With hundreds of kids’ bikes on the market, finding the perfect bike for your pre-schooler can quickly get confusing. Kids 12 inch and 14 inch bikes are the best size bikes for 3-year-olds, but they vary greatly in cost, size, and features.
Although younger kids can fit on a 12 inch bike, we have found that pedal bikes are usually too heavy for them to properly handle and a lightweight balance bike is better suited for their size. On the flip-side, some 3-year-olds maybe tall enough to fit on a 16″ bike. If you are unsure, be sure to check out our kids bike sizes article.
To help you narrow your search for a 12 or 14 inch bike for a girl or boy, we’ve outlined our top bikes below, why we love them, and why you will too!
The Best 12 and 14 Inch Bikes Rundown
|Bike||Why We Love It||Price|
Best for Use Without Training Wheels
|Guardian Bikes 14||Innovative SureStop Brakes||$249|
|woom 2||Most Lightweight||$359|
|Prevelo Alpha One||Best for the Shortest Riders||$379|
|Pello Romper 14||Best for Taller Riders||$369|
|Cleary Gecko||Best for Tiny Aggressive Riders||$370|
|Strider 14x||Balance Bike with optional Pedal Kit||$209|
Best For Use with Training Wheels
|Guardian Bikes 14||SureStop Brakes + Training Wheels Kit||$289|
|Trek Precaliber 12||Tool-free Training Wheels||$279|
|Retrospec Koda 12||Good design on a budget||$99|
|Bikes We Don't Recommend|
|RoyalBaby Freestyle||Poor geometry and performance||$149|
|*Green price = sales price|
Want to see these bikes in action? See our littlest bike testers pedal their hearts out in our Best 12 and 14 inch bikes video below!
Quick Tips about Bicycles for 3 year olds
- 12 and 14 inch bikes are pretty small and typically fit most 3 year olds. If your child is older than 3, they are most likely a better fit on a 16 inch bike.
- Balance bikes teach kids how to balance a bike MUCH faster and easier than a bike with training wheels. Most 3-year-olds would be better off on a balance bike than on a kids 12 inch pedal bike. Consider getting a balance bike (like the Strider) BEFORE you buy a bike with training wheels.
- Higher-end bikes are lighter, smaller, better-quality, and are generally much easier to ride than low-end bikes. Cheap bikes found on Amazon or at big-box stores are not a great experience for young kids. Every bike on this list has been personally tested and approved by our team of kid bike testers.
- For those on a budget, keep in mind that for the same price you can generally get a much better-designed balance bike than a 12 inch pedal bike. In fact, balance bikes are becoming much more popular than 12 inch bikes for kids learning how to ride a bike. See our Top 10 Balance Bikes page.
- The seat height of the bike is the best way to determine a proper fit.
- For new pedal bike riders: a child’s inseam should match the seat height of the bike. This ensures they can stop the bike with their feet flat on the ground.
- For experienced pedal bike riders and for kids using training wheels: a child’s inseam should be about 2 inches LESS than the bike’s seat height. This allows for proper leg extension when pedaling. Kids will need to rely on the bike’s brakes (pedal brake or handbrake) to stop.
Best Safety Innovation – SureStop Brakes
FITS KIDS: With inseams ranging from 16″ – 20″
WEIGHT: 16 lbs.
TRAINING WHEELS: Compatible, purchased as an add-on
TIRE SIZE: 14″
OUR FAVORITE FEATURES: SureStop braking system, kid-friendly geometry, easy to balance, no coaster brake
FULL REVIEW: Guardian Bikes 14″
While there are a ton of things to love about Guardian Bikes, the proprietary SureStop braking system is what really sets them apart from the competition. SureStop brakes have a single brake lever on the right hand that activates both the rear and front brake!
Yep, with just one brake lever, you get all the stopping power you need! And as the cherry on top, the Guardian 14 does not have a coaster (back pedal) brake, which is a big benefit for little ones first learning to pedal.
