Riding a bike is thrilling and liberating. It evokes the inner child in many of us.
Giving your kid or grandchild a taste of the freedom that a bike can bring is an invaluable tool on the road of childhood and a high quality bicycle will help foster a love for being active for life and independent.
In this guide you will find everything you need to know to make the best decision on a 20 inch bike for the kid in your life.
- 20″ bike models and weights, for ~5/6 to 8 year olds (2020)
- How to Buy the Best Kid’s Bike
- 20 inch Bikes Styles
- Our Family’s Choices
- Other excellent choices
- Other guides
- Other relevant posts that might interest you
20″ bike models and weights, for ~5/6 to 8 year olds (2020)
Alpha Three 20"
(16.09 without pedals)
|disc||21 (not quite)|
|v-brake||17 lb 13.6 oz|
How to Buy the Best Kid’s Bike
All of a sudden, your 5 or 6 year old looks like a giant monkey riding a tiny circus bike and you wonder (yet again) how they’ve grown so fast. The handlebars won’t tilt forward any more and the seat post is maxed out, yet she still looks like her knees are going to hit her chin with each pedal stroke!
This is when you know it’s time for the next size up. And don’t rush it. 20″ wheels are a big jump up from their 16″ counterparts. In our experience, it’s better to be on a bike that is too small than one that is too big. You will find this true for your family, too, especially if you have any kids who are ‘thinkers’ or a bit tentative when trying new things.
In a perfect world, you would head down to your favourite local bike shop at which time you could check out some new bikes, scoping out the standover height (see below) and look to see how stretched out they are (reach or cockpit).
This is your chance to choose a bike with gears for the first time. If you are going that route, check to see if a twist shifter or rapid-fire style shifter works best for them.
And, can they reach the brake levers? Check.
Unfortunately, many of the best lightweight, high quality 20 inch kids’ bikes do not have a local dealer and are only available online. Keep it real, do your kid a favour and do not buy a department store bike. They are usually heavy, have extras like training wheels, heavy chain guards, and baskets, plus there’s a good chance they were not assembled properly nor designed to be serviceable.
Instead, do this:
- Measure your kids’ inseam,
- Be aware of their confidence level, and
- Examine the reach in the tables, below.
In regards to confidence, how much of their foot do they need to be able to touch down to feel safe? With respect to reach, if your kid has a short upper body or prefers to ride upright, then pick a bike that has a shorter effective top tube distance or reach (distance between the seat and the handlebars).
This is not the time to maximize your dollars and buy the next frame up because it jussssst fits. Believe me, we made that mistake once, almost twice. So, here are all of the things to look for so that you get it right the first time:
How old will they be when they start riding 20″ wheels?
Probably around 6 years old. But bikes aren’t one size fits all, just like kids aren’t. The most important feature is not age, rather inseam length (and reach).
Also, there are a few smaller framed bikes in this guide that may fit your average 5 year old really well, like the Prevelo Alpha Three that we put our 50th percentile freshly minted 5 year old on this past fall. For our eldest, the Frog she still rides at age 8 was a bit too big for her at almost 6 years old; she could touch her tippy toes, but the reach was too much for the first year and resulted in an aggressive (not relaxed) grip, leading to numb hands some times. At 8.5 the bike is getting too small for her but we will keep her on it through the winter because handling a smaller bike that she’s familiar with in slippery winter conditions is much easier than switching up to a 24″.
This is why I reinforce that inseam and reach, not age, are the important factors. So, measure and do what works best for your kid and remember that each kid may be different! You can read more about that here:
Extra details on fitHere are some more specific details on fit that might help to paint a better picture of how these bikes might fit your child. Hopefully you can try one out in person, but if not this should help:
Ethos 20" (small)
Ethos 20" (large)
Please note: Islabikes no longer distribute their bikes in North America, only Europe. However, because they used to have headquarters in the USA, there are many of their great bikes available used, which is why I’ve still got them included in this table. Check your local buy & sell groups, eg. Craigslist, FB groups, etc.
None of the bikes listed in this guide on buying the best 20 inch bike for your kid use coaster brakes. All bikes listed here use hand brakes and it is what I recommend as the best choice out there.
