Bikes for all ages are hot tickets right now, thanks to lockdown giving us all more time to get cycling while also making it harder for bike manufacturers to keep up with demand.
Factor in the government’s new plans to get more people cycling, and it’s no wonder we’re all shopping for a new set of wheels.
Nevertheless, buying a child’s bike isn’t necessarily as straightforward as you might think. There are lots of variables to consider. If you want to encourage a real love of cycling, it’s vital to get them right. Rush the process, and you risk ending up with a bike that’s too cumbersome or unwieldy for your child to feel truly confident riding it.
While testing bikes for this piece, we were amazed by the difference in our children’s stamina, confidence and enjoyment of cycling, depending on which bike they were riding. It’s really worth shopping around for the perfect bike for your child’s needs and ability.
Firstly, check your child’s height and inside leg measurements. Bike brands often have their own sizing guides so we can’t give you an exact formula for choosing the right bike for your child’s dimensions, but do check the brand’s recommendations for getting the sizing right before you buy.
The measurement of a bike’s wheel diameter and the size of the frame are what determines the size of a bike. You can roughly guess which size wheels will suit your child based on age, but it’s much better to choose a bike based on a child’s actual dimensions, as individual children may be shorter or taller than average.
Don’t be tempted to “size up” just to get your money’s worth, either. A bike that’s too big won’t be as easy for your child to control and most bikes, especially these days, go for a decent resale price once outgrown.
Think about what type of bike best suits your child’s cycling. Have you got an adventurer who loves tackling off-road forest trails? Then go for a mountain bike. If your little cyclist is more sedate and sticks to cycle paths and pavements, a road bike may be a better choice.
A hybrid bike has features of both mountain bikes and road bikes. Some bikes, like the Islabike we tested, are expressly designed to cope with both on and off-road terrains so brilliant for cycling to school but also riding around the park.
We tested all the bikes in this line-up over a two-week period on all sorts of terrain, from forest mountain biking trails to smooth cycle paths, and on both steep uphill routes and flat roads. Our testers were both boys and girls at a range of ages between four and 15 years old.
Catherine Ellis, founder of cycle bag brand Hill & Ellis has this advice for anyone buying a bicycle for a child: “If it’s your child’s first bike, go for something relatively light. Heavy bikes are harder to manage, so a lighter bike is definitely best for a first-time rider. You want your child to build up the confidence and get the feeling of balancing as quickly as possible – before they get nervous.”
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.
Beinn 20 large
This lightweight all-purpose bike impressed us from the moment we unboxed it. It’s incredibly light, weighing just 7.5kg. The combination of a lightweight aluminium frame and fork plus super low gearing (thanks to the 11-34t cassette) means it handles exceptionally well.
Our tester had never ridden a bike with gears before, so we weren’t sure how quickly she’d take to this but on her first outing, she shot up a hill she’d been struggling to cycle up for weeks on a bike without gears. Her parents have barely been able to keep pace with her since.
It’s available in 20, 24, 26 and 27.5 inch wheel sizes and there’s a comprehensive sizing chart on the website to help you choose the right model.
If you’re making the transition from a child’s first bike to a “serious” bike with gears, don’t even think about going for anything else. Currently out of stock with an email waiting list.
Buy now £399.99, Islabikes
Stoy vintage peach 16" bicycle
This stylish vintage-looking bike is designed with reduced rotation on the handle bar, meaning it doesn’t turn too quickly, and at 10.6kg it’s not too heavy, making it a good choice for younger children (4+) getting to grips with riding a bike.
The seat is adjustable and the training wheels are easy to remove when the time comes. The bike was fairly easy to put together but it helps if you have assembled one before, as the instructions are generic and may refer to parts that aren’t on your model, which is a little confusing. Our six-year-old tester loved the colour and style of this bike, and shows it off to everyone who visits.
It’s a really smart looking bike, and the colours are rich and stylish. The design is slightly harder to learn on as the rider sits a bit further back than on a modern model, but looks seem to count as our tester is captivated with their elegant new set of wheels.
Buy now £199.99, Alex and Alexa
LOL surprise 14” bike
This is the cheapest bike we tested and we've included it as a fun and affordable alternative to a more “serious” bike purchase. It comes with LOL stickers for customising the bike, which our four-year-old tester loved.
It doesn’t come with any tools so you’ll need your own to put it together, but assembly is easy. Our tester, who recently learned to ride a bike, enjoyed the novelty of riding this with stabilisers but found it a little heavy and hard to manage without them. If you’re thinking of buying an inexpensive first bike with stabilisers, especially for a LOL fan, this could be worth considering.
Buy now £104.99, Argos
Mongoose switch R50 BMX bike 20“ wheel
Testing this bike has been a lot of fun for all the family. The 13-year-old has really enjoyed practicing tricks on it, while the six-year-old has had fun trying out a completely different style of bike for a change. And yes, our testers’ parents may have enjoyed reliving their youth while admiring this snazzy-looking set of wheels.
We love the fact that you can bring a Halfords bike into any Halfords store for a free safety check at any time, too.
Buy now £180.00, Halfords
Pop - 18 inch wheel crossbar
Designed to bridge the gap between younger and older children’s bikes, this is a stylish option with non-slip pedals, 18 inch wheels and puncture protection tyres. We love the retro look – the green frame with red and black stripes plus black tan wall tyres make this bike stand out from the crowd.
It has six gears and weighs 9.9kg – our six-year-old tester found this notably heavier than the lightweight models we tested, but it’s a stylish option well worth considering if you’re looking for a decent bike that won’t break the bank.
Buy now £240.00, Raleigh
Pop - 26 inch wheel crossbar
A larger version of the 18 inch pop, this stylish bike has an aluminium frame and an eight speed shimano drivetrain gears. It has internal cable routing and a chain guard. At 12.3kg it’s substantially heavier than the other bikes our 13-year-old tester tried out, but at half the price we’re still suitably impressed. Currently out of stock online but available in store.
Buy now £310.00, Raleigh
HOY bonaly 20 inch wheel 2020 kids bike
Another big hit. The bonaly is Evans’ best-selling children’s bike, named after the area of the Pentland Hills where Sir Chris Hoy first rode his mountain bike. It’s impressively light at 7.9kg and seriously stylish looking – we like the little extra touches like Hoy’s signature on the frame.
Our tester found the gears easy to operate and the whole thing handles easily. We like that it has mudguard mounts and a bottle cage. Currently out of stock but available to preorder.
Buy now £350.00, Evans
Frog MTB 72
This junior mountain bike with 26“ wheels has real wow factor – our 13-year-old tester is a keen off-road cyclist and couldn’t wait to put this to the test on local forest mountain biking trails. Bikes in this range have lockout and compression control suspension forks which work in line with the rider’s weight – this took a bit of getting used to, but eventually made a real difference to our rider’s downhill control and confidence.
The ultra-lightweight frame (11.5kg) definitely helped make uphill climbs less challenging, too. It’s an expensive bike, for sure, but in this case you get what you pay for.
Buy now £649.99, Rutland Cycling
The verdict: Kids' bikes
No other bike comes close to the beinn by Islabikes in terms of performance. It’s incredibly light, very stylish and it handles exceptionally well, transforming our six-year-old tester’s cycling skills and road confidence overnight. We followed Islabikes’ advice and used the sizing guide to determine which size to go for, and the proportions seem perfect.
The hoy bonaly from Evans Cycles is also worth a special mention – such a stylish set of wheels. If money is no object and off-road adventures are the order of the day, the Frog MTB 72 is a lot of fun.