16″ and 18″ Kids’ Bikes
What is the best bike for a 4, 5 or 6-year-old?
16″ bikes generally fit kids as early as 4-years-old and allow for growth until they are 5 or 6-years-old. In fact, for most balance bike graduates, a 16″ bike will typically be their first bike.
Pioneering bike brands like WOOM, Guardian, Prevelo, Priority, and Cleary have made great strides in recent years in designing bikes with lightweight frames that are easy to balance, easy to maneuver, and are perfectly suited for children’s small frames.
Why trust us? Over the years, we’ve put over twenty 16″ pedal bikes to the test with various riders on various terrains. In the end, we’ve determined that there isn’t one best bike, but rather bikes that are better for different types of rides and riders. Unlike most “best lists”, you won’t find one bike crowned as our “top pick”, but rather highlights about each bike to help you find the best for your child.
BEST 16″ BIKE UNDER $250
What We Look for in a Bike Under $250
While these bikes are not as well-designed or as light as the bikes that take our top recommendations, they all perform impressively for their price tag and feature good basic geometry with properly placed handlebars (not too high, not too low), a reasonable weight (under 25 lb.), and a durable build.
Budget Bikes: Best Quality and Braking System
MSRP: $259 – Stretch buy!
SEAT HEIGHT: 18″ – 23.5″
WEIGHT: 17.5 lb.
STANDOUT FEATURES: Proprietary braking system, SureStop
FULL REVIEW: Guardian Ethos
One of our favorite brands is now offering a 16″ budget bike! Lightweight and well-designed, Guardian bikes come with a proprietary braking system called SureStop that prevents unsafe braking. When braking with just the front hand brake while at high speeds, bikes can tilt forward, bucking the child off the bike and over the handlebars. SureStop on Guardian bikes prevents this by having only one brake lever engage the front and rear brakes. Not only is it the safest system on the market, but it’s also much easier to use than most traditional dual-hand brakes.
Budget Bikes: Best for Adventurous Riders
SEAT HEIGHT: 18″ – 24″
WEIGHT: 18.3 lb.
STANDOUT FEATURES: Durable build with good basic components
FULL REVIEW: Raleigh MXR 16
Impressively durable, the Raleigh MXR provides a smooth, comfortable ride and will surely last for years. With slightly lower-rise handlebars, it performs better for adventurous kids who are likely to go over small jumps or curbs. While not recommended for really aggressive riders (we have yet to find a bike under $200 that is suitable for aggressive riders), the MXR is the best choice for adventurous riders on a budget.
Budget Bikes: Best for Everyday Timid Riders
SEAT HEIGHT: 20.5″ – 24.5″
WEIGHT: 20.6 lb.
STANDOUT FEATURES: Easy-to-ride, kid-specific design
FULL REVIEW: Schwinn SmartStart
Available in multiple styles and from multiple retailers, Schwinn’s SmartStart collection of bikes are a huge step up from cheap big-box store bikes. Lighter than those bikes, the SmartStart Series also provides a high-end, child-specific geometry which allows for a more stable and comfortable ride for kids. While the overall design is still a lower-quality budget build, the price tag is much more affordable for many parents. The SmartStart Series does come with a handbrake, but it’s poorly made and riders will have to rely on the coaster brake to stop.
For more info on 16″ bikes under $250, check out our Best Budget 16″ Kid’s Bike page.
BEST FOR BIKING AROUND THE NEIGHBORHOOD
What We Look for in a Neighborhood Bike
Most kids on 16″ bikes stick to riding around the neighborhood. Stable, reliable, and lightweight, neighborhood bikes should be easy to ride, easy to balance, and perform consistently.
Neighborhood Bikes: Best for Beginning Riders
SEAT HEIGHT: 19.1″ – 24.8″
WEIGHT: 11.7 lb.
