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Does Your Kid Need a Mountain Bike?

The Bike Log

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So, your child has been asking for a kids mountain bike? Knowing that they always want the newest toy (novelty is kind of their thing), you’ve probably thought, ‘do they really need one?’ 

Even though we’re a company that makes kids mountain bikes (so our answer totally isn’t without bias), we think it’s a good question to ask. Truly, the answer in many cases is that no, they don’t need a mountain bike. That doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy the pure joy of two wheels. But what it does mean is that you keep one bike in their quiver instead of two.

Even if your kids haven’t been asking for a new bike, you may be wondering if they need one. If you and your family want to ride bikes off-road, on mountain bike trails, muddy tracks, or at bike parks, you may be thinking that you’ll have to buy a kids mountain bike.

In this article, we’ll look at why you may want to buy a kids mountain bike, whether you need one, and what your alternative options are.

Should I buy my kid a mountain bike?

It’s well known that learning to ride a bike is an important milestone for children. Bike riding gets kids outside, helps with coordination, and is central to adventures and family memories that last forever. However, you don’t necessarily need to buy an expensive kids mountain bike to create those memories. 

Quality kids bikes can be expensive, so if you can avoid buying your kids two bikes, you can save significantly. It can be hard for most parents to justify the cost of an expensive kids mountain bike when you can easily make a few minor adjustments to their normal bike and get the same experience. 

If you have a quality kids bike—like the ones we make here at Cleary—you likely don’t need a specialist kids mountain bike. Mountain bikes, in general, aren’t as necessary for kids as they are for adults. 

What age is a mountain bike for?

Kids mountain bikes will usually be marketed at slightly older children, although any child can ride on a mountain bike path. Kids mountain bikes are mainly available in 24-inch kids bikes and 26-inch kids bike sizes. Note that a 26-inch bike for children is not the same size and weight as an adult 26-inch bike. 

Bikes in this size group are generally suited to children ages eight and over. However, some younger children get kids mountain bikes in 18-inch and 20-inch bike sizes.

All bike manufacturers will size their bikes differently, and each child will differ in height and maturity. When choosing a bike for your child, we suggest you always size based on measurements and ability, not by age alone. 

The age of your child is usually not an accurate indicator of size. One 6-year-old may fit a 16-inch bike, while another six-year-old may feel more comfortable with a 24-inch bike! To fit a child for a bike, you should carefully measure their inseam or inside leg. You can then use a kid’s bike sizing guide to find the perfect bike fit for your child. 

When is my child ready for mountain biking?

Every child learns to ride at their own pace. While many traditional kids’ bikes and MTBs are marketed to kids by certain ages, the child’s ability is much more important. 

Kids can learn to ride at almost any age, but most children will learn to ride between three and eight. However, the skills of an eight-year-old riding for the first time may be entirely different for those of someone who has been riding since they were two. So when looking at bikes labeled, for example, as bikes for 5 to 8-year-olds, again remember that age should never be your only consideration.

Maturity, confidence, and physical ability will differ between children. Kids will be ready to ride on more technically challenging mountain bike trails when they can confidently balance, pedal, steer, and brake. They will also need to understand how to share a track safely with other riders, many of whom will be adult mountain bikers.

How do I introduce my child to mountain biking?

Understanding your child’s unique and individual physical and mental abilities will help you pinpoint the right time to introduce them to mountain biking.

When you’re just starting to mountain bike as a family, remember to keep things simple. If you’re teaching a toddler or preschooler to ride on trails, you should begin on short, easy paths with hard-packed dirt. Avoid routes that have too many rocks and roots. 

Hiking trails are often a great place for kids to start learning to ride “off the beaten path.” If your children are younger, they can ride on a hiking trail while you walk along beside them. This is often preferable to riding on a mountain bike trail or bike park where they will have to share trails with more experienced and adult riders.

Do kids need suspension mountain bikes?

The simple answer is no; children don’t need suspension mountain bikes. But why not, you ask?

Kids mountain bikes can be heavy—even heavier than an adult mountain bike. But kids are much lighter than adults, so the bike-weight to body-weight ratio on many kids’ mountain bikes is way off. Many children’s bikes are more than half the child’s weight!

A too-heavy bike can throw off your child’s balance and be detrimental to their learning. So, if you get your child a kids mountain bike that weighs too much for them to manage, it won’t do them any favors. If kids try to ride a mountain bike that is too big or heavy for them, they are likely to get tired and frustrated quickly.

Because kids weigh less than adults, they don’t need the same suspension as adults. Children can more easily handle and maneuver a bike with no suspension. The lighter the kid’s bike, the easier it is to maneuver and pedal up steep hills. 

Bike weight makes a bigger difference for children than it does for adults when it comes to the enjoyment of riding and their bike control. Whenever you’re shopping for a kid’s bike, you should remember that kids are smaller and not as strong as adults and a lightweight bike is usually better suited to them.

Children can get the same benefits of a mountain bike on a quality kids’ bike that uses fat tires with the correct PSI. These fat tires can also be used on the road, or you can switch between two sets. Using fat tires on a regular kid’s bike is more straightforward than having two different bikes—one for the road and another for mountain bike trails. 

What is the right PSI for mountain biking?

What is PSI? PSI means pounds per square inch of pressure and is used as a measurement of tire pressure. Different riders may need a different PSI for their tires.

A little rider and a larger rider on the same kid’s bike may require different air PSI to support their weight. The correct PSI is especially important if you want to use a regular kids bike with fat tires as a mountain bike. We suggest starting somewhere close to these PSI numbers to provide an optimal riding experience. 

How much does a kids mountain bike cost?

Kids mountain bikes are usually much more expensive than a normal kid’s bike. You’re likely to get sticker shock seeing that a kid’s mountain bike can cost almost as much as an adult bike. Children’s mountain bikes can be several hundred dollars and even run up into the thousands. 

Best kids bikes for mountain biking

Cleary bikes are high quality and easy to use on bike trails or backcountry singletrack. Cleary kids bikes are unique in that our bike frames are made of 4130 Chromoly Steel, making them both durable and beautiful. 

Several Cleary bikes are suitable for older children who wish to get into mountain biking. The Meerkat 24-inch kids bike and Scout 26-inch kids bike are both excellent entry-level cross-country bikes. These kids bikes offer quality components like a Suntour suspension fork, Vee tubeless-ready tires, and Tektro hydraulic disc brakes. And all this comes at a much more digestible price.

If you or your kids love mountain biking, it’s natural to want to get them a mountain bike. Kids can have so much fun riding on mountain bike trails. There’s nothing like seeing that smile on their face when they achieve their goals, perform a trick, or make it to the bottom of a technical descent. 

But kids don’t need the fanciest, state-of-the-art expensive mountain bike to have fun. All they really need is a good quality kids bike that’s lightweight, fits them properly, and works well.

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