20 vs. 24 vs. 26 for BMX riding

The city I live in just opened its first skate/bmx park. I really want to learn some bmx riding, I have been a mountainbiker for about 12 yrs. I never had the opportunity to try bmx when I was younger, I am 44 and have never ridden a bmx bike. Which style of bike would you recommend? 20″ bmx, 24″ bmx, or something like a P series from Specialized? Thanks!


Hey Jeff,

I’ve been riding a BMX cruiser a lot lately, and I’ve been thinking about this very topic. I could go on and on (and I plan to at some point), but let me say this for now:

P.3 style. Braaaping it at Weir’s.

There is no bad option. It’s all a question of familiarity and goals. Do you want to race BMX? Do you want to race 4X/DS on mountain bikes? Do you simply want to learn a new form of riding? Do you want to have fun in the shorter term or develop your skills in the longer term? How much can you spend?

A DJ hardtail like a P.bike will be the easiest transition for you. It will ride like your other mountain bikes, just smaller and stiffer. You will learn a lot, and this will make you better on your other, bigger bikes. Also, this type of bike is extremely versatile; I ride my P.3 all the time for errands, hill training, light trails, pump, jump, BMX, etc.

A 20″ will feel very strange. The cockpit will be shorter than you’re used to, and the bars will be much lower. The quickness and stiffness will offend you at first, but this is the ultimate way to build real skills. Even pro cruiser racers train exclusively on 20s. As current ABA Pro Cruiser champ Danny Caluag told me, “You get all your skills on the 20. A cruiser is so stable and easy to ride, you can always hop on the cruiser and go.”

BMX cruiser style. Folding into a Western Denver pump track. This bike is trickier to ride, but when it’s on, IT’S ON!

A 24″ cruiser is a nice compromise. The cockpit will be the same as a comparable 20, but the bigger wheels make it feel a bit more like a mountain bike. But it will feel different, and it will show you how slow and lazy you’ve become over the years. When you learn to ride this beast, you will be ready to kill your MTBs, and you can step down to a 20 with less stress.

After I broke some ribs a couple months ago, I spend six weeks riding my Intense Factory Alloy 24 exclusively. I rode it for errands, I rode it up and down the mountains in my neighborhood, I rode pump track. Once I got the hang of it, it absolutely ripped. And when I got back on my Enduro and P.3, I was a different (better) rider. Specifically, my movements became quicker and more precise. Now that I have this experience, I really want a 20.

Here’s what you should do:

Buy yourself a 24 BMX cruiser. You can get a new ridable one for $400 or a raceable one for $700 (about half the price of a quality DJ hardtail). Commit to riding it for a while. If you decide you like it, great. If it still feels sketchy, get yourself a P.bike or similar. You can’t go wrong.

I’m working on a BMX technique book, and I am learning a ton. Stay tuned.

— Lee

Product plug: Intense BMX bikes are designed by BMX/MTB legend Toby Henderson. They come in sizes and price points for everyone. My Intense Factory Alloy 24 is fantastic, and at a retail of $699, that’s a whole lot of love per dollar.

15 replies
  1. Chris says:


    Before you make your decision, make sure that the skatepark was not desinged for little wheels only. For example, a tight radiused quarter-pipe will feel harsh on bigger wheels, where a bmx will change direction a little easier. If the park is full of big bowls and half- and quarter-pipes, then you won’t have a problem. If it is full of little fun boxes and tight snake pits then you will. If you see MTBers riding there and they are hitting the transitions smoothly, then go for the 24″. Another thing someone learning should consider is that it is easier to bail off a BMX (and cruiser to a lesser extent). And if you do go for the BMX, forget all the pegs and Gyros and stuff until you are comfortable with dropping into and airing out of quarters. And don’t forget helmet, gloves and shin pads, at least. Elbows are good too. And decent soled shoes. Concrete hurts more than dirt. Before I started riding skate parks, my physiotherapist had only ever seen the types of injuries I had on rodeo riders.

    Brian, I think that choosing a four-wheeled recumbent over a BMX would definitely confirm that one is “awfully old”.

  2. Scott Barnard says:


    Any idea who makes the longest Cruiser? I’m 6’5″ and have been hitting the BMX track on my DJ hardtail and have been thinking a real BMX bike will sharpen my skills quite a bit.


  3. Mike says:

    Go For it Jeff,
    don’t listen to Brian I had my 1st BMX RACE last year at 38 so don’t let age stop you (this was about 25years after I first wanted to give it a go). I always wanted to do this as a kid so now my kids are doing it I just had to join in the fun. I started on my brothers Craftworks Rail with a very dodgy Psyhlo fork but have now got a GT Power series 24″ and it feels great but different to what I have been used to. Now I just need a few skills – and some fitness!
    I’m looking forward to the BMX guide

  4. Keith says:


    Lee provide you with some good information. I’ll be 40 in a couple of months and I have been racing BMX on and off for the past 30 years. There was a 10 year gap between 15 and 25 so when I got back into it I started off on a cruser, way more stable and forgiving. Also if you plan on racing, ABA has cruser classes up to 56 and over and 20″ tops out at 36 and over. Once you get comfortable on the cruiser then give a 20″ a shot. I ride my 20″ to work on my skills and race my MTN X bike in the cruiser class.

