From XC to Full Suspension, Beginners to Advanced: A Mountain Bike for Every Kid
Our resident kid bike testers have had the chance to ride some pretty amazing mountain bikes over the past few months. While each bike has been able to create smiles for miles, each one definitely stands out for a specific type of riding. From differences in geometry, to weight and price, kids’ mountain bikes are certainly not one-size-fits-all. Based on our experiences, here’s are our favorite mountain bikes for different type of riding and riders.
What about Trek, Specialized, Trailcraft, Spawn, etc.? Although there are many great options available at your local bike shop and online, we are firm believers of doing true head-to-head tests and not simply comparing specs, especially when it comes to kids. We compiled this list based on bikes we have seen and personally put to the test. So while there are plenty more bikes available (and we put many of them on our master comparison chart at the bottom of this page), you can rest assured that the bikes listed below are tried and true and really to roll.
Best Intro to Mountain Biking
MSRP: $669 – $699
WHEEL SIZE: 20″, 24″ and 26″
DRIVETRAIN: 9-speed, SRAM trigger shifters and SRAM X5 derailleur, 28t chainring with a 11-36t cassette
SUSPENSION: None, suspension option coming Summer 2020
STANDOUT FEATURES: Featherlight weight, high-volume wide Schwalbe Rocket Ron tires, hydraulic disc brakes, low q-factor crank set
COMPLETE REVIEW: woom OFF coming soon
First up is the newcomer of the bunch, the woom OFF. Born from the Austrian, kid-specific bike company woom, the OFF is a lightweight, nimble masterpiece that is the ultimate ride for beginner riders. The OFF comes in a 20”, 24” and 26” frame and is signifcantly lighter and cheaper than most of its competitors. For example, the 20” OFF comes in at a feathery 17.2 lbs. with pedals and 2.3″ wide tires, while the well-received Trek Wahoo 20″ weighs in at 19 lb. with 1.95″ wide tires. When it comes to price, all models of the OFF are priced under $700!
The components have been especially well thought out for kids, which is one of woom’s specialties as a kid-focused bike brand. woom does a great job at sizing everything just right, giving their bikes a great fit and feel that’s truly specific to kids. Geometry on these things is fairly modern but on the less aggressive end of the spectrum. With its lightweight aluminum frame, carbon forks, and spec’d with quality parts and components, the woom is also built to last and take a beating.
Currently, the woom OFF bikes do not come with a suspension fork, nor can you upgrade to an aftermarket fork due to a propriety headset/headtube. I reached out to Woom during our test on this bike and they said they are designing their own suspension fork that will be coming on the bikes starting late summer of 2020. So don’t be expecting to upgrade this bike and toss on an aftermarket suspension fork if your kid decides to get aggressive and starts to send rowdier trails at higher speeds. At least not for now.
Even though there’s no suspension fork, for our testers, no suspension = no problem. Our kids loved descending on the woom, with one tester announcing to the world, “This is the best bike ever!” The bike has plenty of traction from the Rocket Ron tires, providing plenty of traction to keep young riders confident on the trail. And through most terrain the bike was fast and easy to throw around. Getting through corners was noticeably easy and the bike stayed stable at faster speeds, at least when smooth.
With comfort and performance in mind, the OFF bikes also come with a nice set of high-volume 2.3″ wide Schwalbe Rocket Ron tires. Providing a bit of squish, comfort and grip for little riders, they fit the bill for beginners and even intermediate riders – especially on flowy trails. But parents, don’t forget to lower the tire pressure!
I see a lot of kids riding around in the hills with 40 lbs. of air in their tires. This is borderline child abuse. (Kidding, not kidding.) Kids are really light. An average adult runs between 25-28 lbs. of pressure on their mountain bike, so how come you’re running double that pressure in your kid’s bike? Tone it down to like 15 to 18 lbs. max. Especially with this bike having no suspension.
I’m still trying to figure out why they didn’t go with a standard headset/headtube so you could throw on a different fork if you wanted to. However, I am still standing by this bike a my choice for winner of the “Just introducing my kid to mountain biking,” category. With the lightweight, modern geo and great parts list, this thing will get your kid familiar with mountain biking faster than Adam Sandler got to know Drew Barrymore on the 50th date in 50 First Dates.
