Getting out and about on two wheels is so important for kids – it’s fun, gives them a great sense of independence and keeps them active. So if you’re even halfway serious about encouraging it, it’s well worth investing in a proper kids’ bike.

Fortunately, there are some fantastic brands and models available and with just a little bit of effort you will find the perfect one for your child, whatever their size and preferred style of riding is.

You’ll notice here that there is no correlation between the brands on how they size their bikes and which size is best for which height or age, so take the measurements on a bike-by-bike basis. 

Ideally you’ll want to take your child along to your local bike shop to check for the best fit, but if the bike is due to be a surprise, most of the brands have comprehensive measuring and size guides online to steer you in the right direction.

However, don’t be tempted into buying bigger than you need – it’ll be harder for your child to handle and steer, and if you are worried about them only fitting the bike for 18 months or so, remember most decent bikes hold their resale value well.

It’s worth remembering that kids will find bikes with a slacker head tube angle easier to ride – typically found on adult mountain bikes (whereas road bikes have a steeper head tube angle), they may feel less responsive but are easier to control at lower speeds, so will help boost confidence.

We’ve tested a range of bikes for different ages, and roped in the children of various friends to help with different sizes. Parks and pavements were the main testing grounds.

The emphasis here is on investment bikes that are designed specifically for kids – they’re lighter than “toy” bikes, ergonomically constructed and have proper grown-up – but child-sized – components.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

IslaBikes cnoc 14 small bike: £289.99, IslaBikes

IslaBikes’ cnoc 14 is a brilliant option for kids learning to ride a bike. You can tell just by looking at it that it’s going to be good, and it doesn’t disappoint. Extremely lightweight yet solid and stable with a bespoke aluminium frame, it’s practically effortless to pedal and our young testers rode it for noticeably longer than any of the others. Attention to detail is paramount with IslaBikes, and this is clear to see with the brakes on the cnoc – the micro-reach brake levers are easy to reach thanks to the narrow diameter handlebars, so using them becomes intuitive.

Designed for kids aged three and up with an inside leg measurement of 34cm, this model is the smallest of the four cnocs in the range – the largest, cnoc 20, goes up to a maximum inside leg of 57cm (aged six, approximately). Do not be alarmed though, it’s not expected that you’d buy all four to accommodate your growing child as there is overlap between the sizes – the IslaBikes website has detailed sizing info so you can pick the right one.The cnoc 14 small is available in red or pink.

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LittleBigBikes flame red balance bike with pedals bundle: £225, LittleBigBikes

A fantastic idea, this bike has three modes – a small balance bike suitable to use from two years, a bigger balance bike for four to five-year-olds, and a pedal bike for kids up to seven. It grows with your child – expanding in the middle to give a bigger reach to the handlebars and a higher saddle height, then attach the pedals and you have your first pedal bike. The geometry changes from a standard 12in balance bike to a 16in pedal bike.

By the time we added the pedals, our little testers loved the familiarity of the bike – it was a really smooth transition from balance to pedals as they were already comfortable with how the bike handled.

The bike is fantastically well designed and, with a little basic bike knowledge, is straightforward to adapt. The bike arrives requiring some assembly and we couldn’t get the front calliper brake to fit properly, but LittleBig’s support was excellent and they provided instructional videos (available on the website), which quickly resolved the problem.

An aluminium frame keeps things light and the components are solid. It’s available in electric blue, apple green, flame red and sparkle pink, and is available without the pedals for £176.

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Peppa Pig 12in kids bike: £79.99, Argos

We’ve included this fun bike from Argos to give a comparison against “proper” bikes. Noticeably cheaper than many of the others, it was a huge hit with our little testers thanks to its Peppa Pig graphics and cute little basket. However, the fun is short-lived as it’s relatively heavy and stiff to pedal, so our riders were soon tired and gave up riding it. A steel frame with front and rear calliper brakes, it has confidence-giving chunky tyres and an upright riding position. This 12in bike will fit kids with an inside leg measurement of between 42cm and 47cm. It comes with optional stabilisers. 

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Frog 40 bike: £270, Frog

“Wow this bike is so cool!” shouts one of our young testers as he speeds away. Light but sturdy, the Frog 40 accelerates well and is nippy and nimble – it’s aimed at three to four-year-olds with an average inside leg of 40cm. The aluminium frame and components (including Tektro brakes and Kenda tyres) are excellent and the build quality fantastic. You just have to pick it up to feel the quality, and it freewheels smoothly and quickly with no stiffness or stickiness.

Its ergonomics have been clearly thought through – the brake levers are ideally placed – and the small mudguards are a nice touch. We tested the cool USA design, it’s also available in a Union Jack pattern, green, orange, pink, red and spots, and is supplied with a set of stickers to customise it. Yes it’s expensive but it’ll hold its resale value and is worth the investment.