SureStop not only makes braking faster, but also helps kids internalize proper braking technique from the get-go. As kids get older and ride much faster, braking with the front brake only (usually found on the left hand) can cause them to endo (flip over the handlebars). SureStop trains kids to rely on their right hand for braking.
While the single right-hand brake lever simplifies braking for all Guardian bikes (sold up to size 26″), this simplified system is an even bigger bonus on a 14″ bike.
- SureStop braking system for faster and safer braking
- Only one brake lever required to engage front and rear brakes – easier to manage for young riders
- Child-friendly bike geometry places child in natural and comfortable upright position
- No coaster brake! (Back pedal brakes can make it harder to learn to ride a bike)
- 6 fun color combinations
- Incredible quality for the price
- A bit heavier than other (more expensive) bikes on this list
- Bike easily falls over when used with kickstand
- Very short crank arms make bike less suitable for really aggressive or fast riders
Best 14 Inch Overall and Most Lightweight
FITS KIDS: With inseams ranging from 16″ to 19″
WEIGHT: 12.3 lb.
TRAINING WHEELS: Not compatible
TIRE SIZE: 14 inch
FULL REVIEW: woom 2
Easy and intuitive, the woom 2 is the perfect first pedal bike for balance bike graduates. At just over 12 pounds, it’s the LIGHTEST 12 or 14 inch bike on the market, which has a HUGE effect on a child’s ability to manage a bike. It also has a smart combination of top-end components, bike geometry, and brake design that work in unison to create a natural, fun, riding environment.
The woom 2’s unique geometry centers the child’s weight over their hips (just like when standing), and keeps a child in a comfortable, upright position. This allows the bike and the child’s body to work together in a natural and easy process.
- Natural upright body position and easy to balance
- The lightest pedal bike on the market (just 12.3 lb.)
- High-end components
- Green right-hand lever to promote safe braking
- Optional freewheel kit (gets rid of coaster brake)
- Available in five colors
- You’ll need to purchase a $20 freewheel kit to remove the coaster brake
Best 14 Inch for Short Riders
FITS KIDS: With inseams ranging from 14.8″ to 19.3″
WEIGHT: 13.3 lb. with freewheel kit installed
TRAINING WHEELS: Not compatible
TIRE SIZE: 14 inch
FULL REVIEW: Prevelo Alpha One
The Prevelo Alpha One is one impressive and tiny bike for the smallest and most eager balance bike graduates. With high-end components, sophisticated, yet kid-specific design, and durability to last through several kids, you’ll be wishing you were small enough to ride it.
With lower-set handlebars than most other bikes on this list, the Alpha Zero is a solid choice for aggressive balance bike riders ready to tackle pedals. The lower handlebars allow for more of the child’s weight to be over the handlebars, which helps the aggressive rider to better maneuver and control the bike.
And with the lowest seat height of any 12″ or 14″ bike on the market in the US, the Alpha One is a much needed solution for parents with tiny groms who are ready to tackle the world of two wheels and pedals… and just can’t wait for a bigger bike!
- Lowest seat height of any 12″ or 14″ bike so very small riders can start pedaling earlier
- Lower rise handlebars make shifting weight around a breeze for adventurous riders
- Responsive, easy-pull, dual-hand brakes
- Low center-of-gravity for better balance
- Top quality components
- Lightweight, low step-through frame
- Freewheel purchase required to remove coaster brake
Best 12 Inch Small Bike for Tiny, Aggressive Riders
FITS KIDS: With inseams ranging from 15″ to 19″. Best for balance bikes graduates still in size 3T/4T clothes.
WEIGHT: 13 lb.
TRAINING WHEELS: Not compatible
TIRE SIZE: 12 inch
FULL REVIEW: Cleary Gecko
One of the smallest bikes on our list, the Cleary Gecko is a good option for some smaller riders. While an excellent quality build, the Gecko’s geometry can be quite challenging for some riders as it puts the rider in a really stretched out position that most kids don’t prefer.