Best for Intermediate Riders
MSRP: $840 – $860
WHEEL SIZE: 24″ and 26″
DRIVETRAIN: 10-speed, Deore M6000 trigger shifters with a Deore clutched derailleur, 28t chainring with a 11-42t cassette
SUSPENSION: Suntour Air with 80mm of travel on the 24″ and 100mm on the 26″
STANDOUT FEATURES: Hydraulic Tektro disc brakes, shock absorbing steel frame, impressive durability
COMPLETE REVIEW: Cleary Scout
Next up we’ll talk about the Cleary Scout. It’s not specialized for one specific type of mountain bike riding, but being more advanced than the OFF makes it ideal for intermediate riders. The woom beats out the Cleary in the weight department but the Cleary comes standard with front suspension and is also made of steel. While the steel frame adds to the weight of the bike, it certainly has its benefits. Steel frames absorb impact and vibrations much more than aluminum, eliminating a lot of sting as compared to an aluminum frame.
The Scout comes equipped with a Suntour air fork you can adjust to your little rider’s weight to take out a lot of the trail chatter and add stability at speed through rougher terrain. So, although the Scout isn’t going to win any awards climbing to the top of the hill, the Scout will reward more aggressive and skilled riders on the way back down.
Geometry is pretty up to date with the Scout. We aren’t talking about crazy enduro bike modern with 64 degree head angles and 78 degree seat tube angles, but this bike is meant to tackle the majority of terrain where the majority of kids will spend their time riding. There are other kids’ bikes meant to handle more technical and downhill focused riding which I will mention later on this list.
I believe this bike is meant to take a kid that already has a bit of experience riding on dirt and is ready to tackle a bit rougher and longer rides. If it were me, I think I would have my kid on the 20” woom OFF keeping things simple and light, and then when they are ready for a 24” bike, the Cleary would be a good next bike way to go.
The Cleary has a wider range of gears with a 28t cog in the front and has an 11-42 tooth cassette out back. The 24” bike gets 80mm of air sprung travel up front while the 26” bike bumps it up to 100mm of travel. Stopping power comes from powerful Tektro junior disc brakes. I feel like the Scout was make to take a beating and keep on ticking.
One thing I would like to see on the Cleary is a bit wider tire. Just bumping up to a 2.4 would give kids a bit more in terms of confidence and also the ability to drop tire pressures down a bit more to provide more comfort on the bumpy pieces of trail. Lower air pressure is better.
The Cleary is a great trail bike that kids can ride around the neighborhood, the pump track, and just about everywhere else. If you want a mountain bike that will last and your kid can progress on and have a ton of fun riding, the Cleary Scout is an obvious choice.
Best for XC/Aggressive Trail
MSRP: $459 – $899
WHEEL SIZE: 14″, 16″, 20″ and 24″
**Specs vary by size, 24″ components listed**
DRIVETRAIN: 10-speed, Shimano Deore Rapidfire Plus shifter, Shimano Deore Shadow RD+ derailleur, 32t chainring with a 11-42t cassette
SUSPENSION: SR Suntour XCR 24″ air fork with adjustable compression and lockout – 80mm travel
STANDOUT FEATURES: Tektro hydraulic disc brakes, aluminum alloy custom formed & multi-butted tubing frame
COMPLETE REVIEW: Prevelo Zulu
The Prevelo Zulu line is the clear winner in the XC/Aggressive trail category. If you want a mountain bike your kids can rip on out of the gate and not need to worry about upgrading because your kid is getting better, faster, and hitting stuff with more speed than you are, the Prevelo is a standout winner here.
There are more aggressive bikes out there built to shred steeper and bigger terrain, but kept in the trail bike category this one is on the more aggressive end of things. Not as light as the woom, but a good couple pounds lighter than the Cleary, the Prevelo is going to win big with the kids that want to climb a bit faster and be able to start throwing the bike around a bit in the air. You could send your kids to a cross country race on this bike and then take it out for weekend loops on the local single track or bike park as well.
Prevelo’s bikes give kids a lot of confidence with how long, low, and slack their frames are. They make kids feel like they are really good at riding bikes really fast with how well they have set up the geometry with the Zulu family.
