Bikes have always been a big part of childhood, offering kids a two-wheeled ticket to adventure and parents a great way to enjoy the outdoors as a family. Getting a bike, learning to ride it safely and exploring your yard and (eventually) your neighbourhood are essential rites of passage for kids the world over, many of whom may become bitten by the cycling bug and go on to enjoy MTB riding or road cycling with mum, dad or friends. Here’s our guide to the best kids bikes 2020.
If you want to head straight to our top picks on the Chain Reaction Cycles website, here are our favourites:
If you’re a parent eager to get your offspring’s cycling career off to a positive start, there’s certainly plenty of choice out there, with kids’ bikes aplenty to be found in supermarkets, toy shops and the small ads. However if you want your child to safely enjoy their first forays into two-wheeled independence, it’s important to choose wisely.
Children need bikes to suit their age and ability, with lightweight frames, sturdy construction and components that are suited for small hands and legs. We strongly recommend buying a kids’ bike made by an actual bicycle company (as opposed to a toy) – all too often, mass-market children’s bikes use gaudy accessories, eye-catching graphics and budget price tags to mask heavy frames, flimsy construction and a host of cut corners, component-wise. The more your child enjoys riding their bike the more likely they are to use it, and the better the bike the more enjoyable it will be to ride.
With that in mind we’ve picked a selection of the best kids’ bikes on the market for 2020, across a wide range of sizes and age groups – from a balance bike that to get your toddler used to whizzing around on two wheels, right up to junior-sized versions of MTB race bikes. Eagle-eyed readers will notice a preponderance of mountain bikes in our selection and that’s no accident – the qualities that make MTBs great for off-road trail riding also make them a brilliant choice for boys and girls looking for a tough two-wheeled companion, that’s also lots of fun to ride.
Balance bikes are a classic choice for kids aged two years and over, and as the name suggests are great for imparting the essential skill of balance before they graduate to a bigger bike. Balance bikes are unique in having no pedals, chain, drivetrain or brakes – your nipper just sits astride the saddle and uses his or her leg power to propel themselves forward. Over time the skill of lifting their legs and balancing the bike as it rolls forward will become second nature, as anyone who has seen a seasoned balance-biker zoom around the park or playground will attest.
Balance bikes are great for learning skills that will be useful later on and more importantly for the kids riding them, they are an absolute blast! This Cubie 120 model from German brand Cube is a tough and good-looking little example with a lightweight aluminium frame (as opposed to heavier, cheaper steel) and 12” wheels shod in grippy, cushioning Kenda pneumatic tyres (as opposed to the cheaper option of solid foam).
It’s available in dynamic Action Blue but we really like the retro-styled light blue paintjob with classic brown tyres, grips and leather-look saddle (love those rivets). That said, our strong advice is to let the rider choose the colour they want!
When it comes to choosing a kid’s bike it’s really crucial to get the size right. Unlike adult bikes, where the frame size is determined by the length of the seat tube, children’s bikes go by wheel size. This 14” wheel size is the next step up from the 12” size seen on our last choice and is generally aimed at riders between the ages of 3 and 5, or 98-106cm in height.
With this size we are typically talking about a child’s first ‘proper’ bike – they are graduating from a balance bike or stabilizers and are mastering the art of staying upright on two wheels. For this reason we keep things simple and safe – look for a single-speed drivetrain with a chainring protected by some kind of plastic guard, a lightweight frame, good-quality air tyres and reliable brakes that are easily manipulated by little fingers.
Thankfully this Vitus 14 has all of these boxes ticked and with a lightweight 6061 alloy frameset, short reach brake levers, smaller diameter handlebar grip area and reduced Q Factor chains is set up just right for little rippers to gain the skills and confidence they need. This version of the Vitus 14 boasts a striking limited edition two-tone colourway but you can also opt for the standard version, while slightly older riders may find the Vitus 16 a better fit.
This is the ever-so-slightly bigger brother of the Cube Cubie 120 Walk balance bike, with 16” wheels and a single-speed drivetrain. The geometry is designed specifically around a child’s needs, blending responsive handling with stable, predictable steering.
The Cubie 160 is equipped with a coaster rear brake and front rim brake, the latter featuring a short-reach lever. A safety guide keeps the transmission safely enclosed while Cube tyres offer plenty of cushioning and grip. A motocross-inspired rear mudguard helps add to the overall impression of a rugged little machine, for rugged little riders.
The Ghost Kato 2.0 kids’ bike is the little brother of the German brand’s long-running Kato MTB platform and shares many design similarities. It’s a proper little mountain bike with eight-speed Shimao gears, a lightweight alloy frame featuring slack, trail-friendly geometry and even an RST Capa suspension fork.
Running on 20” Rodi Scout wheels this bike is ideally suited to boys or girls in the 5-8 years age bracket (height 120-130cm) and it’s a great little trail shredder at a really appealing price. We think it’s a great option for a neighbourhood roustabout under any child that has mastered their basic bike skills, but where it will really come into its own is on off-road trails. If mum or dad is a keen mountain biker looking for something to help get the next generation hooked, this is a super option. Alternatively, the Ghost Lanao 1.0 offers the option of a step-through frame design (traditionally popular with girl riders) and rigid forks.