On the other hand, we’ve had a few confident and aggressive test riders who prefer the Gecko over every other bike we offered them! As a result, we only recommend the Gecko for the smallest of riders who have no hesitancy about getting started. If your child is hesitant or not ready, we recommend the Prevelo Alpha One instead.
Available with or without a coaster brake (back pedal brake), both models come with dual-hand brakes. As an added bonus, the rear tire cog can be swapped out for different gearing options.
- Very low minimum seat height accommodates little riders
- Easy-reach, easy-pull dual-hand brakes
- Optional rear cogs allow for different gearing options
- Stretched out geometry makes for a very aggressive body position
Best 14 Inch for Taller Riders
FITS KIDS: With inseams ranging from 17.25″ – 21.25″
WEIGHT: 15.9 lb.
TRAINING WHEELS: Compatible but not provided
TIRE SIZE: 14 inch
FULL REVIEW: Pello Romper
From Kenda tires and Tektro brakes to Cane Creek headsets and lightweight aluminum frames, Pello Bikes ooze quality while excelling on paved bike trails and single-track dirt trails. On paved rides, little ones can happily keep up with the older kids in the pack, while on single-track, the knobby tires provide much-needed grip for rocky trails.
With a minimum seat height about 1.5 – 2” taller than our other favorite bikes on this list, the Pello Romper will be a better fit for kids transitioning to a pedal bike around 3 or 3.5 years old. While there are some 16″ bikes with saddles as low as the Romper, less-confident kids are better off learning to pedal on a 14″ bike which is less cumbersome for them to maneuver.
- Thick and knobby Kenda air tires are perfect for all-terrain riding
- For ultimate responsiveness in steering, built with a sealed cartridge bearing Cane Creek headset
- Larger frame and higher handlebars allow for more room for growth for taller or larger-framed kids
- Coaster brake can be removed with Pello’s $20 freewheel kit
- Bigger tires add weight – may be an issue for some riders
Best Balance Bike/Pedal Bike in One
FITS KIDS: While the manufacturer recommends from ages 3 to 7, based on our testing, we recommend only from ages 3 to 5, or with inseams ranging from 15″ to 20″ in balance bike mode and 14″ to 20″ in pedal bike mode.
WEIGHT: 12.5 lb.
TIRE SIZE: 14 inch
FULL REVIEW: Strider 14x Convertible Balance Bike
A great option for preschoolers who have yet to master a balance bike, the Strider 14x is a balance bike that converts to a 14 inch pedal bike. No need for training wheels – once a child has learned to balance while in balance bike mode, simply put on the pedals and within a couple of minutes they’ll be pedaling away! Once your child outgrows the pedal bike mode, they will be ready for a 16″ bike.
Due to taller handlebars, the Strider is best for taller 3-year-olds and up. The longer reach between the seat and the handlebars is a bit too much for preschoolers, who are much better off on the standard Strider 12″ Sport. Based on our experience, the Strider is ideal for kids in size 5 clothes or less.
For other convertible balance bikes, check out our Balance Bikes with Pedals list.
- Starts as a balance bike and easily converts to a pedal bike
- Larger frame and tire size fit kids from ages 3 to 5
- Comfortable, upright body positioning promotes confidence for beginners
- Cushioned, ergonomic seat
- No hand brake – coaster brake in pedal mode
- Very short crank arms in pedal mode – difficult for kids over age 5 to ride
Best 12 Inch Bike with Tool-FreeTraining Wheels
FITS KIDS: With inseams ranging from 15″ to 17.5″.
WEIGHT: 14.3 lb. (without training wheels)
TRAINING WHEELS: Comes with training wheels, which attach via a knob – no tools required!
TIRE SIZE: 12 inch
FULL REVIEW: Trek Precaliber 12
Our favorite 12″ bike found online or in local bike shops, the Trek Precaliber boasts similar geometry to the high-end bikes on this list. It also has one of the lowest minimum seat heights, which makes it a great choice for kids transitioning to a pedal bike early.