You can get a Zulu in a 14”, 16”, 20” and a 24” size. Starting with the 16” you can also opt for the Heir model which gets you upgrades with weight-saving carbon bits and nicer suspension forks. The 20” and 24” Heir models also give you more aggressive Kenda Kinetic 2.35” tires up from the Kenda Small Block 8 Pro 2.1’s.
You will pay more for the Zulu bikes but you are also paying for a lot more bike. The Zulu 4 gives you up to an 11-46t cassette with a 30 tooth cog up front, giving your kid plenty of range to climb whatever their legs can handle. On the downhill, a “slack enough” 67 degree head tube angle gives a lot of stability and confidence at speed along with an 80mm travel air fork which lets your youngster do their best at keeping up with mom and dad. Prevelo bikes are mountain bikes that are built to last the long haul which is comforting because we know how rough kids can be on their stuff.
Most Versatile for On and Off the Trail
WHEEL SIZE: 20″, 24″
DRIVETRAIN: 9-speed, SRAM grip shifters and SRAM-X7 short arm, 32t chainring with a 11-34t cassette
SUSPENSION: Optional Spinner Grind suspension fork
STANDOUT FEATURES: Smooth rolling Kenda, can take a dropper seat post, family-friendly price tag, mechanical disc brakes
Another category a lot of you might be looking at would be the “versatile bike” category that would be great for riding on and off the trails with maybe a bit more bias toward the off-trail side. The winner here is going to be from a bike brand called Pello. They have the Reyes 24” and the Rover 20” bikes that are awesome bikes for doing a little of everything.
For a lot of parents that are not taking there kids to the trails too often, these will fit the bill nicely. Most of the time kids will be spending on these will be riding around the neighborhood or maybe a family bike ride on a flat paved trail on a Saturday morning. However, if mom or dad get around to loading up a load of bikes and venturing out to explore some smooth flowy single track, the kids won’t be held back by their bikes at all.
The Reyes and Rover frames were designed with versatility in mind. Your young rider will feel comfortable on or off the trail with Pello’s “ride right” geometry. It’s a well balanced bike that is able to go wherever your kids decide they want to go. This frame can accept a dropper post as well which is awesome! For those kids (or parents) that have been fortunate enough to ride with a dropper seat post, they will know it’s a game changer out on the trails.
Both the Reyes and Rover can be upgraded with other stuff as well to turn this bike into more of an off-road focused bike. You can opt for a Spinner Grind Air fork with 55mm of travel on the Reyes or 40mm on the Rover specifically. It’s specifically tuned for this bike so that it will not effect the geometry at all. Pello will still include the rigid fork in case you ever decide to put it back on.
You can upgrade to a Kenda Small Block 8 set of tires as well which are more suited for dirt trail use. Something that is somewhat of a standout for the Pello is that it comes with Alex tubeless wheels as a standard feature. This is great for kids’ bikes as they are always finding some type of thorn or puncture weed and you can run the tires at a lower pressure for lighter weight kids without risking pinch flats on tubes for more aggressive riders.
These Pello bikes are spec’d with great parts. The Tektro disc brakes have been fit with small little levers and they have a lot of modulation so kids aren’t just locking up immediately causing them to skid and lose control. Although they are still powerful enough to leave a nice black streak in the driveway, because what kids don’t enjoy a good skid now and then? Shifting is handled by a SRAM X9 grip shifter which kids think is pretty fun.
I really like the fact that you can customize and make upgrades to the Pello bikes depending on the terrain you’ll be riding and how rad your kid wants to get. This makes the Pello Reyes and Rover great mountain bike options for kids who will be doing all types of riding!
Best for All Mountain/Park Bike
MSRP: $949 – $1,199
WHEEL SIZE: 20″, 24″ and 27.5″ (Junior size)
DRIVETRAIN: 10-speed, SRAM X5 shifters, 30t chainring with a 11-36t cassette (20″ and 24″); 12-speed SRAM SX Eagle, 32t chainring with a 11-50t cassette (Junior)
SUSPENSION: Manitou Junit w/ 120mm travel (20″ and 24″); Rockshox Recon RL fork with 130mm on Junior
STANDOUT FEATURES: Hydraulic Tektro kid-specific disc brake, Junior size comes with 100mm dropper post
An amazing bike for the money, the Commencal Meta HT is my top pick for all mountain/park bike. Commencal has a hardtail and a full suspension bike to take care of the rowdiest kids on the planet. The Meta HT is their hardtail. The Meta HT comes in a 20”, 24” and a what Commencal calls a Junior size. The junior size has 27.5″ tires on a frame size that is pretty close to what a lot of other major bike brands out there would call an adult XS.
