The best kids bikes on the market are often not the bikes and brands you might assume. Over the past 13 years, we’ve tested and reviewed over 300 kids bikes.
During that time we’ve witnessed the evolution of the kids bike market and the explosion of new kid-specific bike brands. These lightweight kids bike brands bypass the local bike shops and sporting goods stores and ship bicycles for kids directly to the consumer.
But what makes our favorite kids bikes so great? And why are they so drastically better than bikes by well-known brands like Huffy, Royal baby, or Kent? Did these brands really “re-invent” the wheel, or are they all just a marketing ploy?
In this article we walk you through the top-performing kids bikes brands as well as dive into the specifics about what makes their kids bikes so great.
The Best Kids Bikes and Brands
There are several kids bike brands that consistently show up in the top kids bikes lists. Built with impressive attention to the fine details, these brands are all micro-focused on building bikes to improve a child’s riding experience. In fact, the origin stories of most of these brands begin with frustrated parents looking for a better bike for their own kids.
From timid, beginning riders to aggressive daredevils, each brand has done an amazing job at building and creating the “best bike” for a specific type of child rider. Having personally tested all of these bike brands, our experiences have proven that these brands have truly earned their “best bike” rankings.
|Best on a Budget|
|Retrospec Koda 2||Great quality for low price||$149|
|Guardian Bikes||Innovative SureStop braking system||$249|
|Best for Everyday Riders|
|woom||Light weight for effortless riding||$449|
|Priority Bicycles||Sharp styling, easy to use and maintain||$329|
|Best for Adventurous Riders|
|Prevelo||Quick, nimble, light weight bikes||$429|
|Polygon Bikes||Light weight multi purpose bikes: 20", 24" only||$279|
|Pello||Confidence building all-terrain bikes||$389|
|Cleary||Fun, nimble, and extra durable||$370|
|Frog Bikes||Lots of bright color options||$480|
For additional details on each of these brands, jump down to our Best Kids Bike Brands below.
What about Trek and Specialized kids bikes?
Brands in local bike shops – such as Trek, Specialized and Giant – have made great strides over the last couple years to catch up with the best kid-specific brands. But as a whole, they aren’t quite there yet. Specialized is the exception here with their new Jett line for neighborhood riders, as well as their 20″ and 24″ Riprock for true MTB riders. These are both phenomenal bikes that we happily recommend.
All in all, however, adult-centric brands focus on delivering killer adult bikes for a wide range of cycling styles, but their main focus has never been kids bikes. As a result, their bikes tend to be heavier and don’t offer the same quality and performance for the price as the kid-specific brands.
Don’t get us wrong, we 100% support local bike shops and believe they are essential to communities. In order to be competitive in the kids bike world, however, the big bike shop brands need to step up their game and build lightweight kids bikes with better components.
Price vs. Quality in Kids Bikes
A quick note about quality bikes and price. Quality, well-built, and easy-to-ride bikes do not come cheap. Mass-marketed kids bike brands, such as Huffy, RoyalBaby and Dynacraft (found in big-box stores or online), are built with a cheap price tag as the end goal, NOT with the child’s experience on the bike.
Even adding something like an improved brake caliper for safer braking isn’t considered because it will raise the cost of the bike. With big-box store bikes, price trumps performance.
Our favorite kids bike brands are designed to be the best. From the ground up, every component is carefully selected to maximize the performance of the bike.
For those looking for an amazing bike on a budget, we highly recommend first searching for a quality used bike locally. Unlike big-box store bikes, quality bikes are can be repaired with new components to make them almost as good as new! Their lightweight frames also make for a great starting point for creating your own customized bike.
Industry Leading Kids Bike Brands
The brands we showcase on this page truly deliver the best kids bikes on the market. We have seen countless kids struggle on a cheap, big-box store bike only to hop onto a lightweight, high-end bike and pedal away like a champ. All of these brands sell direct-to-consumer and can be purchased from their websites by clicking on the links below.
We are only discussing pedal bikes below. If you have a child 18-months to 3 years old who has never had a bike, a balance bike is a much better option.
To learn what makes these bikes the best, jump down to our What Makes for a Great Kids Bike section below.
