When I see a old grumpy man on the street, I wonder about his life. How did he end up in this situation? What makes him drink those beers every morning? Why does he distract himself with gambling? People fall into addictions so easily – is that something I want for my kids? Yes, but I want it to be in a good way: I want them to be addicted to bikes!

For now, my little rippers love to ride with me. I can’t be sure if they love it because they think it is fun, or if they crave quality “daddy time.” Does it really matter? Probably not. I want them to have a life-long passion for something … anything. I would, however, prefer that it be something I like.
Biking has changed since I was a kid, and we better understand the risks we took like riding sketchy bikes with no helmets and brakes that didn’t really work well. I also finally have enough money to buy nice things. Not over the top, but still nice. I bought a used van, I bought a house that I can afford, I have been pretty responsible with my finances, and now that money is burning a hole in my pocket.

I don’t think I’ve ever told my wife exactly how much money I spend on my bikes. It’s not that I lie, but rather I just dodge the questions and respond with some comment about how much I was able to save by buying last year’s model or opting for aluminum versus carbon. Sometimes I go off on a tangent about how great it is that I don’t waste my money on gambling and hookers … anything to NOT tell her about how much bikes cost.

Abenteuer Fahrradfahren – Ein gutes Kids Bike kann den kleinen jeden Tag aufs Neue Freude machen.
Adventure bike riding – A good kids bike puts a smile on every young rider.

But what about bikes for my kids? Shouldn’t my conscience rest easier when it comes to spending large amounts of money on my kids? This should be an easy sell because it can be about safety, and exercise, and quality time with the family. But I just haven’t been able to insist that it’s necessary to spend over a thousand bucks on a kids’ bike. Have you seen how much it costs for a new Xbox or Playstation – even before you buy games?? What about that ugly soccer jersey (excuse me… “football” jersey)? A top-notch kids’ bike is expensive, but it’s also a serious piece of engineering with pieces and parts that were designed to work with the dimensions of kids’ bodies. But still, is it worth it?

So, it is with these considerations in my mind that I suggested we do a kids’ bike shootout. Not because we need to compare all the weights of individual nuts and bolts, or decide which front end is stiffer when exiting corners, but because I know that there are loads of moms and dads just like me who REALLY, REALLY want to buy their kid a sick ride but need to know if they are wasting their money.

Was sollte man von einem Kids Bike erwarten? Im besten Fall: glückliche Kids!
What should you expect from a good Kids Bike? In the best case: happy kids!

Let me start with a short story. Last year I was riding with my wife and kids in Tirol near Mayrhofen, Austria. We were taking the gondola to the top of the mountain and then riding down on the dirt roads. My son was six years old at the time and was riding a 20-inch Specialized Hot Rock with V-brakes, which is really quite a nice bike. There were a series of long, wide corners on a section that was fast but not particularly scary or steep. My son was comfortable, but maybe a little fatigued as he was coming around one of the corners and he simply let go of the brakes. He blew through the corner, cut across the grass, and finally gained control of his bike in time to turn hard to the right and avoid a cliff by about three meters. When I finally calmed down and asked him what happened, he told me that his hands were tired and he needed a rest. It was at that moment that I realized that sometimes kids are not able to articulate their physical demands until it may be too late. This event changed where I ride with my kids, and how we communicate while we ride. It also led us to create a wish list for what we are looking for and expecting from a high-end kids’ bike.

What to expect out of a high-end kids’ bike?

A HAPPY KID, therefore you need:

  1. a proper fit
  2. light weight
  3. consistent braking power with great modulation
  4. quality, tunable suspension
  5. simple maintenance
  6. a great design that excites the kids

Seven bikes arrived at the ENDURO headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, and the boxes were smaller than usual. I was so excited to see the bikes built up. These aren’t toys, these are real bikes … just smaller! How cool is that??!! When the building was complete, we had a new fleet of minis that were ready to get shredded. We will be doing a long-term test on the bikes to figure out how they work over time, but initial impression of components, fit, style and function were the primary goals.

Was sind Faktoren die ein gutes Bike für Kinder ausmachen?
What is important when it comes to Kids Bikes?

Important Factors of Kids Bikes

The Fit

Not all 20-inch bikes are the same. Not even close. My seven-year-old is big for his age, and my five-year-old is small. One kid fit the Commencal while the other fit the Propain. You have to put your kid on the bikes you are looking at before you buy. I would have wasted my money if I had chosen the wrong bike. If the bike doesn’t fit, the bike doesn’t work. You can make up justifications, but really, for the price of the bike and the benefit to the kid, it needs to fit.

Wheel size

The benefit to a bigger wheel size is that it rolls over the bumps easier. Just like the 26/27.5/29 inch debate, the same is true for kids’ bikes. If the child fits on a bike with a larger wheel, then do it. If they don’t, then keep them on a smaller wheel. My older son can ride a 24-inch DH bike … but he can ride a 20-inch DH bike much better. Beware of buying a bike that is too big/tall as it can scare a child (or an adult) and they won’t be comfortable. If they aren’t comfortable, they will do something dumb and crash – and then they won’t be enthusiastic about getting back on.