When we were kids, there more no special kid-sized brake levers as there are nowadays. Yes, we successfully grew up on coaster brakes (and may still enjoy burning some rubber with them on occasion), but hand brakes are where it’s at. Feel free to read more about my thoughts on this in my buying a first pedal bike guide and 16″ wheel bike guide.
Most 20″ kids’ bikes have Tektro v-brakes and they work just great in our experience. A couple of models listed, below, do have mechanical disc brakes which might be preferred if your child will be riding in the wet and/or snow frequently. But, really, v-brakes are more than sufficient for the majority of riders in this ability and age group.
You will be faced with three options for gearing in the 20 inch bike range:
- single speed,
- 3-speed internal gear hub, or
- 8-speed external rear derailleur.
You might be eager to get your kid on a geared bike — I know we were, but don’t rule out a good single speed, plus they can be a lot lighter (in fact, about 2 pounds lighter!).
When we bought our eldest her 20″ bike, I knew that the European brand Puky had internal gear hub (IGH) bikes for kids but I couldn’t find one locally. Now I know! There are two other brands that sell 20″ wheeled bikes with IGHs in North America!!! Definitely consider this style of hub, especially if you are a family of year-round commuters; IGHs are a dream for winter riding in our experience. I am a huge fan of IGH; that said, I have no personal experience with either of the hubs used in these bikes (only the NuVinci 380, Rohloff, and Shimano Nexus 8) and IGH are heavier.
If you go with a geared bike, you will need to pick a model with shifters that work best for your kid: twist or rapid-fire. As a smaller handed adult, I have always preferred twist-style shifters (in spite of their notoriously poor indexing) because I rapid-fire shifters used to have less adjustments available than they do now and I had to take my hand off of the handlebar to fully depress the lever with my thumb, which was annoying. So, I assumed twist shifters would work best for my daughter. In fact, her little hands had trouble mustering the strength to make the twist click motion and rapid-fire worked for her. (Apparently the Islabikes shifters are “light action” and we did not test those.)
Honestly, I think they will figure out whatever they have. We used a Tout Terrain Streamliner trailing bike this past summer and it has twist shifters; my then 4.5 year old took a bit to figure it out (I was glad she didn’t also have to focus on handling the bike!), but she got the hang of it!
20 inch Bikes Styles
Once you are looking at 20 inch bikes, almost all are pedal bikes and many are geared. Most of the frames, below, are in the urban/hybrid category: suitable for neighbourhood and city riding but also beginner mountain biking or trail riding.
Strider is the only brand offering a 20 inch balance bike that I am aware of. Suitable for older kids or adults (they recommend 13+), it has two handbrakes and I bet it would be really fun on a pump track. But if you are reading this article because you have a late bloomer to pedal bikes and they are just currently transitioning away from a balance bike (or not quite yet ready for a pedal bike), then a 20″ wheeled balance bike will be too big for them. Instead you probably want a 14″ or 16″ model:
- There is a 14″ Strider aimed at the 3-7 year old crowd that can be either a balance bike or pedal bike. This seems like a great option for a less confident rider, late starter, or for a kid who still loves their 12″ (or smaller) wheeled balance bike but has grown out of it. When ready, you just add pedals to this model of Strider! The only drawback that I can see is that the brake option is a coaster/back pedal brake.
- Or, there’s the Woom 1 Plus. It’s just a balance bike (but we think that’s pretty awesome, too).
- There is also a 16″ Strider aimed at the 6+ crowd. Again, balance bike only, no pedal option.
That said, any bike can be transformed into a balance bike by either removed the pedals or having your local bike shop removing the entire bottom bracket (plus cranks and pedals along with it). If this is the route that you need to go because your child is learning to ride at a later age, then by all means go for one of the bikes that offers a single speed model, below.
Note: This Mom Bikes has a whole post on balance bikes and while it is focussed on beginner bikes there’s a large chunk of info on the bikes in generally and the bigger sized balance bikes. Click here if you think that might help your rider.
If you are determined to get your kid on a road-style bike it is possible. There are a couple of models with drop bars and others offering a roadie style frame and wheelset but use flat bars, like the Early Rider Belter 20″ Flat Bar Road.
