Whether they hit the trails or whizz along streets with their pals, kids love mountain bikes.
They’re often mountain bike experts before you buy them one, so shouldn’t you be equally informed?
I know a thing or two about the best mountain bikes for kids after researching for my daughter.
So, here are my top three picks for the best mountain bikes for kids:
Before I explore the options in greater detail, let’s look at kids’ mountain bikes and what to look for.
Why a Mountain Bike?
I know that many kids don’t feel safe on road bikes. They’re bent over, and the handlebars are low, while the thin wheels need the kid to have decent balance.
To me, road bicycles aren’t the best for new and young cyclists.
Consider their differences to mountain bikes:
Mountain bikes have thick wheels, which may soothe fears that thin wheels are weaker. But they boast practical purposes, too.
The thick wheels will absorb shock better due to the added bulk, lessening the impact of debris and potholes.
The added surface contact also adds friction, meaning kids will go slower with thicker wheels. This should soothe a worried parent, thinking of speeding kids.
The straight bar on a mountain bike lets kids ride in an upright position. I feel it’s healthier for growing bones to remain upright. Bending too much isn’t healthy for anyone.
However, this handlebar type has two other plus points:
- More confidence and control.
- It’s easier to look far in front of you in an upright position.
Since road bikes are designed to be lighter and faster than mountain bikes, when it comes to safety, mountain bikes are a better option.
Most mountain bikes don’t go fast enough to overtake a car, unless it’s one going extremely slowly.
You can’t watch your child every second of the day. So, I recommend limiting their speed as much as possible. It’ll keep them safer.
What To Look for in Kids’ Mountain Bikes
Manufacturers tell you kids’ bike sizes by wheel size.
The sizes range from 12–24 inches in diameter. The adult size is 26 inches.
Here’s a breakdown of the sizes by age:
- 12–14 inches: Toddler; 1–3.
- 16 inches: 4–6.
- 18 inches: 5–7.
- 20 inches: 6–9.
- 24 inches: 10+.
As you can see, there’s some overlap since kids obviously can vary in size.
Many manufacturers have ideas about age-appropriate sizes. Bicycles with adjustable saddles will extend the age range, so this makes sense. Often, a kids’ bike will fit children with up to a foot of height difference.
The 24-inch models are often suitable well into teen years, so long as you can adjust the seat. Adjustable handlebars also help, but sadly, some bicycles neglect this feature.
A bicycle’s weight impacts many factors:
- How long the kid can ride.
- The speed the kid can go.
- Ease of independently stowing the bicycle away.
For kids, I say the lighter, the better. It keeps the kids happy and occupied for longer.
Mountain bikes are generally heftier bicycles. In contrast, adult mountain bikes can weigh 40–50+ pounds. 24-inch bikes often weigh in similarly.
Meanwhile, the smallest ones can weigh 14–18 pounds, sometimes more. This seems like a lot for a young child to handle—but note that many of the best bikes for toddlers weigh more!
Two of the cycles I’ll review later are on the heavy side. I find them fitting for the upper end of the manufacturer-given age range.
Keep in mind; if the bike seems too heavy, your child could fit in the upper range of the next size down.
I avoid purchasing a cycle more than half the child’s weight, and I always go for the lightest option.
A bicycle’s material is a determining factor of weight, and there are two materials used in today’s picks, each with their pros and cons:
Aluminum is one of the lightest materials bicycle manufacturers use. This lets you gather speed and store the bicycle with ease.
And, the best thing about aluminum is the price. It’s highly affordable, often used in entry-level and mid-range bicycles.
The only downside, to me, is its durability. Aluminum isn’t weak, but it’ll never be the strongest option.
Steel is on the other end of the scale. It’s the heaviest material I’ve seen in a bicycle, and one of the strongest.
Price-wise, steel is usually used in mid-level bicycles. It can get pricier sometimes, but it’s generally reasonable for what you get.
Brakes are a hot topic when it comes to children’s bicycles.
Coaster brakes work when the child pedals backward, bringing the bike to a halt, but they make zero sense to me on bikes without training wheels for support.
Furthermore, adult bicycles use hand-activated brakes. How does it make sense to teach a child one braking system when they’ll inevitably end up with the other?
If you can, go for hand brakes to teach your kids how to use them early on.
You may see adult bicycles with straight handlebars still have a slightly bent riding position. However, bending over isn’t the healthiest. You can easily strain muscles during physical activity—making back pain more prominent.
Look for a bicycle with as upright a riding position as possible. Most kids’ bikes feature an upright design regardless—but double-check how it fits your child upon receipt.
If your child is bending over more than you’d like, you may want to lower the seat or size up the cycle.
What gears you need depends on the child’s age, with super young and beginner riders more likely to find it hard to manage gears.
I feel you should increase the number of gears gradually. In mountain bikes in particular, you end up on lots of terrains, inclines and declines. You need the added control gears bring for safety.
Six gears are a great starting point when introducing kids to gears. Eventually, they can move up and master 14 or even 21.
Most of us feel it’s important to like how your bike looks. It’s even more important for kids.