BEST KIDS BIKE BRANDS ON A BUDGET
Reliable quality for neighborhood riders
- SIZES: 16″ to 24″ (12″ not recommended, see below)
- PRICE RANGE: $149 – $219
- TRAINING WHEELS: Come standard on 12″ and 16″
- STANDOUT FEATURES: Great quality for the price, kid-friendly geometry, clean styling
- OUR REVIEWS: Retrospec Koda 2 Plus
We have tested many “cheap kids bikes” over the years, and were surprised and impressed at the performance and quality of the Retrospec Koda 2 Plus kids bikes. With such a low price point, they should absolutely be on the list for price-conscious parents.
Available in all standard kid sizes, the Koda 2 is suitable for kids who will be riding on paved surfaces. Unlike a few brands on this list, the Koda 2 line is also compatible with training wheels if you choose not to take the balance bike route (which we highly recommend!).
When compared to other big-box store budget bikes, the Retrospec Koda bikes really shine as they are considerably more lightweight and are better designed to fit kids’ bodies. Most big-box store bikes have a very short wheelbase (distance between the wheels), which forces the child to sit up higher on the bike and raises the rider’s center-of-gravity.
The rider’s higher center of gravity makes the bike less maneuverable and more difficult to ride, especially for young riders. Retrospec bikes, however, have kid-friendly frames with longer wheelbases that help to lower the child’s center of gravity on the bike, making the bike easier to ride.
As a bonus, many Retrospec Koda 2 bikes come in several fun and modern colorways.
NOTE: Due to the general difficulty of making 12″ kids bikes that are easy to ride and easy to stop, we don’t recommend the 12″ Koda (or any 12″ budget-friendly kids bike.) If your budget is limited, please consider a balance bike instead.
Game-Changing Proprietary Braking System
- SIZES: 14″ to 26″
- PRICE RANGE: $239 – $399
- TRAINING WHEELS: Compatible
- STANDOUT FEATURES: Kid-friendly braking system
- OUR REVIEWS: Guardian 14, Guardian 16, Guardian 20, Guardian 24, Guardian 26
Guardian Bikes‘ innovative SureStop braking system has been a game changer in the kids’ bike world. Safer, faster, and more fun than your standard bike brakes, SureStop has simplified the braking process, while also making it more effective.
Every Guardian bike has just one brake lever on the right hand. But that one lever activates both the rear and front brakes sequentially. This results in more stopping power, and prevents kids from accidentally engaging the front brake only, which can result in a child flipping themselves over the handlebars!
Young kids typically have difficulty learning the difference between braking with their right and left hands, but SureStop removes any confusion, while offering the superior braking power of dual brakes.
Guardian bikes are also a favorite amongst our readers due to their fun color combinations and patterns, as well as their shockingly low prices.
BEST BIKES FOR EVERYDAY RIDERS
Lightweight masterpieces for effortless riding
- SIZES: 14″ to 26″
- PRICE RANGE: $399 – $629
- TRAINING WHEELS: Not compatible on all sizes
- STANDOUT FEATURES: Lightest kids bikes on the market, kid-friendly geometry and components
- OUR REVIEWS: woom 2 (14″), woom 3 (16″), woom 4 (20″), woom 5 (24″) and woom 6 (26″)
Easy, intuitive, and incredibly lightweight, woom bikes are meticulously designed to make bike riding as natural as possible. With every component specifically designed to fit the needs of small bodies, everything from the grips to the tires are selected with fit and efficiency in mind.
The woom 2 (14”) and woom 3 (16”) bikes are the perfect first pedal bikes. If your child is a timid rider or has struggled to learn to ride on other bikes, the woom is the perfect solution!
In addition to the frames designed with a child’s kinesiology in mind, the bikes are also the LIGHTEST kids bikes on the U.S. market, which has a HUGE effect on a child’s ability to manage a bike.
Woom’s larger bikes have an evolved design that keeps riding simple and natural, but allows kids to get more adventurous and aggressive as they grow their skills. In addition to maintaining their light weight, the larger woom bikes feature a unique, adjustable-height stem to allow for kids to customize the height of the handlebars.
