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Cheap Kids' Bikes

Price Range

$30 Cheapism $100
Mid-Range $200
High End ...+

Parents can pay a lot of money for a bicycle that a child will outgrow in a year or two, or they can seek out solid, cheap kids' bikes. The big-box stores offer low-cost options ranging from the widely available Huffy line to the Toys R Us exclusives Rallye and Avigo. Other names you'll come across at the lower end of the market include NEXT and Pacific, and occasionally Schwinn. Within this pool you'll find several acceptable options for the limited time your growing child will be riding a starter bicycle. One of these cheap bikes should do the trick until the child gets older and more serious about the type of riding he or she will be doing.

Cheap Kids' Bikes Buying Guide

Parents can pay a lot of money for a bicycle that a child will outgrow in a year or two, or they can seek out solid, cheap kids' bikes. The big-box stores offer low-cost options ranging from the widely available Huffy line to the Toys R Us exclusives Rallye and Avigo. Other names you'll come across at the lower end of the market include NEXT and Pacific, and occasionally Schwinn. Within this pool you'll find several acceptable options for the limited time your growing child will be riding a starter bicycle. One of these cheap bikes should do the trick until the child gets older and more serious about the type of riding he or she will be doing.

When parents go in search of a cheap kids' bike, they usually have three factors in mind: the child's size, gender (many beginning bikes are decorated in themes ranging from Spiderman to Dora the Explorer), and usage (e.g., stunts and off-road biking, beach cruising, or just around the neighborhood).

Cheap kids' bikes are generally broken into four categories grouped roughly according to wheel size: 12 inches for ages 2-5; 16 inches for ages 4-8; 20 inches for ages 6-11; and 24 inches for ages 10 and up. To be sure you're getting the right size, experts suggest measuring the inseam of a child's leg and letting those results be your guide. Websites such as iBike.org provide a chart for inseam measurements in relation to the recommended bicycle size along with tips for safe and enjoyable riding at every age. Some vendors also stock less common wheel sizes, such as 14-, 18-, and 26- inch bicycles that may fit your child better and sell at prices that fall within your budget.

Of course, you can always go into a specialty bike shop and buy a fully customized bicycle that's at least three times the price of the cheap kids' bikes you'll find at the mass merchandisers. At this higher end what you'll get is a bike with a frame made of aluminum or some other strong and lightweight metal, the best brakes and tires, expert adjustments to the gears and brake cables, and sometimes a free warranty tune-up, like the one REI offers in the first 100-200 miles or after the first two months. When you buy a cheap kids' bike, on the other hand, you often wind up with DIY assembly and doing a good bit of maintenance yourself, which may include paying extra to replace worn parts made of plastic or lower quality steel. User reviews also indicate that these bicycles may come with poor assembly instructions, missing parts, and in colors that differ from what you thought you were ordering online; a bike may also arrive damaged because of poor packaging. Still, there are good cheap kids' bikes to be had.

To help make your search more efficient, we focused on the four common wheel sizes and quickly noted that three brands stand out. Huffy offers the largest assortment of cheap kids' bikes in all sizes, and for the most part, delivers value. Several of our picks bear the Huffy name: the 12-inch boys' Rock-It bike (starting at $40) and girls' Disney Princess bike (starting at $67) for easy DIY assembly, appealing features, and carefree riding; the 16-inch boys' Disney Toy Story bike (starting at $68) for price and stability; and the 24-inch girls' Cranbrook Cruiser (starting at $80) for its stripped-down comfort and ride-ability. Two models on our list are made by NEXT: the 20-inch boys' Chaos Freestyle (starting at $80) and 24-inch boys' Power Climber (starting at $100), both of which introduce the future possibilities of more intense riding. We also settled on a 16-inch bike by Avigo that's available in both a boys' and girls' version: the Dirt Wave (starting at $73) and Waikiki (starting at $70), both starter BMX-style bicycles that make youngsters feel cool. One more top choice is the 20-inch girls' Pretty in Pink (starting at $70), another BMX-style offered by Walmart that rides well and looks tough.

