Features a steel frame, coaster brakes, 20-inch white wall tires, and a brightly decorated cruiser style. Seat padding is soft and comfortable.
It's somewhat heavy, but it's a rugged bike that's built to last.
Boasts a pretty design with purple paint and matching front basket. Great for girls learning to ride, with 16-inch tires, an adjustable seat, hand and pedal brakes, and training wheels.
Lacks a kickstand, which would come in handy when training wheels are no longer needed. Can be a bit difficult to assemble.
A rugged but attractive bike in the BMX style with 20-inch tires. Has easy-to-use coaster brakes and strong steel frame. Handlebars are padded and sport streamers.
It's not as fancy as other bikes we reviewed, but it's cute and well-made, especially considering its budget price.
Built to tackle various terrain with 3-piece range of gears, fork suspension, and 7 speeds. Sports easy-to-grip hand brakes. Its aluminum frame is lightweight yet strong.
It's a bit on the higher end of the price range. The style won't appeal to everyone.
Stands out for it's classic cruiser style with large, balloon tires and wide, comfortable seat. Features a single speed for easy cruising. Comes partially assembled.
Quite expensive – more than twice the price of other models we reviewed.
We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
The first taste of freedom many children experience comes while riding their first two-wheeled bike. With hair blowing in the wind, many a little girl has raced around the corner to meet friends at the park, take a ride along the beach, or race down a wooded trail. Finding the right bike can help any girl get exercise, gain confidence, and learn to enjoy the outdoors.
Bikes come in many types and sizes. Wading through all the choices can feel like a daunting task. If you’re ready to buy but unsure where to begin, you’ve come to the right place.
We’ve provided this shopping guide packed with information to help you choose the bike that will suit your young girl. Be sure to check out our top five picks to see which models we think will give you the best bang for your buck.
Many of the smallest girls’ bikes come with removable training wheels. Balancing on a bike can be a tough skill to learn, but with training wheels some two- and three-year-olds can start to ride in no time. Bikes with 12-, 14-, and 16-inch tires often come with training wheels. Adjustable models enable you to raise or lower the training wheels so your child can gradually learn to balance without relying on them. Once she’s mastered balance, the training wheels can be removed.
Girls’ road bikes vary in design: some have straight handlebars and others have the more aerodynamic drop-bar type found on adult road bikes. Road bikes have thinner wheels with less tread for faster speeds on smooth roads. For girls who will be riding around the neighborhood, a bike with straight handlebars will probably work best because it will be easier to control. Road bikes can have one speed or be geared for multiple speeds. Drop-bar bikes work well for girls who are ready to get serious about biking.
Cruiser bikes have wide balloon tires, steel frames, comfortably padded seats, and fun graphics and colors. These one-speed bikes are meant for cruising around town, not riding on trails or rough terrain. They work well if your child will be riding around your city or on a paved bike trail.
Originally, BMX bikes were used on jumps and dirt tracks. However, today’s BMX bikes are also used to ride around town or do tricks at the skatepark. These have front and rear hand brakes. Some models have gyros that allow the front wheel to spin 360° without tangling the brakes. BMX tires have knobby treads for better traction. While there are a few BMX bikes with 16-inch tires, most models start at 20 inches.
Mountain bikes feature gears, hand brakes, and rugged tires with deep treads. Adult mountain bikes have front and rear suspension, but children’s bikes are usually toned down a bit, with front suspension only. The suspension helps absorb the shock of going over rocks, roots, and anything else you might find while riding on a mountain trail. Mountain bikes are usually geared to allow adjustments while going up or down inclines. These bikes are meant for older girls between the ages of 10 and 13. There are a few models with 20-inch tires, but most girls’ mountain bikes have 24-inch tires.
Everyone should wear a bike helmet, including the most experienced riders. Even if your child starts on a balance bike, teach her to wear a helmet at all times.
In the United States, the size of the tire determines the size of the bike. The tires on children’s bikes measure from 12 to 24 inches.One of the most important decisions you’ll make when buying a child’s bike is the size. A bike that’s too big or too small will be hard for your child to control. The tire size gives you a good indication of the overall size of the bike, but the seat height provides a better idea of whether or not the bike will fit your child.
