Most people can remember their first bike. Those wheels were probably your first taste of independence, not to mention being responsible for that liberating, carefree feeling of riding along with the wind in your hair. Our round-up brings you not only the best first bikes for today’s children, but bikes to last throughout childhood, so that you can help instil in your offspring a real love for this stimulating, exciting and fun sport, as well as teaching them a new means of getting about.
The first rule when buying a child’s bike is getting the size right. With kids’ bikes ranging from 12 - 24 inches (26 inches is a standard size for adult mountain bikes), there’s a lot to choose from. But by trying one out at a good bike retailer, you can get it spot on. And if you don’t want to ruin the Christmas surprise, follow a size guide on a reputable bike dealer’s website. Never be tempted to go for a bigger size so that it lasts longer. It will be too uncomfortable and challenging to ride and could put your little one off riding altogether.
Secondly, get a bike that’s as lightweight as possible. For a three-year-old child weighing 16kg, the 1.6kg difference between the lightest and heaviest bike we’ve tested is 10 per cent of their bodyweight. Also consider the brakes, ideally opting for a bike with hand-brakes. And remember it will need a lever that your child can genuinely pull, rather than it being too stiff or too big. Steering is important - a headset (the part of a bike that provides the steering movement) with ball bearings will enable the handlebar to turn easily and freely, unlike a plain bearing. The saddle should be comfortable and slightly concave, so your child doesn’t slip forward - don’t forget to adjust it accordingly. Finally, remember the tyres. Pneumatic tyres are the best, particularly for riding over bumps; meanwhile the wheels should spin easily and freely.
1. Islabikes Beinn 24: £419.99, Islabikes
Islabikes has transformed the children’s bicycle market, not least because it caters to your child’s individual measurements and the bikes are designed to perfectly suit the way children’s bodies are shaped. The Beinn is exceptionally lightweight and strong, as well as having superior tyres and a unique, powerful and light-action braking system, designed especially for little hands. Available in red, green and teal.
2. Saracen Mantra Junior 2.0: £349.99, Tredz
This stunner of a bike, aimed at kids who are five or older, has a low-step frame, meaning you can get on and off easily and is great for helping to build confidence among small children. The tyres are outstanding, with enough tred to handle a bit of off-road biking, as well as rolling smoothly along the pavement. And because this model has been stripped back, it’s nice and lightweight and easy to control.
3. Wiggins Macon Kids Bike - 16”: £175, Halfords
Aimed at five to eight year-olds, this is the smallest pedal bike in the new range created by Olympic cyclist Sir Bradley Wiggins. Passionate about inspiring kids to get cycling – while keeping bikes competitively priced – we think he’s got it spot on with this lightweight model. The pedals are closer together than on most first bikes, making it easier to use, and other nifty features include alloy brakes with pinch-free and easy-to-reach brake levers. We found the stabilisers easy to fit too.
4. Raleigh Krush 24: £190, Raleigh
Available in four wheel sizes, the new version of the Krush is designed for girls aged five to 10 and is impressively hi-spec for the price, as well as having a strong steel frame designed for all styles of riding. The lower tube top means it’s easy to get on and off and safety features include exceptionally powerful brakes. The colour-matched, non-slip pedals are a nice touch too.
5. Kiddimoto Kurve Balance Bike: £49.99, John Lewis
This is a fantastic little balance bike for building confidence among three to five year-olds who aren’t quite ready for pedals. British made, we think it’s the best wooden balance bike on the market, thanks to features such as the rubber handles, upright seat (with three adjustable heights) and a steering lock that stops kids spinning right round. We love the curved styling and funky designs too.
6. Appollo Police Patrol Kids Bike - 14”: £70, Halfords
Any four to six year-old finding this on Christmas morning will be grinning from ear to ear. The police-themed bike has plenty of fun detail, including stickers and even a rear tool box. It has stabilisers that can be removed and, although it’s quite heavy, it’s strong and well-built for the price, with proper sturdy tyres.
7. Muddyfox Anarchy 24: £139.99, Sports Direct
Suitable for children aged nine to 12, this is a good-value bike for little ones who enjoy cycling across all terrains. The classic mountain bike design, along with 18 speed Shimano Tourney gears, means it works a treat whether you're going up or down a hill. Meanwhile, the 24" alloy wheels and zoom steel suspension forks give youngsters a smooth ride.
8. X Rated Dekka BMX Bike 20”: £130, Halfords
These wheels – for seven to nine year-olds - will be the envy of the neighbourhood. Not only do the graffiti-inspired design, the striking red frame and black saddle look ultra-cool, but the features – including steel V breaks and alloy wheels – mean it’s a high performer, even in the bumpiest of woodland. And the 360 degree gyro handlebar makes it great for bar tricks.
9. Weeride Pro Pilot: £99.99, Early Learning Centre
If your youngest family members have trouble keeping up with you on bike rides – or struggle with bike riding altogether – this could be a godsend. A pedal-style bicycle trailer that you attach to the back of your own bike, it gives children the option of pedalling or just hanging on for the ride. But it does require your child to be more attentive than in a normal trailer, or even other pedal trailers, which have a restraint system. Suitable for four-year-olds and over.
10. Islabikes Creig 26 Pro Series: £1,499.99, Isabikes
While all Islabikes are lower weight and far more advanced than other kids’ bikes, the new Pro Series – which is aimed at young racers and serious cycling enthusiasts - has taken the brand another leap forward, with high-end tech and incredible attention to detail, including size specific geometry and extra narrow grips. This one is aimed at nine year-olds and above and is great for conquering technical trails or pushing your limits on flat-out racing.
11. Specialized Riprock 20: £325, Evans Cycles
The lightweight Riprock range, aimed at seven to nine year-olds, has a killer package in terms of specifications. Designed to handle everything from park trails to road curb drops – and most impressively, rough and muddy terrain – it’s all about having fun while maintaining control. It also boasts impressive stability, traction, comfort and brakes.
12. Ridgeback Dimension 16 2017 Kids Bike: £219.99, Evans Cycle
Suitable for four to six-year-olds, we think this do-it-all starter bike is almost as good as an Islabikes, making it a great cheaper alternative. It’s lightweight and takes a leaf out of Ridgeback’s mountain bikes and Metro Hybrid bikes by providing kids with a smooth and reliable ride. It’s single speed, so much better for littluns of this age and it’s durable enough to make a great hand-me-down. Available in blue, pink or green.
13. Genesis Beta CX 26 2017 Kids Bike: £599.99, Evans Cycles
Older children, aged around 11 or 12, who want their first foray into cyclo-cross (cross-country bike racing) will think all their Christmasses have come at once with this gorgeous hybrid bike. It has drop bars to introduce children to a more racey-style bike and the tred on the tyres means riders can pick up speed on the road, but also take on some light off-road action. There are disc brakes for added stopping power too and the value of the bike shouldn’t vary dramatically with use.
The Verdict: Kids’ bikes
The Islabikes Beinn is an exceptional bike for children aged around 5 years or older, ticking every box going. But it’s not cheap, so if you have a smaller budget, our vote goes to the Bradley Wiggins Macon 16” – brand new for this year.
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