Just like adults, little hands and muscles get tired quickly on long descents; the better the brakes, the happier the child. Since they don’t always know they are tired until it is too late, quality brakes are critical. I expect any high-end bike to have disc brakes, but some will be mechanical and some will be hydraulic. Mechanical brakes are actuated by a cable while the hydraulics use fluid. Both will work fine, but the hydraulic work better and you don’t have issues with cable stretch and frequent re-adjustment. There are pros and cons to super-strong brakes, though. There is a learning curve for transitioning from crappy cantilever or V-brakes to super-strong discs. My five-year-old grabbed a handful of front brake on a gravel trail, sailed right over the bars, and landed on his face. My kids wear full-face helmets at bike parks and while jumping or testing new spots, so he was OK… but he was shocked by how quickly the brakes engaged. Disc brakes are a necessity, but kids need a few days to learn how to use them properly. Kids have a tendency to run their brakes “all on” or “all off,” so learning how to modulate the brakes is critical … especially when the brakes are this powerful.


Suspension on cheap bikes is crap. It’s heavy and you can’t tune it. Money that could be spent on a good drivetrain is wasted on “sweet shocks.” The options on our test bikes were no suspension, front suspension only, or full suspension.

No suspension

Fully rigid bikes can get you the most bang for your buck. They are also great for teaching kids bike fundamentals since they can’t cheat and let the suspension do all of the work. But since we were testing high-end trail bikes, we opted for bikes with suspension, since that usually adds the most to the cost of the bike. My kids have rigid BMX bikes for pump tracks, dirt jumps, city rides, and trips to school and their friends’ houses. They can try to destroy those bikes or leave them out in the rain and I won’t freak out … that won’t be the case with high-end bikes.

Den Sohnemann beim Shredden zu sehen, macht auch den meisten Vätern eine große Freude!
To see his son shredding makes Dad very happy!

Front suspension

Although front suspension is heavier than a rigid fork, it helps take the sting out of the bumps and helps the front wheel not only track well but also makes the brakes more effective because the wheel will stay in contact with the ground more. The better the fork, the lighter it will be and the more tunable for preload and rebound. If the front end of the bike is stable, then the child will more likely stay in control and experience less fatigue.

Full suspension

The linkages and shock will add considerable weight to a bike, so it makes sense to only get GOOD suspension. The junk you see at Walmart or Aldi are not functional, so don’t consider it. But with our test bikes, well, the suspension works great. If there will be lots of bike parks and downhilling, then quality rear suspension makes sense, but the climbs will be harder if the bike is heavy and bobs with each pedal stroke. An important key to the full-suspension bike is that the fork and shock must be matched so that they work together. A fork that is too stiff with a shock that is too soft is rubbish. Make sure that they can be adjusted for you child so that they work properly. As kids continue to grow and get heavier, the suspension setup will need to be adjusted accordingly. The bikes we tested with air shocks tended to be easier to change and fine-tune than the bikes with coil shocks.


How many gears does a kid need? Derailleurs get in the way, and they are easy for kids to break. However, little kids don’t have much power in their legs and the extra gearing really makes life much better for everyone. This issue comes down to “where will the bike be ridden?” If it will be mostly a park or shuttle bike, then the ease and simplicity of a single speed bike are great. It is quiet and won’t need much maintenance. If the bike will be going both up AND down hills, then these modern high-end bikes have great shifting, and it is worth the expense. My five-year-old has no problem with shifting, and he learned how to do it properly in just a couple of rides. Derailleurs are not usually the type of component that can be added later if you change your mind, so keep this issue in mind BEFORE you spend the money – because there is likely no going back.

Bikes in the Test



The Propain Frechdax does its name proud, as ‘frech’ represents a true rude tyke! While the kids rave about its bold colourways, proud parents can gaze in wonder at the wise details like the shortened cranks, well-considered gear ratios, and the tunable-to-a-fly’s-weight suspension. Magura’s powerful hydraulic brakes deliver the necessary braking power, although over-zealous kids will need to learn to modulate the power of the front brake. The low standover height adds confidence and freedom of movement on downhills, so shredding is likely to be mastered early on. Highlight: the bike can keep up with kids’ growth as the 16″ version is designed to take 20″ wheels too – the saving accounts will welcome this!

Weight: 10.1 kg | Price: € 1,649 | Info: Propain website



Living up to its name, this huge Commencal gives off an indestructible vibe. As it’s singlespeed, there is no gearing that could go awry, and the grippy Kenda Kinetics tyres offer sufficient traction. Unfortunately for our scaled-down younger test riders, the fork was too stiff – a factor that is hard to remedy given the stock steel spring. With an easy-to-define dosage of power, the hydraulic Avid brakes deliver a reliable performance that kids will soon grasp. Coming without any gears, your wallet might be pleased – and it will surely result in beefing up the muscle mass in your kids. However, it does result in a higher burden and less resistance to punctures. Weighing in at 11.8kg, it’s not the fastest bike around, but it does handily come with a rear derailleur hanger so gears can be added at a later date if your child’s pleas get unbearable.

