Best Kids' Mountain Bikes

Updated September 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
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How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

15 Models Considered
6 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
157 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.

Buying guide for best kids' mountain bikes

Last Updated September 2019

A mountain bike is a great way to give your child some excitement and freedom, not to mention gets them to exercise in the outdoors away from electronics. Using a beefier frame than an everyday kids’ bike, a mountain bike is designed to take the abuse of riding off-road where rocks, branches, tree roots, and other obstacles wait.

Finding the right mountain bike for your child comes down to size and features. The size of the frame and wheels need to match the rider’s height. If the bike is too large or small, the riding experience will be uncomfortable and potentially dangerous. Smaller details like the gearing, brake type, tire choice, and suspension will also affect the feel of the bike.

Read on to learn some of the key features and considerations that will make finding a good bike easier. We’ve included some of our own recommendations so you’ll have a good starting point to find the perfect mountain bike for your child.

Fat bikes are becoming more popular because of the increased traction and control the larger tires offer. These bikes can handle challenging terrain like sand and snow.

Key considerations

Frame size and weight

The frame is the main bulk of a bike, taking the abuse of trail riding while keeping the rider protected and comfortable. When you are looking for a new mountain bike, you’ll find different sizes and materials to consider.

In order to use a mountain bike properly, the frame needs to match the size of the rider. Most kids’ bikes come in standard sizes: small, medium, and large. A proper test ride is the best way to see what size is best for the child, but you can get a good idea with the recommended age range most bikes have.

Hills and slopes are common on mountain biking trails, meaning the weight of the frame will affect how hard the bike is to ride. Kids' mountain bikes traditionally use steel or aluminum for a good balance between weight and durability. Steel offers the most survivability, but aluminum is the better choice if you want to save some weight.

Bike type

Mountain bikes actually come in different types and uses. While all of them can handle a beginner-friendly trail or ride, certain types are better suited for challenging terrain or adverse weather conditions.

  • Trail mountain bikes are some of the most common, meant for riding off-road on terrain that varies from compact dirt to loose gravel.

  • All-mountain bikes are a step up to handle more challenging terrain and come with larger tires. They are good for casual to serious trail riding.

  • If your child needs a bike that excels on or off-road, a cross-country or touring mountain bike is the best option. Lighter in weight, this type of bike strikes a balance between the grip and control needed off-road and the portability/speed needed for everyday riding.

Wheel size

For mountain bikes in general, wheel size can influence everything from ground clearance to traction and control on loose terrain. For children, the wheel size also affects how well the bike fits their body size.

  • 20-inch wheels are the most common size for younger children and preteens. This size struggles on challenging terrain where rocks and exposed tree roots present ground obstacles. It’s small enough, however, for shorter riders to safely place their feet on the ground.

  • 24-inch wheels are the next common size and are meant for taller riders who aren’t ready for 26-inch wheels. Ground clearance is better for trickier terrain. On the other hand, you may find the selection of tires you can fit on a 24-inch rim to be lacking compared to 20- and 26-inch wheels.

  • 26-inch wheels are for tall kids, or those close to needing an adult sized bike.

Suspension

Compared to everyday road riding, using a mountain bike can be an uncomfortable or even painful experience depending on the terrain. That is why bike suspension plays an important role in mountain biking. Smoothing out some of the bumps during the ride, good suspension can protect the rider and the frame.

You will find most kids’ mountain bikes have at least front suspension in the fork. Known as a hardtail frame, this style of bike is more affordable and weighs less than full suspension models.

If your child needs the best ride possible, rear suspension combined with a front shock absorber is the best setup. Full suspension frames keep the rider comfortable while offering more grip and control since the wheels can move with the changing terrain without affecting the rest of the frame as much.

True performance, kid-friendly size

The Schwinn High Timber Mountain Bike is basically a mini-version of a true mountain bike. Coming with 24-inch wheels, a 12-inch frame, and 21 gears, this bike is meant to be a good all-arounder for older children and tweens. There are even larger versions with 26- and 29-inch wheels for teenagers and adults.

Features

Gearing

In mountain biking, gearing can make the difference between conquering a hill or getting off and walking the bike up it. Rolling terrain will quickly change the riding difficulty if the bike doesn’t have a gearing system.

Changing the gearing on a bike is done through front and rear derailleurs — small devices that move the chain onto different sprockets and chainrings to change the “difficulty” of pedaling. A bike will have a certain number of gear levels or “speeds” the rider can switch to using the gearing system.

Most kids' mountain bikes have at least a rear derailleur and cassette with a minimum of seven speeds. This is usually enough for casual trail riding, but if your child wants to tackle harder terrain, front gears will be required. The number of speeds in the front multiplies the number in the back. For example, a bike with seven speeds in the back and three in front will have a total of 21 speeds. 21-, 24-, 27-, and 30-speed bikes are all possible.

Tires

There are as many bike tire options as there are bike models available for children and adults alike. The size and design of the tire have an important effect on the bike’s overall traction and control on loose terrain. Some tires offer a lot of grip at the cost of speed; others can roll more quickly over less challenging terrain.

The size of the tire needs to fit the size of the rim. Dimension-wise, the match needs to be exact: 20-inch tires for 20-inch rims, 24-inch tires for 24-inch rims, etc. The width of the tire is a little more forgiving since most mountain bike wheels can handle one- to two-inch-wide tires. Some frames can even handle fat tires that are four inches or wider.