Simplicity Perfected – Low-maintenance bikes with grease-free belt drives
- SIZES: 16″ to 24″
- PRICE RANGE: $329 – $449
- TRAINING WHEELS: Compatible on 16″
- STANDOUT FEATURES: Belt drives, internally geared hubs, 3 gears for simplified shifting
- OUR REVIEWS: Priority Start 16″, Start 20″, and Start 24″
Priority Bicycles are uniquely suited for parents who are looking for a top-quality bike with modern, clean styling, but also easy to maintain and easy to use.
Three features help accomplish this purpose: (1) a belt drive instead of the traditional bike chain, (2) an internally geared hub with just 3 gears for easy shifting on their 20” and 24” bikes, and (3) ultralight aluminum frames with classic thin tubing.
While greasy bike chains typically require regular maintenance and can easily fall off, belt drives are grease-free, maintenance-free, and will almost never fall off.
For the 20” and 24” geared bikes, the internally geared hub requires minimal maintenance compared to finicky derailleurs. Derailleurs can easily get damaged, especially on kids bikes, but internally geared hubs are enclosed, protecting them from damage.
BEST KIDS BIKES FOR ADVENTUROUS RIDERS
Light and nimble bikes with all-terrain tires for adventure seekers
- SIZES: 14″ to 26″
- PRICE RANGE: $399 – $649
- TRAINING WHEELS: Not compatible
- STANDOUT FEATURES: Trigger shifters, lightweight build, lower minimum seat heights
- OUR REVIEWS: Alpha One, Alpha Two, Alpha Three, Alpha Four, Alpha Five
If you have a confident and adventurous rider on your hands, Prevelo Bikes should be your go-to option. Built with lightweight, narrow frames to precisely fit young bodies, Prevelo bikes are quick, nimble, confidence-building machines that will help take your child’s riding skill to the next level.
Coming standard with knobby all-terrain tires, Prevelo’s Alpha series empower your little rider to effortlessly transition from sidewalks to trail riding and back again. If trail riding becomes the norm, the Alpha’s standard 1.75″ tires can also be bumped up to wider 2.1″ tires.
Starting on their 20” bikes, Prevelo bikes feature trigger shifters, which are particularly suited for aggressive riders who may advance to mountain biking. The speed and maneuverability of Prevelo bikes are also backed by powerful and responsive Tektro caliper brakes.
Lightweight, solid-quality, great for paved or trail use
- SIZES: 20″ and 24″
- PRICE RANGE: $279 – $399
- TRAINING WHEELS: Not compatible
- STANDOUT FEATURES: Lightweight, solid-quality components
- OUR REVIEWS: Polygon Premier Ultralight Kids Bike
For timid or aggressive riders, paved or dirt trails, Polygon Premier kids bikes boast kid-friendly geometry and solid-quality components for a seriously low price point. Because Polygon owns their own factories, they are able to produce bikes for less and they pass that savings on to the customer.
Overall, these bikes are incredibly versatile, and will be easy for almost any kid to ride – no matter their skill level. For the average rider, the Ultralight is available in an Urban model with multi-use tires, while the Ultralight MTB is equipped with knobby tires and a suspension fork for dirt warriors.
For both Ultralight models, we especially appreciate that they come with a derailleur hanger and cage to protect the bike’s most fragile component from potential damage!
Confidence building bikes with knobby all-terrain tires
- SIZES: 14″ to 27.5″
- PRICE RANGE: $359 – $699
- TRAINING WHEELS: Compatible on 14″ and 16″
- STANDOUT FEATURES: High-end Tektro, Kenda, and Cane Creek components; excel at going from pavement to trails and back
- OUR REVIEWS: Pello Romper (14″), Revo (16″), Reddi (20″ small), Rover (20″), Reyes (24″), Roovi (27.5″)
Pello bikes are incredibly versatile and can easily tackle any terrain you choose. Pello’s smaller bikes are ideal for timid to average riders working to build and grow their skills. Providing a unique, semi-upright body position that works for both timid and confident riders, Pello’s smaller bikes excel at transforming new and timid riders into playful and adventurous riders.
For their larger geared bikes, Pello’s versatility continues. The 20”, 24” and 27.5″ geared bikes are all available with an optional suspension fork. If you think you may have a budding mountain biker on your hands, Pello is a perfect choice because you can help your child develop their trail skills with a rigid fork, and then upgrade to the air fork to convert the Pello into a little mountain pony.
