Is your child ready to graduate from biking on sidewalks to ripping up the singletrack with a kids mountain bike? It’s a good time: mountain biking is having a serious moment, what with towns preparing more trails than ever and ski mountains taking advantage of their off-season trails. The key to getting your kid to love any sport is to make sure that they’re successful when they first try it. And to make sure your aspiring rider has a good experience, you have to make sure they’re on terrain that’s not too challenging or scary. And, most importantly, on a good bike.
Many kids’ bikes are heavier than their adult counterparts, because manufacturers figure young riders won’t leave their cul de sac, that they’ll only ride flat pavement, and they want to keep kids’ bikes cheap. Therefore, if you want your child to become a dirt-hopping downhiller, you should invest in a lighter bike with good brakes, good shifting, and legit suspension. These five options, tested on track, are light, fast, and safe for young riders — and all offer them an introduction to a sport they could love for life.
See the extra fat tires on this 20″ hardtail? They not only make the mountain bike ride more stable, but also (and obviously) cushier because they add more suspension. Those big balloons will also help your kids explore off the trail — and build confidence (they ride through anything.) The Riprock is pimped out with mechanical disc brakes that make it easy to stop on steeps, even for little hands and seven speeds to help with changes in terrain.
Cannondale Trail 20
In mountain biking, lighter is mightier. The rationale is simple: bikes with less weight are easier to maneuver. The Trail, which is outfitted with 20-inch wheels, weighs only 25 pounds (light for a kids model) and, at $390, won’t break the bank. It has six speeds, which gives a new-to-shifting rider options to experiment with going up and down hills and hand brakes, so your little rider can learn the basics of operating an adult-style rig. The rim brakes they control, while not as powerful as discs brakes, are an upgrade from coasters, and will teach your child the mechanics of stopping on a mountain bike. It’s a great balance of price and performance.
Diamondback Sync’r 24
If your little ripper is an aspiring cross-country racer, consider this kids mountain bike. It’s a 24-inch wheeled cross-country race bike that’s spec’d to put junior riders on the podium. The light alloy frame has low-slung geometry — so it’s easy to get on and off, and keeps your rider from outgrowing it too soon. Combine that with big bike components, most notably a SRAM 1×11 drivetrain, which many adults lust after, as well as a a high-quality 80mm Suntour fork, and highly responsive Tektro hydraulic brakes, and you’ve got a fast and nimble trail machine. Plop a motivated kid on it’s seat and you may find yourself working to keep up.
Rocky Mountain Reaper
A bike that will grow with your kid, the full suspension Reaper not only has a legitimate, bikes parts kit—equivalent to what you’d find on an adult rig — but it takes both 24- and 26-inch wheels. That means that as your little one gets bigger, you can invest in a new set of wheels instead of a whole new bike. The 120mm travel fork and 130mm travel shock are tunable, so they can be set for the rider’s weight, and it’s simple to change those settings as the rider gets heavier. This bike’s suspension and slack angles will let your kid own technical terrain — jumping, hucking, and ripping any trail. One thing to note: It costs more to buy it as a 26-inch bike, but you’ll get a lighter, stronger, more durable drivetrain, brakes, suspension, and other components. You can add a set of 24 inch wheels aftermarket.
If your junior rider wants to do it all — cross-country, all mountain, and technical trail — the 24-inch wheeled Ripcord will be comfortable pedaling, and confident handling. A slack head angle helps keep riders from going over the bars, while short chainstays make climbing easier. The kids mountain bike also has low standover and handlebar height, so it will fit your rider for longer. What’s more, it uses a standard 100mm travel shock and fork, which are both easy to upgrade as your little rider develops more discerning tastes. Hydraulic brakes give on-a-dime stopping power, and 1×10 gearing gives riders a lot of options when they’re confronted with climbs. Complete, it weighs just less than 30 pounds.
Say your kid just wants to ride around in the dirt. Check out the Prevelo Zulu. It’s a lightweight bike with 2.1″ tires for more control over loose soil and pesky bumps. And then there’s the safety factor. Hydraulic disc brakes make for better stopping ability, and a rear derailleur that’s high up from the ground reduces the likelihood of any breakage. It’s 10 speeds make it durable over rough terrain.