The seat height will help you determine the best fit for your child. Bike frame and seat designs differ, so even if your child is the right height for a 16-inch bike, that doesn’t mean every model of that size will fit your child well. Not all manufacturers include the seat height in the specifications, so you might have to contact the seller or manufacturer in some cases. If you don't want to worry about tracking down the information, look for a bike that has an adjustable seat.
How to determine the correct seat height for your child:
Measure your child’s inseam from the crotch seam of your child’s pants to the hemline.
Compare this length to the seat height of the bike. For your child’s first bike, the seat height and inseam should match because you want your child to be able stop the bike with her feet. After your child gains confidence, has learned to ride well, and knows how to use the brakes (hand or coaster), she can ride a bike with a seat height that is one to one and one-half inches taller than her inseam.
Once a girl is ready to ride a 20- to 24-inch bike, look at the standover height of the bike. Standover height is the distance from the ground to the top edge of the frame’s top tube. Compare your child’s inseam with this distance. When standing over the tube of the bike, there should be one to two inches of clearance.
Ideally, a child’s bike should never weigh more than 40% of her body weight, but sometimes that isn’t possible due the child’s size and build. As a rule of thumb, look for the lightest bike in your price range. It will be easier to mount, steer, and maneuver.
The shape and length of the bike frame play a big role in the maneuverability of the bike. In general, longer frames are easier to ride and control. To gauge the length of the bike, look at the distance between the seat and the handlebars (the cockpit). The more space in the cockpit, the less likely that your child will hit her knees on the handlebars, making the bike easier to steer. Even bikes with the same wheel size can have significant differences in cockpit size and frame length.
The top tube on children’s bikes is usually slanted downward to help prevent injury in case the child falls forward on the bike.
There are two basic types of handlebars – straight and drop-bar – as well as variations on these designs. Handlebar shapes can limit the cockpit size and interfere with maneuverability. Steering is much easier if the rider can lean into the handlebars when she starts to pedal and get better leverage. Handlebar style and type are less of a worry with more advanced riders who can base their choice on the type of riding they want to do rather than their riding ability.
Tall handlebars that sweep back toward the rider reduce cockpit size and limit the amount of force the rider can put on the handlebars.
Low handlebars can put the rider in a forward position that fatigues the body more quickly.
Mid-rise handlebars are best for beginners.
There are two basic types of brakes and a few variations on those types. No matter what brakes you choose for your child, she needs to know how to use them before riding the bike.
Coaster brakes: Also called back-pedal brakes, coaster brakes are the least expensive and simplest to maintain of all brake types. However, some kids have a hard time learning to ride a bike with coaster brakes. When learning to ride, the natural tendency is to backpedal to regain balance, but backpedaling with coaster brakes will stop the bike. Coaster brakes can prolong the learning process, but they are almost always found on 12- to 14-inch bikes.
Hand brakes: Hand brakes are attached to the handles of the bike. Most children between the ages of three and four have good enough hand-eye coordination to successfully use hand brakes. These brakes are easier to use than coaster brakes and can speed up the learning process for beginners, but they do require more maintenance. Children need to know if the brakes activate the front or rear brake. Pulling the front brake alone could cause the front wheel to stop and the rear wheel to lift off the ground. A note of caution: many children’s bikes, especially inexpensive models, have poorly designed hand brakes that are either too far from the handle or so stiff that a child can’t successfully use them. You’ll find hand brakes on a few 16-inch bikes, but most are found on 20- to 24-inch models.
Variations: There a few special variations on hand brakes. One design activates both the front and rear brakes from the same lever to help prevent accidents. Another manufacturer uses a green rear hand brake so the child knows which one to pull. Other designs only have a rear brake.
Single speed: The youngest beginners will have a single-speed bike. While you don’t need to worry about shifting gears, you should think about the gain ratio, which determines how difficult it is to start pedaling the bike. The wheel size, pedal crank arm length, and the number of teeth on the front and rear cogs are used to determine the gain ratio.
