Most children’s bikes already look a little bit like mountain bikes and are designed to cope with a variety of terrain.
However, if your young rider has aspirations to take on more difficult off-road challenges, a specialist children’s mountain bike might be needed. Matt Lamy explains how to choose a great children’s mountain bike; how children can develop their mountain biking skills; and we round-up some fantastic mountain bike models for children.
Think of the things that make up a good adult’s mountain bike — lightweight frame with good stand-over clearance, robust build, grippy tyres, excellent control — and you’ll recognise that they’re the same things that any good children’s bike need too. Many children’s bikes even come with front suspension (although for most day-to-day cycling experiences we don’t think suspension forks are necessary — the weight saved by not fitting them is a greater benefit than any cushioning they provide). However, if your young rider wants to do a little more than just potter through parks and woodlands — perhaps they want to compete in cross-country or enduro, or take on more challenging runs at your local trail park — then a dedicated children’s mountain bike may be needed.
If you are looking at a specialist mountain bikes rather than just a good general-use children’s bike, it may be that your child has expressed some interest in mountain bike racing. Before you decide to splash out on a new drop-bar road bike, please be aware that this might not be initially necessary. British Cycling’s Go-Ride events are perfect for young racers and don’t require a specialist bikes — any decent children’s bike will be good enough. In addition, once your young rider is ready to progress to a more specialist bike, Go-Ride instructors will be able to provide some invaluable bike buying advice.
Although perhaps more traditionally associated with road cycling, British Cycling’s is the national governing body for mountain biking, too, and its Go-Ride programme helps young riders develop the skills needed to take part in all cycle sport activities. Even if a young cyclist never has any great success in competition, much of what they will learn during their time with any Go-Ride club — not least, excellent bike control — will stand them in good stead for the rest of their cycling life. The activities that Go-Ride clubs put on for youngsters are great fun, too, and held in safe environments.
To find your nearest Go-Ride accredited cycling club, click here.
What to look for in a children’s mountain bike
Now, to the bike! The vast majority of good children’s bikes already come with lightweight aluminium frames, relatively wide tyres and flat handlebars, which provide a nice upright riding position and place controls such as brake and gear levers within easy reach. Children’s mountain bikes just take some of those elements to different level, however, the basic and most important aspect regarding the suitability of any children’s bike remains the same: fit. Whatever kind of children’s bike you are buying it’s crucial that your little rider is fitted to the correct model by in-store advisors at your local Evans Cycles.
As with all children’s bikes, make sure your young rider can reach both the pedals and handlebar comfortably. You want the rider’s legs to extend so that there is a slight bend in the knee at the bottom of the pedal stroke — this will give a full pedalling motion. In terms of upper body, they want to be able to reach the handlebar without feeling either too cramped or too stretched out. This might require altering stem length or lifting or lowering the bar with stem spacers on the steerer tube.
Then there are then some important component choices to look for. The first should always be size-specific parts. While some adult-sized drive train components — such as derailleurs — have to be fitted to children’s bikes, there are other parts that can be tailored more specifically towards a child rider. The most obvious is to make sure controls such as brake levers are designed to be easily operated by little hands. Pedal crank length is important, too — too long will make young riders’ knees go through a larger range of motion. Then look at things like handlebar width to make sure basic steering control is optimised.
When it comes to specialist mountain bikes fitted with suspension, it’s also crucial to determine whether the suspension rate of any shocks has been tailored to lighter bodies or can be adjusted to suit lighter bodies. If not, that suspension may actually cause more control problems than it solves! And while suspension is helpful in certain circumstance, always remember that lightweight is always helpful for all young riders.
Children’s mountain bikes
If you’re looking for an off-road inspired bike without breaking the bank, the MX20 has become something of a legend. It boasts a sensible spec, including a little suspension fork, with a proven aluminium frame design.
The Kauri doesn’t come with a suspension fork — we reckon getting out of the saddle and using your legs as shock absorbers is a better approach for young riders — but it’s a serious off-road machine with Shimano Acera gears, Tektro hydraulic discs and impressively light weight.
Specialized Riprock 24
An ideal first mountain bike for a lot of young mtb’ers, with reliable and straightforward 1×8 gearing, Custom SR Suntour XCT fork, Tektro mechanical disc brakes and a big emphasis on off-road fun.
Even for tiny riders who need 20in wheels there are some quite exotic options, not least this Shred 20 model from Kona with its 50mm suspension fork and hydraulic — yes, hydraulic! — disc brakes.
A serious bit of kit for seriously small trail fiends. The Belter 20 runs on 20in wheels but is unique among kids’ bikes, coming fitted with a carbon belt-driven three-speed hub gear.
With a 1×11 Shimano SLX gearset and SR Suntour Raidon 70mm fork, the Cube Kid 240 SL doesn’t just look the part but acts like a full-size hardtail trail warrior, too.
Full-suspension children’s bikes
Yup, there’s even a pretty decent selection of full-suspension mountain bikes for kids, too. They may not be cheap, but you’re effectively buying a shrunken version of an ultra-high performance adult bike.
Also available as the Fluid FS 26 with 26in wheels.
A bike to make any adult mtb’ers green with envy (which will contrast nicely with Norco’s vibrant orange colour scheme!). Not a bike for shrinking violets but definitely one for serious riders.
Trek’s legendary full-suspension Fuel range presented in slightly smaller form with 26in wheels, X-Fusion fork and shock, and Shimano Deore gears.
Not just a great performance off-road bike for children but one that’s been built with long-term durability in mind, with sensible specs throughout.
Also available as the Factor 26 with 26in wheels.
Few off-road bikes can match the Factor models for specification, with high-end RockShox fork and shock, SRAM gearing and top-quality components. Simply incredible!