BMX is arguably the most diverse and inclusive form of cycling out there, encompassing coastal cultures, urban stunt riding, and hard-nosed rural competition in a single, loosely drawn concept. Starting in 1969 with repurposed Schwinns, the sport quickly refined and expanded its riding options to include everything from 12-pound terrors for six-year-old Expert-category riders to the 29-inch “bike life” cruisers beloved of the Brooklyn wheelie crowd.
That specialization means that, as with the mountain-bike cousins, you will give up performance in one area to gain it elsewhere—but the diversity of adult-sized BMX bikes is not nearly as outrageous as is it on the mountain, and it’s possible to race on your skatepark bike or vice versa.
Six Directions, One Idea
Most BMX bikes fall into one of six categories. Race bikes are optimized for competition, with stiff frames and extremely specific sizing. (Supercross, one of the most popular race-oriented brands, stocks 12 frame sizes for the 20-inch wheel and six frame sizes for “cruiser” races, using a 24-inch wheel.) Dirt, park, and street bikes all share the same rugged construction and steel-frame aesthetic, but they are each subtly optimized for a particular venue. Middle-aged riders looking to recapture some of their youth without cracking their kneecaps will be interested in a flock of new “retro” bikes which repeat the styles of the ’80s and ’90s forebears with more rider room and more durable materials. Last but certainly not least, “BikeLife” is a whole new approach to BMX born from avant-garde street riders in Harlem, Philadelphia, Oakland, and elsewhere.
Most riders will want a “dirt” or “park” bike, but children under twelve who have racing in mind should choose a ride specific to that task, lest they find themselves a long way behind the rest of even novice-level competition.
Choosing a Wheel and Frame Size
Most racers south of middle age will want a twenty-inch wheel. There is no common agreement as to sizing; “Pro XL” from one company might be “Pro” or “Pro XXL” at another. Consult your preferred manufacturer’s spec chart before ordering.
Freestyle and/or recreational riders have a wider range of options. Manufacturers like Sunday offer skatepark-specific bikes with wheels from 12 to 22 inches and a diversity of frame sizes as well. The BikeLife crowd tends to prefer 26-inch or 29-inch wheels, although 24-inch and 27.5-inch options are also available.
In your thirties or above? Strongly consider getting a 24-inch wheel or larger. Most 20-inch BMX frames have the bottom bracket higher than the axles, for purposes of ground clearance. This leads to the feeling of sitting or standing “on the bike” rather than “in the bike.” Novice riders will likely find this feeling to be remarkably uncomfortable. When in doubt, gravitate toward one of the 26-inch offerings, or even a 29.
How Much to Spend?
It’s tough to get a competitive race bike for under $500, and pro-quality builds from high-end manufacturers like Daylight and Supercross can easily hit the $4,000 mark. The other disciplines have it a bit easier, with acceptable-quality dirt or park bikes coming in around $350 and BikeLife options just a bit above that. In general, it’s best to start with an affordable complete bike from a major manufacturer. Fairly quickly, you’ll figure out what you like and don’t like about it, which will guide you in a custom or semi-custom build to follow.
Why It May Be Harder to Find a Bike Right Now
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the bike industry has experienced an exponential boom in sales, partially due to public transit restrictions and also because people are looking for a fun, safe way to get outside. It has also experienced a shortage of bikes due to factory restrictions and delays. Because of this, many bike shops and online brands are nearly sold out of bikes. If a bike on this list is sold out, you might still have the option to pre-order it or join a waiting list. Or, it might still be available at a bike shop near you, so check the dealers and retailers listed on the site.
How We Selected
Most of the options on this list were nominated by our test editors who have experience with these and similar products in a variety of conditions—from skatepark to street riding to racing. The rest we’ve evaluated based on user reviews, research, discussions with riders who are using them now, and how their specs compare to similar products we’ve tested in the past. Check out these options for the perfect BMX bike, from everyday essential to defiantly boutique.
―Great Starter BMX Bike―
Sunday Primer 16
Sunday has four reliable options in two wheel sizes (16-inch and 18-inch) for young skatepark and trail riders. The Primer can take your rider all the way to serious skatepark riding; riders between four and five feet tall will likely find exactly what they need in either the Primer 16 or Primer 18 ($360). The $240 Blueprint is the affordable variant, a bit heavy but very hard to break.
―Solid Choice for New Racers of All Ages―
Redline MX Series
Available in six sizes, the MX bikes from venerable race brand Redline have been heavily modified for 2021 to incorporate many of the desirable features from the upscale Proline series. Ready to win right out of the box, the MX is a particularly solid choice in Mini and Junior versions.
―Modern BMX With ’80s Retro Appeal―
GT Pro Performer 29
The “bikelife” movement, largely led and nourished by SE Racing and a group of increasingly well-known riders from Harlem, Philly, and elsewhere, has now caught the attention of all the major BMX players, including long-time industry heavyweight GT. This year, GT is fielding a six-bike field with both 26- and 29-inch wheels. The pick of the litter is the 29-inch Pro Performer, which is available with your choice of 1986 or 1987 graphics. Fans of GT’s Dyno sub-brand can choose the Pro Compe 29, while up-and-coming riders will gravitate to the army-green Street Performer 29. All of them are equipped just a little better than the run-of-the-bike-life mill.
―20-Inch Bike Designed for Smaller Shredders―
Verde, an Ohio brand dedicated to affordable, skatepark-ready bikes, offers a unique proposition with the Cadet: It’s designed to fit sub-five-foot riders despite having 20-inch wheels and modern geometry. A special low-standover frame makes it possible for smaller shredders to have success on the Cadet.
