Some considerations when looking
If you’re looking to give a bicycle as a gift this holiday season, consider some of the brands we have listed below.
Buying a brand new bike from a local bike shop or reputable online retailer is the best way to make sure you are getting a bike that functions from the start, doesn’t have any hidden issues, and will generally include a warranty (ranging from one to five years) from the manufacturer for potential production defects.
(Bike Fun does not receive any commission or payment from links to these bike or seller websites.)
What about used bikes?
Used bikes – combined with a little bit of knowledge about value and cost for replacement parts – are also a great gift for riders who are still growing, who may not be committed to riding yet, or who just ride occasionally.
When searching for used bikes, you can look for the same brands and models in our new bike recommended list. If you’re going to buy from a private seller (as opposed to a bike shop where each bike is checked for functionality), try to arrange a meeting at a local bike shop during business hours where a mechanic can go over the bike and see what, if anything, needs to be replaced. Buying a used bike means more spending power for a bike with upgrades like handbrakes, freewheel/cassette, gears, or even disc brakes.
Grips, brake pads, tires, tubes, saddles, and shift/brake cables are examples of parts that wear out & need to be replaced. None of these are tremendously expensive, and some of them can help your rider customize the bike to their preference. (This works great for family hand-me-down bikes that have lots of life left, too.)
Figuring out size
Not sure what size to buy? You can check out the Guardian Ridesizer for a good size estimate. Consider the confidence and capability of the rider if you are thinking about sizing up. New riders will develop their confidence on a bike that is correctly sized for their dimensions and isn’t just a “shrunk down” adult frame.
Important note about online shopping for new bikes: Carefully review the return policy of the seller as well as the warranty for the brand. We HIGHLY RECOMMEND adding an additional $50 or so to your budget for professional bike shop assembly.
Should I use the training wheels?
We do not recommend keeping training wheels on a bike – if your rider is still figuring out balance, remove the pedals and have them use the bike as a balance bike. Training wheels assist with the rider moving faster, not with learning balance. (See this video for a great explainer!)
Let’s see the bikes!
This is absolutely not a canonical list and there are plenty of other great brands out there! Your local bike shop may have some favorites that aren’t listed here.
Definitely make it a point to check out reviews on the Two Wheeling Tots and Rascal Rides websites. Extensive information on bikes they liked, what they didn’t, & diagrams/pictures that show real life examples.
An * next to the brand means Bike Fun either has one in our lending library or has given a refurbished bike of this brand to a student.
- Guardian *
- Woom *
- REI Co-op (except for the 12″ bike, see Two Wheeling Tots review) *
- Cleary *
- Specialized *
- Kokua (16″ and 20″ sizes only, no other sizes offered)
- Retrospec *
- ByK *
Any pedal bike can be converted into a balance bike simply by removing the pedals and lowering the saddle to have the rider’s feet flat with knees slightly bent.
A true balance bike won’t have pedals, crankarms, chain, or sprockets, which makes the bike significantly lighter – especially for small kids.
If your kid is a little older or bigger, consider finding a pedal bike that will work for both balance bike learning and then convert easily with pedals.
If you can find a balance bike that also has handbrakes, that will set your rider up for success when trying to slow down or stop. Those models tend to be more expensive and are more rare.
Take note of tire/wheel type – some balance bikes will have rubber tires with an inner tube; others will have a solid rubber tire or a plastic wheel.
An * next to the brand means Bike Fun either has one in our lending library or has given a refurbished balance bike of this brand to a student.
Good places to look for used bikes include your local bike shop (if they sell on consignment), Facebook Marketplace, hyperlocal buy/sell/trade groups like Nextdoor or OfferUp, and sometimes your local Craigslist group (here’s Nashville with filters for wheel size and image available applied).
We have purchased used bikes from Willie Holt on Facebook Marketplace and refer people to him – keep in mind that inventory varies depending on what is available.
Last but not least
We generally recommend avoiding heavier “big box” brand bikes like Magna, Next, Huffy, Next, Schwinn (some models are OK), Mongoose (some models are OK), Roadmaster, Hyper, any of the “Disney” or promotional tie-in bikes, or bikes that have front suspension forks unless they’re sturdy and rated for off-road use. Components on “big box” brands are more prone to breakage and will cost you more money to fix in the long run than they are worth. (We understand that a brand new bike is exciting – but if you buy an inexpensive “big box” brand bike you run the risk of an assembler who is only concerned with how many bikes can get out on the sales floor; unreliable parts and functional failures; and components that are essentially “disposable”.)
(Apparently, one decent lower-end bike that’s sold at big box stores has a freewheel, acceptable front and rear brakes, and is reasonably priced/spec’ed up against a similar reputable brand model.)
Don’t have a relationship with a local bike shop? Wonder what online retailers are decent? See our list of Middle Tennessee area bike shops & online resources here.
Most of all, HAVE FUN with a new (or new to you) bike – there’s lots of joy to be had down the road.