Rugged and durable bikes built for neighborhood adventures
- SIZES: 12″ to 24″
- PRICE RANGE: $330 – $594
- TRAINING WHEELS: Not compatible
- STANDOUT FEATURES: Rugged and durable construction built to last for years and endless adventures
- OUR REVIEWS: Cleary Gecko (12″), Hedgehog (16″), Owl (20″), Meerkat (24″)
Rugged and durable, Cleary Bikes are ideal for your neighborhood adventurer. The wider tires and slightly aggressive geometry of Cleary Bikes empower kids to take things off-road, through ditches, down dirt hills… basically whatever terrain your neighborhood is made of, your child can dominate on a Cleary. For kids who have a passion for riding and push their bikes to the limit, a Cleary Bike is ideal.
With steel frames, Cleary bikes weigh just a bit more than a brand like woom, but these bikes are made to take a beating and will keep on rolling for years to come. To aide in durability, the Cleary’s geared bikes are built with internally geared hubs, which eliminates the need for notoriously finicky derailleurs.
Super lightweight, tons of fun colors
- SIZES: 14″ to 26″
- PRICE RANGE: $460 – $720
- TRAINING WHEELS: Compatible on smaller models
- STANDOUT FEATURES: A wide assortment of sizes to get a precise fit, quality build and construction, come in tons of fun color options
- OUR REVIEWS: Frog 48 (16″), Frog 52 and 55 (20″), Frog 62 (24″)
With lightweight frames and top-of-the-line components, Frog Bikes are a unique blend of versatile performance and proper fit.
Like other high-end bikes on this list, Frog bikes have kid-focused geometry, lightweight frames, and narrow q-factors. What makes Frog Bikes stand out from the rest really is their color options. If your kid just has to have an orange bike, purple bike, or even a polka dotted bike, Frog probably has a color your child will love. They consistently have seven or more colors to choose from.
Besides their more popular hybrid bikes, Frog Bikes also makes kids mountain bikes and kids road bikes.
BEST KIDS BIKES Non-US Brands
The original, game-changing, kid-specific bike brand
- SIZES: 14″ to 24″
- PRICE RANGE: £349 – £549
- TRAINING WHEELS: Not compatible
- STANDOUT FEATURES: From crankset to headset, every component on an Islabike is fined-tuned to create the ultimate riding machine
- OUR REVIEWS: Islabike CNOC 14″, CNOC 16″, CNOC 20″, Beinn 20″, Beinn 24″
Ferrari, Maserati, Bentley, Isabikes. If there’s a kids bike luxury brand, Islabikes is it. While no longer available for sale in the U.S., Islabikes are expertly crafted and built with excruciating attention to detail.
Islabikes is also the first true kids-centric bike brand, and should be credited with providing the inspiration for transforming the world of kids bikes and the creation of the many excellent kids bike brands you see on this list.
What makes for a great kids bike?
Why are these kids bike brands so good? What should you look for when shopping for a bike and what should you avoid? While we won’t go into specific details about individual bikes, more in-depth coverage of each of these features are included in our individual kids bike reviews.
The Best Kids Bikes have Kid-specific Bike Geometry
The design and shape of a bike’s frame goes way beyond looks. While there are many factors at play, the ease with which a child can ride a bike is greatly influenced by the shape of the bike. All in all, if a bike’s frame is poorly designed, it will be very hard for a child to ride.
Wheelbase and Cockpit Size
If you’ve ever had to drive a car sitting WAY too close to the steering wheel, you know that is greatly affects your ability to drive the car. From slower reaction times to inhibited maneuverability, you need space when driving!
Riding a bike is the same way. If the bike seat and the handlebars are too close (the cockpit), a bike will be significantly harder for a child to ride.
A major factor in creating an ample-sized cockpit is the bike’s wheelbase (the distance between the wheels’ axles). With kids bikes, a smaller wheelbase almost always means a smaller cockpit.
Take a look at the example below. The small child is riding a green budget bike on the left, vs. a purple Prevelo bike on the right. Although both of these bikes are meant to fit the same size child (the seat heights are set to the same height), the Prevelo has a much larger cockpit.
Notice that the distance between the child’s knees and the handlebars is much greater on the Prevelo. As a result, the rider feels much less cramped on the bike and it is easier for her to maneuver.