If your kid doesn’t have a stylish, cool-looking bike, they may feel inadequate compared to their peers or be teased. Or, if it’s a style not stereotypical to their gender, peers may be snide about it, too, even if it’s “wrong” to do so.
Ask your child’s opinion before buying a bicycle. Even if the bike is a surprise, be sneaky about it!
“Hey, I saw this bicycle on TV, isn’t it cool?”
Top Three Best Mountain Bikes for Kids
I’ve put in the research and narrowed it down to the three bicycles I feel best fit the criteria we discussed above.
The Belsize mountain bike is an excellent follow-up to a toddler bicycle.
It has 16-inch wheels—great for a 4 to 6-year-old. However, if your toddler is growing fast, the manufacturer states it’s suitable for ages 3–7.
The bicycle has an adjustable saddle height, so works well for a wide range of heights, although the handlebars aren’t adjustable. So, I’d take the “suitable for up to age 7” with a grain of salt—unless your child is comfortable cycling slightly bent.
If you’d rather go by saddle height than suggested age, it goes from 18 to 22 inches tall. Compare this against your child’s toddler bike before upgrading.
Something almost incomparable to toddler bikes is weight. Many toddler bicycles are steel and heavy. This is a much lighter aluminum alloy, weighing in at 14.33 pounds. This should let your child speed like they never have before.
Although, you may notice the lack of gears on this bicycle. There’s nothing to help your child up the hills or stay swift on flat land.
If your child needs to slow or stop, the brakes are easy to reach. They’re hand-activated brakes on both sides of the handlebars; not too far away for small hands.
Overall, I feel this is an excellent first mountain bike for growing kids. It comes in blue, pink and silver, so there’s something for every taste.
- Hand-activated brakes.
- Lightweight aluminum for easy cycling.
- Adjustable saddle for growing kids.
- The handlebars aren’t adjustable.
- No gears.
- Wheel size: 16-inches.
- Saddle height: 18—22 inches.
- Weight: 14.33 pounds.
- Material: Aluminum alloy.
- Brakes: Hand-activated.
This 20-inch wheel option is more suited to a kid aged 5–9, or 3’6–4’6.
I’d recommend this for an older child, as it’s quite a hefty bicycle at 35.2 pounds. It’s heavier than some adult bicycles of other types due to the steel frame.
Mountain bicycles are heavy in general, though, and many kids are accustomed to carrying heavy objects already. Their school backpacks can weigh 18–30 pounds! At most, the bike’s weight will slow them down a little.
If they want some help dealing with the bulk on different surfaces, the gears should help. There are six speeds to utilize, which is enough to adjust when going uphill or downhill, or on different terrain.
Regardless of speed, the kid can stop any time they want, thanks to the hand-activated breaks on one side.
This excellent bike for older kids may be marketed for boys, but anyone can utilize it. It comes in:
- Denim blue.
- Metallic cyan.
- Solar flare pattern.
- Wide array of designs.
- Extremely durable.
- Adequate gears for handling hills, but not too many to be confusing.
- Hand-activated brakes.
- Suits lots of heights.
- Very heavy; potentially unsuitable for younger kids.
- Wheel size: 20 inches.
- Bike height: Suits kids 3’6–4’6.
- Weight: 35.2 pounds.
- Material: Steel.
- Brakes: Hand-activated.
This Huffy bike is for older kids, too—the over 10s this time. With 24-inch wheels, it’s only one size down from an adult mountain bicycle.
Its average saddle height is 45.76 inches. The manufacturer doesn’t state what heights or ages the bicycle is best for.
Another factor that I feel makes this bike best for pre-teens is its weight. At 45.8 pounds, you’d want to be strong for this. And, thanks to the adjustable seat, you can head into the teenage years with it, but the handlebars won’t rise with the saddle.
The bicycle frame itself is strong, being made of steel—exactly what a young adventurer getting up to safe mischief needs.
The durable frame can hold up to 200 pounds, making it excellent to use as intended. Let’s face it; younger kids won’t often use mountain bikes for actual mountain cycling. But older kids might; add a backpack and bike accessories, and you’ll need that 200-pound capacity.
You’ll also need plentiful gears to take to the trails, and this bicycle has 21. I feel an older child or teen can easily handle this.
In addition, the front suspension ensures each gear remains highly responsive. And, the disc brakes—as found on adult mountain bikes—designate an easy stop.
- Tough bicycle made for the mountains.
- Disc brakes.
- Lots of gears for optimized cycling.
- Adjustable seat height ensures a long-lasting bike.
- May be too heavy for younger riders.
- The handlebars don’t adjust, causing a bent riding position as the child–teen ages.
- Wheel size: 24 inches.
- Bike height: 45.76 inches.
- Weight: 45.8 pounds.
- Material: Steel.
- Brakes: Hand-activated disc brakes.
Best Mountain Bikes for Kids Conclusion
For me, the best mountain bike for kids is the Belsize 16-Inch Luxury Belt-Drive Bike. It’s light yet sturdy and is the perfect follow-on from a toddler bicycle.
Despite it being a follow-on, it can last into mid-childhood thanks to the adjustable seat. I’d consult an expert to see if they can do anything to raise the handlebars, though. Your child will need that as they grow!