Now, more than ever, both parents and kids need to be able to get the heck out of the house for some peace, fresh air, and exercise. We know that can be even harder if you can’t drive, or don’t live in a walkable neighborhood. Our solution? Get on a bike. Whether you (or your teen, if you’re looking for a gift) are considering one for exercise, transit, as a competitive outlet, or simply want a new way to explore your area, there’s a ride here for you.
Check out quick info on the top five bikes below, then keep scrolling for longer reviews of these and other quality rides, plus buying advice.
Kinds of Bikes
Different styles are better on different terrain, so we’ve included some of the most-affordable, best-performing bikes across three categories: hybrid, mountain, and road.
The hybrid bikes are best for commuting or casual rides on pavement or light gravel paths. Most of these offer a comfortable, confidence-inspiring, upright riding position and wider tires for smoothing out choppy pavement. Mountain bikes come with grippy, wider tires for better traction on loose surfaces, as well as wide, flat handlebars for greater control and a suspension fork that soaks up bumps and roots. Road bikes typically have smooth tires for rolling fast along pavement and a more-aerodynamic positioning that tucks the rider lower.
Why It May Be Harder to Find a Bike Right Now
Ever since terms like “shelter in place,” “stay at home,” and “social distancing” took root in our daily lexicon, we’ve had to find alternative forms of entertainment that don’t involve large crowds, indoor activities, or risky situations (such as travel). More people have caught on to the idea that outdoor escapes like hiking, running, and bike riding are safe, sanity-saving ways to get out and do something—away from others. This has led to a surge in bike sales and, thus, a depletion of stock. That’s a good thing, because it means more people have discovered bikes. But it’s also frustrating if your goal today is to place an online order for a shiny new bike only to find out that you may have to wait weeks or even months to get it. If you see something on this list that catches your eye, and you hit the out-of-stock roadblock, your options are patience (waiting until inventory is fulfilled again), perseverance (it may be available somewhere else online or even somewhere locally), or just being proactive (pre-order is available for many out-of-stock models). We’ll keep our eye on inventory and update links as often as we can.
Protect Yourself and Your Bike
Make sure to leave room in your budget for essentials, like a helmet, lights, and a lock. A bell is a bonus for warning others that you’re approaching, especially on days when you’re passing people on the path. And do yourself a favor by registering your bike’s serial number with your city, which might help you get it back should it ever grow legs.
How We Selected
To select the best bikes for this list, we researched the market, surveyed user reviews, interviewed product managers and engineers, and relied on our own experience riding these and similar bikes. Our team of experienced testers rode a crop of contenders for weeks on our local bike paths, both hilly and flat. We attached racks and loaded them up with groceries to see how much they could handle. To understand the differences between them, we rode them back to back on similar routes. Price and durability also factored in a lot—we respect the after-school-job hustle, and know you don’t want to spend every last penny on a bike—and if it’s in good shape when you’re done with it, you can resell it. So based on testing for ease of use, durability, and versatility, and by scoping out the best prices, we settled on these as the best, most durable, and best-value bikes for teens.
Hybrids and Cruisers
—COMFORTABLE FITNESS BIKE—
Specialized Roll Low-Entry
If you’re looking for a cute, comfy cruiser that will help you to get out of the house, this lightweight, aluminum bike offers a smooth, enjoyable ride. From the ergonomic grips to the upright position, the Roll Low-Entry offers incredible comfort. The leaned-back seat tube facilitated putting a foot on the ground so we could balance at a stop without leaving the saddle, and the low step-over frame makes it accessible for a wide range of ability and mobility levels. The saddle was very comfortable, with a wide back that supported our sit bones and a cutout in the middle helped redistribute that pressure. Rim brakes help keep weight (and cost) down while delivering satisfactory stopping power, and the wide tires provided a smooth, stable ride on paved roads and gravel. Rack and fender mounts made it easy to set up the Roll Low-Entry as a daily commuter. While the BMX-style handlebar was the perfect place for mounting a light, we still had room to fit a bell and phone holder, too.
Best way to buy it: Select your size on specialized.com and input your zip code to check inventory at shops near you.
—FULLY EQUIPPED TRANSPORTATION—
A retro-inspired ride that’s as functional as it is cute, the Schwinn Wayfarer has a steel frame that offers a smooth, comfortable ride. The 7-speed twist-shift drivetrain has some gear variation for rolling neighborhoods, but we wouldn’t suggest it for super hilly areas. Fenders protected us from splashes, and a rear rack let us attach a basket for groceries (you could also strap books, bags, or takeout straight onto it). The Wayfarer comes in one size, which Schwinn recommends for riders 5-foot-4 to 6-foot-2. Bonus: Your purchase includes a limited lifetime warranty for as long as you own the bike.
Best way to buy: It’s available on Amazon now.
