10 Things To Know Before Buying A Kid’s Mountain Bike

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Ten things to know when buying a kids mountain bike
Ten things to know when buying a kids mountain bike

Mountain biking with your kids is fun, challenging and healthy. We all want our kids to love being out in nature on their bikes – but that enjoyment is dependent on having the right equipment. Choosing the best mountain bike for your kid can be difficult. Here’s our list of things to consider so you can choose the right kids mountain bike:

Quality Kids’ Bikes Can Be Expensive

Well-made kids’ bikes can be expensive! When our kids were finally old enough to join us on the trails, we were shocked at the sticker prices of the quality kids bikes.  $900 for a bike for a 7-year old?!? That’s more than I spent on my first car!

It can be hard to justify a spending large amount of money on a kid’s bike when  you could buy a bike with the same size wheels on Amazon for $99. You know that buying a mountain bike for your kid promotes fitness, time outside, adventure and family memories that last. But is it necessary to buy an expensive bike for that to happen?

First off, let’s put the price in perspective. A new Xbox costs $400-500 – even before you buy games at $30-$60 each (wouldn’t you rather be outside?) Or compare the price of a bike to what you might spend on sports teams or lessons. In our city, people will pay $190 for 8-weeks of gymnastics lessons ($1140 for a year of lessons!). Participating on a club soccer team can cost upwards of $1200 per year. $1200 would definitely buy a quality mountain bike to last your growing kid a while.

One perk of buying a good kids’ mountain bike is that after you enjoy a season or two of quality family time and your kid grows taller from all the fresh air and exercise, you can re-sell your kid’s used bike for 50-75% of what you paid for it!

While the prices for new kids’ bikes still make me gasp, we have learned that a well-made bike can make all the difference in whether mountain biking is enjoyable for your kid. Good kid’s bikes are expensive because they have frames, geometry and components designed with to fit the needs of smaller riders.

When It Comes to Kids’ Mountain Bikes – Fit Is It!

There are many variables to weigh, but in our opinion, getting a mountain bike that fits your child is the most important element. Proper fit directly affects ease-of-use and safety. Although the temptation is understandable, we don’t recommend buying a bike for your son or daughter to grow into. If your kid cannot safely ride the bike, because she can’t reach the ground or comfortably squeeze the brakes, the financial “value” decreases dramatically. You’ll minimize crashing and increase fun by choosing a bike that fits your kid.

Make sure you consider:

Stand-Over Height: Regardless of wheel size, your kid should be able to straddle the bike with both feet flat on the ground.

Wheel Size: Not all 7-year old kids are the same size, jus as not all 20-inch bikes are the same,  – geometry can be dramatically different. A bike that doesn’t fit your kid IS a waste of money, so don’t just go by the listed age of use. Bigger wheels roll over bumps more easily than smaller wheels. Look for a bike that has the biggest wheels available for your kid’s stand-over height. A bike with larger diameter wheels will be more stable and more efficient for longer rides than smaller wheels because they require less effort to keep their momentum going.

Seat height: Your child needs to be able to touch the balls of her feet on the ground while seated on the saddle.

Reach: Your kid should be able to comfortably reach the handlebars with elbows slightly bent when sitting on the seat. Handbrakes should be easily reachable and squeezable while seated.

Mountain Biking Ability/Experience

Although many bikes are marketed for kids of certain ages, age has nothing to do with selecting the right bike. At the same age, some kids may be able to balance, steer, pedal and brake, while others will still need time to work on balance alone. Knowing your child’s physical ability will help you choose the right bike for them.

Bike Weight

The first 20-inch bike our son rode was as heavy as my adult bike. When you consider the ratio of the weight of the bike to a kid’s weight, many kids’ bikes are more than one-half the rider’s weight. Weight makes a bigger difference to the enjoyment and control of a child’s bike than an adults, because kids are smaller and not as strong. We recommend buying as light a bike as you can. Luckily, more bike manufacturers are making lightweight bikes for kids.

Brake Options For Kids’ Mountain Bikes

Coaster brakes can make it easy to slow down or stop by back-pedaling. On the other hand, coaster brakes add weight and your child will still need to learn to use a hand brake when they move to the next size bike. Many kids’ bikes have a hand brake in addition to coaster brakes or just left the coaster brake off altogether in favor of hand brakes. Having both coaster brakes and hand brakes can be useful if your kid isn’t strong enough to only use hand brakes, but you want to get them started on learning how. Some bikes that have coaster brakes also have a freewheel option so you could take it to the shop to get rid of the coaster brake once your kid is fine with just using their hands.

