At some point between the age of 3 and 8, your child’s going to be ready for their first bike. Either they’ve grown out of their balance bike or trike or they’re just aching to pedal on 2 wheels – or both!
But which first bike should you buy? There are so many to choose from, it can all get a bit baffling – especially if you’re not a cycling expert.
The first thing to know is to pick the right bike for your child’s height – and a bike they can lift up by themselves. For more tips, see What to look for in a first bike?, below.
Then, to help you out, we’ve taken a good long look at a whole load of first bikes and whittled them down to the best – according to parents and the children who’ve ridden them.
Here’s our pick of the best first bikes, for 3 to 8 year olds…
Age: 2 to 7
What it is: An award-winning 5 to 6kg bike that converts, in 3 steps, from a traditional 12in balance bike to a 16in pedal bike (both the saddle height and the handlebar reach increase). Suitable for children with a minimum inside leg of 37cm (in ‘little balance bike’ mode) up to 51cm (in ‘big pedal bike’ mode) and has a wheel size of 14in. Comes in red, green, blue and pink.
Why we love it: It’s great quality, very well balanced and nice and solid, without being too heavy. It should last your child several years – and it looks very cool, too.
Available from: LittleBig Bikes
What it is: A 6kg bike with 12in wheels, solid tyres, front and rear calliper brakes, a full chain guard and removable stabilisers.
Why we love it: This is an excellent-value, sturdy little bike with a cool superhero-type vibe. It’s (obviously) not got the super-high-quality features of more expensive starter bikes but, if you just want a whizzy bike to pedal up and down the park, this is a great wallet-friendly buy. And Halfords offers a free in-store build, as well as a 6-month safety check.
Available from: Halfords
What it is: A traditional-looking, aluminium-framed 9kg bike with a wicker front basket, a tan saddle and 14in wheels. Features high-rise handlebars, V-brakes with adjustable brake levers, 14in wheels and non-slip pedals with rubber grips to keep little feet in place. Comes with removable stabilisers and colour-coordinated full chain guard. Also available in 12in (red) and 16in (mauve).
Why we love it: It has a nice low step-though frame (easier for small bodies to get on and off) and excellent brakes. Be warned that the white tyres won’t be white for long, though! Extra points for the very cute toy dog that comes sitting in the front basket…
Available from: Raleigh
What is it: The steel-framed bike – which comes in 12in, 14in, 16in and 18in sizes – has a Unicrown front fork, adjustable handlebars, adjustable seat, front calliper brake, rear band brake and adjustable removable stablisiers. The 12in version is 12kg. Comes in blue, green, red, orange, pink and white.
Why we love it: It’s definitely not the lightest starter bike around but it’s reassuringly sturdy, and easy to assemble. We like the adjustable stabilisers and the safety reflectors on the pedals – and the water-bottle carrier is a surefire child-pleasing touch (although maybe not best positioned for children who’ll be biking down muddy trails).
Available from: Amazon
What it is: An alloy-framed bike that comes in 14in (small; minimum inside leg 34cm), 14in (large; minimum inside leg 38cm), 16in and 20in sizes. It’s lightweight (5.6kg for the small 14in version), had chromoly forks, front and back mini V-brakes, ‘micro-reach’ brake levers, lightweight 14in wheels, and a fully enclosed free-floating chain guard. Comes in red, green, pink and teal.
Why we love it: We like the proper mudguards and how the nicely narrow handlebars are designed to be higher than the saddle – putting the rider in a more upright position that’s easier if you’re only little. This is carefully thought-out starter bike.
Available from: Islabikes
Read our review of the Isla Beinn 20 bike for older kids
Age: 3 to 4
Why we love it: A 6.3kg aluminium-alloy 14in-wheel bike best suited to children with an inside leg measurement of about 40cm (there are other Frog models for bigger kids). It has easy-reach brakes and a steering limiter to prevent oversteer. Comes with mudguard, bell and light reflectors, in red, purple, pink, spotty, orange, green, Union Jack, and Team Sky White.
Why we love it: It’s well made and competitively priced – in the quality end of this market. The ride is nice and stable, and we’re impressed it comes with 2 sets of Kendra tyres: hybrid (for smooth paths) and knobbly (for off-road). Oh, and the frog detailing around the pedals is very cute!
Available from: Frog
What is it: An 8.7kg 14in-wheel starter bike with a a low step through, mudguard, adjustable-height saddle, integrated chain guard, removable stabilisers (no tools needed) and a ‘stop easy’ braking system.
Why we love it: It’s not the lightest of first bikes but it’s a great-value choice. We like the child-friendly slim handlebar grips and the brakes are really excellent. Retailer Decathlon offers a lifetime warranty.,
Available from: Decathlon
Age: 4 to 6
What is it: A 9.8kg, steel frame, 14in-wheel pedal bike with front and rear calliper brakes, full ball bearing bottom bracket and headset, a covered chain and removable stabilisers.