Weight: 11.8 kg | Price: € 1,499 | Info: Commencal website

Specialized Fatboy 20

Specialized Fatboy 20

Who’s the coolest kid on the block? Duh, obviously this Specialized Fatboy! Not one to be put in the corner, this mini-fatbike demands to be the centre of attention wherever it goes. Its fat tyres are markedly higher quality than the rest of the spec, which errs on the cheaper side. The mechanical disc brakes require some teasing to draw out their competencies, but these efforts will all be dismissed with a casual flick of the wrist once your kid really starts to get going on the fatbike. The tyres provide a mass of stability, so full gas from the get-go is a given. They’ll have great fun bulldozing over lumps and bumps that would slow down any regular bike. The presence of rigid forks is minor, as the fat tyre volume does the bike proud. If you’re after a delightfully uncomplicated bike that guarantees a fun ride for your offspring, then the Specialized Fatbike 20″ will fit the bill.

Weight: 13.4 kg | Price: € 999 | Info: Specialized website



An immediate hit with the miniature test crew, the Commencal Meta 24″ has such a bold design that it can’t fail to enrapture kids and adults alike. However, in terms of spec, it scores weakly – particularly when it comes to the fork and the steep 11.2kg that it brings to the scales. While offering 65 mm of travel, the fork requires a complex swapping of the spring in order to tune the suspension to a kid’s weight. The adjustment is limited to tensioning the preload, which is unfortunately too little to achieve the perfect set-up. The inclusion of other parts, like the downhill chainguide, pushes the weight upwards and offers limited benefits for kids. The hydraulic Avid brakes are a standout highlight, as kids will rapidly get to grips with their modulation.

Weight: 13.6 kg | Price: € 649 | Info: Commencal website

Trek Fuel EX Jr

Trek Fuel EX Jr

Designing a bike made for big riders, but taking on suitable dimensions for kids, seems to be the concept behind the Trek Fuel EX Jr. Thanks to features like the proven ABP rear end and high quality, easily adjusted suspension, the Trek should see your kids whizzing along off-road, giving speed that could put you to shame. The 90 mm of travel works effectively and will boost their confidence. With lock-out options for the fork and rear shock, as well as a 2×10 drivetrain, this bike will take on climbs with ease – although its 13.1kg load is noticeable and could put a leash on any overly ambitious uphills. With a price tag of 1,799 €, the Fuel doesn’t come cheaply, but it boasts a solid frame and 26″ tyres, so there are years of life in it.

If you want to find out more about the bike, take a look at our long term test of the Trek Fuel EX Jr

Weight: 13.1 kg | Price: € 1,799 | Info: Trek website

Specialized Rockhopper Pro Evo 650b

Specialized Rockhopper Pro Evo 650b

With 650b wheels, the Rockhopper is the big brother amongst our list of kids’ bikes. The combination of the big tyres and 120 mm front travel renders this bike a brilliant ride, and the dropper post is a sure-fire way to get other kids green with envy. The spec reads well, kitted out with some serious highlights such as the SRAM X.9 shifters. The weight of 13.1kg is a little excessive in our eyes and is largely due to certain additions like the RockShox XC32 fork. However, boasting some nice details and a wheelsize they’re unlikely to outgrow, the Rockhopper’s decent frame actually makes an ideal basis for customizing with more lightweight parts.

Weight: 13.1 kg | Price: € 1,199 | Info: Specialized website

Early Rider Trail Runner 14″

Early Rider Trail Runner 14"

The Trail Runner 14” is the perfect toy to get your kids started. With neither brakes nor drivetrain, this is a minimalistic bike that is easy to maintain and bring anywhere. The Runner is the first step in your kid’s life to get him or her addicted to bikes and get a feeling for balance. The carbon handlebar and seatpost, as well as the minimalistic aluminum frame, keep the weight low, weighing in at only 3.7kg. To be honest, the Early Rider doesn’t come with more features than any other runner bike, but it comes with great looks and a beautiful finish that amazes kids as well as their parents. This is the perfect way to fill your youngest with enthusiasm.

Weight: 3.7 kg | Price: € 259 | Info: Early Rider website


So, have these high-end bikes made a difference? Am I a believer now? Well, my kids have only had their bikes for a couple of weeks, and they are having a blast. It’s also terrifying for me because they are riding soooo much faster than before. Their confidence is way up. I will also be honest and confess that seeing my kids all geared up and ripping is really cool. They are happy, they are outside, and they are getting quality family time. All these reasons lend support for laying down the extra cash for the bikes, but still … it is a lot of money.

But back to the first questions … When I see an old grumpy man on the street I wonder about his life. How did he end up in this situation? What makes him drink those beers every morning? Why does he distract himself with gambling? Well, what if that old man’s parents had bought him one of THESE bikes? I can’t say that he wouldn’t still end up gambling or drinking beer in the morning, but you can be sure that those parents would have one seriously stoked kid on their hands. And maybe, with a little luck, he would end up like us and be addicted to bikes!


Words: Evan Phillips Photos: Robin Schmitt, Evan Phillips

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