Once your kid starts riding real trails, disc brakes can help them with increased control and stopping power. Kids’ hands can get fatigued easily if you’re riding trails with longer descents. Our favorite kids bikes come with disc brakes with levers engineered specifically for kid sized fingers. Both mechanical and hydraulic disc brakes stop faster and with less effort than V brakes. Hydraulic disc brakes are often more expensive, but require less maintenance and adjustment than mechanical disc brakes.

Mountain bikes for kids - compare them in our database
Mountain bikes for kids - compare them in our database

Suspension Options For Kids’ Mountain Bikes

If you mountain bike with a bike with suspension, you most likely appreciate the way it benefits your riding. Although many kids (and parents) like the looks/idea of a bike with a front shock, we recommend a rigid fork for most beginner and intermediate riders. Fully rigid bikes are great for teaching bike fundamentals and are lighter and require less maintenance.

Front suspension

Unfortunately, the suspension on most low to mid range kids mountain bikes is cheap, heavy and ineffective. Kids often don’t have enough mass to really compress a front shock. If your kid is riding the kind of gnarly single-track that would justify adding the weight of a shock to their bikes, you may want to look into purchasing a shock and swapping out the one that came with the bike unless you’re looking into the high end bikes with the best components. Good front suspension can help your kiddo roll over bumps while keeping the wheel in contact with the ground. This can add stability and control and decrease rider fatigue. Better (more expensive) forks weigh less and can be tuned to your rider’s weight.

Full suspension

If your rider will be riding mostly cross-country trails, the added weight and expense of a full suspension bike may not make sense. The linkages and shock will add considerable weight to a bike which can make climbing uncomfortable. However, if your family rides advanced chunky technical trails, it may make sense to invest in a quality full suspension bike. Air shocks can be adjusted for you rider more easily than coil shocks.

Gears. How Many Is Too Many? Too Few?

For true beginners or those riding mostly in their neighborhoods, single speed bikes are great! Single speed bikes are easier to manage, lighter, and less likely to need mechanical fixes. Once you start to get on a trail with climbing and descending, gears can greatly increase the fun and decrease the work of getting up hills. You’ll see kids’ bikes with up to 27 gears which is both confusing and heavy. In our opinion, a 1x with 7-9 gears is enough to give your kid the range to make it up steep hills and still pick up some speed when its flat.

Shifters: Grip Shifters Vs. Trigger Shifters

It’s surprising how many gear shifters on kids bikes are difficult to operate. Look for child-sized components that can be operated easily by small hands. Kids have differences in motor skills and strength. We recommend you take you child to a bike shop to try out the different types of shifters. Our oldest son was able to use grip shifters easily, but our youngest struggled with the twist shifters and greatly preferred the trigger shifters.

Dropper Posts

This won’t apply to all young mountain bikers, but if you have a dropper on your mountain bike, you understand the difference in can make in your confidence and ability to climb, descend and maneuver on trails. There are not many kids’ mountain bikes that come with droppers. We added a used dropper post to our 11 year old’s bike last year and it made a HUGE difference in his riding.

Should You Buy A New Or Used Mountain Bike For Your Child?

There are many websites for buying and selling bikes, it’s not a bad idea to check them out. You might find a deal! Even if you buy new, consider the re-sale value when purchasing a kids’ mountain bike. When our kids were racing BMX, we often purchased a higher quality used bike for $300 and re-sold it for $200 after they grew into the next size. This resulted in us getting a much better value than purchasing a cheap bike for $100.

Local Bike Shop Or Big Box Store?

If you’re purchasing a new mountain bike for your child, we highly recommend purchasing from your local bike shop. A bike purchased in your local bike shop will have been built by a pro who will ensure it is safe. And if you’ve never tried to dial in V brakes, you’ll know that it’s something you’ll be happy the experts will do. When you have questions, the experts can give specific advice for choosing the best bike your child.

Ready To Find The Best Mountain Bike For Your Kid?

Check out:

Best Bikes for Kids 1-3 years old (12-inch wheels)

Best Bikes for Kids 3-4 years old (14-inch wheels)

Best Bikes for Kids 4-5 years old (16-inch wheels)

Best Bikes for Kids 5-8 years old (20-inch wheels)

Best Bikes for Kids 8-11 years old (24-inch wheels)

Best Bikes for Kids 11-14 years old (26-inch wheels)

 

You may also want to peruse our kid’s mountain bike database. This database allows you to filter kids’ mountain bikes by wheel size, manufacturer, cost, brake type, suspension options, standover height, shifter type, and other variants to help you find the best mountain bike for your kid’s needs!