While other bikes seem like “clown bikes” as kids get taller and older, our 40.5″ tall three-year-old rode the Precaliber 12 at its maximum seat height and still looked comfortable and natural.
With solid and durable components and wider tires for increased stability, the Precaliber 12 is a great quality bike for the price. The Precaliber’s coaster brake and lack of hand brakes is reflected in its lower price tag.
- Kid-friendly geometry offers plenty of space for growth and easy maneuvering
- Very lightweight for its price point
- Available in local bike shops
- High-quality training wheels (if you need them)
- Wide 2.3″ tires increase stability
- Coaster brake and no hand brake
Best 14 Inch for Little Groms
FITS KIDS: With inseams ranging from 15″ to 18″.
WEIGHT: 13.1 lbs.
TIRE SIZE: 14 inch
TRAINING WHEELS: Not provided
FULL REVIEW: Spawn Yoji 14
Do you live in Canada and have a future shredder on your hands? The Spawn Yoji is for you!
Fine-tuned from top-to-bottom for the true young trail rider, the Yoji 14 inch bike has a unique trifecta of knobby all-terrain tires, no coaster brake, and a lightweight build. An amazing first ride, the Yoji will seamlessly take young riders from wobbly beginners to confident basic trail riders.
Mid-rise handlebars provide a body position comfortable enough to learn to pedal, but aggressive enough to tackle those trails. And with pretty sweet components, Spawn bikes are a mountain bike parent’s dream come true.
NOTE: Spawn Bicycles is a Canadian company. Their bikes are not currently CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) certified for sale in the United States.
- Semi upright body positioning perfect for the transition from beginning to adventurous riding
- Knobby, all-terrain tires for riding in various conditions
- Freewheel, no coaster brake
- Top quality construction
- Available in 5 colors
- Complicated and time-consuming (or professional) assembly required
- Not CPSC certified for sale in the United States
12 Inch Bike – Not Recommended
WEIGHT: 15.8 lb. (without training wheels)
TRAINING WHEELS: Comes with training wheels, but the tightening mechanism can get stripped, leading to the training wheels coming loose and falling off
TIRE SIZE: 12 inch
FULL REVIEW: REI Co-op Cycles REV 12
A respected name in the outdoors industry, REI’s Co-Op Cycles are popular for their good-quality, fair prices, and REI guarantee. Unfortunately, we cannot recommend the 2022 update of the REI Co-op Cycles REV 12.
With crank arms that are shorter than previous versions, it was very difficult for our test riders to back pedal with enough force to engage the coaster brake (back pedal brake). With no consistent way to safely stop, you should pass on the REV 12 until an update and fix has been made. This is a common problem with small 12″ bikes, including the 12″ Retrospec Koda.
Comparison Chart: 12 and 14 inch Kids Bikes
|Bike||MSRP||Wt. (lb.)||Min Seat Height||Max Seat Height||Free wheel Option||Training Wheels Incl.||Gain Ratio|
|Compatible with Training Wheels|
|Guardian Ethos 14||$239||16.2||16"||21"||Standard||No||3.95|
|Pello Romper 14||$359||15.9||17.25"||21.25"||Yes||No||3.7|
|REI Co-Op REV 12||$199||15.75||17.5″||20.5"||No||Yes|
|Retrospec Koda 12||$129||16.1||15.5"||20"||No||Yes||3.5|
|Royalbaby Freestyle 14||$125||21.7||19.25"||22"||No||Yes|
|Btwin 100 14||$149||16.3||17.25"||20.5"||No||Yes|
|Raleigh Jazzi/MXR 12||$150||16.9||17"||20.5"||No||Yes|
|Not Compatible with Training Wheels|
|Prevelo Alpha One||$399||13.3||14.8"||19.3"||Yes||No||3.7|
|Spawn Yoji 14"||$475||13.1||16.5"||18"||Standard||No||3.67|
How to Choose the Best Bicycle for 3-Year-Olds
For a more detailed discussion about how to choose the perfect kid’s bike, check out our kids bike buying guide. If you’re looking for something quick, here’s a short summary of the most important things to look for to find the best bicycle for your 3-year-old.