The q-factor of the bike is a measurement of the width between the pedals. Lower-end bikes are typically wider and require kids to splay out their legs in order to pedal. This splay in their pedaling greatly decreases the efficiency of each pedal stroke.
Higher-end bikes are built with narrower components that allow the bike to be narrower between the pedals, which prevents splay. With minimal or no splay in a child’s pedal stroke, pedaling becomes much more natural and comfortable. As you can see above, the splay required to pedal on the Islabike on the left is much less than the splay of the Schwinn on the right.
Bottom Bracket Height and Low Center of Gravity
The bottom bracket of a bike is essentially where all the components that allow for pedaling (crankset, crank arms, etc.) attach to the frame of the bike. The distance between the bottom bracket and the ground plays a role in the bike’s overall center of gravity and also plays a role in the efficiency of each pedal stoke.
If a bottom bracket is positioned high on a bike, the child will sit higher off the ground, creating a higher center-of-gravity. A higher center-of-gravity on a bike is much less stable at lower speeds. Since kids typically ride at lower speeds (they start and stop often), a bike with a lower center-of-gravity is much easier for them to balance.
Bottom bracket height is even a concern on mid-range bikes. As you can see above, the bottom bracket on the Cleary Owl is considerable lower than that on a Specialized Riprock.
Higher bottom brackets also produce less efficient pedaling. The higher the bottom bracket, the less space there is between the child’s seat and the pedal at the top of the pedal stroke. As a result, the child will have to bend their knee at a greater angle on the pedal upswing, which places their legs in a much less efficient position once they hit the downswing.
A lower bottom bracket, as shown on the Pello to the right, allows for more space between the seat and the pedal at the top of the upswing, which leaves the legs less squished and makes it easier to pedal down.
Importance of a Lightweight Kids Bike
Most adults ride bikes that are about 20% of their total weight, while kids’ bikes are usually around 50% of a child’s weight! In addition to creating an efficient frame design, creating a lightweight frame is also essential.
Ideally, a child’s bike should be less than 40% of their weight. While all kids benefit from lightweight bikes, a few pounds makes an even bigger difference for young, timid, or beginning riders.
While all the brands on our best kids bikes list build bikes that are much lighter than the average bike, woom bikes is king when it comes to lightweight kids bikes. For example, the 16″ woom 3 bike weighs only 13.1 pounds while the Raleigh MXR 16″ bike weighs 18.3 pounds. For a 40 lb. child, the woom 3 is 32% of the child’s weight while the MXR is 45%!
Weight, however, should never be looked at in isolation. Some cheap big-box-store bikes are similar in weight to higher-end bikes, but only because their wheelbases are narrower (they have a smaller frame) and they lack components such as hand brakes.
Decreasing the weight on a child’s bike is a priority for well-designed bikes, so higher-end kids bike companies proudly display their bikes’ weights. On the other hand, most major bike companies refrain from publishing them.
Quality Kid-friendly Components
Quality brakes for more stopping power
Quickly and confidentially stopping a bike is essential to a child’s safety on a bike. The brakes on kids bikes, however, range vastly in quality and performance. The brakes on higher-end bikes stop faster and with much less effort required by the child.
Hand brakes vs. coaster brakes
Hand brakes on a child’s bike are always preferred over coaster brakes (back-pedal brakes). Unfortunately, the vast majority of kids bikes on the market come with coaster brakes. Why? They are very cheap and don’t add a lot of money to the production costs of the bike.
Quality hand brakes, like those shown on the Pello below, add significant costs to a bike. With more parts and even more time required to install and tune the brakes, reliable handbrakes are simply not available on low-cost bikes.
So what’s wrong with coaster brakes? Coaster brakes are not intuitive and can inhibit a child’s ability to learn to pedal. Over the years we’ve found separating the pedaling motion from the braking motion is more natural, and enables a child to master pedaling and braking more quickly. Use your hands to stop and your feet to go!
Coaster brakes are particularly tricky for young kids as they prevent them from naturally pedaling backward when they lose their balance. Upon doing so, the bike unexpectedly stops, which often results in a fall. Coaster brakes also prevent kids from properly lining up their pedals to “go position” which allows them to start pedaling from a stop more easily.