5 Full Face Mountain Biking Helmets For Kids

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Full face mountain biking helmets for kids

A proper fitting helmet keeps your children safe while they’re riding the trails. These full face mountain biking helmets for kids are far more advanced than the ones that emerged ten years ago. They are lighter. Hard outer shells with molded interiors made of advanced foam polymers are designed to cushion blows to the head. Yet, the proper fitting helmet is comfortable to wear. On top of that, the helmets featured here come in an array of colors and sizes, all of which should placate even the most meticulous kid, even as the safety features make mom and dad happy.

100% Status Jr. Downhill/BMX Youth Helmet

The 100% Status Jr. Downhill/BMX Youth Helmet is designed for safety. Its exterior consists of lightweight fiberglass, making it comfortable to wear. The interior, most of which is made of EPS foam, also has a removable liner that can be tossed into a washing machine for easy clean up after riding on a hot day. The cheek pads and chinstrap liner are also removable and washable, ensuring that no matter how messy things get, the helmet will look as good as new. Speaking of the way the helmet looks, it’s available in three color combinations: Kelton Blue, DDay White, and Black Meteor. There are three different sized outer helmets to choose from, youth small, youth medium, and youth large, and the interior section comes in two different sizes for a snug fit. The visor is completely adjustable, and it screws into place so that it won’t come loose while your child is riding. On top of this, the helmet is compatible with a number of different emergency release systems.

Leatt GPX 4.5 Junior full face helmet

Leatt GPX 4.5 Junior Helmet

Leatt is well-known for its innovative neck braces. You can read our review for the Leatt Jr. DBX neck brace. And, over the years they have expanded their offerings to include helmets. The Leatt GPX 4.5 Junior Helmet has is made with Leatt’s 360º Turbine Technology. Its purpose is to reduce rotational acceleration to the head and absorb energy during a crash. These features are accomplished through the design and materials. The helmet’s shell is is 10% smaller than other brands and that can result in up to 20% less rotational forces to the brain, head and neck. Other safety features of the helmet include a breakaway visor and emergency cheek pad removal. Of course it’s compatible with Leatt chest protectors. And, it even includes a kit so you can use your hydration pack – hands free. These kids’ lids are both certified ECE 2205 or DOT and weigh in at 1150g (ECE);  1300g (DOT).

Kids Full Face MTB Helmet, Fly Racing Default

Fly Racing Default Full Face Mountain Biking Helmet For Kids

This option weighs in at about 2.5 lbs and it’s available in several colors and youth sizes. The lightweight design and poly-alloy materials make it as comfortable as some carbon helmets costing at least twice as much. 21 vents help keep riders cool as they bomb their favorite dh trails, jump lines, or bmx tracks. The padded chin strap is an additional feature that keeps this full face helmet stay put. An easy-to-thread and fasten nylon strap with d-rings are responsible for securing the helmet. When your little womprat starts to stink up this lid from the inside the cheek pads and liner can easily be removed and hand washed. One of our kids wears this helmet. He really likes it.

Full face mountain biking helmets for kids - for sale
Full face mtb helmets for kids - for sale
Fox Youth V1 Full Face Helmet

Fox Youth V1 Race Full Face MTB Helmet

Style meets function in the Fox Youth V1 Race Helmet. This helmet comes in an astounding array of colors, including pink, yellow, orange, red, white, and blue, all with black accents. Not only does this helmet look nice, but it offers plenty of protection, as it exceeds current Department of Transportation (DOT) and Economic Condition for Europe (ECE) standards. The exterior of this helmet consists of polycarbonate that’s been molded into a sleek, yet efficient design. The interior has an EPS performance foam liner that cushions every blow, especially those that occur when falling off of a mountain bike. Each helmet has 13 different vents built into it for airflow. Nine of these vents are intake ones, meaning that fresh air will flow through the helmet while your child is on the move, while the other four are exhaust vents, pushing warm, sweaty air out. The Youth V1 helmet comes in three different sizes – small, medium, and large – practically guaranteeing that there’s one to fit your child.

