Ten years ago when my older son, now 13, transitioned to pedaling there were two options for buying him a bike. The first was to buy from a big box store and the second was to buy a big brand from a local bike shop. We actually owned a bike shop at the time so we ordered him what we thought was a quality bike from a well-known bike brand. It turned out to not be much better than what was available at the big box stores; it was heavy, had coaster brakes, and was designed with little thought to the geometry.
Fast forward to 2018 and the future is bright. Over the past ten years smaller boutique brands have popped up ready to fill a void the big brands weren’t interested in. First it was Islabikes out of England and Spawn out of Canada. Today, parents have at least a dozen companies to shop from, all developing state-of-the-art bikes that are lightweight and designed specifically for kids. In addition, the big brands have taken notice and are investing more in kids’ bikes, especially in 20- and 24-inch models.
What to look for
In this guide we are looking at the best mountain bikes for both aggressive and basic trail riding. When choosing a mountain bike for a child, consider size, brakes, geometry, and weight in addition to the price.
Kids’ bikes are marketed by wheel size. As a general rule, here is some guidance on the age ranges for each wheel size:
|Wheel Size||Age range|
Before purchasing a bike, be sure to measure the child’s inseam. Use this number to reference the manufacturer’s inseam recommendations for each bike.
Here in the US this is tough topic because the current law require kids’ bikes to be sold with coaster brakes. That said, most experts agree that freewheels and hand brakes are the best way to go from the start. In my experience, most kids can use hand brakes immediately and don’t need to start with a coaster brake.
It’s hard to get geometry just right on tiny bikes, but when choosing a mountain bike for your little ripper, research head tube angle, wheel base, bottom bracket placement, and crank length. For stability and downhill control, consider looking into bikes with a slacker head tube angle and a longer wheel base.
If you only look at one feature of a bike, this would be the one. Look for bikes that are no more than 40% of your child’s weight. Have a 40lb 4-year-old? Look for a bike that weighs 16lbs or less. When in doubt, pick the bike that weighs the least.
10 best mountain bikes for kids
Cleary Gecko (12-inch)
The Gecko was my son’s first pedal bike after transitioning from the balance bike at about two and a half years old. It’s the best 12-inch mountain bike on the market because the low seat height fits the smallest riders, and the flat handlebars result in a more aggressive body position which is perfect for getting comfortable on varied terrain and ready to rip downhill.
Weight: 13-15lbs, depending on freewheel or coaster set up.
Little Big Bike (14-inch)
If you’re looking for one bike to go from age two up until age seven, the Little Big Bike is worth a consideration. It starts as a balance bike and can be easily converted to a pedal bike as skills grow. This is a great option for kids that need more time working on balance, as many traditional balance bikes have 12-inch wheels that make them too small for kids over four years old.
In addition, the Little Big Bike has two hand brakes, making it ideal for control when riding on trails. For a more detailed review of the Little Big Bike check here.
Weight: 11lbs as balance bike, 14lbs as a pedal bike
Prevelo Zulu One and Two (14- and 16-inch)
While all Prevelo bikes are based on kid-focused design elements like low bottom brackets, short and narrow cranks, small diameter bars, and kid-sized brake levers, the Zulu models are made specifically for going off-road and down hills. Both sizes come with disk brakes, a slightly longer wheel base, a slacker 66 degree head tube, and quality mountain bike tires with presta valve tubes.
Additionally, the 16-inch model is available with a custom front shock that actually works and is worth the extra weight. All Prevelo bikes go through quality control and are hand-tuned in California before heading to your doorstep. The only bad news is that the bikes are not released yet, but will be available sometime before Fall 2018. Keep an eye on the Prevelo website for detailed specs and timeframes for delivery.
Weight – TBD
Price – TBD
Stampede Sprinter (16-inch)
Looking for a fully functional and lightweight kids’ mountain bike that costs less than $300? The Stampede Sprinter is an excellent value and they are updating this model for a summer release. In addition to the appropriate geometry, modern design, knobby tires, internal cables, and lock-on grips, the new model has a lower standover height, updated brakes, new colors, redesigned frame, and updated wheels.
Weight: 15 lbs
Spawn Yama Jama (20-inch)
Spawn is the original boutique mountain bike manufacturer for kids, and the Yama Jama is their latest innovation. This is one of the best 20-inch bikes on the market with an 80mm Brood Bike Co. suspension fork with carbon lowers, tubeless tires, a SRAM 1×10 drivetrain, and even an internal routing option for a dropper post.
Weight: 21.5 lbs
Trek Superfly (20-inch)
If your child is more interested in speed and riding XC terrain, the Trek Superfly 20 is the perfect bike and can be purchased at your local bike shop. At well under $500 and weighing 18lbs, this bike has everything young riders need to get out on the trails without breaking the bank.
Flow Bikes Carbon (20-inch)
For parents willing to break the bank, or for the budding Instagram shredder, check out Flow Bikes. While the Flow features an aluminum frame, it comes with carbon wheels, seatpost, and handlebars. The all-mountain build includes a SRAM X-7 1×10 drivetrain, Hayes Hydraulic disc brakes, a custom-tuned suspension, and almost every other upgrade one can imagine. It also accepts 16- or 20-inch wheels and has a short and long reach option.
Frog MTB 62 (24-inch)
The Frog MTB 62 is the ideal bike for going on and off road. It’s just as capable hitting the trails as it is riding to school. If you want one bike to do it all, this is a great option. The MTB 62 includes an air suspension fork, hydraulic disk brakes, lightweight frame, and 1x 9 gearing. At well under $1,000 and weighting almost the same as bikes more than twice this price, it’s worth every penny.
Islabikes Creig (24-inch)
The Islabikes Creig a quality bike that gets kids off the pavement and onto the trails. While it doesn’t have a high-end fork, the fork is air-sprung, allowing for tuning and keeping the weight down. Features include a lightweight frame, the appropriate geometry for XC riding with a slightly slacker head tube for greater control on the downhills, hydraulic disc brakes, and 1×10-gearing.
This bike allows kids to progress on their local trails while those kids on heavy clunkers look on with envy. For a more detailed review check here.
Trailcraft Maxwell (24-inch)
While many bikes are built and assembled in Asia with little oversight, all Trailcraft bikes are assembled in Fort Collins, Colorado with a choice of 5 ways to build the bike: frame only, rolling frameset, or three levels of build kits to make complete bikes. The Maxwell is a lightweight full suspension model that lets young riders go fast uphill and handles rocky and technical terrain downhill. It’s a bike that will even make parents jealous.
Price: $2,999 (complete bike)
Bonus: Meekboyz Mega Beast (24-inch)
And for our last bike we are going big.The Mega Beast is made to go fast downhill with 180mm of travel, but is also lighter than most parents’ cross country bikes at 26lbs. It’s custom in every way possible, and is the only bike on our list that has a carbon frame. Meekboyz not only overcomes the limitations of mass market bikes, it crushes them on the most technical and aggressive trails your little shredder can find.
Price: $7,500 (complete bike)
Your turn: What is the best little shredders’ bike you’ve found?