Cheaper Bikes for 4 to 6 Year Olds
What’s the best 16″ kid’s bike under $200?
Our “Exceptional” rated 16″ bikes are amazing, but for many, their $300+ price tags are a bit daunting! For those parents looking for a more budget-friendly option, we set out to find the best 16″ bikes under $200. Via online and physical stores we came up with seven candidates ranging from $50 to $179, all of which had received positive reviews online. Fortunately, there are three options we can confidently recommend for purchase, but we definitely would recommend to steer clear of a few others.
Our Top Picks
After testing all seven bikes on our 4, 5 and 6 year-old testers, three clear winners emerged. While these bikes are not as well-designed or as light as the bikes that take our top 16″ bike recommendations, they all perform impressively for their price tag and feature good basic geometry, a reasonable weight (well under 25 lb.), and a durable build.
1. Raleigh MXR 16, Best for Adventurous Riders: MSRP $149, Well-built with durable components, the MXR provides a smooth, comfortable ride and will surely last for years. With slightly lower-rise handlebars, it performs better for adventurous kids who are likely to go over small jumps or curbs. While not recommended for really aggressive riders (we have yet to find a bike under $200 that is suitable for aggressive riders), the MXR is our top pick for overall-quality as well as for adventurous riders on a budget. Full MXR review.
2. Schwinn SmartStart Cosmo/Scorch, Best for Everyday and Timid Riders: MSRP $99/$129, Easy-to-ride and easy-to-love, the Schwinn SmartStart has a low center-of-gravity which provides a comfortable and confidence-building stable ride for beginning riders. Aggressive riders also enjoyed the SmartStart but preferred the MXR. Schwinn’s overall quality has room for improvement, but is significantly better than big-box-store bikes. The SmartStart 16″ Series is available in several different model names including Cosmo, Scorch, Twilight, and Jasmine. Full Schwinn SmartStart review.
3. Diamondback Mini-Viper, Best for Taller Kids: MSRP $139, With higher handlebars, the Diamondback Mini-Viper is a great fit for taller riders or those with longer torsos because it will keep them in a more comfortable, upright position as the seat height is raised as the child grows. Diamondback’s handlebars are 2″ taller than the Schwinn’s and MXR’s. With a durable build and a mid-range weight, the Diamondback is a great bike for the price.
BONUS Guardian Ethos, Best Quality and Braking System: MSRP $230, One of our favorite brands is now offering a 16″ budget bike! Lightweight and well-designed, Guardian bikes come with a proprietary braking system called SureStop that prevents unsafe braking. When braking with just the front hand brake while at high speeds, bikes can tilt forward bucking the child off the bike and over the handlebars. SureStop on Guardian bikes prevents this by having only one brake lever engage the front and rear brakes. Not only it is the safest system on the market, but it’s also much easier to use than most tradition dual-hand brakes.
What We Look for in a Budget Bike
Our evaluation and rankings for budget bikes were based on how easy it was for our testers to balance and maneuver the bike. Several different factors affect the overall performance of a bike, which we outline in more detail on our Pedal Bikes: How to Choose Page, but for 16″ budget bikes, our main criteria for performance were 1) geometry, 2) handlebar height, 3) weight, and 4) quality.
A bike’s geometry is how the bike positions a child while riding. For a 16″ bike, the bottom bracket (where crank arms attach to the frame), should sit low to the ground to provide a lower center-of-gravity for the rider. A lower bottom bracket allows the rider to sit lower on the bike (sit closer to the wheels), which makes the bike easier to balance. The bottom bracket heights varied from 8″ to 9.5″ on the seven bikes we tested, with the Schwinn SmartStart having the lowest bottom bracket height of 8″.
Sitting Lower to the Ground Makes it Easier to Balance
Bikes with a lower bottom bracket generally also allow the rider to center more of their weight over their hips, which mimics the ease of standing or walking. By sitting lower on the bike, a child can sit in a more natural, upright position, which not only centers their weight over their hips for better balance, but for beginning and timid riders, greatly increases their comfort and confidence on a bike.
Since most kids on 16″ bikes are beginning riders, we gave preference to bikes with upright positioning for this comparison. For more skilled or adventurous riders, however, a more leaned forward position is generally better as it allows them to shift their weight when maneuvering the bike up and around jumps, curbs, and hills.
Schwinn SmartStart has Most Upright Body Positioning
The height and shape of a bike’s handlebars can greatly affect the overall maneuverability of the bike. The performance of the REI Co-Op REV, Diamondback Mini Venom and Next Rocket all suffered due to a lack of proper handlebar design.
When the bars are too low, the child must lean forward to reach the bars, which limits their comfort on the bike and can also minimize the space for the child’s legs when pedaling. When too high and/or swept back, the handlebars can reach halfway up a child’s chest which requires riders to bend their elbows too much, limiting their range of motion. Bars can also be too narrow or too wide, which can make the rider feel too squished or too stretched out on the bike.
Poorly Designed Handlebars Make a Bike Difficult to Ride
As shown in the body positioning pictures earlier, the Schwinn SmartStart, Raleigh MXR and Diamondback Mini Viper all have handlebar designs that allow for proper arm extension as well as plenty of room for knees when pedaling.
Ideally, a child’s bike should weigh no more than 30% of their own weight. This if often hard to achieve with budget bikes as they are usually made with heavier steel frames and lower-end components. At 18.3 lb., the Raleigh MXR is the lightest of our top picks. The Royalbaby Classic, which we do not recommend, was the heaviest at 24.5 lb. The REI’s Co-op REV was actually the lightest contender at 17.6 lb., but its light weight couldn’t overcome its poor handlebar design.
Quality of Build
The actual frames of kids’ bikes rarely break, but their components (the smaller parts of a bike) often do. Like adult bikes, it’s often the quality of these components that determines the overall cost of the bike. While determining quality is subjective, assembling the bike and feeling how well the parts go together and stay together is very indicative of their quality.
We found the Raleigh MXR to have the best quality for the under $200 price point – the bike went together very smoothly with no rattles or noises made while pedaling.
The Schwinn Smart Start was the lowest quality of our three winners as it required a lot of tweaking to get the handbrake to work and has some minor squeaks when in use.
The Diamondback Mini Viper was mid- range in quality between the Raleigh and the SmartStart. It doesn’t feel as “solid” as the Raleigh, but has no rattles or squeaks when in use.
Keep in mind that each of these bikes are some of the best quality in their price range. You can only expect so much for the price!
Kids’ Bikes: Product Filter Tool – To view and filter even more 16″ bikes, and read reviews.
Kids’ Bikes: How to Choose – Detailed information on what to look for when choosing a bike.
How to Teach Your Child to Ride a Bike Without Training Wheels – It doesn’t have to be painful!