Kids Full Face Helmet, Kali Protectives Zoka

Kali Protectives Zoka Full Face Helmet

With an ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene – a type of modern plastic that’s lightweight and durable) outside and an impact foam lined interior, this helmet offers the ultimate level of protection at an affordable price. The Kali Protectives Zoka helmet comes in two different sizes – medium and large – and has an inner liner that’s both removable and washable. There’s also a motorcycle-style visor that can be pushed up or down, depending on the level of sun blocking and additional protection needed. Plus, your child won’t overheat in the helmet, thanks to the 12 vents included in the overall design. Six of these vents are in the chin area, while the other six are located in various places elsewhere on the helmet. All allow for plenty of airflow on hot days. This Kali helmet also comes in two different color combinations, slash green and black and slash matte red and black, guaranteeing that it will match just about any mountain biking outfit.

Orbea MX 24 Trail Mountain Bike Review

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Orbea MX 24 Trail Review

Well-crafted mountain bikes for kids are becoming easier to find and more big manufacturers are getting in the game. The best kids mountain bikes have the right pedal-to-gear ratios, lightweight frames, and everything that an adult-sized bike has – only smaller. The Orbea MX 24 Trail is a front-suspension mountain bike that your kid will enjoy riding.

Orbea MX 24 Trail Review
Bird's eye view of the Orbea MX 24 Trail cockpit
Bird's-eye-view of the Orbea MX 24 Trail cockpit
At-A-Glance

Stock Weight: ~27 lbs.

Retail Price: $729.00 USD

The pedals on the bike have been upgraded from the stock flats and a Shimano Zee rear derailleur has been added to handle the shifting.

A Seven Year Old Tells Us About Her Orbea MX 24 Trail

What do think about having 10 gears?

I like how easy it shifts. It pedals real fast. It makes 4 laps feel like 2 laps. I like how it has a good low gear, because it’s lower than my other bike’s low gear.

How do you like the brakes?

They work real good. They work real good on roots when you’re trying to slow down. They’re also easy to reach and use because they are right next to my fingers. They work better because I can kind of squeeze them softer than my old brakes.

Is the bike comfortable to ride?

Yes it is because I can bounce around and stand up better on it than my old bike.

What is your absolute favorite thing about this mountain bike?

It rides real good because it has a lot of gears. Now i can open and close the little thing and make my fork real hard or squishy.

Brake lever on the Orbea MX 24 Trail
Orbea MX 24 Trail crankset
Crankset and rear derailleur on the Orbea MX 24 Trail

Some Of The Numbers

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STANDOVER HEIGHT

26″

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DRIVETRAIN

1 x 10

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WHEEL SIZE

24 Inches

Getting To Know This 24 Inch Mountain Bike

The Orbea MX 24 Trail features an aluminum alloy frame with 26-inch standover height made from the company’s Hexatubing technology. This makes it both lightweight and strong at the same time. The Suntour XR LO 63mm air spring fork offers just the right amount of travel and plush ride. While it doesn’t offer an adjustable rebound, it is set up very smoothly – especially after you dial in the air pressure.

Orbea MX 24 Trail rear brake
Orbea MX 24 Trail front fork QR lever
Zee rear derailleur added to the Orbea MX 24 Trail

The Shimano M396 hydraulic disc brakes offer effective smooth stopping power. And with the short reach adjustable levers, they ensure easy use and actuation. These hydraulic stoppers are considered to be some of the best available at this particular price point. They pads are also easy to replace once your child wears them out – or if the bike is handed down to another young mountain biker.

Going fast and getting dirty on the Orbea MX 24 Trail
Going fast and getting dirty on the Orbea MX 24 Trail.

The Shimano M610 Deore Shadow Derailleur and shifter, coupled to the Shimano HG50 11-36t 10-speed cassette offer strong, crisp shifting. It was a much better choice over the grip shifting offered on some kids bikes. We upgraded to the Shimano Zee derailleur and shifter to get the shorter cage, ground clearance, and even easier shift actuation. Plus the looks are so much cleaner.

Dropping in on the Orbea MX 24 Trail

This kids’ mountain bike is designed specifically for riders between 53 and 61 inches tall. And thanks to its seat tube length and angle, not to mention the saddle size – it’s incredibly comfortable for young riders. On top of this, the sleek unisex color scheme – with its black frame and yellow, green, orange, red, and purple accents – makes it look impressive. We’ve seen several adult bikes that don’t look as good as this one. The bike was stronger, lighter, smoother, and more comfortable than my daughter’s previous 20″ mountain bike.

Race day on the Orbea MX 24 Trail
Race day on the Orbea MX 24 Trail.
The Orbea MX 24 Trail transfers from road to dirt
The Orbea MX 24 Trail transfers from road to dirt quite well with its suspension fork and Kenda tires.