We also came across reports from consumers indicating that two models by Pacific, the 20-inch Chromium girls' dual-suspension mountain bike (starting at $113) and 24-inch Exploit girls' front-suspension bike (starting at $100), suffer from problems with design and build quality. The few reviews of the 16-inch Micargi BMX kids' bike (starting at $60) likewise grouse about quality issues.

One more thing: While shopping around for a good cheap kids' bike, be on the lookout for used top-of-the-line models from companies like Trek and Isla. These bicycles are made with intense attention to detail. Up-market Diamondback and Mongoose bikes also show up on the resale market from time to time. Higher quality materials mean less maintenance in the long run, although many cheap kids' bikes keep children perfectly content for a couple of years before it's time to step up to the next size.

Kids' Bike Reviews

Many kids' bike reviews for the models on our list indicate that young riders are quite happy with their budget bikes. Adults often report that children's eyes lighting up when the bike suddenly appears as a birthday or holiday gift or kids flying off into the wind to cruise around the 'hood. We also read numerous accounts in reviews of all the low-cost bikes we researched, including others that didn't make our list, about problems with brakes and chains, ill-fitting handlebars or pedals, and wheels that aren't true. What's not clear from the kids' bike reviews we read is whether these issues reflect poor assembly (whether performed at home or by the vendor) or poor design and build quality. To be sure, reviewers indicate that most of these problems can be overcome with some fiddling here and there, but don't expect perfection with any of these models.

Ride Performance.

To ensure a decent riding experience for the child, periodically inspect the bicycle. Make sure the bolts are tight, the handlebars and seat are properly adjusted, the brakes are in good working order, and the tires are inflated to the correct pressure. If everything's in place, the child is good to go.

Two models that transition a child from trike to bike, the 12-inch Huffy boys' Rock-It (starting at $40) and girls' Disney Princess (starting at $67), are sturdy and easy to ride, say kids' bike reviews. In comments posted on Walmart about the Rock-It and elsewhere on the site about the Disney Princess, reviewers note that 3-year-olds (and some younger kids) quickly master the art of pedaling and turning, and the small size gives them confidence to learn to ride without the training wheels. Stepping up to 16-inch wheels, the Disney Toy Story bike (starting at $68), another Huffy model, is well liked by parents and grandparents posting on Toys R Us for its adjustability, stability, and what they observe as a smooth ride. Parents report youngsters really take to this model's Buzz Lightyear design and pedal about non-stop, although opinion is mixed about the training wheels; some say they're just fine but one says it's worth buying a set with more rubber on the. We also like a 24-inch bike by Huffy, the girls' Cranbrook Cruiser, a no-nonsense basic model that reviewers say appeals to girls (and women) who just want low-key cycling, whether than means cruising alongside younger family members, commuting to school or work, or tossing the bike into the trunk for a ride along the beach.

Upping the cool factor or intensity of the riding experience catapults kids and the adults in their lives into the realm of BMX- or stunt-style bikes. Most kid-size models at this cheap price level are really designed for road riding but can handle occasional and very mild off-roading or a few really simple, entry-level tricks; posts in a readers' Q&A on Walmart urge purchasers to carefully read the manufacturer's recommendations to learn what the bike can tolerate. The 20-inch boys' NEXT Chaos Freestyle (starting at $80), for example, is often the first real bike a child gets. Kids' bike reviews on the Walmart website say riders ranging in age from about 7 to 11 (and a few teenagers, as well) get a thrill from this sturdy bike with its twirling handlebars and smooth rolling motion, although some caution that adjusting the brakes requires special care. Girls who like the action enjoy the 20-inch Pretty in Pink BMX bike (starting at $70), according to kids' bike reviews on the Walmart site, where reviewers say the tough profile stands up to its pink coloration. A few gripe about wobbly wheels and noisy brakes on this model, and one dad notes that upgrading some of the components, such as inner tubes and wheels, pays off in a better ride. Children who aren't ready for a 20-inch BMX-like bike but want to start training can hop on the 16-inch Avigo Dirt Wave for boys (starting at $73) or Waikiki for girls (starting at $70). Although some reviewers posting at Toys R Us say the ride is a bit rough and the momentum a bit slow, others say children pedal and turn easily; parents report that minor adjustments to the bearings and brakes will smooth things out.

