Children love to ride, and a brand new bike is one of those birthday or Christmas presents that a child will remember forever. There's probably never been more choice and quality in kids bikes, from balance bikes for toddlers to scaled-down mountain bikes, BMX bikes and even race bikes.
Best overall first kids bike: Hornit AIRO balance bike
Best value kids balance bike: Raleigh Balance Banana Bike
Best balance bike for beginners: Kidvelo Rookie 12 Balance Bike
Best kids bike for longevity: LittleBig 3-in-1 bike
Best balance bike that can be converted to pedals: Kidvelo Rookie 14 Balance Bike
Best kids bike for adaptability: Black Mountain Pinto
Best budget kids bike with pedals: Vitus 14 Kids Bike
Best kids bike with 16 inch wheels: Hornit Hero 16
Best value junior bike: Boardman JNR Hybrid Bike - 26 inch Wheel
Best kids bike for aspiring cyclists: Giant ARX 24
Best kids bike with wide tyres: Merida MATTS J.24+ children's bike
Best kids bike for 8-10 year olds: Frog 61
Best kids road bike: Frog Road 70 children's road bike
Best kids cyclocross bike: Vitus Energie 24 Kids CX Bike
A bike is an opportunity to get off the sofa and go outside to have some fun, and kids' bikes can be the gateway to a lifetime of exercise and adventure. Youngsters can start riding at any age from about three upwards, and can start on balance bikes even earlier.
Despite Islabikes ceasing production, credit has to go to Isla Rowntree of Islabikes for pioneering the production of really good quality bikes for children, understanding that the best kids bikes don't just have scaled-down frames, but smaller wheels, brake levers, saddles, cranks and even handlebar grips.
It's worth buying a quality bike as the top kids bikes hold high resale value. To make the choice a bit easier for you, our selection has been split up into two sections:
- Balance bikes
- Pedal bikes
So, what do you need to know before you buy a bike for your child?
Bikes for children are categorised based on wheel size rather than frame size, as the dimensions of the wheels dictate the overall proportions of the bike. The smallest kid's bikes feature 12-inch wheels, and are typically designed for children aged three to five years.
Bikes with 12, 14 and 16-inch wheels keep things simple with single gears and no complications. 20-inch wheeled bikes are where you get into gears and sometimes suspension. Bikes for seven to nine-year-olds will take kids further afield, away from the garden and into parks and perhaps even to school. You'll usually find six or seven gears to make climbing hills easier, with a twist-grip shifter for simplicity.
The same comments apply to 24-inch and even 26-inch wheeled mountain bikes for kids as for 20-inch bikes. You also find double and even triple chainsets on these bikes, but there's a school of thought that this is extra weight, complication and cost that the child can live without for another year or two.
As with any bike, it's important it fits comfortably so that your child can easily stand across the frame, reach the pedals from the saddle and grab the handlebar without too much of a stretch. Having a bike that's too small or too big can compromise a child's ability to control the bike, making it harder to ride, and may discourage them from cycling.
Handlebars: road or mountain?
Small-wheel kids' bikes have flat bars and mountain bike styling, but once you get into 24-inch wheeled bikes you have the option of drop bars.
At this point you're definitely into try-before-you-buy territory. Some kids simply don't get on with drop bars, and more importantly with their brake/gear levers, so don't try and surprise your youngster with a road bike if you're not certain they'll cope.
Cyclocross style extra brake levers are a definite bonus on any drop-bar bike for a kid and in our experience children will thank you for them. One other note on brakes for all kids' bikes: always check that the brake levers are proportionate to the size of the child's hand that's going to be using them, and ideally that they are reach-adjustable too.
Balance bikes - steerable bikes with no pedals - have revolutionised the way kids learn to ride. By allowing a child to learn to balance and steer a bike without the complication of pedalling, balance bikes make a child's first experiences with bikes simple and fun.
Balance bikes are available at a wide range of prices, from around £50 or sometimes even less. The most basic models don't have brakes, but these days most have a rear wheel brake so junior's trainers don't get worn out stopping.