Looking to upgrade your young one’s mountain bike rig? Here’s a look at four of the best options out there.
2020 was a breakthrough year for mountain biking in my household: My 9-year-old daughter, Zoe, tackled her first black-diamonds and quickly decided she was done with her brother’s hand-me-down hardtail.
“The stupid rocks are beating me to death,” she groaned, echoing a common complaint of greenhorn downhillers getting their first dose of notoriously technical Appalachian terrain. “I’m braking nonstop and [the bike’s] not handling right. How am I supposed to jump when I’m too scared to even go fast!?!”
Clearly it was time for an upgrade. Top models offer dual-suspension and beefier tires for soaking up bumps and tackling bigger features. Upgraded components and finetuned geometry yield better handling and acceleration, smoother shifting, and make it easier to pick lines at speed.
But quality 24-inch mountain bikes aren’t cheap—a good one will set you back around $2,000. Most models are aimed at ages 8 to 12. Growth spurts could lead to replacement in a year or two. In terms of maximizing value, “It’s best if a family can buy one then pass it down from kid to kid,” says James Burris, owner of Black Dog Bikes in Staunton, Virginia.
However, Zoe was my youngest, so we took a different tack. The Rocky Mountain Reaper 24 offered an incredible ride and unmatched upgradability. “It pulls cues from the adult-sized bikes and is ready to rip on local singletrack and perform in the bike park too,” says Burris.
The Reaper 24 comes with an aluminum frame that weighs a kid-friendly 27.7 pounds. Suspension is provided by a 120mm Suntour Raidon 32 LORD’S fork and 130mm Rockshox Monarch R in back. A 1×10 Shimano Deore series drivetrain gets the bike rolling, while Shimano MT201 brakes on 180mm rotors bring ample stopping power.
Better still, the Reaper “is built to also accommodate 26-inch tires when the time comes,” says Burris. Swapping forks will let you take it up to a 27.5 in front.
Further versatility can be had by mixing wheels. For instance, a growing rider can gain some clearance without sacrificing standover comfort by running a 26-inch wheel in front and 24 in back. Rocky Mountain’s adjustable RIDE-9 system is used to mitigate geometry changes related to switching wheels.
Taking the bike for a spin at the Bryce Resort Bike Park brought astounding improvements. Zoe’s confidence soared higher with each trip down the mountain. She’d always been a somewhat timid rider—but those tendencies evaporated fast.
By our third run she was surfing berms, slaloming along switchbacks, tearing through optional rock gardens, pushing the envelope on tabletops, and hitting every reasonable drop in sight. The change was marked: This was a different rider. Her outsized enthusiasm made me wish we’d upgraded sooner.
“Dad, I love this bike,” exclaimed Zoe, clapping her hands and bouncing as we rode the chairlift up the mountain. “I feel like I can do anything.”
Rocky Mountain isn’t the only company building full-suspension bikes for young shredders. Booming interest and participation over the past few years has inspired more builders to enter the market—and brought a slew of great options. Below are three of our favorites.
Kona Process 24
When Kona started building full-suspension kids’ bikes in 2003, it was one of the only major companies in the game. The Process 24 draws on everything they’ve learned since.
Riders get an excellent suspension system with a 100mm RockShox rear shock and 120mm Manitou Machete J Unit fork. While not exactly superb for hucking, that combines with a 67-degree head angle for easier climbing and more comfortable pedaling. That’s great for all-mountain-oriented kids who want to explore more than just jump trails.
Shimano Deore series brakes are paired with 180mm rotors in the front and back. A 10-speed 1x drivetrain, also courtesy of Shimano, powers the pedals. Beefier Kenda Kinetics 24 x 2.35-inch tires offer more forgiveness in the dirt. There’s also a 24-ounce bottle mount inside the front triangle to help your little one stay hydrated. (Price: $2,099)
NORCO Fluid FS 2 24
Essentially a scaled-down, kiddie version of Norco’s Optic series aimed at riders aged 9-12, this is a sweet little hucker billed as a “progressive, aggressive trail bike designed for youngsters to tackle a wide range of demanding trails with confidence and capability.”
Expect a low standover height, longer reach, 64.5-degree head angle, and a suspension system tuned for riders under 90 pounds. Weight clocks in a bit heavy at 29 pounds.
The 6061 aluminum frame features 120mm of X-Fusion 02 Pro rear suspension matched to a Manitou J-Unit Expert Air 145mm fork. Stopping power comes from Tektro HD-M276 hydraulic disc brakes with 180mm rotors up front to nix chances of overheating. A Shimano Deore 1×11 drivetrain is paired with Vee Rubber Crown Gem 24 x 2.25-inch tires. A 100mm dropper seatpost puts the icing on the cake. (Price: $1,899)
Scott Ransom 400
This 24-inch junior enduro bike caters to kids with a jones for blisteringly technical downhill descents. Geometry adjusting flip-chips mean you can upgrade to 26-inch tires and keep growing riders in the saddle longer.
It’s modeled after the aggressive adult Ransom series, but with kid-friendly design features that “support a balanced position with equalized weight over both wheels for a safer ride and stable, confident cornering.” That translates to a kid-optimized suspension system and dropper post, extra low standover height, shorter head tube, slack head angle (65.7 degrees), and a slightly lower bottom bracket.
An X-Fusion Slant RC 140mm fork and R shock with 130mm of travel in the back make for a plush and park-capable ride. A Syncros 80mm dropper post creates a lower center of gravity when descending, while Kenda Hellkat 24 x 2.4-inch tires offer ample grip. Shimano Deore series brakes with 180mm front rotors and 160mm in the back slow things down. A Shimano Deore 1×11 drivetrain geared around a 11-51t cassette boosts climbing capability.
Our only complaint is weight: At 29.8 pounds, the 400 could be heavy for some riders. (Price: $1,699)
Cover photo: Kids bikes like the Reaper are outfitted with high-quality components like those found on adult bikes. Photo by Andreas Hestler