The 24-inch wheel-size category is suited to older and taller riders with expectations of more rugged cycling. Here you'll find bicycles with multiple gears and design elements meant to withstand a bit of everyday abuse. Experts at How Stuff Works note that models ridden on bumpier terrain need extra suspension to absorb the jolts, and the dual suspension (shock absorbers on the front and back) on the NEXT boys' Power Climber bike wins over fans for that reason. Youngsters in the 10-and-up set appreciate the comfortable ride around town and on mildly bumpy off-road trails with the Power Climber; a readers exchange on Walmart, however, suggests ratcheting down expectations because this bike can't handle jumps. Some kids' bike reviews on the site also grouse about the gears, noting they slip, aren't much different from one to the next, or don't work at all.

We found some less expensive models that get dinged more often than not in kids' bike reviews. One parent who comments on the Sears site about the 16-inch Micargi BMX bike (starting at $60) complains that the back wheel spins and spins without any forward movement, which is enough to frustrate any rider, much less a newbie. Some young riders enjoy the 20-inch Pacific Chromium girls' dual-suspension mountain bike (starting at $113), according to kids' bike reviews on Amazon, but others are put off by tires that leak and gears that slip and are hard to change. Experience with the 24-inch Pacific Exploit front-suspension girls' bike (starting at $100) is split, according to kids' bike reviews on Amazon and Buzzillions. Some young riders find this model, billed as a mountain bike by several sellers, provides a smooth ride after some minor adjustments, but other purchasers complain about pedals positioned dangerously close to the front wheel, which makes turning a near impossible feat.

Kids' Bikes Brakes

A good connection between brakes and wheels is critical to a child's safety and successful bike-riding experience. Kids' bike brakes come in three varieties: hand brakes, rear coaster brakes, or both. Hand brakes are sometimes called side-pull, center-pull, u-brakes, v-brakes, caliper, or cantilever.

Most cheap beginner bikes, like the 12-inch Huffy boys' Rock-It and Disney Princess and the 16-inch Huffy Disney Toy Story and Micargi BMX, feature coaster brakes only; unusual for a bike of its size, the 24-inch, one-speed Cranbrook Cruisers also sports the same kind of brakes. At-home assembly is less complex with these pedal brakes, and for novice riders learning to balance, they're far easier to manage than struggling to brake by squeezing a hand grip.

As children get older and the bikes get bigger, kids' bike brakes include both coaster brakes and hand brakes. The 16-inch Avigo Dirt Wave and Waikiki and the 20-inch Pretty in Pink BMX models are equipped with both types of brakes, which let riders get comfortable with the hand brake without it being the only option. This is a good thing, at least for the two Avigo models; several reviewers report on Toys R Us that the hand brakes are too stiff.

The combo design disappears altogether on more specialized and multi-speed bikes, which generally feature only hand brakes. Most of these models are beyond the Cheapism price range, but we found a few that fit: The one-speed, 20-inch NEXT Chaos Freestyle comes with front and rear caliper hand brakes and the 18-speed, 24-inch NEXT Power Climber is fitted out with cantilever brakes. The girls' six-speed, 20-inch Pacific Chromium mountain bike features linear pull brakes as does the 18-speed Pacific Exploit. A critical review of the Exploit posted on Amazon by a parent who has worked as a bike mechanic asserts that linear pull brakes aren't nearly as effective as caliper brakes.

Bike Assembly.

Buying a low-cost kids' bicycle from a discount store usually means you'll have to put it together yourself. Even if you're not mechanically-challenged, you might find this a chore from hell. Indeed, reviews comment on bike assembly more frequently than on anything else, and what the adults have to say ranges from loud complaints that it's a total headache to sighs of relief about how easy it was; sometimes such divergent reviews refer to the same bike. Many reviews urge readers to have the retailer (assuming you buy the bike at a physical store) take on this task. Even then, there's no guarantee of perfect results; review after review for every model we researched notes that tweaking and adjusting is par for the course, as is the occasional part that simply fails or falls off. Reviews also mention that having your own set of Allen keys is a big help for DIY assembly.