Other features include an alloy 32T chainset, Orbea OC-I Riser 560mm bars, and an FSA team issue chain. It also has Mach1 Klixx 23c tubeless ready rims and 24” Kenda tires. The Kendas (Small Block 8’s) offer excellent traction. Whether the task at hand is accelerating, climbing, cornering, or braking, they preformed better than expected in the heavy rain, wet roots, and mud during my daughter’s first race. I was going to go with a more aggressive tire, but after seeing them in action – we will keep them. 

The Orbea MX 24 Trail is a well-designed 10-speed mountain bike designed specifically for young riders. It has all of the bells and whistles of its adult counterparts, only on a smaller frame. Thanks to its geometry, the Orbea MX 24 Trail was a comfortable fit for my daughter The lightweight frame, disc brakes, and tires are all wonderful features at this price point. This great little 24-inch wheeled, front-suspension mountain bike proves the designers at Orbea know what they’re doing when it comes to creating mountain bikes for kids.

This Orbea MX 24 Trail looks great
This Orbea MX 24 Trail looks great!

Dad’s Final Say For The Orbea MX 24 Trail

Everyone who has seen the bike has told us they love the way it looks and complement its groupset. I own my own small bike shop and do a lot of building and servicing bikes. This bike is easy to build out of the box, and is very easy to clean, and tune. It also holds a tune very well. The only service I’ve had to do to it is completely tear it down and re-assemble it after racing in the mud.

Having seen my daughter ride, race, and jump this bike – it is the perfect mountain bike for her at a decent price point. It looks better than other bikes in it’s class, and came very well equipped.


Contributing Writer

Dan HaglerDan Hagler and his daughter Valice live in Texas. Dan is a bike mechanic, welder, and heavy machinery repairman. In addition to getting around on the bikes, Dan and Valice enjoy trucks, shooting, four wheelers, jeeps, ribbons, bows, and camo clothes. Dan describes Valice as having a big bouncy personality. She can out-shoot you at the range, and get a little mud on the tires.

Boys Bikes And Girls Bikes – What Is The Difference?

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Boys Bikes and Girls Bikes - what is the difference?
Boys Bikes and Girls Bikes - what is the difference?

One interesting/annoying occurrence that I came across while researching our kids’ mountain bike database was that several bike companies are still producing bikes that are specifically labeled “Boys Bikes” or “Girls Bikes”.

These Bikes Fell Into Two Categories

1) The exact same bikes, but different colors: the “girls bikes” include pink, white or purple while the “boys bikes” generally come in a wider variety of darker colors.

2) The “girls bikes” have a lower stand-over (step-over) height and include pink, white or purple.

The colors… really? Aren’t we past labeling gender with colors? Both of my boys love pink and purple. Kids’ bikes should come in a variety of fun colors.

Girls Bikes and Boys Bikes

The Lower Step-Over Height on “Girls Bikes”

Here’s a bit of history: The lower stand-over design was introduced in the late 1800s for women riding in long skirts and dresses. A step-through frame allowed women to get on and off a bike without having to lift their legs high over the saddle and to ride without the fabric getting caught up on the top tube. Great design decisions for the reality of the time! Luckily our daughters do not have to worry about these old fashioned clothing norms anymore.

Today, most adult bicycle designs are described by frame style, rather than the sex of the rider. Although there are a few companies that make bikes specifically for adult women who can have longer legs, a shorter torso, narrower shoulders, slightly shorter arms and smaller hands than men of the same height – an idea that relies on sweeping generalizations and a topic for another day, boys and girls do not display these physical differences until adolescence.

Despite the changes in fashion over time and the fact that boys and girls do not have physical differences requiring different bicycle design, there seems to be an expectation in the kids bike market to have two different designs.

Kids’ Bike Gender Stereotyping Is Unnecessary

A lower stand-over height is the single functional design difference on girls-specific bikes. A low stand-over height an advantage for most young riders (especially beginners) as it is easier to get on and off. Once the child is riding, the difference in the girls’ or boys’ design has zero impact on functionality.

I admire companies that create functional bikes that both boys and girls will want to ride because of the variety of colors and kid appropriate design. Many companies including Specialized, Woom, Stampede, Spawn, Lil’ Shredder, Rocky Mountain, Prevelo, Orbea, Kona, Marin, KHS, Isla, Giant, Flow, Early Rider, Commencal, Cleary, Meekboyz, Frog and Pello are moving away for gender specific labeling.

Riding a bike is about building confidence; and being strong, healthy and free. There is no need for the gender stereotyping that still exists in this market. Check out our kids mountain bike database to help you determine the best mountain bike for your little ripper!