Size – 12 and 14 inch bikes vary greatly in size!
12 and 14 inch bikes are generally the best fit for 2 and 3-year-olds, who may continue to ride the bike as they grow through the next year. If your boy or girl is older than 3, a 16″ bike should also be considered to allow for more room for growth.
Within the 12/14 inch wheel size, the seat height range of bikes vary greatly. Some 14 inch bikes even have lower seat height ranges than 12 inch bikes! Comparing your child’s inseam to the bike’s seat height is the best way to ensure a great fit.
For example, the minimum seat height of the green 14 inch bike on the left is over 3.5” taller than the minimum seat height of the silver 14 inch bike on the right.
Because this will be your child’s first pedal bike, the seat height should be set at or slightly under their inseam to allow them to have their feet flat on the ground when sitting on the saddle. Set this way, a child can stop the bike with their feet, like they are used to on a balance bike.
This gives them confidence that they won’t fall over and is an added measure of safety as they learn to balance and pedal at the same time. It’s also necessary to help them learn to start the bike on their own.
As time moves on and your brave 3-year-old masters pedaling, the seat height can be raised so that they are only touching the ground with their tip toes. This allows for better leg extension while pedaling.
Geometry – The Problem with 12 Inch Bikes
While 14 inch bikes and 12 inch bikes are generally made for the same size child, making an exceptional 12 inch bike is extremely hard, if not impossible. Because 12 inch wheels are so small, there are several design issues that just can’t be solved. As a result, essentially all kid-specific bike manufacturers make 14 inch bikes instead of 12 inch bikes.
Small Wheels Lead to Cramped Pedal Stroke
The biggest problem lies in the fact that the center axle of 12 inch wheels are much closer to the ground than on larger wheels. In order to make room for the crank arms and pedals, the bottom bracket (where the crank arm attaches to the frame), has to be moved up on the bike.
While this makes room for the pedals on the downswing, you lose over an inch of space on the upswing, creating a cramped leg position. With less space for the upswing, the child’s knees are at a much sharper and much less efficient angle to apply maximum force on the downswing.
Moving up to 14 inch wheels makes a huge difference. As you can see above on the 14″ orange bike, the extra inch of space for the crank arms and bottom bracket allows for more space at the high stroke. The child’s knee is much less forward on the bike, making the downward pedal stroke significantly less angled and therefore much more efficient.
Higher Minimum Seat Height is Too Tall
To compensate for higher pedals, bike manufacturers often raise the minimum seat height of a 12″ bike, but that only causes more issues.
With a high minimum seat height, kids are often perched really high on top of the frame, which creates a high center of gravity on the bike and makes it harder to balance.
They also usually can’t touch the ground when sitting on the saddle, or if they can, it’s only with their tip toes. New riders need feet flat on the ground for confidence and safety.
Short Wheelbases Create a Cramped Ride
12 inch bikes also suffer from short wheelbases (the distance between the axles of the bike’s wheels). This causes kids to be scrunched on the bike, with little room between the handlebars and the seat.
Short wheelbases negatively affect kids riding with or without training wheels in several ways.
- It prevents a child from being able to properly shift their weight around during a turn or even just to help them maintain balance.
- With the child sitting upright they are often not able to lean forward very much. As a result, there is less weight on the front tire, which makes the bike less stable and much more “squirrelly” when riding. This is especially problematic on bikes with lower set handlebars like the blue bike shown above.
- On some bikes, turning can be a challenge as the handlebars can hit the child’s knees when turning.