STANDOUT FEATURES: Comfortable, upright geometry
FULL REVIEW: WOOM 3
The go-to bike for beginning riders. WOOM Bikes is a high-end, child-specific bike company that takes pride in designing bikes built specifically for children’s smaller frames. Smaller, lighter, and with a lower center-of-gravity than the average bike, the WOOM 3 is incredibly easy to balance and has a special brake system to help little newbies learn to properly use dual hand brakes for the first time.
Neighborhood Bikes: Best Braking System
MSRP: $339 – $359
SEAT HEIGHT: 18.5″ – 23.5″
WEIGHT: 16 lb.
STANDOUT FEATURES: Unique and safe braking system
FULL REVIEW: Guardian 16″
While Guardian bikes boast lightweight frames and a kid-specific design, what really makes Guardian stand out is their proprietary braking system called SureStop. Designed to prevent unsafe braking, SureStop has only one brake lever that sequentially engages the rear and front brakes. Not only it is the safest system on the market, but it’s also much easier to use than most tradition dual-hand brakes. Also available in the budget-friendly “Ethos” model.
Neighborhood Bikes: Best Bang for Your Buck
SEAT HEIGHT: 18.5″ – 23″
WEIGHT: 15.9 lb.
STANDOUT FEATURES: Packed with features for the price
FULL REVIEW: Priority 16″
Built with high-end components that provide durability and performance, the Priority 16 packs a lot of punch in its sub-$300 price tag. Priority Bicycles got their start with Kickstarter and has grown into a well-respected, innovative bike brand. A great first “real” bike for kids, the Start will have your child craving adventure on two wheels in no time. An added bonus – kids think the super quiet belt drive is ninja cool for stealth mode, and parents love all the features you get for the price.
BEST FOR LONGER DISTANCES (PAVED)
What We Look for in a Bike for Riding Longer Distances
When kids need to go long distances, they need a bike that’s geared high for them to get the maximum distance with every pedal stroke. Higher gears make starting the bike more difficult, but prevent kids from spinning their pedals excessively to gain and maintain speed. We also look for narrow tires, dual hand brakes, and lightweight frames for the perfect combination for riding along paved trails.
Longer Distances: Best for Adventurous Riders
SEAT HEIGHT: 18″ – 26″
WEIGHT: 14.9 lb.
STANDOUT FEATURES: Well-suited for long distances and aggressive riding
FULL REVIEW: Prevelo Alpha 2
Engineered for kids with a lightweight, low-center-of-balance frame and a high gearing, the Prevelo Alpha Two is the perfect bike for kids who want to enjoy a long ride with the family as well as an occasional bike jump or pump track. With a 3.8 gain ratio, the rider gains considerable distance with each pedal stroke, making long rides easier for young riders while still being quick and nimble for fun and adventurous rides around the neighborhood.
Longer Distances: Most Versatile
SEAT HEIGHT: 19.5″ – 23″
WEIGHT: 14.8 lb.
STANDOUT FEATURES: 2 sets of tires – one for road, one for all-terrain
FULL REVIEW: Frog 48
Frog Bikes is a well-established, kids’ bike company hailing out the UK. At this age, most kids haven’t committed their lives road riding, so we love that the Frog 48 allows budding bike enthusiasts to explore different types of terrains. Coming standard with both smooth, road tires and knobby, all-terrain tires, the Frog gives your child the flexibility to explore wherever their heart desires. The Frog 48 also comes in many different colors, including a ‘Stars and Stripes’ model as a result of their partnership with USA Cycling.
Longer Distances: Best Bang for Your Buck
SEAT HEIGHT: 18″ – 23.3″
WEIGHT: 17.6 lb.
STANDOUT FEATURES: Larger 18″ wheels make for a smooth ride
FULL REVIEW: ByK E-350
The ByK E-350’s narrow 18″ tires offer low-rolling resistance for smooth riding on pavement. With high gearing, kids can maintain quick speeds, and the low center-of-gravity design makes for easy balancing. While it’s a deal at $269, the 350 has dual-hand brakes and a coaster brake, which can delay mastering pedaling for some kids.