Quality vs. Budget Hand Brakes
Unlike coaster brakes that can require kids to slam down backward on their pedals to stop, quality hand brakes require very little effort to engage. A quality hand brake is very easy for a child’s hand to reach and requires minimal effort to pull.
Easy-reach levers on a hand brake allow kids to pull the brake lever without loosening their grip on the handlebar. The easier a brake is to engage, the more likely a child will use it!
While some cheap kids bikes have hand brakes, they are typically hard to reach and very unreliable. Often built with single-pivot calipers, budget hands brakes are almost impossible to properly adjust and should not be expected to stop a bike.
Don’t assume that a cheap bike is better because it has a hand brake. It’s usually not. Also don’t assume that because the hand brake passed CPSC certification that it’s going to work well.
Gain Ratio and Gearing
How high or low a bike is geared should always be taken into consideration when purchasing any bike. The ease at which a child can climb up a hill or pedal quickly to keep up on a flat path depends on the gearing of a bike.
When referring to the gears on a bike, we prefer to compare bikes based on the gain ratio of their gears. The gain ratio of a bike’s gear is determined by the wheel size, crank arm length (the pedal arm length), and the number of teeth on the front and rear cogs.
A high gain ratio requires more effort to get started but allows the bike to travel farther with every pedal stroke (like a high gear on an adult bike).
A low gain ratio requires less effort to get the bike started but requires more “pedal spinning” to get the bike going (like a low gear on an adult bike).
Gain ratios should be taken into consideration on both single-speed and geared bikes. A 16″ bike with a gain ratio of 3.2 is going to to take much less effort for a child to start pedaling than a 16″ with a gain ratio of 4.5. However, the top speed of the 3.2 bike is going to be much slower than the bike with the 4.5 gain ratio.
With geared bikes, it’s important to look at the ranges of the gain ratio. A 7-speed bike with a gain ratio range (the spread between the lowest and the highest gear) of 2.2 to 4.45 offers a much more narrow gear range than a 7-speed bike with a 2.2 to 6.7 gain ratio range.
The components that make up the gears of bikes vary greatly in quality and performance. Higher-end bikes typically have more robust systems that can better handle the wear and tear from kids, and also allow for smoother shifting.
If your child needs gears, versus wants them, purchasing a bike with a high-end drivetrain is essential. Shimano’s entry-level Tourney components (shifters and derailleurs) should be used with hesitation for those who need reliable gears for consistent use.
Shimano’s higher-end Altus and Acera lines as well as Microshift components (used on Prevelo and Guardian) are much better lines that offer smooth and more reliable shifting. SRAM components (used by woom and Pello) do not make a budget line, so any of their systems are better than the Shimano Tourney line.
Grip Shifters vs. Triggers Shifters
The type of shifters on a bike can make shifting a breeze or a challenge for young riders. The shifters on higher-end bikes are typically significantly easier for a child to use and usually wear better with time.
There are two main types of shifters – grip shifters and trigger shifters. Grip shifters are common on kids bikes as they are the most intuitive to use. To shift, kids simply twist forward or back on the grip. For more advanced or aggressive riders, grip shifters aren’t ideal as they don’t allow kids to shift as quickly.
Trigger shifters offer faster (and often smoother) shifting, but they can be more confusing for kids to learn. Instead of twisting with their hands, trigger shifters require kids to push or pull a lever with their fingers.
The Best Kids Bikes are Really Easy to Assemble!
Assembling a bike can be very complicated, but for the best kids bikes, brands have made an art out of simplifying the process. From clear and concise instructions to included tools, most of the high-end bike brands can be assembled in about 10 – 15 minutes!
Kids Bike Brands with Quality Customer Service
Passionate about bikes and their products, one of the major benefits of purchasing from a kid-specific bike brand is the customer service they provide. Whether something isn’t quite right with your bike or you are confused about assembling it, their customer service stands ready to help.
Quality Bikes for Kids are An Investment: High Resale Value
Quality kids bikes aren’t cheap, but they are a great investment. As long as they are properly maintained and cared for, each of these brands have a high resale value, so you can expect to get at least half (but likely much more) of your investment back once your child outgrows it.
Our Best Bikes by Size Lists
Looking for more details on bikes of specific sizes? Check out our list of favorites for kids of every age.