I will refer you to Cyclesprog’s compilation of the best road racing bikes for kids (with 20″ wheels) and caution you that the frames offered for this style of bike are generally larger, intended for older kids in this age range, even though they have 20″ wheels (eg. our daughter went from a 16″ wheeled Spawn to barely fitting a Frog 55 and the Frog roadie is a Frog 58, so likely fits your average 8 year old, give or take).
Many of the bikes suggested in this guide are hybrid frames, suitable for mountain biking. Some bikes, like the Frogs, come with two sets of tires: slicks and knobbies.
I would caution you against getting a bike with shocks for your young child. Kids this size barely have the body mass to actuate a front shock so this feature really just adds a lot of extra weight to their bike. Some kids are hung up on having this feature because they want to be just like mom or dad, so I have included a bike with front shocks, below (a model that I know has withstood some serious riding).
Some of the bikes listed below have the option to be purchased with or without front suspension, in which case I have opted for the rigid model here, based on my opinions.
BMX bikes are sweet. They have a great sloping top tube and the racing models are very lightweight in their basic design. There is a decent used market for them, too. I’m very confident that with the right chain ring/cog combination, a BMX bike can be ridden up almost any hill.
Another feature of BMX bikes that I love (many other brands of bikes take advantage of this in their 14″ and 16″ wheeled offerings): an adjustable handlebar that you can lean fore/aft to change the reach of the cockpit.
Whether or not you get a 20 inch BMX bike, be sure to spend some time at your local pump track for skills development (plus, it’s super fun).
Let’s face it: these bikes are not cheap. Lightweight kids’ bikes is a niche market that is growing so there is a bit more competition now, but it’s still not budget-friendly. But, you know what you are doing and consider this an investment. You’re just like us: you want to support your kid’s journey into biking because you want to share your passion with them and you know that the right gear helps accelerate their ability. It is more fun to ride a bike that is less than half of your body weight than one that is 3/4 of your weight!
Chances are if you are actually researching what 20 inch bike to buy your kid, you are not heading to the department store because you are looking for something lightweight and good quality. Or, perhaps you’re hoping to support your local bike shop (LBS) instead of a big box store.
Some of these brands can be found at mainstream LBSs, others at only boutique ones, and most are only available online.
Having sunk a crap tonne of cash into our eldest’s first pedal bike, I have been reassured that the resale value of these beautiful bikes is excellent. So, while it may cramp your cash flow, be confident that (unless the bike gets stolen) you will recoup the majority of your hard earned coin while haven given your kid the best chance at becoming proficient at cycling and loving it.
Used kids’ bikes
They go so fast! On kijiji or our local kid’s outdoor playgroup Facebook group, any high quality kid’s bike that goes up for sale is gone within days and has multiple offers. Some bikes resell for practically full price.
Set up alerts on an app on your phone. That’s what I did, and I still was usually only second to contact the seller so have yet to succeed in buying second hand but highly recommend it.
Start your hunt months ahead of time and good luck!
Our Family’s Choices
We tried a few different brands and went with the bike that our favourite LBS carries for kids. Bonus, it has fenders and a rear rack option, two features that our daughter was set on having (so she could be just like mom and dad).
Frog 52 single-speed or 8-speed; Frog 55 8-speed
In the end we chose Frog Bikes: a Frog 55.
Truth be told, we probably should have bought the Frog 52 so we ended up turning around the stem to reduce the cockpit size as our daughter had some issues with numb hands from being too stretched out. The problem mostly subsided with that fix and now is no longer an issue because she has grown a bit more. I think the frame was a bit too tall for her from the get go, too, and made her more tentative on trails as it was tricky for her to touch down and she could only do so with her tippy toes (when she had been used to fully touching flat-footed on her 16″ bike). So, learn your lessons from us and get the right size bike!
These little British bikes are otherwise awesome. The components are great, it is lightweight, it comes with little fenders, and you have the option of adding a high quality rear rack — one that can actually carry panniers and some gear as your kid gets older.
Frog bikes come with rapid-fire shifters, 8-speed external derailleur, v-brakes, a bell, and plastic fenders. Racks are an add-on.