When it comes to designing kids’ bikes, Vitus has focused firmly on getting the basics right. No finicky frills, no plastic gimmicks, no superhero stylings, silly stunts, gender-specific paint jobs or motorbike-style plastic fairings (we hate those). Just brilliant bikes for active children, with well thought-out geometry, quality components and everything optimised for smaller hands. Even their naming conventions are stripped back to basics – the Vitus 14 is their 14”-wheeled bike, the Vitus 16 is their 16”-wheeled bike, the Vitus 20 is their…well, you can guess the rest.
Which brings us to the Vitus 24, a rugged-but-refined all-purpose kids’ bike which, with 24” wheels, is targeted at slightly older kids in the 7-11 age bracket. We say ‘all-purpose’ because, even though it’s certainly capable of being ridden off-road, it’s not quite as MTB-esque as some other bikes in this category – those Vee Rubber Speedster tyres and that lightweight rigid fork make this bike smooth and fast on tarmac, great for family greenway rides, the school commute or just cruising around the block with your buddies. We think this is how a bike like this will be ridden 90% of the time and it’s to be applauded – why add the weight and complexity of additional components when they aren’t needed?
The Vitus 24 is a practical, refined and good-looking tool that will be a loyal servant to your kids for as many years as it fits them, and in turn will serve their little brothers/sisters when the time comes. We also love the mint paint option (again set of beautifully with skinwall tyres and leather look finishing kit). Roll back the decades and if we were making our 2020 birthday list, this bike – in that colour – would sit right at the top.
In contrast to our previous pick, the Cube Acid 240 Disc unashamedly states its off-road intentions and indeed (much like the Ghost Kato 2.0) is a smaller version of Cube’s long-running Acid hardtail platform. At the heart of this bike is a light-but-tough aluminium frame, with off-road geometry matched to wide handlebars and a short stem for precision steering control.
As with most bikes intended for off-road duty, the Cube Acid 240 Disc uses a suspension fork to smooth out the bumps and a set of impressive Tektro hydraulic disc brakes offer plenty of stopping power. Disc brakes are a rare enough find on kids bikes so again they support the Acid 240’s claims to being a serious off-road machine (although a rim brake version is also available). With 24” wheels it’s again aimed at riders aged around from 7 to 11 and best suited to those who have access to a local loop to play around on, or who are keen to hit the trails with mum, dad or bigger siblings on the weekend.
Whereas the Vitus 24 – with rigid fork, low-profile tyres and upright geometry – is positioned as the perfect all-rounder comfortable on city streets, the Vitus Nucleus 24 is designed first and foremost with muddy mountain trails as its natural habitat. Again this is the junior version of a proven adult MTB, the Vitus Nucleus (or more accurately one of two junior versions – see also the Vitus Nucleus 26) and like its parent bike, it’s all about the angles. The Nucleus 24 is built around a tough alloy frame with a slack geometry (67-degree head angle, 72.5-degree seat angle) that will tackle technical terrain without breaking stride.
Of course such a trail-focused frame needs the right components to shine, so Vitus have specced a 65mm air-sprung Spinner Grind suspension fork, 1×9-Speed Shimano Altus gearing, Tektro hydraulic disc brakes and super-grippy Schwalbe Rocket Ron tyres. We’re still talking about a kids’ bike but by now we are well out of toy territory and into the kind of robust, capable and well-designed rides that are built to enable younger riders hone their off-road speed and skillset. Buy one for your little shredder but beware – with a bike like this it won’t be long before they’re putting you to shame.
The NS Bikes Clash hardtail is made more with street stunts in mind than XC racing, so for younger riders who enjoy the sensation of airtime, the alloy-framed Clash JR is right up their alley (or skate park, as the case may be).
One great feature about this bike is that it is designed to be compatible with both 24” and 26” wheels, so as your child gets older you have the option of swapping out the stock 24” hoops for a larger wheelset, rather than having to shell out for a completely new bike. Equipped with SR Suntour suspension forks, a Shimano Altus 8-Speed drivetrain and Tektro Novela disc brakes, the NS Bikes Clash is a true do-it-all kids’ MTB, as at home in the urban jungle as it is on your local trails.
Nukeproof’s Scout is the dictionary definition of a trail hardtail – low-slung, long-travel and built to take on the rigours of fast singletrack or even enduro riding. For younger riders who dream of ripping up trails like their heroes, Nukeproof have this year introduced the new and charmingly-named Cub Scout series of kids’ bikes, which take all of the off-road prowess of the Scout and distils it into a package that’s accessible to juniors.
It’s available in 20”, 24” and 26” wheel sizes and at two build levels, the base Sport level or higher-spec Race models, which are essentially the same as the adult versions spec-wise but with some optimisation for younger riders. The Cub Scout Sport 26 has caught our interest, not least owing to the striking black-and-yellow colourway that’s a nod to the classic Nukeproof livery of a few years back (we miss it a bit, tbh). This is a really impressive bike for youth/adolescent MTB riders with a spec sheet that brooks no compromise – there are no corners cut here just because a rider isn’t old enough to vote. The Cub Scout Sport 26 features X-Fusion RC32 air suspension forks, Tektro M276 hydraulic disc brakes (with short stroke levers for smaller hands), 9-speed Shimano Altus M2000 gearing, large volume 2.5” Maxxis Minion DHF tubeless-ready tyres and Nukeproof Neutron Jr finishing kit.
Nukeproof say that the introduction of a kids’ bike range was inspired by team riders (including Sam Hill and Nigel Page) now having their own kids coming up through the ranks, and wanting to be able to give them bikes that were worthy of their talent. Going by the quality of the Cub Scout range, we can’t wait to see what the next generation bring to the World Cup circuit!