To cite just a few examples: Assembling the Huffy Disney Princess was a piece of cake for one parent, according to a kids' bike review on the Walmart website, while another admits to being completely befuddled. Writing about the Huffy Rock-It on the same site, a reviewer blames the in-store assembler more than the quality of the parts for some wobbles and notes that the problems were solved by taking apart the bike and greasing and tightening everything before reassembling it. Another kids' bike review provides a laundry list of instructions on how to fine-tune the Rock-It, from adding extra grease to cautioning against over-tightening the nuts on the pedal crank and front fork.

Assembly instructions for the Avigo Dirt Wave are vague and not model-specific, according to postings on Toys R Us, and the small font only increases the aggravation. The Pacific Chromium Mountain Bike doesn't rack up the assembly complaints that its predecessor, the Tuscon, did in reviews on Amazon, although some commenters still recommend a trip to the bike shop for adjustments. The NEXT Power Climber may give riders a thrill, but reviewers cite annoyances like handlebars not fitting properly or parts that arrived damaged in the shipping box (a common complaint about cheap bikes shipped from vendor to home). One dad suggests buying the bicycle in a store rather than online so you can verify that all parts are present and in working order.

Kids' Bike Sizes

One size does not fit all when it comes to kids' bikes. An expert at BikeRadar.com urges parents to choose the right size; don't settle for a bicycle that's bigger than the child can comfortably ride just to save money -- it's not safe. You're better off buying a second-hand bike or selling the child's outgrown bicycle and using the proceeds for the next kids' bike size. As mentioned on the first page of this buying guide, the International Bicycle Fund website (IBike.org) offers a helpful sizing chart that associates a child's inseam measurements with the diameter of the wheels, the latter being the official way to determine the right kids' bike size for the child. If you go into a store, have the child sit on the seat and make sure feet touch the floor, hands reach the handlebars (and brakes, if applicable), and knees don't knock the handlebars.

Good, inexpensive starter bikes like the Huffy Rock-It and Disney Princess sport 12-inch wheels and feature a low stand-over height that lets beginning riders (ages 2-5, or a 14-18-inch inseam) hop on and off quickly. As the child grows and moves into larger kids' bike sizes, it's convenient and economical to have an adjustable seat. For example, seats on the 16-inch Avigo Dirt Wave, Avigo Waikiki, and Disney Toy Story can be raised or lowered, and the 20-inch girls' Pretty in Pink BMX and 24-inch NEXT Power Climber both feature a flip lever that enables an adult or child to quickly adjust the seat as needed.

Bicycle Build/Weight.

Discount children's bicycles should be light enough for easy maneuverability yet strong enough to withstand careless tossing around. Watch out for extra features that may dazzle the child but add unnecessary weight, like rear shock set-ups created to absorb the impact of a jarring ride on rough terrain, which really aren't necessary for beginning riders. Experts at CycleFit.com explain that the frame on cheap bikes is usually made of heavy, lower-grade steel rather than the lighter and higher quality metals found on pricier models. (Important note: if you buy a steel-frame bicycle, safeguards against early rusting include wiping off any moisture after use and keeping the bike out of the rain.) A few kids' bikes, including the NEXT Chaos Freestyle and Pacific Exploit, are built with high-tensile steel, which is more durable, stronger, and lighter than the usual steel used in cheap kids' bike frames.

Kids' bike size is another factor affecting the weight of the bicycle. Not surprisingly, smaller cheap bikes usually weigh less than larger cheap bikes. The 12-inch Huffy Rock-It and Disney Princess weigh 18 and 21 pounds, respectively; the 16-inch Avigo Dirt Wave and Waikiki weigh about 28 pounds each, which is the approximate weight of the 20-inch NEXT Chaos with its high-tensile steel frame; the 20-inch Pretty in Pink weighs about 32 pounds; and the 24-inch Cranbrook Cruisers tips the scale at about 39 pounds; the 24-inch NEXT Power Climber is a bit heavier, still. One dad, commenting on Amazon, says the 24-inch Pacific Exploit for boys, which weighs about 37 pounds, is certainly solid but quite heavy for a young child.

Gina Briles

Gina K. Briles writes family, household, and shopping-related product reviews. She is a displaced Jayhawk and a coffee addict living in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, two small children, and Vizsla dog.

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