12.7kg |
Pros:Looks fantastic. Kid-optimised attention to detail. Suspension actually works. They’ll love shredding the downhills…
Cons: …but the climbs will be a drag on those fat Minions. Not cheap. Limited gearing range. Might not last a growing kid very long.
If you started out mountain biking on a rusty Falcon Sierra or wobbly old Raleigh Activator prepare for a shock at how far kids’ bikes have come. And how quickly a quality bike like this awesome looking YT Jeffsy Primo can unleash the proper ripper in your nipper. At a price. Like anything you get what you pay for, and at first glance you know there have been no corners cut shrinking down YT’s popular all-rounder for a younger generation of riders. And the deeper you dig into the spec the more impressive it becomes, the attention to detail underlining a zero-compromise approach that makes the price actually look relatively reasonable – particularly now it’s been reduced by over £400!
What wheel size does my kid need?
Size is key when getting the best mountain bike or balance bike for your little ‘un. This will vary according to the height and inside leg of your child, but for most kids, the following guidelines apply:
- 2 – 3 yrs old = 12in wheel balance bike
- 3 – 4 yrs old = 14in wheel (pedal bike or balance bike if still needed)
- 4 – 5 yrs old = 16in wheel
- 5 – 7 yrs old = 20in wheel
- 8 – 10 yrs old = 24in wheel
- 12+ yrs old = Adult bike (check out our guide to the best beginner mountain bike)
Should I go for a balance bike or stabilisers?
Although most of us here at MBR progressed from stabilisers when we learned to ride, the invention of the balance bike has revolutionised the process. With a balance bike, kids get the feel for balance way before they learn to pedal, so the transition to a proper bike is completely natural and takes a lot less time and practise. So, our advice is simple: AVOID STABILISERS.
What’s the most important thing I need to consider when choosing a kids bike?
Again, that’s simple. The number one factor that will ensure your kid wants to ride his or her bike and enjoys the experience is making sure the bike is as light as possible. Remember, kids have a fraction of the strength of adults, and anything that’s hard to pick up or manoeuvre will make learning how to ride a lot more difficult and they may struggle to find any enjoyment. As a parent you will also be thankful for a light bike when it comes to carrying it home or to the car when your kid runs out of energy.
What about gears, brakes and suspension?
Until they are very confident and riding miles, rather than metres, don’t bother with gears. They’re confusing and add weight. Once you get to 20in wheels they start to become worth considering. Balance bikes don’t need brakes – kids’ feet can do that job. Once they get to proper pedal bikes with 14in wheels and larger, then front and rear brakes are recommended, but you don’t need anything as powerful as disc brakes at that stage. Suspension is only really worth considering with 24in wheel bikes and above as most kids are simply too light to move the suspension when they hit a bump. A better solution is to go for wide, large volume tyres, as they add comfort and grip without increasing weight and complication too much. Belt drive, rather than a chain, can be a good idea as they require less maintenance and your child won’t end up with oil all over their hands.
Should I buy a bigger bike size so my kid grows into it?
While it’s tempting, our advice is don’t. They’ll just be scared and overwhelmed by a massive bike and never ride it. If you buy a decent bike that fits your child, you can always re-sell the bike once it’s done with. The second-hand market is buoyant for kids bikes, and if it’s a respected brand in good condition, it’ll fetch strong money.
How to get your kids riding:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.