Prevelo makes a gorgeous lightweight bike! This rigid mountain bike is an excellent option for this age group, particularly if you child is moving to a geared bike at a younger age or is smaller for their age. Prevelo also makes a bike designed for dirt with a front suspension air fork, hydraulic disc brakes, and a bit more clearance: check out their “Zulu” series; FYI, it also fits bigger than this 20″ bike, i.e. it fits like most 20″ bikes. The rigid 20″ pictured here fits smaller than most 20″ bikes, which is awesome, especially since Islabikes left North America (they have two sizes of 20″ bikes, small and large, see below) and Frog’s smaller 20″ frame is bigger than this one.
We moved our average height daughter from her 16″ Spawn to this 20″ Prevelo as a young 5 year old (about a month after her birthday) and the lowest seat position available was exactly the height she was riding on her Spawn. Her inseam at the time was roughly 48 cm (~18.9″); this is well within the range of what they recommend for a kid already pedalling (not a beginner). The bike is rad and the company was super easy to work with; the bike also shipped in record time.
For their 20″ offering you get a lightweight aluminum frame, v-brakes, and a Shimano Altus 8-speed drivetrain. Plus, nice details like cables routed through the tubing, as well as the option to buy in to their buyback program for when your child outgrows the bike! I figure it is a very good sign when companies are adding this option as it shows that they back their bikes for durability, in my opinion. It’s not a great feature for our family, but if you only have one child or love having the newest gear on the market for each of your kids, it seems like a very awesome system.
This is a solid and more affordable choice 20″ bike offering for your little rider!
Other excellent choices
Here are some more suggestions for high quality 20″ bikes for your little ripper. We have two smaller Spawn bikes and they have been great and I know people who have happily used every other model (except Cleary, which look too rad to not include in this list).
The Woom 4 pedal bike is a great 20 inch option. Tonnes of thought has been put into these bikes and I love what looks to be a more upright riding position. I have always been drawn to these bikes and I encourage you to seriously check them out. Woom was definitely one of the first brands that delved into the world of high quality lightweight bikes and it shows.
If you’re lucky enough to finder an older Woom 4 used, snag it! They had racks and dynamo lighting! Perfect for urban riding, including biking to school. When we decided to go with Frog for our first 20″ bike, we couldn’t find any information on racks which made it a no-go for us. Fortunately, this has been remedied and they currently offer the Woom rack and Woom fenders.
Another cool feature about Woom is that they have an “up-cycle” buy-back program if you need to swap out your bike for the next size within two years. This doesn’t work so well for families with siblings, but I love the concept and perhaps it works for you. I know that our local bike shop has a similar program that they run, in-house, for the kid gear they sell.
The Woom 4 comes with an 8-speed SRAM X4 derailleur and SRAM grip shifters, plus mini v-brakes. It also comes with a kickstand.
Spawn bike: Raiju 20″
Another Canadian company, Spawn was the first to design serious lightweight mountain bikes for groms. And they’re awesome: the best kid’s mountain bikes out there. Our first two pedal bikes were Spawn. We only moved away from them because my daughter wanted a more urban/touring type bike that could have a rack for panniers.
Spawn also offers a 20″ bike with a front suspension fork, if that’s what you are looking for: the Yama Jama 20″. Or, you can still buy a dirt jumper frame and build it up for your kid: Kotori 20″ frame (or buy the complete bike). Any of these would be a great choice for a boy’s or girl’s 20 inch mountain bike.
Otherwise, the Raiju has a 7-speed set up with trigger shifters and mechanical disc brakes. Sweet.
The Early Rider balance bike is a very popular model but their other kid offerings are less well known. I saw my first one in the flesh recently in Nanaimo, BC and it was absolutely gorgeous.
They have several 20″ offerings, I love the simplicity of this model. You get a lightweight aluminum frame, v-brakes, and a SRAM iMotion 3-speed internal gear hub (IGH) with a belt drive. (There is a non-disc “urban” model and a “flat bar road” model on offer, too.)
This bike would be absolutely perfect for year round school commuting and is the only IGH kid’s bike that I am aware of being sold in North America. (In Europe, you can easily find the Puky brand bikes that have IGHs.) IGH hubs are ideal for winter use as they do not get gummed up with snow and ice, like external derailleurs can; belt drives also run nice and clean in the snow and do not rust.