―Versatile Everyday Rider With Bigger Wheels―
Fairdale’s Taj, the passion project of underground hero Taj Mihelich, is one of those bikes with no effective competition. College students and urban office workers love it for being indestructible, older people appreciate the utility, and former skatepark stars like its ability to stunt a bit if necessary. For 2021, the Taj makes the move to 27.5-inch wheels. Every component is fuss-free and made from premium materials. Theoretically a one-size-fits-all effort, the Taj will suit nearly everyone for cruising and commuting but won’t be comfortable in the air for riders under 5-foot-8 or above 6-foot-3.
―Bike-Life Style in a Smaller Package―
SE Racing So Cal Flyer 24
The urban “bike life” movement has primarily been powered by 26-inch-wheeled singlespeeds, with enormous 29-inch-wheeled variants gaining steam in the past two years because they’re more stable and predictable for some of the more extreme stunts beloved of the community. There are a couple of drawbacks to those options. The first is that they can be downright intimidating for smaller or younger riders, particularly those under 5-foot-4. The second is that they’re a much easier fit on a subway train than in a modern compact car. SE Racing, originators and spirit guides of Bike Life, offers the 24-inch-wheeled So Cal Flyer to address these concerns. In years past, the So Cal has often been a cost-reduced version of the flashier SE designs. Now it’s a fully tricked-out smaller version of famous rides like the Big Ripper and Blocks Flyer. This year’s monochrome black colorway is a knowing tip of the hat to East Coast trail riders who can occasionally be seen mixing it up in Philly with the “One Way” crowd.
―Best for Returning—or Injury-Prone—Riders―
WeThePeople Audio 22
The 22-inch BMX bike is one of those universally acknowledged Better Ideas that hasn’t had the success it deserves. Very few complete bikes are available in this size, and some manufacturers appear to just be ignoring the segment in hopes it will fade away. WeThePeople has put its back into promoting 22-inch BMX with the well-equipped, right-sized Audio, which should fit riders between 5-foot-8 and 6-foot-2. With their greater stability and predictability, 22-inch bikes are very solid choices for riders who haven’t been on a bike in a while but who don’t want to make the move to 26- or 29-inch cruisers. They’re also significantly easier on your body, particularly when ridden on a more than occasional basis.
―As Suited for Racing as It Is for Cruising―
DK Retro Legend 26
A retro bike from a company that didn’t make bikes back in the day? Sounds a little crazy— but since it’s free from any need to nod to a particular heritage, the DK Retro ends up being a very appealing package. To begin with, it’s chrome-plated, which will be enough to seal the deal for some riders. The geometry is modern, as is the sizing. This looks like a cool old bike but rides like a new one. Suitable for anything from local racing to a long beach ride.
―The Ferrari of Freestyle―
Sunday Soundwave Special
“The best complete bike money can buy” is Sunday’s pitch for the Soundwave. It certainly represents the zeitgeist of freestyle BMX at the moment. Constructed from Odyssey’s 41 Thermal treated Cr-Mo tubing and offered with a full suite of Odyssey parts, the Sunday is available with a freecoaster in left-hand-drive or right-hand-drive. If you don’t know why you’d have a preference, this isn’t the bike for you. At twenty-three and a half pounds without brakes, which is how most riders will use it, this is very much the Ferrari of complete freestyle bikes.
―Vintage-Equipment Showpiece and Daily Driver―
Monza Chrome 24
Some nontrivial percentage of Monza bikes are apparently purchased for static display in upscale homes, which is not terribly surprising once you look at them. Designed to replicate the feel of early-Eighties BMX bikes without hewing too closely to any particular brand or model, the “Monza Bicycle Club” builds limited-production runs with the assistance of Tange in Taiwan, most of which are show-chromed and feature Skyway mag wheels. The appeal here is similar to Singer or Icon “restomod” vehicles: spare-no-expenses retro aesthetic, in daily-driver form. Be aware that your enjoyment of the Monza probably shouldn’t include any thirty-foot gap jumps; from the plastic wheels to the slim aluminum cranks, this is very much a vintage-equipment piece.
―Affordable, American-Made Race Frame―
Carbon fiber is very much the belle of the BMX racing ball—with the Envy BLK2 from Supercross being the acknowledged standard of the world—but there isn’t currently a USA-made frame available in the wonder material. In a sport with unashamedly rural and patriotic roots, that’s a big deal. Ssquared offers an alternative: the light and thoroughly bespoke CEO frame, with unique tube shapes and heavy-duty dropouts for a long service life. The company has a good reputation among hardcore racers and is often a personal presence at major events. The frames are as much as a thousand dollars cheaper than the carbon competitors, which doesn’t hurt one bit.
―A New Twist on Freestyle’s Most Important Bike―
Haro Bob Haro Freestyler 26
Our final pick is a tour of freestyle-BMX history packed into a single bicycle. Designed with Bob Haro himself, and now sold through his site, the 2021 version of the Freestyler 26 recalls the design and style of the 1984 original, but it’s been thoroughly updated with aluminum tubing, a mid-size bottom bracket, a disc brake, and an outrageous welded bar/stem combination not seen since the demise of Vector BMX thirty-five years ago. It’s what BMX was, but also what BMX is. If recent history is any guide, it might also be that rarest of things: a bicycle that holds its value after you buy and ride it. Suitable for twelve-year-olds and seventy-two-year-olds, with one stipulation: You have to want to get RAD!
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