BEST FOR AGGRESSIVE & BASIC TRAIL RIDING
What We Look for in a Bike for Aggressive and/or Trail Riders
Riders who are ready to hit every jump, fly over every curb, and are passionate about riding are better off with low-rise handlebars that place the body in a more leaned-forward position on the bike. This allows aggressive riders to easily shift their weight to maintain balance on uneven surfaces, jumps, curbs, etc. Wider and/or knobbier tires, as well as dual-hand brakes and no coaster brakes, also help little adventurers to maneuver safely through technical terrain.
Aggressive & Trail Riding: Everyday Riders
SEAT HEIGHT: 19″ – 26″
WEIGHT: 16 lb.
STANDOUT FEATURES: Lightweight, nimble ride
FULL REVIEW: Cleary Hedgehog
Light and nimble with impressive stability, the Hedgehog is the perfect ride for hitting curbs, jumps around the neighborhood, or cruising through basic single track. Responsive handbrakes and low gearing make it ideal for more ambitious and/or uphill terrain. Cleary bikes truly make biking fun! The Cleary Owl, which is the 20″ version, is sized like a larger 16″ bike and is often a great fit for many taller 5 or 6-year-olds.
Aggressive & Trail Riding: Best for Basic Trail Riding
SEAT HEIGHT: 20″ – 24.5″
WEIGHT: 16.3 lb.
STANDOUT FEATURES: Knobby tires, high-end components
FULL REVIEW: Pello Revo
Pello Bikes was started by a dad looking for a lightweight kids bike, built with high-end components that wouldn’t break the bank. He succeeded. Built with a Cane Creek headset, Kenda tires and a Tektro caliper brake, the Revo has significantly better components than 16″ bikes found in a bike shop. Unlike the Hedgehog and the Rowdy, the Revo comes with knobby tires which are better suited for trail riding. The Revo also comes with dual-hand brakes and a coaster brake, which can be removed via Pello’s $20 freewheel kit.
Aggressive & Trail Riding: Best Budget Bike
SEAT HEIGHT: 21.5″ – 26″
WEIGHT: 15.6 lb.
STANDOUT FEATURES: Very lightweight for the price
FULL REVIEW: Raleigh Rowdy 16
The lightest and best-equipped bike under $230, the durable Raleigh Rowdy is quite a deal. While not as fine-tuned as the others, it still provides a smooth, lightweight ride with a very aggressive body position for adventurous riders.
Bonus: Spawn Banshee, Best for True Trail Riding: While we haven’t yet tested out the Banshee for ourselves, we’ve only heard rave reviews from parents and biking world professionals. With knobby tires, Tektro dual-hand brakes, and a shorter wheelbase for a snappier ride and increased maneuverability, the Spawn is the perfect starter bike for the true all-terrain rider.
BEST BIKE SHOP BIKES
What We Look for in a Bike Shop Bike
While bike shops have good quality bikes, they are often heavier and offer minimal features as compared to bikes available from child-specific bike manufactures online. Due to limitations set on local bike shops by larger manufacturers such as Specialized and Trek, these new breed child-specific brands are rarely, if ever, available in local bike shops. More often than not, they are lighter and provide a higher level of quality and performance for the price. For more detailed differences, please read Bike Shop Bikes vs. Online Bikes – Why Online is Often a Better Deal.
Bike shop bikes, however, always come 100% assembled, tuned up, and come with a bike shop mechanic to help you keep it in top shape. If you prefer to purchase at your local bike shop, be sure to buy from a shop that is willing to take the time to find the right bike in their shop for your child, versus trying to sell you a poorly fit bike that either provides little room for growth or is too big and will require your child to “grow into it”. Of the bikes we’ve tested from local bike shops, the Norco Samurai and the Specialized Riprock Coaster are our top picks.
- Norco Samurai/Mirage ($249) was our hands-down favorite with no coaster brake and a comfortable but slightly aggressive geometry. It performed consistently and smoothly for our 5-year-old tester around the neighborhood as well as at the local bike park.
- Specialized Riprock Coaster 16 ($240 – previously Hotrock) provides a very stable ride and is durable enough to last for years, but its coaster brake and lack of handbrakes make it less desirable for all-terrain and more aggressive riding.