The properly-designed 14 inch bikes we do recommend have longer wheelbases which provide more space for the child rider. This increases stability and maneuverability, and makes the bikes easier to ride.
Weight – Lighter is better
Ideally, your child’s bike shouldn’t weigh more than 40% of their body weight. Learning to pedal and balance at the same time can be challenging, but even more so if your child has to work extra hard to keep a heavy bike upright. Getting up from a fall is also far more discouraging when your bike weighs a ton!
For example, the Royal Baby 14″ bike weighs 21.7 lbs, while the woom 2 (14 inch) only weighs 12.3 lbs. That’s almost TEN extra pounds of bike! Which bike do you think will be easier for your 3-year-old to maneuver??
Brakes – Try to avoid coaster brakes
Coaster brakes (back pedal brakes) are required by CPSC standards on almost all kids 12 inch and 14 inch bikes in the US, but they can make it much more difficult to learn to pedal while balancing a bike.
Because a child naturally pedals backward to regain balance, coaster brakes become problematic as they cause kids to brake accidentally, which can lead to falls and lost motivation. Even once they have mastered balancing, preventing the child’s natural inclination to pedal backward to regain balance puts the child at a disadvantage.
If a child is coordinated enough to be riding a bike without training wheels, they are most likely also coordinated enough to use a hand brake. The best 12/14 inch bikes come with a coaster brake and handbrakes.
Many higher-end 14 inch bikes are now sold without a coaster brake, or offer an optional “freewheel kit” that allows you to swap out the back tire and remove the coaster brake on your own. These bikes are then coaster-brake-free and rely on the much better handbrake system to stop the bike.
Boys vs Girls 14 Inch Bikes – Does gender matter?
Functionally, kids bikes are gender neutral. That means a boy or a girl can ride the same bike. Most of our favorite bike brands don’t even market bikes to boys or girls. All of their bikes are the same, but offered in an array of colors to appeal to different kids.
That said, many parents want a traditional 12 inch or 14 inch girls bike. If you want that “to die for girly bike”, take a look at the Guardian Ethos 14 girls bike or the Raleigh Jazzi 12 inch girls bike. You can also find lots of fun ideas to accessorize a girls bike here.
For a full look at all of our favorite bikes that are available in feminine colors and designs, check out our 10 Best Bikes for Girls list.
Small Bikes with Training Wheels
While many of us learned to ride a bike with training wheels, there’s a better way these days! We highly discourage training wheels, and instead encourage you to look at balance bikes instead. To learn more about why balance bikes are so much better than training wheels, check out our post all about it!
We only recommend 12 and 14 inch pedal bikes for young riders who have already mastered a balance bike. If you have a 2 or 3-year-old that has never used a balance bike, they will almost certainly need training wheels to ride a 12 inch pedal bike.
Additionally, most small bicycles that come with training wheels are incredibly difficult to ride. They are awkwardly shaped, heavy, and very tall for their intended rider. Our skilled young bike testers struggle every time we put them on a bike with training wheels.
Price – Good bikes don’t come cheap
Many parents are hesitant to pay more than $50 – $100 on a child’s first real bike. While you certainly can go to Walmart and pick up a bike at that price, we strongly urge you to choose a bike from this list instead. While your child may just be a 3-year-old, the extra cost of a high-quality bike is so worth it! A child just learning to ride a bike is especially in need of a lightweight, quality bike that’s easy to ride.
Why trust us?
We have seen and tested out every bicycle on this list and have a garage storage problem to prove it :)! Unlike other websites, we don’t just build lists, we actually test each product with our own kids. With 13 years of bike testing under our belt, we’ve personally met and consulted with many top brands in the industry including woom, Strider, Prevelo and Cleary.
Related Kids Bikes Articles
10 Best Girl Bikes: Looking for a high-performance bike in pink, purple, or cute designs? Check out our list!
Training Wheels: 10 Frequently Asked Questions: Training wheels make learning to ride a bike harder. Find out why!