Hybrid or Mountain Bikes for your Child-Which is better?

Approx Reading Time: 18 minutes

Kids outgrow toys, but the story is different when it comes to cycling at a tender age. Kids love bikes, thus, parents should help them circumvent cycling challenges that tender age presents. It could be that a bike is too heavy to balance or overly accessorized to fit into their age requirements. With these considerations come many questions every parent should ask before putting money on a good bike. 

  • Which features define the best hybrid/mountain bike for kids?
  • Understanding the difference between hybrid and mountain bikes.
  • Is there a standard bike weight and size for children?
  • Are there age bracket considerations to make when buying bikes for kids?
  • Should you go for Hybrid or Mountain bikes?

In this post, we explore these questions and many more. Remember our main focus is to determine the best bikes for kids between hybrid and MTB. 

Hybrid or Mountain Bikes for your Child-Which is better? 1

Hybrid and mountain bikes: What’s the difference?

From balance bikes, BMX, drop handlebar bikes, track bikes, hybrid to mountain bikes-the list of bikes parents can buy for kids is endless. But when it comes to choosing between hybrid and mountain options, we know, some of you may be reading about this for the first time. Thus, let’s start by exploring the differences between the two.

Mountain bikes

Mountain bikes have been around for more than five decades and their popularity continues to soar. If you already bought one for your child, cheers! The most notable aspects of these bikes are that they are suited for off-road riding. Whether you want to cycle up a steep hill, loose gravel or rocky mountainside, they are the perfect fit.

While you also ride MTB on a smooth highway, their maneuverability on such surfaces reduces significantly. Thus, your kid should opt for road bikes if pedaling on tarmac becomes their main focus. Given their thick and wide tires, MTB can only tread off-road trails efficiently. 

You should also note that off-road trails present challenging cycling situations; hence mountain bikes for kids should have gears. It helps circumvent confusion that comes with riding uphill and downhill. You will also notice that most, if not all, have front suspension forks, hence the name hardtail bicycles. Nevertheless, while mountain bikes with rear suspension forks (full suspension) are becoming popular, they are quite pricey. 

The big question is, do MTB for kids need rigid or suspension forks? Well, it depends on many things, such as the surface of the terrain. 

Hybrid bikes for kids

The next type of bike we will be exploring is the hybrid bike. You may want to ask, what makes them different from mountain bikes? Are they ideal for your child or not? Well, like every parent who wishes the best for his or her child, we expect these questions. Most importantly, you should seek befitting answers. 

First off, note that hybrid bikes are versatile rides. Some call them all-rounded bikes because you can ride them anywhere-on the road, gravel, grass, rocky/muddy trails and pavements. Does it, therefore, mean that hybrid bikes are the Holy Grail choice for young cyclists? Well, read on to find out more.

With a hybrid bicycle, you have everything in a single beastly ride. Their tires are suited to different types of terrains, but you can always change them if necessary. Moreover, being that they are a combination of MTB and road bikes, hybrids are ideal for commuting. The flat handlebars are reminiscent of those you will find on mountain bikes. Most cyclists who have experience with these bikes will tell you that breaking systems of hybrids are also similar to those you find on MTB. 

Perhaps it is from these similarities that the real confusion sets in. So, you are probably wondering which would best suit your child’s riding needs. Well, we will conclude on this matter towards the end of this post.

In the meantime, you should understand that an upright cycling posture, most pro bikers believe, contributes to alertness and safety on the road. When it comes to the type of tires you find on hybrid rides, they are larger than those in road bikes but slightly smaller than the ones on MTB. 

More features of hybrid bikes

There are a host of other features that distinguish hybrid bikes from MTB. They include:

  • V-brakes are very common sightings in hybrid bikes. However, they are not as efficient as hydraulic and mechanical disc brakes. If you are looking to gifting your kid a good bike, go for one with hydraulic breaks, especially for off-road cycling.
  • You should also note that gearing systems in hybrid bikes are quite versatile. The most common types are cassettes and triple chainsets. It should not, however, come as a surprise that sometimes you will end up with hybrids that feature single-speed and hub gears models. 
  • Moreover, while most hybrids have suspension forks, hence more comfortable on rough terrains, they are not ideal for off-road cycling. 