Civia Lowry Step-Thru
The Lowry is a simple, solid, and relatively light bike for cruising around town. Its step-through design means the bike works with almost any outfit (there’s a step-over model, too), and the aluminum frame contributed to an easy-to-carry 25-pound total weight for the size medium. Opt for the 7-speed cassette if your town is hilly. Semi-slick Kenda Kwest tires rolled fast on pavement, and rear rack mounts made the bike a viable grocery-getter, too. Reliable Tektro rim brakes and a kickstand round out a bike that’s ready to breeze around the corner.
Best way to buy it: Check availability at local retailers at civiacycles.com.
The 820 is Trek’s offering to people who just a want solid, reliable, and affordable bike. With a steel frame, a fork with 75mm of travel, and 26-by-2-inch-wide tires, the 820 is labeled as an entry-level hardtail mountain bike. It’s great for college students looking for a commuter and a way to explore local trails, or a family looking to buy a bike that several people can use for a variety of purposes. A 7-speed Shimano Tourney groupset, with a 42/34/24 crank and a 14-28 cassette, will enable almost any level of rider to get where they’re going.
Best way to buy: Check availability at dealers near you on trekbikes.com.
Rocky Mountain Growler 20
The Growler 20 is the best, most capable, and most pleasing-to-ride sub-$1,000 mountain bike we’ve ever tested. A bit more expensive than other options on this list, it’s for the cyclist who has had a taste of trail riding and is ready to get serious. This utilitarian aluminum hardtail has a 130mm Suntour fork and 29-inch wheels, which soaked up rough trail and allowed us to roll over medium roots and hop logs. The 1×9 Shimano Altus drivetrain has an 11-40 tooth cassette, good for conquering most medium hills (for super steep, technical stuff, we recommend a wider range). All this for $1,000? You have a bike that performs well above its price.
Best way to buy it: Search for a dealer near you on bikes.com.
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Scott Contessa Active 50
This affordable mountain bike from Scott is as at home on bumpy bike paths as it is on the trail. The fork, with 100mm of travel, smoothed out choppy terrain, while the upright positioning was comfortable for our back, neck, and wrists. Wide Kenda Booster tires kept us planted and stable through corners and on wet trails. The Shimano Tourney drivetrain offered enough gears for finding a comfortable pace to ride uphill, and the Tektro hydraulic disc brakes brought us smoothly to a stop without any jerking. Whether you want an affordable option that you can also take trail riding on the weekends or you’re just looking for a planted, comfortable ride for the bike path, the Contessa Active 50 is a high-quality option.
Best way to buy it: Select your size on scott-sports.com and click Find a Dealer to locate one near you.
Liv Avail 1
The Avail 1 is an accessible aluminum-frame endurance bike ideal for young women looking to get into road riding. The geometry put us in a relaxed, upright position, which was comfortable and made taking in the scenery a bit easier on the neck and shoulders. The 9-speed, 11/34 Shimano Sora shifting system—though on the heavier side—was sturdy, and reliable, ideal for long endurance rides. And the oversize headset bearings and tapered steerer tube created a stiffer front end for responsive maneuvering. The Avail 1 is an excellent option to get you out on the road, whether you’re looking to join local group rides or take long solo explorations.
Best way to buy it: Find you local Liv/Giant dealer on liv-cycling.com and contact the store to see what’s in stock.
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—ZIPPY AND VERSATILE—
This is a gateway bike and arguably the best cheap roadie money can buy. For $875, you get quality, versatility, and comfort, all wrapped in a sharp aluminum frame with a carbon fork. That fork soaked up bumps in the road and reduced upper-body fatigue, allowing us to ride comfortably for longer. The Allez sports a crisp Shimano Claris drivetrain with an 8-speed, 11-32 Sunrace cassette and 50/34t chainring to get you over climbs and help you keep up with friends when the pace picks up. The bike’s relaxed, endurance-style geometry made it comfortable for a long day in the saddle as well as zipping down the block to the brewery. Tektro rim brakes, while not as good as discs, perform well enough and keep the Allez light and cheap, giving riders the performance and weight savings they want while maintaining an affordable price.
Best way to buy it: Select your size on specialized.com and enter your zip code to check inventory at shops near you.
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—FIXIE OR COASTER—
At $300, the sleek, trendy Core-Line is an affordable way to roll down to the coffee shop in style. Even though it’s the cheapest here, it comes from a real bike company, not a retail behemoth, and you can easily order one online if you’re 100 miles from a bike shop. It’s bright and stylish, and gives you the option to enhance its practicality with fenders and racks (it’s got the clearance and the mounting points). Single-speed bikes still make fantastic entry points into cycling, whether you run them fixed (if the wheels are turning, the pedals have to turn too—no coasting) or freewheel (you can stop pedaling and coast along at any point). And the State is ready for either right out of the box, some minor assembly required.
Best way to buy it: Preorder on statebicycle.com for September shipping.
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