The Best 26 Inch Bikes for 11 year olds to Teens

Buying a bike for an 11-year-old, 12-year-old, or teen can be a challenge. Everything about this phase seems to be awkward, including the question: “What size bike do I purchase them now???” A 26 inch bicycle for kids or XS adult bike seem like two different worlds! When a child gets too tall for their 24 inch kids bike, are they really ready for an adult bike?

11 year old girl standing between a 26 inch bike for kids and an XS adult bike

There are two main options when it comes to purchasing the “post 24 inch bike”: a 26 inch bike for kids or an XS adult bike. Here are the pros and cons to each choice:

OptionBest ForExamples
26 Inch Kids BikeTimid or petite riders who aren’t ready to tackle “more bike”woom 6
Frog 78
Trek Wahoo
XS or S Adult BikeEveryone else!  Especially those on a budget, tall kids, and really confident riders who can take on more bikeLiv Bliss
Priority Classic
REI Co-Op City

Is a 26 inch kids bike or an XS adult bike best?

12 year old girl riding 26 inch bike by woom

We have personally gone both routes when it comes to our own kids, and have been happy with the results either way. It will often come down to budget and your child’s preference as to what their bike looks like!

OPTION 1: KIDS 26 INCH BIKE

Benefits of Buying a Kids 26 Inch Bike

  • MUCH lighter-weight than adult bikes – this is the MAIN reason to buy a 26 inch kids bike
  • Narrower q-factor (distance between pedals) for more efficient pedaling
  • Simplified gearing – 1x systems, with only one derailleur versus 2, are standard
  • Built with kid-specific parts – narrower seat, smaller-reach brake levers, narrower handlebars

What to Know When Buying a Kids 26 Inch Bike

  • 26 inch kids bikes are only made by higher-end bike companies, a budget option does not exist
  • Due to their dialed-in fit, kids can outgrow them quicker than an XS or S adult bike

OPTION 2: ADULT BIKE

Benefits of Buying a XS or S Adult Bike

  • Much wider availability with a wide range of prices
  • Available in multiple frame sizes to ensure a great fit
  • From road to mountain, bikes are available for all styles of riding
  • Greater chance of finding a quality used bike

What to Know When Buying an Adult Bike

  • Quality bikes are usually over $500
  • Adults bikes are typically suitable for kids over 5 feet tall (4’10” with a new or XS models)
  • Bikes are sized according to their frame size, NOT their tire size and frame sizes can vary greatly between brands
  • They can be very heavy and can weigh over 30 lb.  Weights are also rarely published
  • Simplified 1x shifting is typically only available on high-end models
  • Components are often too large for kids – handlebars are too wide, brake levers hard to reach, etc.
  • Tires on an adult bike come in 26″, 27.5″, 700c (hybrid), and 29″ sizes. As long as the frame fits, kids can jump from a 24″ to a 27.5″ tire.

26 inch Bike Height Recommendations vs. Adult Bikes

For a more detailed dive into the world of adult bikes, be sure to scroll past the chart to our buying guide below.

ModelBike TypeBase PriceRider's HeightDrive

Kids 26 Inch Bikes

woom 6Fitness$569

4'7 - 5'5

1x
Frog 69Fitness$615Inseam 27"+1x
Frog 73Fitness$600Inseam 28.75"+1x
Frog 78Fitness$620Inseam 30.5"+1x
Trek Wahoo 26Fitness$480

4'7 - 5'1

1x
Haro Beasley 26Fitness$420

4'7 - 5'4

1x
woom 6 OFFMtn$899

4'7 - 5'5

1x

Adult Bikes (XS/S) - Casual Riding

Priority Classic GothamCity$549Inseam (26" - 30")1x, geared hub
REI Co-op CTYCity$799XS: 5'0 - 5'33x
Specialized RollCasual$535