The bottom line is that while this post compares MTB and hybrid bikes for kids, the latter comes in different shapes and designs than the former. Hybrids offer bikers an opportunity to experience how it feels to ride on different surfaces. You can go right ahead and call them a jack of all trades because they fit the bill. They are the go-to bicycles if you do not want to waste time shopping around for surface-specific/master/specialized bikes. 

Hybrid or Mountain bikes-Features and important considerations to make

A question of what’s the best bike for my kid further boils down to features and brands/models. With so many arrays of models from which to choose, parents can narrow their selection to brands like BMX, road bikes, mountain bikes, balance bikes, pedal, and hybrid variants.  

Notably, the best bike for your daughter or son should also be that which is within your budget. Moreover, take into consideration age and cycling needs. From small, mid-range to top-of-the-range bikes for kids, there are a host of other things you should look into. Also, think about the quality of construction, bicycle components, and weight because kids, unlike adults, have a completely different approach to biking. If they are not learners, they will need a bike into and out of which they grow over the years. 

Now, to help you make the right decision between hybrid and mountain bikes here is a rundown through key features to consider before buying one for your child. 

Durability

Whether you are looking for the best starter bike for your two-year-old kid or a BMX for a 12-year old child, the durability of a bike is a vital consideration to which you must pay close attention. While there are tens of brands/models, how long a bike lasts boils down to the build quality and maintenance. 

Often, you will come across arguments about original and fake bikes. While there are strict regulatory measures that help guard against counterfeits, purchasing a kid’s bike straight from the manufacturer or trusted e-commerce stores will be richly rewarding. 

Maneuverability 

While children are highly flexible, it does not translate to how well they can maneuver bikes around tight corners or sharp bends. The big question about the maneuverability of MTB or hybrid bikes for kids is, therefore, should it be a lightweight or heavy-duty construction?

Well, before you settle on an ideal bike for your child, try lifting it up. While manufacturers observe standard rules, which include making kids’ bikes less weighty, there’s bound to be slight variations between hybrid and mountain bikes. Sometimes, maneuverability will often depend on a manufacturer’s specifications and materials. 

The bottom line is that you shouldn’t risk taking a heavy bike home for your kid. Go for one that features aluminum frames instead of steel because the former is lightweight. The design of the step-through frame is another factor that influences maneuverability. Low step-through frames make it easy to get onto and off a bike. 

Bike build accessories 

Like motorists in high occupancy lanes or busy city streets, bikers too have rules to which they must adhere. The age of a cyclist matters because the safety of a rider is crucial. Now, bearing these in mind, you should, therefore, consider bike accessories such as visibility vests for kids and bicycle headlamps when comparing hybrid and mountain bikes. The big question here is which brand/model comes with these handy accessories? Well, you should also look out for these features when you go out shopping.

Hybrid or Mountain Bikes for your Child-Which is better? 2

Cycling needs

A child’s cycling needs always depends on a child’s agility and age. As a child grows, he or she will need to do more road bikes than starter pedaling options. It is because over-time, continued exposure to biking at a tender age equips kids with more skills they need to cope with bigger bikes and challenging riding situations. For example, hybrid bikes are ideal for a mix of cycling experiences on different surfaces.

Should MTB and Hybrid bikes for kids have gears and shifters in their bikes?

A question many people are asking is whether bikes for kids should have shifters or gears, and why. The truth is that while these are vital bike accessories, they are only ideal for children that can take on 20-inch wheel size bicycles or more. Structurally, gears add unnecessary weight. 

As your kids grow into expert riders and hence can go uphill on a cycle on even more challenging terrains, gears become necessary. It is also noteworthy many gears are often a recipe for confusion, making bikes inoperable for kids learning the ropes of cycling. 

The following table gives an approximation of wheel sizes and corresponding age and height of kids:

Wheel Size in inches A child’s Age A child’s height in inches
26  10 years + 56 inches+
24 8 to 12 years 50 to 58
20 6 to 10 years 42 to 52
16 5 to 8 years 39 to 48
14 3-5 years 37 to 44
12 2 to 4 years 30 to 39

From the table, you can deduce that:

  • Kids can outgrow bikes even at a tender age, especially if they are quick learners. Take for example bicycles with a wheel size of 24 inches. You notice that while it is suitable for kids aged 10 years and below, a child who falls in the age bracket of 8 and 12 can still ride on such wheels. 
  • Parents should buy a bike that fits into the present cycling needs of a child, instead of going for something big into which kids grow. You would rather have your child have fun cycling a befitting MTB or hybrid bike than let them struggle, trying to adjust to big bikes. 