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B’Twin original 500 kids’ 20in hybrid bike: £139.99, Decathlon

A great option for the price, the original 500 from B’Twin gives a reassuring ride and is made of dependable parts. With a comfy upright riding position, it’s a good option to progress to and will help six to eight-year-olds gain confidence on two wheels. While we’re not a huge fan of grip shift gears on adult bikes, they make sense on this as they’re easy to use – simply twist the handlebar and gears shift fairly swiftly between the six speeds – thereby providing a neat introduction to cycling with gears.

The original 500 comes with grown-up accessories such as a stand, basket and mudguards, adding to the impression that it’s a “proper” bike. Our tester happily rode it for an hour, and enjoyed gliding along the towpath.

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Hoy bonaly 20in wheel 2020 kids bike: £310, Evans

Hoy has pitched its bonaly range just right, and this 20in model is the second size in the range, aimed at kids aged five to eight measuring at least 120cm. It looks so cool – our seven-year-old tester was really proud to ride it.

The brakes – Tektro alloy mini-Vs with short-reach levers – are perfectly placed and very responsive, and the Shimano tourney 6-speed gears look very grown-up, which adds to the bike’s appeal. Lever gears may take a bit of getting used to, but that’s all part of the fun. Our only niggle is there isn’t much space between the top gear lever and the brake for a finger to squeeze in.

You can tell a lot of research has gone into these bikes – the paint job and colour palette are smart, the frame geometry spot on, and there are plenty of thoughtful details, the saddle can be moved forwards and backwards if needed, for example. It’s available in red, pink, blue and yellow.

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Carrera blast junior mountain bike 24in: £250, Halfords

The Carrera blast is an enjoyable ride for aspiring mountain bikers aged eight to 11 or 127-145cm tall, and the front suspension forks will appeal to those wanting a grown-up bike (however, heavier kids will get more from them than lighter ones). It copes well with bumps and our tester was soon seeking out any lumps and ledges.

It’s nice to see disc brakes on the blast – they performed happily in wet weather, but if your child is used to calliper brakes they’ll feel slower to respond initially. The Shimano revoshift gears are set up well and efficiently get into the right gear – with 21 to choose, climbs and descents should be a breeze. The aluminium frame keeps things light and at £250, it’s a good amount of bike for the money.

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Pendleton junior heath 26in bike: £180, Cycle Republic

Aimed at 12 to 15-year-olds, this stylish city bike from olympian Victoria Pendleton’s brand is a great option for cruising around the park or cycling to school (as there’s space to add a basket to the handlebars for school kit). Relatively heavy but with a very comfortable and solid ride, it quickly gains momentum and coasts along very enjoyably.

Similar to others here, it has Shimano 6-speed grip shift gears for easy changes and reliable V-brakes. It’s not the most technical of bikes, but on its looks alone it should encourage more kids to get riding, and that can only be a good thing. Useful extras include a built-in kickstand, as well as mudguards and chainguard, which kept our tester clean and dry through the puddles.

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Pinnacle kauri 26in 2020 kids bike: £380, Evans Cycles

The Pinnacle kauri is a fantastic ride and it’s great to see serious components and grown-up features as standard. For example, the brakes are Tektro auriga hydraulic disc brakes, which are a simple and reliably effective introduction to hydraulic disc brakes and give a dependable cushioned response, and the gears are Shimano altus M2000 9-speed.

It feels firm and responsive to ride, and because of that will suit more confident riders better. It doesn’t have front suspension but that’s not a bad thing considering the weight of the intended riders. Our tester found it handled rough terrain solidly despite its light weight and its only minor downside is the pedals can be a bit slippy when wet. Aimed at riders aged eight and above measuring at least 140cm, it’s available in blue and turquoise or black and red colourways.

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Squish 26in junior bike: £319.99, Cycle Republic

Highly regarded by bike fans despite only launching in January 2017, Squish has developed a reputation for creating good value bikes for little people. Its 18in is a bit of a rarity among kids’ bike brands and neatly bridges the large gap between the 16in and 20in bikes that are more readily available.

However, we were keen to test its 26in junior bike to see how it fared against the more established Pinnacle featured above, and we were pleased to find it stood up really well. It may not have fancy disc brakes but it does have a very solid build with a 6061-alloy frame and reliable components, including a Shimano RD-TX800 tourney 8-speed derailleur and Shimano shifter.

The ride feels light but firm, and gear changes are smooth and easy (thanks to the simple handlebar gear shift). Our tester found the Squish more easygoing than the Pinnacle – it has ever so slightly less responsive steering, which is a good thing for kids when they’re learning. It’s a simpler bike, but it’s also cheaper, and is really nicely thought through. The whole range benefits from great ergonomics and there are plenty of different sizes available; Squish’s aim being that no one should have to grow into a bike.

The 26in is available in grey, purple, turquoise and red and is designed to fit kids measuring 145cm or more.

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The verdict: Kids' bikes

The cnoc from IslaBikes just beats the others for its exquisite craftsmanship and faultless design. It is proving to be a brilliant introduction to pedal bikes. For older kids, Hoy, Pinnacle and Squish all get the thumbs up for their excellent ergonomics and “proper” bike credentials.

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.