- Trek Precaliber ($209) was our least favorite as it was the heaviest and also did not offer hand brakes, just a coaster brake.
How to Choose the Best 16″ Bike for your 4 to 6 Year Old
While we have a much more detailed discussion about this in our article Kids’ Pedal Bikes: How to Choose, here’s a quick summary of the most important things to look for to find the perfect bike for your 4, 5, or 6-year-old.
A 16″ bike is generally the best fit to purchase for 4 and 5-year-olds. If your child is already 6 or is a very tall 5-year-old, a 20″ bike should also be considered to allow for more room for growth.
If this bike is your child’s first pedal bike after a balance bike, the bike’s seat should be set at or just below their inseam measurement. This allows a child to sit on the seat and easily put their feet down to steady themselves or stop the bike. This is critical as they learn to pedal to instill confidence and for maximum safety.
If your child has already mastered pedaling, you should set the bike’s seat about 2″ above the child’s inseam to allow for maximum efficiency while pedaling.
Within the 16″ wheel size, there is a very large range of seat heights. The smallest 16″ bike we recommend has an 18″ minimum seat height, while another has a minimum seat height of 21.5″! To allow for the most room for growth, find a bike that has a minimum seat height that comes as close as possible to your child’s ideal seat setting (which will vary based on inseam and whether or not this is your child’s first pedal bike).
Ideally, your child’s bike shouldn’t weigh more than 30% of their body weight. In general, the lighter the bike, the easier and less tiring it will be for your child to ride. Heavy bikes are really hard to manage for little ones who are still mastering the art of balancing and pedaling at the same time!
For example, can you imagine a 4-year-old trying to ride the Royal Baby 16″ bike which weighs 24 pounds compared to the woom 3 at 11.7 pounds??
A bike’s frame design plays a major role in the overall feel and performance of a bike. Some bikes put a child in an upright position that feels very natural for beginning riders and is great for neighborhood riding.
Other bikes require a rider to lean forward to grip the handlebars, putting kids in a more aggressive position. These types of bikes are generally better for more experienced, adventurous riders who will be doing more aggressive riding.
Coaster brakes (back pedal brakes) are often found on 16″ bikes, but they can inhibit a child’s ability to learn to pedal while balancing a bike. Why?
When learning to pedal and balance on a bike, kids (like adults!) naturally pedal backward when attempting to regain their balance. If the bike has a coaster brake, pedaling backward inadvertently activates the bike’s brake, which slows the bike and often leads to a crash. Without a coaster brake, pedaling backward to regain balance isn’t a problem.
As a result, we much prefer bikes without coaster brakes and with responsive hand brakes that are easy for small hands to operate.
Gearing and Gain Ratios
For kids ages 4, 5, and 6, gears are just too much to handle and bikes with gears and shifters are not available on 16″ bikes. However, the gearing of a bike is still worth taking into consideration. In the biking world, the gain ratio relates to the gearing of a single-speed bike and is often used to determine how hard it is to pedal a bike.
High gain ratios (3.7+) are harder to get started pedaling but can more easily maintain higher speeds. Lower gain ratios (3.3 and below) are really easy to start pedaling but can’t reach high maximum speeds. Gain ratios in the middle do a little bit of both! For 16″ bikes, we generally prefer mid-range gain ratios from about 3.3 to 3.7.
Good bikes are not cheap. Every bike on this list is significantly better than a bike you’ll find at Walmart, but also costs more. The more expensive bikes on this list are more lightweight, have higher-end components, and frame designs that make them easier to ride.
Training Wheels: 10 Frequently Asked Questions: If you’re considering training wheels, read this first!
Kids’ Bikes: How to Choose – Detailed information on what to look for when choosing a bike.
How to Teach Your Child to Ride a Bike Without Training Wheels – It doesn’t have to be painful!
8 Best Bikes for Girls: Looking for a high-performance bike in pink, purple, or cute designs? Check out our list!