Oct 19, 2018 by Evan Bailey
Recently it became apparent that my 8 year old son had grown too big for his cheap 16” Mongoose BMX bike that we bought him a few years back. In addition my son had expressed interest at the end of the summer of wanting to go riding with me off road which he had previously never really shown much interest.
Our 5 year old was outgrowing his 12” bike that we had bought him a couple years ago, and our soon to be 3 year old also outgrown/broken his little balance bike.
Well, looks like it was time for a new bike for my oldest and move his brothers up to the next bike size if possible.
I started looking at what my options would be and after reading various recommendations I determined that I should move him up to the 24” wheel size (we apparently skipped 20” altogether). The poor kid is pretty short for his age (not surprising because of my height issues) so I needed something that he could ride but also grow into until he was ready for a 26 incher.
I started looking online to see what manufacturers had some decent 24” mountain bikes and I initially discovered that my options were going to be limited at this wheel size and the price range I wanted to stay at.
I felt like $200-300 was the top of my price range at this time for his bike even though I knew he could pass it down to his younger brothers when he outgrew it. Some of you may not have that option so choose wisely. Before I finished writing this article I ended up purchasing a used Cannondale 24 street that needed a lot of work but I felt had some promise. (My update on that project can be found here if you are interested)
When you get into the cheap kids bike bracket you start to run into a few issues that I will discuss below. Here are a few issues you will find as you start your search.
#1. Weight- They all weigh a ton which can make any off road excursion much less than enjoyable trying to maneuver a tank around. Many manufacturers feel that they have to put a suspension on in order to sell a bike in this category. To get them in the less than $500 range, pretty much all of these front suspensions are super cheap, heavy, and have limited travel.
From what I read, many kids often just don’t weigh enough to be able to compress a front shock depending on where they are riding of course. You will have to make a tough decision if it is better to have something up front for them or just skip it all together at this size.
#2. Super cheap components. The low end big box bikes are built to a size and price point so price is king. And many of the big and small bike manufacturers will build a bike to this price category which comes at a sacrifice. And that sacrifice = very bottom of the barrell, heavy and not great components on these kids bikes.
For cruising around the neighborhood you may be fine, but if you want to actually take them out on the some trails, you want them to have an enjoyable experience and not have things breaking right and left. Although that could be a lesson you teach them so that is up to you :-)
#3. Limited upgrade options. So maybe you think you can buy a cheap bike now and then just upgrade certain parts when they break or you decide it’s time for an upgrade. Well, it may not be so easy or cost effective depending on the type of components you want to change.
24” wheelsets are not very plentiful so this is a big thing to look for. Adding disc brakes and a new rear cassette may not be possible or cost effective. There are not a lot of 24” suspension forks and the good ones are likely to cost almost as much as the whole bike.
There are definitely some awesome kids bikes from your big manufacturers like Specialized, Trek, etc.. and also some smaller manufacturers like Trailcraft, Frog, Flow, Islabikes, and others. They make some great bikes, but for this article however I set the price ceiling at $500 with or without suspension but they had to have disc brakes as I felt that wasn’t a compromise at this price point and for 2018.
So, here are ten 24” mountain bikes you should consider for less than $500.
1. GT Boy’s Stomper Ace 24” - $300
2. Raleigh Tokul 24 - $350
3. Raleigh Redux 24 - $330 (just discontinued)
4. Scott Scale Jr 24 Plus - $400
5. Ghost Kato Kid 4 AL 24” - $440
6. Giant XTC Jr 24 Disc 1 - $435
7. Cannondale Trail 24 - $400
8. Fuji Dynamite 24 Pro Disc - $400
9. Marin Bayview Trail 24 - $400
10. Jamis X.24 Disc - $369
There you have it. 10 options for your kid so you can get them riding young and you don’t have to feel guilty leaving them at home as you go have some fun on the trails. All these bikes are great options that you should at least consider. Due to the features I was looking for, I continued to come back to the GT Stomper. Yes, it has a cheap heavy fork up front but it comes with a 1x8 drivetrain right out of the box, has an actual cassette in the back, trigger shifters instead of revo twist, and an ok derailleur to start out with. For $300 that is tough to beat. Had I not already gone the used Cannondale route with the build that I’m working on, the GT would have been on my short list.
Since I kept this list of 10 bikes to under $500 I wanted to mention that there are also 3 pretty good options that were a little over $500 so if any of these meet your needs better than the others, they may be worth the extra $20-25 :-)
Cannondale Cujo 24 - $525
Trek Roscoe 24 - $520
Specialized Riprock 24 - $525