Why kids should test bikes before purchase

Most importantly, we advise that when you go shopping for a bike, tag your child along. He or she should physically test the new acquisition. This way; you can determine the appropriateness of the stand over the weight. 

Another reason why kids should test bikes is to establish their reach for the handlebars. Is he or she able to have a strong and comfortable grip? The best way to determine the best reach is by ensuring that even after holding the handlebars; there is a slight bend on their elbows. With this clearly defined, it goes that controlling and steering a hybrid and mountain bike becomes easy for the young ones. 

The seating position is another factor to consider when kids test bikes for suitability. Because MTB and hybrid bikes have almost the same type of seats (upright), signaling dominance, seat height is, therefore, a subpar consideration because it comes naturally. 

Emphasize chain guards, protective gear and gloves

Kids will often fall off bikes, especially during the first few weeks they are learning to cycle. Thus, to minimize injuries that would result from such incidences, emphasize buying hybrid/mountain bikes with chain guards. A simple rule here is that you should go for a new purchase instead of second-hand bikes. The latter may lack these essential components due to wear and tear. 

Also, ensure a purchase comes with protective gear such as a helmet. This should meet safety standards. It may, however, interest you to note that in the U.K, there is no law enforcing such requirements. Winter is here, thus cycling gloves become necessary. Your child will be out riding his or her bicycle on snowy roads, and the worst thing you wouldn’t want to happen is them skidding and sustaining injuries. 

Locks are indispensable accessories in MTB and hybrid bikes for kids

You may not see the need of buying your child a bike with locks, but that’s not the point. Cases of people stealing bikes are on the rise and so, you don’t want to risk having your kid hit the trail with an unsecured ride. At some point, he or she will get tired, maybe throw the bike on the ground and walk home. Thus, a golden rule is to at least buy them a bike with a secure and highly-rated lock. It will come through as a handy feature when they would want to lock and park the bike on the roadside. 

Cost

The cost of acquiring a new or second-hand bike is another vital consideration to make. You may want to buy a cheap MTB or a hybrid for your child, but at what maintenance cost? Cheap, most pro bikers will tell you, is expensive. You should, therefore, spend some time comparing available options before putting money on a good bike. 

From our end of the bargain, we would say that price varies depending on a bike’s features. The cost of a high-end MTB is, however, higher compared to the best hybrids in the market. But with any amount in the range of $150 to $200, you can still find a quality bicycle for your child; even it is a second-hand purchase. 

Is there a standard bike weight for children?

Bikes weigh differently and so is the size that often varies depending on the age of a would-be owner/cyclist. The big question is do manufacturers have specific weight and size considerations when designing bikes for children? 

Well, we already indicated that the lighter a bike is, the more suitable it is for a kid. Now, let’s proceed by emphasizing that weight is a very crucial factor to consider when putting money on a hybrid or mountain bike for kids. You must have noticed that cheaper bikes tend to be heavy, but you can always measure this parameter by lifting a bike?

Kids will have a rough time riding heavy bicycles uphill and down the slope. Think about it this way. If the bike breaks down or they probably don’t feel like riding anywhere, will they carry it off the trail? Heavy bikes will also deny kids a chance to maneuver their way around cycling trails, not to mention that it reduces their level of excitement. 

Thus, when you go out shopping for a kid’s bike, consider whether one has aluminum or steel tubing. The good news is that kid-friendly bikes are becoming more popularly these days.  

Hybrid or Mountain Bikes for your Child-Which is better? 3

What is the right sizing for kids’ bikes?

Most bike sizes fit into the average man’s needs. It, therefore, means that when it comes to manufacturing hybrid or mountain bikes for kids, it is imperative to downgrade sizing. And so, here comes the question, which components will need resizing? 

While most parents will want to focus on shorter frames and smaller wheels, cranks are equally worth considering. Children need bikes with short cranks, almost a tenth of their height. But if you must rely on guesswork, shorter cranks are better than longer ones. 