S: 5'1 - 5'5

1x
Priority Classic PlusCruiser$499Inseam (26" - 30")1x, geared hub

Adult Bikes (XS/S) - Multi-Use

Raleigh TalusMtn (rec)$430

S: 5'1 - 5'4

3x
Trek Dual SportMtn (rec)$550

XS: 4'10 - 5'1

3x
Specialized CrossroadsFitness$430

S: 5'2 - 5'5

1x
Trek VerveFitness$490 - $760

S: 5'1 - 5'5

3x
Trek FX 1Fitness$439

S: 5'1 - 5'5

3x, 2x
Specialized SirrusFitness$475

XXS: 4'8 - 4'11

3x, 2x, 1x
Liv AlightFitness$420XS: 4'10 - 5'53x

Adult Bikes (XS/S) - Mountain

Liv BlissMtn$430

XS: 4'10 - 5'5

3x
Diamondback LuxMtn$600

S: 5'3 - 5'5

1x, 3x
Marin Wildcat TrailMtn$449

XS: 4'10 - 5'2

1x, 2x, 3x
REI Co-op Cycles DRT Mtn$999

XXS: 4'7 - 5'0

3x, 1x
Marin Bobcat TrailMtn$629

S: 5'4 - 5'7

3x, 2x, 1x
Cannondale Tango 4Mtn$485

XS: 4'10 - 5'2

3x, 1x
Cannondale Trail 6Mtn$485

S: 5'2 - 5'6

3x, 1x
Trek Marlin 6Mtn$650

XS: 4'6 - 5'1

2x

What to Look for in an Adult Bike for a Tween or Teen

Adults bikes are sized, sold, and marketed much differently than kids bikes.  As a result, it helps to understand some of the nuisances of the adult bike world before you start shopping for a bike for your tall 11-year-old, 12-year-old, teen, or even yourself!

13 year old riding Priority Classic Plus bike down the sidewalk

13-year-old on Priority Classic

Adult Bike Sizing vs 26 Inch Bike Sizing

Adult bike sizing is much more nuanced than kids bike sizing. But keeping it simple, adult bikes are sized according to their frame size, while kids bikes are sized according to wheel size. For example, the Trek Wahoo 26 is a 26 inch kids bike. Its frame is larger than a kids bike with 24 inch wheels, but its size is categorized by that 26 inch wheel.

On the other hand, the Trek Marlin is an adult bike that comes in seven sizes ranging from XS to XXL, based on the size of the frame. Most manufacturers provide a sizing chart to help you determine which frame size is best for you based on your height.

Adult Size Chart Example

an example of a bike sizing chart for adult bikes. Showing bike frame size compared to rider height.

Be aware that while adult bikes are categorized by their frame size, you still need to consider wheel size. Larger frame sizes usually mean larger wheels, but this is not always the case.

26 inch bikes for adults used to be standard, but 27.5″ and 29″ wheels are becoming much more popular. Most adult bikes that are small enough for an 11-year-old or 12-year-old will most likely come with 26 inch or 27.5 inch wheels.

Men’s vs. Women’s Frames

Many brands offer “men’s” and “women’s” bikes.  In many cases, the difference is only in color or size.

Women’s bikes are typically available in smaller sizes than men’s bikes.  Women’s often come in XS frames that fit a rider starting at 4’10”, while men’s sizes are usually only available in size S frames suited for riders at least 5′.  As a result, many tweens (boy or girl!) may fit better on a women’s bike than a men’s bike.

But with certain brands and models, a women-specific bike frame is designed a bit differently than a men’s frame. Like traditional bikes for girls, women’s bikes often have a lower step-through to allow for easier entries and exits on the bike. This difference is only for looks and does not affect the performance of the bike.

Reach and Stack

The reach and stack of men’s and women’s bikes are usually different as well. Understanding the reach and stack measurements of a bike will better help you compare various bike models and their frame sizes to determine which frame and model will be the most comfortable for your child.

Diagram of 26 inch bike Specialized Roll bike showing the stack and reach measurements

The reach is the distance between the seat and the handlebars.  Women typically have shorter torsos, so a women’s bike has a shorter reach to prevent women from having to stretch out too far. If your child is more timid or enjoys sitting more upright on a bike, a frame with a smaller reach will be better for them.  If your child typically rides more aggressively, a bike with a longer reach will be better.

The stack of the bike, which is the “height of the bike” from the bottom of the frame to the top of the seat, is shorter on women’s bikes to accommodate shorter heights.  If the height recommendations are not provided by a bike company, the stack of a bike is often a great indicator of the bike’s overall height.  By comparing the stack to other brands with published height recommendations, you can often determine the bike’s overall frame size.

An example of a 26 inch bike manufacturer's geometry specs showing reach and stack by frame size

Women’s vs. Men’s Components

To accommodate the smaller frames of women’s bodies, women’s bikes also often have narrower handlebars, shorter brake levers, and lighter suspension.  If these smaller components do not come with the bike, they can always be swapped out later. In the end, fit is king.  Many 11 or 12 year old boys with smaller frames are likely to fit better on a women’s bike, while those with larger frames may fit better on a men’s bike.

