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.
Overview 2018 Best Kid’s Bikes: 20 inch
|Brand||Model||Gears||Shifter Style||Brake Style||Weight in kg (pounds)||Recommended Age (years)||Cost|
|Frog||52s||1||v-brake||7.76 (17.1)||5-6||Check price|
|Frog||52||8||trigger||v-brake||8.75 (19.3)||5.6||Check price|
|Frog||55||8||trigger||v-brake||8.8 (19.4)||6-7||Check price|
|Garneau||Petite Queen or Louis||7||twist||v-brake||Check price|
|Islabikes||CNOC||1||v-brake||6.8 (15)||4+||Check price|
|Islabikes||Beinn - Small||7||twist||v-brake||8 (17.6)||5+||Check price|
|Islabikes||Beinn - Large||7||twist||v-brake||8.1 (17.9)||5+||Check price|
|Norco||Storm 2.3||6||twist||v-brake||Check price|
|Cleary||Owl||1||v-brake||8.6 (19)||Check price|
|Cleary||Owl||3||trigger||v-brake||9.5 (21)||Check price|
|Woom||4||8||twist||v-brake||7.6 (16.8)||6-9||Check price|
|Early Rider||Belter 20" Trail 3||3||twist||disc||8.45 (18.6)||6-9||Check price|
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.
Time to go bike shopping.
Ideally, you will have your kid try the bike in person at your rad local bike shop at which time you will check 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. If this is the case for you, go and try some regular department store style 20″ bikes on for size to help you figure out what works for your child so that you can make the best online purchase possible.
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.
Being too stretched out can be remedied a bit with a shorter stem (or reversed stem) or different handlebars, otherwise your little rider might get numb hands on longer rides.
Minor adjustments can be made by moving the seat fore/aft, but do you really want to be making component changes on an already spendy kid’s bike though? No. Find the bike that fits.
If your kid is barely clearing the top tube they will be wobbly getting on and off the bike and crashes will hurt even more when they slam their crotch on the top tube before their feet touch the ground.
Measure your child’s inseam by putting a book between their legs and having them gently push the book up as high as comfortable. Measure the distance from their flat, bare feet on the floor to the top of the book, i.e. their inseam. (While you’re at it, get your bare-footed kid to stand against a wall and figure out how tall they currently are; not the most important measurement, but you can recommend it to the manufacturer’s recommended heights for their bike.)
Compare their inseam measurement to the standover height or recommended inseam from the bike’s manufacturer (see below). Aim to have 3-5 cm (~1-2″) of clearance or match the recommended minimum inseam for your child for easier dis/mounting of their new 20 inch bike and for less chance of them slamming the top tube if they fall forward when ripping it up.
So, to make sure you buy a bike that is not too big, aim for their inseam measurement plus 3-5 extra centimetres (or ~1-2″ more) to equal the manufacturer’s measurement for standover height.
With your child sitting on the seat, they should at least be able to touch with their tippy-toes, preferably the full front half of their foot for extra stability and confidence. The minimum seat height should not be much more than their inseam measurement; theoretically, the inseam measurement equal to minimum seat height means they could sit on the bike with feet flat on the ground.
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:
|Brand||Model||Recommended Age (years)||Minimum Inseam in cm (inches)||Standover Height (mm)||Effective Top Tube (mm)|
|Garneau||Petite Queen or Louis||530||458|
|Islabikes||Beinn - Small||5+||47 (18.5)|
|Islabikes||Beinn - Large||5+||52 (20.5)|
|Woom||4||6-9||(min. seat height = 550mm / 21.65")||430|
|Early Rider||Belter 20" Trail 3||6-9||50 (19.7)||450|
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. This is especially important for a kid learning to use a pedal bike for the first time. Both of my kids were back pedal-ers before they figured out forward pedalling; if they had coaster brakes it would have been extremely confusing. In fact, my eldest borrowed a single speed coaster brake bike last year while we were on holiday and it was a disaster for her.
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). 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 have yet to find a rapid-fire shifter that I can operate with my thumb that I don’t have to take my hand off of the handlebar to fully depress the lever. 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.)
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 kids or adults, it has two handbrakes and I bet it would be really fun on a pump track.
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.
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.
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 based on my opinions here.
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.
In hindsight, I think we should have got a great single speed BMX-style bike for our daughter. While gears are great and we live in a hilly part of our city and take her on little bikepacking adventures up fire roads in the mountains, 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 most 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 like hot cakes! 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).
1. Frog bike: 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!
This 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.
2. Garneau bikes: Petite Queen or Louis 20
My nephews ride great little Garneau bikes, both balance bikes and first pedal bikes. They’re not department store cheap, but they’re less expensive than some brands listed here and really quite wonderful. I’ve been impressed with them.
The Petite Queen or Petite Louis 20 inch bikes offered by Garneau are the same, just different coloured frames.
This Canadian company offer a 7-speed external derailleur with Shimano twist shifters, and v-brakes.
Other excellent choices
Here are 6 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).
3. 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.
4. Islabike 20 inch: 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.
For the Canadians reading this: Islabikes are tougher to find in Canada as we do not have a regional distributor, only an American one. You will be hard pressed to find one used and will have to order directly from the USA, new, if you choose to go that route. Frog and Cleary are better bets for similar bikes more easily available in Canada. This was our experience (and we have a local Frog dealer).
These well thought out British bikes with 7-speed SRAM derailleur, light action twist shifters, and v-brakes are an excellent choice.
5. Norco bike: Storm 2.3
Norco is another long-standing Canadian offering. 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 have made it as far south as Mexico, so far! 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 3-speed 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 one is setup for neighbourhood rides and the other side is better for shredding some trails that involve a bit more climbing.
I love the colours available on the Cleary bikes (I know, I know — not the most important feature!).
Cleary offers v-brakes with their Owl bikes and the IGH model has a trigger shifter.
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.
Older Woom 4s had the option of racks and dynamo lighting. As far as my research took me, this year and last, I could not find those options to still be offered, unfortunately. For us, the lack of racks was a no-go, but otherwise, I’m in love with these bikes.
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 derailleur and Grip Shift twist shifters, plus v-brakes. It also comes with a bell and kickstand.
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.
For their 20″ offering you get a lightweight aluminum frame, disc 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 calliper brake “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!
Disclaimer: This Mom Bikes is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com and its partners. Amazon and the Amazon logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates. But, never fear, not every link in this post is an affiliate link; I did not pick these bikes with the slim hope that I could make some referral marketing income: most of these links are not affiliate links and I have recommended them because I truly think that they are the best lightweight 20 inch bike options out there in the North American market that I am aware of. Good luck with your purchase decision and happy trails!