The Meta HT Junior’s headtube angle is slack at 65.5 degrees with a 130mm Rockshox Recon RL fork. Big Tektro disc brakes with 180mm rotors front and back for plenty of stopping power. This bike was meant for tackling steep descents and getting as rowdy as a kid wants to get. Climbing back to the top is made easy with a SRAM NX 1 by 11 drivetrain.
For the smaller crew, headtube angles are eased up a bit for young riders with 67 degrees on the 24″ and 67.5″ on the 20″. Since young riders typically don’t spend too much time on the downhill, these slight changes to the frame help make the bike more friendly for them on the uphill. The brakes, however, are equally beefy as the 20″ still features a 180mm rotor up front with a 160mm in the rear.
When my 11 year old grew out of his 24” bike, we put him on the Meta HT Junior and he’s absolutely loved it! He has ridden a wide variety of trails – from desert single track with a lot of square edge drops and chunky rocks, to smooth and fast flowy single track and high alpine trails slathered in roots, rocks and loose moondust.
Even on steep downhills with punchy steep technical climbs, the Meta has never let him down. If we were riding more bike park stuff with some lift-served riding I would have chosen the Commencal full-suspension model, the Clash (see below). But if a fair amount of uphill is on your schedule, the Meta is a better choice.
Best for Full-Suspension All Mountain/Park Bike
MSRP: $1,899 – $2,499
WHEEL SIZE: 20″, 24″ and 27.5″ (Junior size)
DRIVETRAIN: 11-speed, SRAM NX shifters, 32t chainring with a 11-42t cassette (20″ and 24″); 12-speed SRAM NX Eagle, 34t chainring with a 11-50t cassette (Junior)
SUSPENSION: Manitou Junit w/ 145mm travel (20″ and 24″); Rockshox Recon RL fork with 160mm on Junior
STANDOUT FEATURES: Hydraulic Tektro kid-specific disc brake, Junior size comes with 100mm dropper post
Commencal’s full-suspension enduro/park bike, the Clash is perfect for those kids looking for something with some squish out back. Like the Meta HT, the Clash is available as a 20”, 24” and Junior sized version. The Junior size sits on 27.5” wheels and has 160mm travel out back and 160mm travel up front to match. With a super slack head angle of 65 degrees, it’s ready to plow through the chunder and hit some big jumps in the park.
The Clash Junior gets even burlier brakes that the Meta. 4 piston SRAM Guide T’s with a 180mm rotor in the rear and a 200mm rotor in front give you confidence that your kids will be able to stop on a dime. But the Clash isn’t afraid to climb back to the top either. With a steep seat tube angle of 75.8 and a SRAM SX Eagle drivetrain, it will comfortably pedal up any trail or fire road. There is some weight to these bikes and you won’t be breaking any Strava records going up, but they will climb just fine.
Honorable Mention: Trail Bike for Tween Girls
WHEEL SIZE: 27.5″ (Small frame size fits girls 5’3 to 5’5)
DRIVETRAIN: 11-speed, SRAM GX trigger shifter, 30t chainring with 11-42t cassette
SUSPENSION: Rockshox Judy Silver air fork with 120mm travel
STANDOUT FEATURES: Women’s specific geometry (shorter cockpit as compared to other 27.5″ Junior bikes), air fork with lockout, hyrdraulic disc brakes, wide 760mm handlebar
COMPLETE REVIEW: Diamondback Lux 3
While technically not a “kid’s mountain bike” – it’s a women’s bike – the Diamondback Lux 3 has been such a game-changer for our 12-year-old tween girl, it felt wrong not to add it to this list. Being tall for her age, but certainly still a kid, finding a well-spec’d bike with a shorter cockpit and a 1x system was a challenge.
