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
The best kids’ bikes, and how you can get hold of some of them for less than the price of a Pokémon. Some great options to get your kids rolling on real bikes.
Cube Cubie 120, £149
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.
Black Mountain Pinto, £329
If you can’t rent a bike then buying one that grows with the rider could be the next best thing. Black Mountain is an exciting new kids bike brand from the UK building the Pinto here, a bike that starts out as a balance bike before morphing into a drivetrain equipped pedal bike. It’s pretty clever stuff, when your kiddo masters the balance bike just unbolt the seat tube and swap it for the beltdrive one that’s included in the box — hey presto, they can pedal the thing. That’s not all either, the bike has two lengths to accommodate growing riders, and the big sprocket on the back pulls off to reveal a smaller one underneath to reveal harder gearing for stronger legs. Go to: blackmountain.bike
Hoy Bonaly 16, £260
Ahoy there, Chris Hoy makes bikes, now that he’s finished with competitive track racing. They’re good too, with a focus on light weight and decent geometry — the Bonaly 20 has a really low BB to make the bike as stable as possible and get your kiddo used to proper progressive geometry. The bike comes with proper bearings for those times when it gets left out in the rain, and a 6-speed drivetrain, with the chain cosseted away behind a bash guard to keep trousers and socks away from sharp teeth. Go to: evanscycles.com
Canyon Young Heroes, £449
Just like on Canyon’s adult bikes, the Young Heroes machines are cleverly thought out and packed with innovative features. The Offspring Al 16 here is just about the coolest looking little bike you’ll ever see, so the overgrown kids in the mbr office think anyway. With three sizes to pick from and a ludicrously appealing carbon fibre version, there should be an Offspring for most ages. The Al 16 here has a 16in rear wheel but an 18in front wheel, the logic being your kid can fit it fine, but the big front wheel rolls more easily over the ground and dishes out confidence. There are two gears but there’s no distraction for the young rider because they’re automatic — SRAM’s AUTOMATIX hub switches between the two as and when you need it, using centrifugal force. Very clever. Go to: canyon.com
Hope Academy & Early Rider, £5/month
Join the Hope Academy and your little shredder could get hold of a bike for just £5 per month for a diddy balance bike, stretching up to £29 per month for a 26in machine. That’s basically cost price they and they don’t profit from the Academy, “but that’s ok because it’s putting kids on bikes,” says Alan Weatherill from Hope. You can use it for as long as you need it, get access to skills and maintenance courses, then give it back when the kiddo outgrows it. This bike is an Early Rider and comes with Hope’s custom length cranks for little legs, small grips and levers and even small flat pedals for microsized feet. So what’s the catch? “There’s a lot more interest than we’ve got bikes, with 900 people on the waiting list,” Alan says. But the plan is to release more bikes bringint the total up to 1,000 from a few hundred. Throw down this magazine and get your kids name down right now. Go to: hopetech.com or earlyrider.com
Frog MTB 62, £590
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 airpsrung fork. It’s not quite as sophisticated as the Islabikes Creig though, without a rebound adjuster, but the rebound speed felt about right without any need to fettle. Go to: frogbikes.com
Islabikes Imagine Project, £799.99
Islabikes has been around for a dozen years, one of the first brands to make make proper bikes for children — lightweight, purposefully designed for smaller bodies and without any of the breakable parts supermarket bikes come with. The Creig is the next step on in sizing from the Hoy Bonaly or the Frog 62, a bike built from superb 7005 T6 aluminium to make it superlight — 11kg in fact. The Creig has an air sprung fork for proper trail riding and also comes with disc brakes and a 1×11 drivetrain with shorter custom cranks.
So for now you can buy a bike, but in the future the company hopes to move to a new model of rental only, with minimal impact on the environment. “The bike will be loaned out not sold, meaning nothing new has to be pulled out of the ground, something that’s not sustainable long term,” says Lee Garrington of Islabikes. It’s called the Imagine Project. Go to: islabikes.co.uk
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.