The Early Rider belter bikes look like the kind of rides that should last and last, perfect for families with several children with excellent resale value. I love products that can handle lots of use and abuse from kids — the less crap that ends up in landfills the better, in my books, and this product looks to be a winner in that department!
Norco bike: Storm 2.3
Norco is another long-standing Canadian company. You will be hard-pressed to find their rigid Storm 2.3 in stores (mostly likely you will find the front-suspension fork version without disks, 2.2, or with disc brakes, 2.1). This bike puts the rider in a more upright position than, say, our Frog, but suspension forks add a lot of unwanted weight. That said, the Storm 2.2 is what some acquaintances of ours bought while touring North America and we know that they’ve been quite happy with the bike since they purchased it in Calgary; they use it in conjunction with a followme tandem coupler and made it as far south as Mexico! Thus, it is without hesitation that I recommend this bike.
6-speed, Shimano twist shifters and the option of being rigid with v-brakes or front-suspended (with or without disc brakes), plus commonly available in many local bike shops.
A Cleary bike is a beautiful clean-lined option for a boy’s or girl’s 20 inch bike, including internal cable routing! They give you choice with their 20″ Owl model: single speed or Sturmey Archer S-RF3 internal gear hub (IGH). Stick with the single speed if you just need a bigger bike and think your kid could give two licks about gears; opt for the IGH if your child will be commuting in all sorts of weather or if they’re rough with their equipment — no derailleur to break here!
If you go single speed, know that the hub is flip-flop, meaning that you can have two different sized cogs, one on each side of the rear wheel, and all that you need to do is flip the wheel around in around to take advantage of different gearing. Maybe set one side up for neighbourhood rides and the other side choose a cog better for shredding some trails that involve a bit more climbing!
Cleary offers v-brakes with their Owl bikes and the IGH model has a trigger shifter.
Guardian Bike Company: Ethos 20″ (small or large)
Guardian is a popular brand in the UK that has been recommended to me several times as a less expensive alternative to the UKs homegrown brands, Islabikes and Frog.
They offer two frame sizes: small or large. Note that the small is single speed and the large has 6 speeds. Guardian claims that their “SureStop” braking system is much more effective at stopping than regular brakes and evenly distributes braking force over both wheels, helping to prevent endo’s and the like.
They also offer a slightly higher end version — the “Original” — that is lighter has a 1 1/8″ fork tubing (vs 1″), slightly wider and knobbier tires (1.75″ vs 1.5″), threadless headset (vs. quill stem), and an aluminum frame (vs. steel).
If you want a fender for this bike, this model is supposed to fit.
Priority Start 20″
Priority bicycles makes a styling urban bike with an internal hub and belt drive. Easy maintenance! Simple 3-speed gearing with the Shimano Nexus hub!
The Priority Bicycles option is a pretty great choice if you are looking for a simple city bike. I wouldn’t recommend it if you are touring or mountain biking, but it’s a solid choice for riding pathways around town or going to school using a backpack.
Islabike Beinn 20 (small or large)
Like Frog bikes, Islabikes offers their 20 inch wheeled kid special in a small or large frame. There is even a single speed option available for those learning to pedal later, the CNOC. Islabikes are the other brand option out there that you gives you the ability to easily turn your kid’s bike into an urban or touring machine with racks, fenders, and reflectors.
These well thought out British bikes with 7-speed SRAM derailleur, light action twist shifters, and v-brakes are an excellent choice.
Update: The American office closed at the end of 2018. The UK store will not be distributing to North America. However, there is a great used market here still, especially in the USA, so definitely keep your eyes peeled in local buy and sell groups or online classifieds.
Pello Kids Bikes: Reddi 20″ or Rover 20″
Pello is am American kid’s bike company that sells great looking, lightweight, and orange bikes! I love that they have stuck with one gender neutral colour (that they joke looks great with stickers on).
The single speed model (Reddi) weighs in at a mere 17 pounds, so this is one of the lightest 20 inch bikes on the market. They also offer a 7 speed model with an external derailleur (Rover). While you may be tempted to finally get your kid shifting gears with this new bike, don’t be shy of a decent single speed. It saves a lot on weight which also helps them get up the hills!