How to Choose the Best Kids Bike

How to Choose the Best Kids Bike

Written by Contender Bicycles, on February 28, 2022

“New Bike Day!” Even as an adult, few exclamations are as wonderful as these three words. As a kid however, new bike day is even more amazing, as the bike represents freedom to roam the neighborhood, ride with friends and simply be mobile. It’s something truly special.

Selecting the right kids bike can be a bit daunting however, especially with the large number of kids bikes available across brands and price ranges. It’s tempting to try and keep the budget low, but there are more important aspects to consider. The main factor to consider is whether or not your junior rider is comfortable on the bike. There are a number of other things to consider, from gearing to features and even suspension, but if a kid isn’t comfortable riding their new bike, they likely won’t ride it. Worse yet, they may not want to ride bikes into the future.

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We’re here to help though, and our kids bike guide below will break down how to find the right size kids bike, what features to look for, and why we carry the kids bikes we do. Don’t forget to protect their heads as well! See our helmet guide to see how to size a kids helmet.


What's the right size bike for my kid?

The table below can be used as a starting point for determining what size bike will be best for your kid:

Bike Wheel

Child Height (in.)

Inseam (in.)

Approx. Age (yrs.)



12-18 in.




17-23 in.




22-25 in.




24-27 in




27 in. +


Unlike bicycles for adults, kids bikes aren’t really sized by frame length. Rather they are gauged off of the wheel size. This helps make it a bit easier to decide what size bike to look for as a kid grows. Once your kid is above about 4’10” or 58” a full-size adult bike is definitely the direction to take.

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Once you’ve determined the target bike size to start with, there are a few other things to consider when deciding if the bike is right:

  • Standover height: This is the distance between the top tube of the bike and the ground. Inseam length plays a role in determining what size bike a kid should ride, specifically for standover height. The kid should be able to straddle the toptube of the bike with their feet flat on the ground and without the bike needing to be leaned over to either side. 
  • Reach: This refers to the distance between the kid and the handlebars. Being able to reach the bars makes a ton of sense, of course. A kid riding comfortably will have a slight bend to their elbows. More importantly though, a kid should be able to easily reach the brake levers and use them effectively. Hand brakes tend to become a thing with 20” wheel bikes and up (though more 14” and 16” kids bikes include a front handbrake), and many hand brakes are adjustable for reach to bring them closer to the handlebars. Make sure that those brakes aren’t only easy to reach but easy to control too. Higher quality brakes from reputable brands will be easy to operate and adjust. 
  • Growing into the bike: We naturally want to maximize a bike so that a kid can ride it as long as possible before outgrowing it. That can sometimes mean riding a bike that is initially a bit too big. Not the end of the world, but having a bike that is too big could mean that either standover height is too high or the brakes are hard to reach. 

Choosing the Right Bike

Kids are small, and they don’t have the same power teenagers or small adults have. That means a heavy, often inexpensive big box store bike is going to feel clunky and difficult to manage for a junior rider. Chances are we’ve all seen kids walking their bikes up the tiny hill on their way to school. At Contender Bicycles, we want kids to enjoy riding bikes. That is much more likely to happen when their bike is light enough to ride and control, while maintaining quality and simplicity.



Kids between 2 and 4 years old are likely just learning how to ride a bike, and they’ll likely be most comfortable on a 12 inch wheeled bike. There are basically two options for bikes with 12 inch wheels: a balance bike and a pedal bike. 

Balance bikes like a Strider or others do not come with pedals, brakes, or a chain. Rather it is up to the kid to scoot along and slow down with their feet. These bikes are typically lighter and easier to handle, making it easier for the rider to learn to balance, steer, and control speed. 12 inch pedal bikes add removable training wheels and a rear coaster brake that slows the bike down as they pedal backward. Training wheels are a great way to get a kid excited about riding bikes but a balance type bike will help them learn the fundamentals of bike riding a bit more easily.

Tricycles are also a popular option, however unlike a bicycle, trikes are hard to maneuver as kids go faster and do not make it easier for kids to learn to ride bikes in the future. We recommend starting kids off on two wheels, and we do not typically stock any kids tricycles. 

16 inch bikes are great for kids ages 4 to 8 years old. They are generally pedal-only, come with removable training wheels, and typically only come with one gear. As mentioned, some 16 inch bikes will include a front hand brake. If a rear hand brake is included, it is usually redundant to the pedal-operated coaster brake.

how to choose kids bike - cannondale cujo 24 green


The next step is 20 and 24 inch wheeled bikes, which start to look more and more like adult bikes. There are tons of features to choose from in this category, from a range of gears, the addition of suspension, tire choice, and even disc brakes! After lots of first-hand experience and feedback from parents, we’ve carefully narrowed down our selection in this category. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with choices, so we’ve done our best to help make the decisions easier here.

How to Choose a Kid's Bike: Our Philosophy

To keep this philosophy rolling, most of our kids' bikes look like the BMC Twostroke AL, or the Specialized Riprock Coaster 20 These bikes eschew a huge number of gears and a suspension fork for a wider tire, disc brakes, and a whole lot of smiles. We believe that these bikes are the best bikes for kids, regardless of cost.

We subscribe to the idea that foregoing a suspension fork and adding wider tires makes more sense for lightweight kids. This makes for a lighter bicycle with fewer parts wearing out and waiting to break down. And let’s face it, kids know how to break a bike. Instead of suspension, most of the kids bikes we sell typically feature wider tires that have more grip for cornering and braking, are easier to maneuver, and provide a decent amount of trail forgiveness.

Additionally, most suspension forks you’ll find on kids bikes aren’t exactly high quality. In most cases, the low-quality forks and lower body weight of young riders means a kids bike with a suspension system will hardly make a difference in how controllable the bike is, much less how comfortable it is. Many front-suspended kids' bikes become heavier than they need to be. 

Another thing we look for at Contender Bicycles are bike components that fit young riders. Brake levers need to fit shorter fingers, and shifting gears can’t require massive hand strength and dexterity. As we’ve mentioned, if you keep it simple, a cyclist of any age is more likely to enjoy the ride and look forward to the next one. The kids bikes we stock and recommend typically have only one chainring up front because they’re more durable and there’s one less thing to adjust or fix.

kids bike buyers guide how to buy - cannondale scott bmc

Finding the right bike for a kid is a great way to introduce them to a new sport full of endless adventure and opportunities. Whether your kid has just started walking and ready to balance on their first bike, or they’re looking to explore the trails or their local neighborhood, our tips that we’ve laid out for how to select the right kids bike will get you started.

Picking out the right kids bike can be a bit daunting, and we’re here to help. Contender Bicycles has a wide array of kids bikes curated to fit exactly how your kid will use their bike, without breaking the bank. Check out our selection and let us know how we can help. Give us a call at the shop, drop us an email or reach out on the chat anytime. 



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