A lower gain ratio means the bike will be easier to get moving but won’t go as fast with each turn of the pedals. A low gain ratio of around 3.0 would be good for a beginner.
A higher gain ratio means the bike will be harder to start from a stop but go faster with each turn of the pedals at higher speeds. A more experienced rider could handle a gain ratio of 4.5.
The distance between the outside edges of the pedal crank arms is called the Q factor (or “stance width”). Wide pedals can make riding the bike more difficult and uncomfortable for kids. The Q factor is most important for young, small riders. Most budget bikes use adult components to cut costs, which can make the Q factor as wide as seven inches. More expensive models made by manufacturers that specialize in children’s bikes have a Q factor of five inches, making the bike more child friendly.
A child should never get on a bike she can’t stop with her feet, hand brakes, or coaster brakes. Most bike accidents happen because children don’t know how to stop.
After your child has mastered the use of brakes, she is ready for a seat height that puts her on her tippy toes when stopped.
Expect to pay anywhere from less than $100 to over $250 for a girls’ bike.
Inexpensive: You can find girls’ cruiser bikes or bikes with training wheels and coaster brakes for less than $100. Many models in this price range are meant for young beginners, although you will see a few inexpensive 20-inch models. These bikes tend to have a wider Q factor, and some have a small cockpit, so check the measurements before buying.
Mid-Range: In the $100 to $175 range, you’ll find more cruiser bikes, road bikes, BMX, and mountain bikes. Check brake designs carefully in this range for levers that are too far from the handle or difficult to pull. You can find some mountain bikes with front wheel suspension at this price, too.
Expensive: From $175 to $250, you’ll find 20- and 24-inch cruiser bikes with retro designs, as well as mountain bikes with full suspension. These bikes tend to have longer frames and bigger cockpits for older, taller girls.
Premium: For more than $250, you’ll find girls’ bikes made by manufacturers that specialize in children’s bikes, which means they have a smaller Q factor, longer frames, and hand brakes that are easy for kids to use. You’ll also see road bikes with straight and drop-bar handlebars and mountain bikes that are meant for serious bikers.
If the little girl in your life is ready to start going over jumps, most seven-year-olds are ready for a 20-inch BMX bike. Just be sure to get a good fit!
For safety’s sake, it’s better to buy a bike your child fits now rather than one she’ll grow into. A bike that is too big can be hard to start and stop, especially for a beginner.
Some bikes don’t come fully assembled. You might need to assemble it yourself or take it to a bike shop for assembly, which can add to the overall cost.
While it’s tempting to pick a bike based on looks, the size and purpose of the bike are far more important. Most kids only need a well-made single-speed bike for riding on paved roads or bike trails.
Q. I’ve seen some kids’ bikes for as much as $400. Are they really that much better than budget bikes?
A. In some cases, an expensive kids’ bike really is that much better than a budget model. These bikes often use specially designed parts for a narrower Q factor, better cockpit size, and specially designed hand brakes. However, kids can grow out of a bike within a year of purchase, which is why many people don’t spend a lot on their kids’ bikes. Buying an expensive specialized model makes sense if you have more than one girl in your family to whom the bike can be passed down or if your family rides bikes a lot.
Q. Should I start my daughter on a balance bike or a bike with training wheels?
A. Balance bikes are great for helping kids to learn to balance, hence the name. But your daughter might outgrow or master it fairly quickly. You can buy a bike with training wheels and remove the pedals, essentially making your own balance bike. Once your daughter can glide well, you can put the pedals back on so she can start learning to pedal.
Q. What’s the difference between a girls’ and a boys’ bike?
A. Now more than ever, there’s not much difference between girls’ and boys’ bikes. Most of the time, especially with kids’ bikes, the differences are cosmetic. However, the top tube on some girls’ and many women’s bikes is lower. When bikes were first made, women predominantly wore skirts, and the lower top bar was for modesty. While some bikes still have this traditional design, it’s mostly for looks. Girls’ bikes with a straight top bar like a boys’ bike are now common.
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