Categories of Adult Bikes

Adult bikes are designed for a wide range of riding styles, ranging from fitness and comfort to road and mountain.  Categories between bike brands can greatly vary.  What one brand calls a “hybrid” another may call “fitness” or “active”. Also be aware that small adult bikes can feature 26 inch, 27.5 inch, or 29 inch wheels.

To help a narrow down your options, here’s a very basic rundown of the various categories of adult bikes by use.  When facing an onslaught of bike categories, these should help you narrow down what you’re looking for.

TIP:  If you are planning on riding on a wide variety of surfaces, recreational mountain bikes (or basic mountain bikes with only front suspension – aka hardtails) are usually your best bet.   Mountain bikes do, however, have a more aggressive positioning than other categories of bikes.  If you prefer to sit more upright on a bike, yet plan on riding on some trails, be sure to get a women’s specific mountain bike frame as they tend to be less aggressive.

For those who want an even less aggressive bike, consider getting a hybrid and swapping out the tires for ones with a more aggressive tread.

Bike CategoryTerrain and Distance
Comfort, CruisersPAVED – Short
Fitness, City, Hybrid, UrbanPAVED – Long
Recreational Mountain – Hardtail, Hybrid with all-terrain tires (dual-sport)ALL-TERRAIN
Cross Country Mountain, HardtailDIRT – Long
12 year old riding Diamondback Lux 3 mountain bike

12-year-old on Diamondback Lux

If your tween or teen just wants the “look” of a mountain bike, many companies however, make “recreational mountain bikes” for everyday riding.  If recreational mountain bikes isn’t an option, the least expensive bikes under their “hardtail” section often fit the bill.

11 year old riding Raleigh Talus recreational mountain bike down paved trail

11-year-old on Raleigh Talus Recreational Mountain Bike

Focus on Weight!

Adult bikes are already significantly heavier than most 26 inch kids bikes.  Shocks can easily add 5+ lbs. to a bike, and unless you plan on paying over $600-ish for a bike, the shock that comes on the bike is likely to not be very effective anyway.

Frog 78 kids 26 inch bike weighs 22 lbs while the Raleigh Talus 1 XS adult bike weighs 32 lbs.

Clean, simple bikes with not a lot of extras (including racks, stylized frames, fenders, etc.) are typically lighter and therefore easier to ride and manage.

Drivetrain Setup

Learning how to shift with two shifters (a front and rear derailleur) can be confusing for adults, let alone kids!  When at all possible, try to get a bike with a simplified gearing system. Most 26 inch kids bikes are “1x” meaning there is only one cog in the front (near the crank arm – the pedals), therefore the bike only needs one derailleur in the back. One derailleur means only one shifter to worry about!

Most adult bikes are “3x” meaning there are three cogs in the front, with multiples still in the back, which then requires two derailleurs and a shifter for each hand.

Drivetrains on the Diamondback Lux Line

collage showing the difference between 1x, 2x, and 3x shifting systems on adult bikes

Internally geared hubs are a great option for tweens and teens as they are all 1x systems!  They typically only have a handful of gears, however, so they aren’t recommended for those planning on tackling some pretty steep inclines. We don’t know of any 26 inch bicycles that have internally geared hubs, but Priority Bicycles does offer small adult bikes.

Try Out in Person

When at all possible, be sure to try out a 26 inch bike or an adult bike in person at a local bike shop.  Due to the vast differences in the design and size of both of these bike categories, there are a lot more variables to take into consideration when trying to get a good fit.

Determining the best frame size based on measurements is typically pretty straightforward with adult bikes, but getting a feel for the width of the handlebars, the ease of braking, and even the overall weight of the bike can really only be done in person.

If testing out a bike in person simply isn’t possible, not to worry!  We’ll continue to test out various bikes on tweens and teens to help you narrow down your options.

Used 26 Inch Bicycles and Adult Bikes

Lastly, in order to save a few bucks, consider looking for a quality used 26 inch bike or adult bike. High-end bikes can often be found used in great condition.  It’s rather common for someone to purchase a bike and then decide to sell it after not using it for several years.  Even if the bike needs a little work, the cost you would pay for a bike shop to repair the bike is often much less then purchasing a new bike.

Take caution with low-end, big-box store 26 inch bicycles or adult bikes.  Although these bikes can often be found used, they are typically in poor repair and may not be able to be fixed.

Our Reviews for Kids 26 Inch Bikes and XS/S Adult Bikes

Subscribe
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

2 Comments
Newest
Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Scroll to Top
Send this to a friend