Since kids do not exhibit more strength on the bike like adults, their bikes should have easy-to-reach brake levers. It is better if they can reach and easily operate brake levers using the little finger. Hydraulic brakes are often the best, albeit, they are costly hence found in high-end rides. However, for those who cannot afford costly hybrid/mountain bikes, V-breaks are the best alternative. 

Nevertheless, you should also consider riding position, often defined by the distance between handlebars and saddle. Since kids like being in an upright position when riding, you don’t want to go for something different. 

Another factor that influences bike sizing for kids is the handlebar. Thus, you may want to ask, which is the best option between narrow and wide handlebars? Well, the wider the handlebars are, the easier it is to control a bike, and this lends credence to the fact that kids are cycling learners. They need something easy on their hands for smooth maneuverability. You should also look into the length of handlebars and shorten long ones using a hacksaw.

Now, bearing in mind the above factors that influence the sizing of a kid’s bike, wheel size shouldn’t escape your radar when you go out shopping. The main variants measure between less than the16 inches and 26 inches wheel size. These often correspond to a child’s age. Sometimes though, kids outgrow these measurements, and that should not be a cause for alarm.

Important rules to remember when buying MTB or hybrids for kids

If it is your first time shopping for a kid’s bike, we understand how difficult it is going to be making the right choice. We have looked at wheel size, weight considerations and height of kids, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. It is why; we emphasize the following golden rules:

  • You should make sure the elevation of handlebars is above the seat and that the seat on a kid’s bike provides for an upright seating position. Since most MTB and hybrids for kids fit into this description, let’s take a look at the second rule.
  • Cranks should not be unnecessarily long or your kid will experience difficulties getting on and off the bike.
  • Test brake levers using your little finger. It is the only one whose strength measures up to fingers on your child’s hands.
  • Avoid overly complicated MTB or hybrid bikes. Here, you should steer clear of a bike with many gears, unless your child is ready to test his or her skills on rocky trails. Until then, hybrids make for the perfect choice.
  • Avoid wobblies and instead, emphasize having semi-slick tires on a kid’s MTB or hybrid bike.
  • You should ensure that a bike fits into the cycling needs of your kids. While kids outgrow bikes, something they can use here and now is the best option. They are a guarantee for safety even to that child who is learning to ride for the first time.
  • Avoid putting money on kid bikes with cheap rear suspension. They are a recipe for dead weight, which is unnecessary.  

Should you go for Hybrid or Mountain bikes?

Thus far, let’s review the big question which is, should you choose Mountain or Hybrid bikes for your child? Well, basing your judgment on everything we have explored thus far, you would agree that many things are at play. First off, unlike adults aged 18 and over, kids are only beginning to stretch their muscles, tendons, and bones beyond limits. Thus, there is not much difference between safety considerations they will get with MTB and hybrids. When you buy your kids bikes on the premise of strict wheel sizing and height regulations, other considerations begin to surface.

Off-trail cycling is rarely going to happen during the first few weeks. With this information at your fingertips, it goes that hybrids make for a perfect starter bike for kids. They are a blend of many things into one, offering your child the much-needed experience with different surfaces. As your kid becomes more accustomed to challenging cycling situations, mountain bikes become necessary. On this premise, think about that child aged 14 years and above, seeking more adventure in unfriendly trails.

Breaks and gears are vital components of both hybrid and mountain bikes. The big question is at what age will a kid need a bike accessorized with these add-ons? Well, throughout this blog, we emphasized the need to steer clear of overly accessorized bicycles. Many gears and a complicated braking system are a recipe for confusion to the young ones. However, if you must, bikes with hydraulic breaks are a good starting, albeit, they are costly.

On matters of wheel and tire size and diameter, our argument is simple. While kids will slowly get accustomed to different wheel sizes as they grow, they should start small. Wide tires are ideal for kids who are still learning how to balance their weight on lightweight bicycles like MTB. It is also interesting to note that with wide tires, come reduced speed. Narrow tires are quite challenging, especially when it comes to making sharp bends around tight corners. 

The Bottom Line

From the best bikers to the reputed manufacturers, choosing a good bike from among many variants is the key to fun cycling. So, when it comes to choosing between hybrids and Mountain bikes for your child, the design and purpose have a huge significance. 

At this point, you are probably assuming that your kid’s cycling skills transcend balance, stabilizer or first pedal bikes. Moreover, putting overlapping features between two variants aside, hybrids are the perfect choice for kids any day given their versatility.