Rubber treads on the surface of the tire dig into the ground for better grip. The design and shape of these treads put together create the tire’s “tread pattern”. While the best tread pattern depends on the rider, bike, and terrain, mountain bikes generally need large treads with good spacing to grip the ground and shed small debris like rocks as it rolls.

Brakes

Rolling along a trail is only a part of safe, effective mountain bike riding. Being able to stop quickly and safely is just as important, especially for younger, inexperienced riders learning how to navigate challenging riding conditions. Just like on a car, a solid pair of brakes is essential.

Unlike most kids' everyday bikes that come with a simple caster brake, mountain bikes use either disc or rim brakes to generate their stopping power.

  • Rim brakes use pads positioned along the edge of a wheel to grip down when the lever is pressed. Less common on mountain bikes in general, you will still find rim brakes on many kids’ models since they are more affordable and easier to replace.

  • Disc brakes grip onto a rotor on the wheel’s hub, generating more stopping power without overheating as much. These offer more consistent braking results regardless of the riding conditions. More expensive up front, these can be more economical to replace in the long run since you only need to replace a rotor instead of an entire wheel if something gets damaged.
EXPERT TIP

Looking for good mountain biking accessories? A water bottle and holder are a great addition to any mountain bike.


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

You can always change out the tires that come with your child’s mountain bike for something more durable or grippy.


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

Some kids’ (and adult) mountain bikes come with a rear or front rack to carry cargo. You can attach bags or strap down larger items so you can bring accessories, extra equipment, or everyday items along for the ride.


Staff  | BestReviews

Kids’ mountain bikes prices

Most kids’ mountain bikes are much more affordable than adult-size bikes. Coming in between $100 to $500, the price of a kids’ mountain bike depends on the frame material and size, level of suspension, brake type, brand name, and other smaller features.

Inexpensive: The budget end, around $100 to $200, is filled with great 20-inch-wheel beginner models that can safely introduce young riders to mountain biking. These bikes tend to lack rear suspension and favor steel frames over aluminum.

Mid-range: The middle ground is around $200 to $400. Larger frames with 24-inch wheels are common here. Many models have either full suspension, disc brakes, or an aluminum frame to increase riding comfort, speed, and stopping capabilities.

Expensive: At the high end, above $400, you will likely find some bikes that offer most or all of these performance-enhancing features.

Better gearing than most

With a true 3 x 7 gearing setup, the 21 speeds on the Diamondback Cobra 24 Complete Youth Bike offer the rider more capability to tackle large hills and rolling terrain. The fact that its price is the same as many traditional seven-speed mountain bikes means you can save money while upgrading the gearing at the same time.

Tips

  • Don’t worry too much about the tires that are included when looking at different mountain bikes. You can always swap them out later.

  • The difference between a boy’s and girl’s mountain bike depends on the manufacturer. For some, there is a size difference in the frame. For others, only the color selection differs.

  • Lights and reflectors are important for riding in low-light conditions. Mountain biking lights tend to be large and bright so the rider can see ahead on a trail.

  • Forget the kickstand if your child doesn’t need one. While convenient, a kickstand adds some weight to the bike and can be a riding hazard on bumpy terrain.

Other products we considered

While a simple hardtail is a great starter mountain bike for a child, there are a few options with full suspension that are great as an upgrade bike. The 20” Mongoose Ledge 2.1 Boys' Mountain Bike has front/rear shock absorbers packed into a compact frame with 20-inch wheels. For the true beginner, the Hyper Shocker Kids Mountain Bike keeps things simple with a seven-speed twist shift and a padded seat. For older children and teens, the 24” Mongoose Ledge 2.1 Boys/Girls' Mountain Bikes have 24-inch wheels and a larger frame.

Having a mountain bike is a good opportunity to teach your child some basic maintenance skills. They should know how to fix a flat tire, take the chain on/off, and realign the brakes/derailleurs.

FAQ

Q. Does my child need a full suspension frame?

A. A hardtail frame that lacks rear suspension is just fine for most young, inexperienced riders. The feel of the ride might not be as smooth as a full suspension bike, but the lower cost and lighter weight makes the frame more user-friendly in general riding conditions. For the most control and comfort, however, a full suspension bike is the way to go.

Q. How adjustable is a kids’ mountain bike frame?

A. Like regular bikes, the handlebars and seat on a kids’ mountain bike are adjustable to get the best fit for the rider. The seat should be at the right height so the rider can extend the legs to pedal and stand up comfortably while the bike is stopped. The handlebars should sit relative to the seat so the rider can hold onto them without being overstretched or cramped.

Q. What kind of safety equipment should my child use while riding?

A. The bare minimum is a properly-sized and fitted helmet. Mountain biking helmets protect more of the head, especially the back, than road or everyday helmets. For more challenging terrain or trick riding, you should consider extra protection like elbow and knee pads since the possibility of falling off of the bike is greater.

The team that worked on this review
  • Austin
    Austin
    Writer
  • Devangana
    Devangana
    Web Producer
  • Eliza
    Eliza
    Production Manager
  • Katie
    Katie
    Editorial Director
  • Kristin
    Kristin
    Writer
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer

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