The Lux 3 fit the bill with a shorter top tube and steeper seat angle to help shorten the cockpit. With hydraulic brakes, a responsive easy-to-use drivetrain (getting this hesitant rider to switch over to a 3x system just wasn’t going to happen), and an air fork, versus coil, the Lux 3 has worked wonders for her. With several rides under her belt, the Lux 3 has successfully brought her back to the light and helped her fall in love with the trails once again.
Things to Look For When Choosing a Mountain Bike for Your Kid
There are a lot of things to consider when looking for a mountain bike for a kid. This list of items is not necessarily in order of importance, however all of these things are important to consider.
What size mountain bike is your kid going to need? Like standard kids’ bikes, mountain bikes for kids are sized according to their wheel size and are available in 16”, 20”, 24”, 26″ and even 27.5″.
As parents, we tend to want to get our kids the biggest size of shoes, clothes, snowboards, and especially bikes due to how much you can end up spending on your kid’s two-wheeled ticket to happiness. However, this can lead to your child actually having less of a good time and wanting to go back inside to playing video games.
Be sure to pick out the right size for your child. That means a bike that fits them right now, not in 6 months. They learn easier, progress faster, and have less crashes by having the right-sized bike.
The best geometry for a mountain bike is entirely dependent on what type of riding your child will be doing, as well as the terrain they’ll be tackling.
XC: For flatter trails and more XC oriented biking you should be looking for something that has a bit steeper head and seat angles, around 65 to 67 degrees. This will aid them on longer climbs and help them feel more stable and planted as they are cruising along the trail.
Downhill: As the terrain gets going downhill with steeper descents, and/or lift-served bike park riding, you’ll be looking for slacker numbers in head angle (in the low 60’s), shorter chain stays, and lower bottom bracket heights and lower stand over numbers. This will give your kid more confidence by helping them to maneuver the bike easier on steeps, jumps, and rougher sections of trail.
Bar Width & Stem Length: Bar width and stem length are something else to look at. Most bike companies are catching on, but look for wider bars and shorter stems. This will give kids more control at the cockpit with more direct steering feedback. As kids grow, you could also look into getting a bit longer stem to give them a more time on a bike before having to pony up for a new bike in the next size.
Weight is a huge factor to look for when getting the right mountain bike for your child. The lighter the bike, the better obviously. Especially if you are expecting your kid to do any sustained pedaling uphill.
Hardtail bikes will be the lightest. Full suspension bikes will be on the heavier side, especially with larger travel on more downhill-type mountain bikes.
Again, choose what bike you will get based on the type of terrain your child will ride. Some people think that full suspension is the only way to go. While full suspension can give more confidence, those bikes carry more weight. A couple of pounds can make a big difference to a kid that only weighs 60 lbs.
Kids are light and don’t need as much suspension as older, heavier riders. Lighter-weight kids tend to float and bounce through a lot of bumps that would really abuse adults. So while it may sound crazy, consider a hardtail, or even a bike without any suspension, depending on skill level.
Rigid: While certainly not conventional, a rigid fork on a kid’s mountain bike isn’t unheard of and they certainly have their place. For beginning kids riding flowy trails, the minimal amount of dampening a fork can provide is usually negated by the added weight of the suspension fork itself. Kids are pretty darn light, so in most cases they don’t get the same benefits out of a fork as adults do.
For those purists, rigid forks can also help kids learn to feel the trail more and learn more quickly from mistakes. Suspension forks can enable any beginning rider to be “sloppy” and delay their understanding of how to ride technically.
Suspension: If you’re looking at a mountain bike with a suspension fork, there are a couple things to look for. (1) Travel, and (2) internals of the fork. Keep in mind that a kid’s bike is going to have a lot less travel than the bike you ride.
Travel: A 130mm travel fork intended to be used with a trail bike for an adult would be about the amount of travel you’d find on a 24” downhill mountain bike for a child. Travel will generally range from about 40mm-140mm. To give you an idea on a 24″ bike, 40 mm will be on the XC end of the scale with 140mm being on the downhill/bike park end of the scale.
