Mountain biking with the whole family is a fun way to explore the great outdoors while getting some exercise. If you want to get your kids out on the trail with you, the first thing you’ll need is a kid’s mountain bike or children’s bike with wider tires that can handle off-pavement surfaces.
It’s fun for kids to take their bikes off-road and learn to navigate muddy tracks, rocky trails, or bike parks, but buying a kid’s mountain bike can sometimes be complicated for parents since there are so many different types. A kids’ MTB is made and sized differently from adult bikes, so there are different considerations and features to keep in mind.
How do I Choose The Right Mountain Bike?
You want your kids to have a great experience when they head out mountain biking with you. The right bike helps children learn to love exploring nature on two wheels, cultivating an excitement for cycling that can last a lifetime.
A properly fit mountain bike, proportioned correctly for your child, will set them up for the best possible experience when they hit the trails. Mountain bikes that are too big can be difficult for children to manage which decreases their confidence on the bike.
To help you find the best mountain bike for your young adventurer, we’ve put together this list of factors to consider when bike shopping. These 6 tips will help you select the right mountain bike for your child with confidence.
Bike Weight For Kids Mountain Bikes
The overall weight of the bicycle should not be overlooked when considering a kids’ mountain bike. A combination of lightweight and sturdy geometry make for a winning combination. A kid’s MTB that is too heavy can hinder your child’s learning, making it difficult for them to control and get on and off the bike.
Children’s bikes aren’t always designed and manufactured to be lighter weight than adult bikes. Many kids MTBs weigh as much as a comparable adult bike. The difference is in the geometry and components of the bicycle. If you have an older child who fits a 24-inch bike or a 26-inch bike, you won’t always find that the 26-inch children’s mountain bike is more lightweight and more suitable than a 26-inch adult bike.
More important than weight, high quality brakes (i.e. disc) dependable derailleurs, smooth shifting, and good tire tread with properly inflated tires are significant for kids mountain bikes.
A bike frame that is too heavy may be problematic on a kid’s bike because it may make mountain biking particularly challenging. When you’re out on the trails, your kids will be pedaling up steep hills. A heavy bike that’s disproportionate to their body weight will make it extremely difficult to tackle different terrains. If pedaling uphill is too hard, it will create an unpleasant riding experience for your child.
On the other hand, weight is not always a bad thing in a kids bike. Properly disturbed weight in a frame can provide stability. Well-built steel frames dampen bumps and make for a smoother ride, whereas aluminum bikes might be “light weight” but lack ride quality, which means you can feel every bump.
Brake Options For Kids Mountain Bikes
Kids mountain bikes will have two distinct types of brakes. Both types utilize hand brakes but the brake itself uses different mechanisms to slow down the bike.
The first are called v-brakes and are found on Cleary models like Gecko, Hedgehog, and Owl. While these bikes are not mountain bike specific, their wide tires and kid-specific geometry make them perfect entry-level trail bikes for your child.
The v-brake is a common brake type, especially on children’s bikes. When the brake lever is pulled, the brake pads are engaged to apply friction to the wheel’s rim to stop it.
Disc brakes give children increased control over the bike and more stopping power. Instead of the friction of brake pads to slow the wheel down, when the brake pads are engaged they squeeze a rotor to slow the forward momentum of the wheel. For this reason, disc brakes can enhance stopping control in wet or muddy weather better than v-brakes.
Brakes that use levers that have been engineered specifically for kids can help prevent fatigued hands when riding down longer descents.
Suspension Options For Kids Mountain Bikes
You may wonder if a children’s mountain bike really needs suspension. That’s a good question. There is certainly a case to be made for front suspension for kids, but most don’t “need” it and it’s certainly not a barrier to adventure if you don’t have it.
Rather than buying a kid’s MTB with front suspension, you could essentially replace the tires on your child’s bike with larger tires inflated to proper PSI to get a similar effect.
Front Suspension Kids Mountain Bikes
Front suspension bikes come with a front suspension fork. These may also be known as hardtail mountain bikes.
A front suspension fork will only work properly if it can be activated in response to your child’s weight. If a bike’s front suspension fork requires a heavier body weight than your child can provide, then the suspension fork will be useless.