    Big tall dude looking for a cruiser – top tube length is not as important on a BMX bike. Wheel base and chain stay length are the mesurements that count. I am 6′ 2″ and my 20″ has a top tube length of 21.4. Check out the redline cruisers. Bubba Harris is a big boy and he rides one.

  5. John says:

    Wow there seems to be a lot of us forty somethings

    I got into mountain biking a bit over a year ago when I bought a Kona Coiler, my friends all ride Stinkys what can I say.

    Anyway much as I love the Coiler (and the Kula) can’t help but notice the fun the have at the local BMX track on 20’s

    Am I right in thinking that on pump traks and such those things get a lot of bang for buck?

  6. Josh130 says:

    If you pick a non-suspended bike (any BMX) it will feel really really weird at first.

    My first 20″ made my wrists swell up after every ride for about a week (of course I was jumping stairs to flat). Yet, once my riding technique adjusted I couldn’t put the thing down. They are definitely a lot of fun and a great skill builder.

    That being said, my favorite bike ever is still my Giant STP dirt jump bike. I do everything on it, and could be happy without everything else.

  7. Walt says:

    Yeah Jeff, don’t listen to that punk Brian. There’s always going to be some loser out there trying to bring you down. (to make themselves feel better in some perverted way) My Dad is 77 and he still rides a 26″ wheel bicycle (That’s BICYCLE … not some 4 wheel cart that that punk brian would suggest) He lives in a warm area so he rides year round and averages 10 miles per day. I’m 44 too and ride a P3 on a BMX track whenever I have head to the big city of Idaho Falls. It’s a great workout and really fun being able to hit the jumps as hard as you want. But I use my trail bike and freeride bike so much more because I have awesome xc and downhill trails all around where I live. But, if you were going to ride tracks, listen to Lee and get a cruiser. I tried one of those a few times and those things rock.

  8. Carla says:

    I’m about to turn 40 and I just bought my first 24″ cruiser! I’ve been mountain biking for several years and thought that riding at my local BMX track would be a great way to improve my skills on the trails on my big bike. Plus, I had a blast riding the track for the first time when I borrowed a friends’ cruiser.

    I had a question about BMX cruiser sizing. I’m 5’3″. The manufacturers catalog from the bike I bought has the suggested rider height of 5’8″ and over. I have 4.5″ of standover height, and it feels comfortable to me, which is why I bought it. But there was another bike in the catalog that had a suggested rider height on 4’8″-5’8″. Should I have opted for that one instead?

  9. Rodney says:

    I agree with Lee – get yourself a 24″ cruiser. I have two sons who got into bmx racing in the early 1980’s and it didn’t take long for me to get the bug too. I was in my early 30’s and my first bike was a 26″ cruiser. About a year later the first 24″ cruisers appeared and I got myself a Mongoose Two Four which seemed so small and twitchy at first but I soon got used to it. Almost another year later Patterson Racing released their new 24″ and I got one as soon as they hit our shores (Australia). That bike was revolutionary for the time – it was like a large 20″ frame with 24″ wheels (the kind of cruiser you see today) and it was way smaller, twitchier & faster than what I’d been riding. Once again I was soon used to the bike and the old bikes seemed like real clunkers! I raced in 25 years & over class and had a ball. Once I had learnt to race cruisers I also used my eldest son’s 20″ to race as well. In fact we swapped bikes all day so he could race 20″ & cruiser and me the same. I retired from racing after 8 years, but I kept riding my cruiser until 2004 when at age 55 I got into MTB. Riding a bmx taught me everything I know and I use those skills now on my mountain bike. It also informed my opinions on how a bike should be set up. I run a 50mm headstem, wide bars and flat pedals on my MTB because that’s what makes it feel right for me.
    Anyways enough with my life history – go get a 24″ cruiser!

  10. Dale says:

    When you pick a cruiser, pick one that is built more for street/park riding. There’s some lightweight aluminum racing cruisers out there (like Intense, Redline, GT) but I would suggest going for a chromoly frame. The weight is not a big factor when you start riding skateparks, but durability and feel is. Your bike is going to take a lot more abuse in the skatepark than it would on a bmx race track. To get started, check out the tried and true DK General Lee, you can get a new one for less than $300. Also, Subrosa has a nice cruiser for a little bit more. Cruisers get a bum deal from a lot of people that don’t get it. But you can’t argue against all the bang you get for so little money.

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