Why we love it: Mongoose bikes have a big rep in the BMX world and this is a pretty cool, reasonably priced mini version. The ball-bearing headset will score it points from keen cyclists.
Available from: Cycle Republic
What is it: A 7.4kg, 14in-wheel aluminium-alloy frame bike with V-brakes, Hi ten steel fork, off-road tyres and reach-adjustable brakes. Comes in red or green.
Why we love it: We like how easily adjustable the brakes are for small hands. It’s not super-light but certainly isn’t the heaviest starter bike featured here. A decent, reliable, good-looking buy.
Available from: Tredz Bikes
What is it: A 5.95kg alloy-frame, 16in wheel bike (there isn’t a 14in version), suitable for a child with a minimum inside leg of 46cm. Features sealed bearing bracket, micro-drive gearing and shorter cranks than most children’s bikes for easier riding. Comes in orange (like Chris Hoy’s first track bike), green, pink and blue.
Why we love it: It looks amazing, is surprisingly light and, as you’d expect from a bike designed by an Olympic champion, it’s great-quality and a great ride. The only negative feedback we’ve had on this one is that the brakes can be a bit stiff.
Available from: Evans Cycles
GOLD winner, Best Balance Bike, 2018 MadeForMums Toy Awards
What it is: This 6.1kg 14in-wheel balance bike easily turns into a pedal bike with a special accessory kit (included). It features 44cm rubber tyres with all-terrain tread, removable footrest, adjustable handlebars and (padded) seat, front and rear brakes.
Why we love it: Our child testers loved this bike’s pedals – which are half-width and make pedalling much easier. We also love the way this bike. well priced for what it is, can adapt and grow with your child over several years. (Note that you’ll need to pump the tyres up on delivery).
Available from: Striderbike
What it is: The priciest bike on our list, this one is also the lightest at 5.4kg. It features a hand-brushed 16in-wheel frame, Tektro BX1V brakes, Schwalbe Black Jack tyres, a sealed cartridge bearing headset, a belt drive, and lightweight, studded aluminium platform pedals. Comes in lime, black or cyan.
Why we love it: It is a real top-quality choice for kids who will ride their bike everywhere. We love that the belt drive doesn’t need any maintenance and that the whole bike so light and easy to use. This one holds its value, too, so it’s really easy to sell second-hand.
Available from: Early Rider
What to look for in a first bike
It can be hard to know where to start when looking at children’s starter bikes. Here are the key points you need to consider, according to experts at the national cycling charity Cycling UK:
Can your child lift the bike up? Some steel-framed heavy bikes are harder for kids to ride, especially uphill.
Are the gears and brakes that are easy to use? If you buying in store, test them using your little finger, or look out for models that have a rear brake that works by back pedalling as it comes more naturally to a beginner cyclist.
Is it the right size for your child now? Don’t buy a bigger-sized bike for your child to grow into. All the bikes we’ve recommended have size charts on their sites that either take into account your child’s leg inseam or height: buy at the lower end of the recommended range – that way, you can raise the handlebars and the seat as they get taller. Ideally, also look for short cranks of about 90-100mm (they’re the arms that attach to the pedals).
Is the ride nice and smooth? The wheels, bottom bracket and headset at the front of the bike should ideally use ball bearings (check the bike’s specifications either online or in the shop) as these make for much easier and smoother riding.
Can your child try it before you buy it? If so, know that your child should be able to stand astride the frame with their feet flat on the floor, reach the pedals when seated, and hold the handlebar easily without stretching too much.
Ignore the girls’ bikes/boys’ bikes thing if you want to. There really isn’t that much difference between them – apart from the colours (which, of course, your child may have a very firm opinion on).
Not sure about tyre size? Generally, slimmer tyres are better on smoother paths and thicker ones are great for off-road. If you’re looking for a good all-rounder, bikes with wider tyres are the ones to go for.
Is it worth buying an expensive bike if my child will outgrow it quickly?
If you want to spend less, some single speed bikes are great for children to learn on, but very cheap bikes won’t have the features that make a bike easy to ride.
Good quality bikes have a great resale value, though. Check on eBay before you buy to see what you will be able to sell it for when your child outgrows it in a few years time.
And don’t forget about bike safety: we’ve got the golden rules to teach your child here.
This article contains affiliate links, which means MadeForMums may earn a small amount of money if you click through and buy. All our toy content is written independently (we’ll include the best toys whether we can include an affiliate link or not) and pretty much all of the toys are tested and rated by our child toy testers, as well as our editorial team.