Children and teens often have growth spurts that see them grow taller but still have a lighter body weight than adults of the same height. The need to activate the fork is one of the main reasons it is inadvisable to buy children or teens an adult bike, even if they seem tall enough for one.
Front suspension forks can be either air-sprung forks or coil sprung forks. Air sprung suspension forks will usually be found on a more expensive and better-quality kids mountain bike. These air-sprung forks can be easily adjusted to adapt to the rider’s weight, so they’re more versatile as your child grows.
Full Suspension Kids Mountain Bikes
Kids full suspension mountain bikes come with a front suspension fork and a rear shock. The addition of a rear suspension will add weight, so if you go for this option, make sure the bike doesn’t become too heavy for your child. As long as your kid can handle the weight, there are many benefits to choosing a full-suspension mountain bike.
A rear suspension makes riding on trails with rough or steep terrain that much more comfortable. If your child is a more advanced or adventurous rider, they will benefit from a quality suspension fork and a rear shock.
Gear Options For Kids Mountain Bikes
Gears are a must-have feature for kids’ mountain bikes. If your kids have mostly ridden in their neighborhood, this may be their first introduction to gears. Many children ride with single-speed bikes up until their teenage years. If that’s the case, make sure you practice using the gears in an open, flat space so they get the feel for shifting before you hit the trails!
Gears are essential for a kid’s MTB, they allow children to shift up or down when climbing and descending hills. Appropriate mountain bike gears will increase the fun of mountain biking and decrease the work and effort that comes with getting up hills.
More gears aren’t necessarily better. A seven to ten-speed mountain bike is usually the best option for kids. Seven to ten gears give kids enough range to get up steep hills and to pick up some speed on the flats.
Excess gears only make a bike more difficult to manage. More gears will require double or triple-chainring, so kids will have to think about changing gears with their left hand as well as their right. A single chainring is much easier for kids who are learning to ride on mountain bike trails. Excess gears also make bikes heavier, so a lightweight single chainring with ten or fewer gears is ideal.
How Much Do Kids Mountain Bikes Cost?
Cost is a factor with any bike purchase, and kids’ bikes often cost more than you may expect. The fact is, good-quality kids’ mountain bikes will typically come with higher price tags. More expensive bikes are usually worth forking over more because you’ll get the quality you paid for.
Everyone likes a bargain, but not when it comes along with compromises. Cheap kids mountain bikes in the range of $100 are often heavier and more difficult for kids to maneuver.
The cheaper kids MTBs on the market usually aren’t built to withstand the rigors and rough terrain that come with true mountain biking. Inexpensive kids MTB models usually have poor front and rear suspension that won’t hold up on the trails or over time. A cheap bike model will keep them occupied at the local park, but kids are unlikely to keep up on the dirt without a higher-quality mountain bike.
If you and your child are serious about getting into mountain biking, it’s worth investing in a quality bike. The best kids MTBs can run upwards of $2000. That may give you some sticker shock at first, but kids will enjoy and get more use out of a good quality bike, which should help justify the purchase.
A good quality bike is an investment in an experience with few other costs and will provide excitement, fun, and exercise for years to come. Our Scout model comes in 24-inch and 26-inch models with 10-speeds. These are great kids mountain bikes that’s high quality and reasonably priced. The 26” Scout MTB models are great bikes for 9 to 12-year-olds that will get them out on the trails.
For younger riders who are just getting into all-terrain and trail riding, our full line of kids bikes can handle gravel, dirt and many single track trails.
Finding The Best Mountain Bike For Your Kid
There are a few other factors you should consider when purchasing any children’s bike. These standard considerations include bike fit, frame size, wheel size, standover height, seat height, tire tread, and rider ability.
If you’re unsure how to size a child for a bike check out our kids bike sizing guide. Or, if you don’t know what bikes are appropriate for their age group, we’ve got you covered there too. Use our bike size chart and other guides to learn about the basics. We’ll help you find the best bike for your child and get all the important information you need to make a confident purchase. If you still need further guidance, we’re always happy to talk through the process over the phone or on live chat.