Suspension forks are either coil-spring or air sprung. Coil-sprung are cheaper than air and are found on most lower to mid-range bikes. The quality levels of coil-spring forks do vary greatly however as a high-end coil-sprung fork can run circles around cheap mass-produced forks.
Typically, the price of the bike is reflective of the bikes overall components. A cheap mountain bike is going to have a cheap fork and vice versa. The more aggressive your child and the trails, the more aggressive the fork (and your budget) will need to be.
Although spring forks do work, an air sprung fork is much better as you can adjust the amount of pressure based on the weight of your kid. They also have more rebound and dampening adjustability and will usually have much more of a plush feel to them.
As a result, air suspension forks are a must for any downhill or really aggressive rider. Coil sprung forks simply don’t have the rebound as well as the adjustability needed for the regular hits of a downhill ride.
Before heading out on the trails, you’re going to want to make sure the bike’s tires have plenty of tooth to them. In most cases, the particular tire model or manufacturer isn’t important as there are many great options available. For those riding rigid forks, and even for those who just want a little more cushion, consider adding a high-volume tire to the bike.
These “mid-fat” tires are wider than traditional tires and are around 2.5″ or so wide. With more air between the tread and the rim, they offer more “squish” and help smooth out the ride. Just be sure not to crank up the tire pressure! Lightweight riders can ride at a much lower PSI.
If your trail of choice has you fighting off thorns and puncture weeds, mountain bikes with a tubeless or tubeless-ready option are ideal. Many bikes come with tubeless-ready rims that you can easily convert to tubeless, while other bikes may require you to purchase a new rim and tire set. In addition to preventing flats, a tubeless setup allows you to run at lower tires pressures without the risk of pinch flats.
Shifting can be confusing for a little kid. Simplifying this process is going to make for a better time on the trail for young ones. For kids on a 16″ or maybe even a 20″ bike just starting out and who will be riding pretty flat trails, it’s probably best to just skip gears altogether and just go with a single speed rigid bike.
When they are ready for gears, it’s good to just stick with a rear gear set. Grip shifters seems to work better for the smaller hands, but trigger shifters are a must for more aggressive riders.
Trigger shifters are ideal as they allows kids to shift without putting any addition torque on the handlebar to grip. Having watched a child crash on a trail as a result of twisting their grip shift too hard, we recommend sticking with triggers for aggressive riders. If they will be climbing a lot, then maybe look into something with a front derailleur although 1x transmissions have gotten pretty good and have a pretty wide range of gearing.
If you are going to go mountain biking, you have to be able to stop. So what kind of brakes do you really need?
V-Pull: In most cases, especially on 16” and 20” bikes, little ones will be fine with mini-V brakes. Most kids’ mountain bikes will come with good mini-V brakes with adjustable reach and small levers made for little fingers. If they don’t, then look for a bike that does have smaller levers with adjustable reach. It’s no good if your kid has to use all 4 fingers fully extended just to reach the lever and pull them in. Mini v-brakes are going to be the least expensive.
Mechanical Disc Brakes: Mechanical disk brakes will be the next level in performance, offering a bit more stopping power and easier pull than the mini-V brakes.
Hydraulic Disc Brakes: The most expensive option, but the best performing, will be hydraulic disc brakes. They are the easiest to pull and have the most stopping power. Kids that will be doing more aggressive downhill riding will love having hydraulic disc brakes. Their hands will get less tired and they’ll be able to ride longer. They will also be able to ride faster with more confidence knowing they will be able to slow down easier and faster.
Direct Sales Model or Bike Shop
There are some benefits to both sides of the coin when purchasing a mountain bike online or through a local bike shop. When you buy direct from brands like Commencal, you tend to get a lot of bike for your money. So there is some value there. Especially if you are handy with a wrench and do most of the upkeep on your bikes.
When you buy from a shop however, you can get included tune-ups, service, warranty, and in-house advice and help. However, just because you buy a bike from a direct sales brand, don’t think the shop will turn you away from tuning up and working on your bike.
Ok, maybe color doesn’t matter that much. But kids have opinions too and care what their bike looks like just as much as you do. So remember that when finding a bike! If you find a couple of bikes that are pretty close in comparison, let them pick out which one they like best. It will fuel their stoke to go out and ride even more than if you were to just get the one you think is best.