Planning to get a balance bike for your child?
As most of us already know, a balance bike is the first step towards teaching your child how to eventually ride a bike. Of course, there are other methods such as using training wheels, but in the past 10 years, balance bikes have surged in popularity due to their effectiveness.
So which is the best balance bike you should get?
There are plenty of choices available today. But bear in mind that not all balance bikes are designed, built, and ride the same. There are many factors involves such as your child’s height, frame materials, and geometry just to name a few.
A Quick Glance : Our Favorite Balance Bikes for 2-Year-Olds
Balance Bikes Buying Guide & Tips
Buying a balance bike may seem like a pretty easy task.
As bikes go, balance bikes may seem pretty basic. There are no drivetrain components to consider. There aren’t even pedals to fret about.
However, there are surprisingly many factors to consider before buying your toddler their first set of two wheels including size, frame geometry, child’s height, frame material, tires, hand brake, footrests, assembly, maintenance, and even warranty.
1. Child's Height
Obviously, a good fit is essential when deciding on a balance bike.
The preferred way of fitting a bike to your child is by actually having them get on the bike. Adults typically measure for bikes by using standover height, which involves straddling the top bar with both feet flat on the ground. A good fit for an adult is to have about 1” of clearance between the crotch and bar.
Here are 2 common ways to determine the ideal bike size based on your child’s height.
You can fit your child’s bike similarly by using the seat instead of the top tube.
Geek Tip : Your child should have about 1.5” of clearance above the seat while standing feet flat on the ground.
This will allow them to touch and push off of the ground easily while maintaining a small knee bend.
Alternatively, you can also measure using an inseam.
Simply adjust the seat height to about 1.5” less than your child’s inseam.
Of course, your child is growing, so you’ll want to make that measurement with the seat in its lowest position.
Geek Tip : Look for a balance bike with an adjustable seat height that offers several inches of additional height to get more life for your purchase.
2. Wheel Size
Just like standard bikes, balance bikes come in a wide range of sizes.
And like other bikes, balance bikes are organized by wheel size ranging from 10” all the way up to 14” and beyond.
You’ll mainly want to consider 12” balance bikes such as the Strider Sport, First Bike, and Retrospec Cub. A 12” balance bike will suit most children from 24 to 36 months, which is the best time to begin teaching your child to ride.
If you’re anxious to get your toddler on two wheels as quickly as possible, you might check out the 10” options. These bikes are small enough to suit children as young as 18 months or about 30” in height.
If your child is late to the bike riding game and you’re looking for alternatives to the classic training wheels then you might consider a 14” balance bike such as the Early Rider Road Runner, which will suit kids as old as age five or about 4 feet in height.
3. Frame Geometry
Balance bikes only work if your child can learn to balance on them.
A lot of that depends on the bike’s geometry. Good geometry makes this possible. Bad geometry makes this an exercise in frustration.
So what is good geometry when it comes to a balance bike?
Let’s talk about the cockpit first.
Just as the cockpit of an airplane is where the pilot sits, the cockpit of a bike is where the rider sits.
The cockpit is the area between the seat and the handlebars.
Why is this so important?
On a balance bike, the rider needs space to comfortably lean forward into the handlebars while running to create speed and momentum. If the cockpit is too small, the child will be scrunched up and forced to sit upright.
As they grow their knees may even hit the handlebars. If the space between the handlebars and seat is too great the rider will be forced to hover over the handlebars. You want a comfortable medium between these two extremes.
Beware of bikes with swept-back handlebars as this generally shortens the cockpit space.
You’ll also want to take wheelbase into account. The wheelbase is the space measured from the front to the rear wheel.
Wheelbase determines the stability of the bike.
Generally, balance bikes have a wheelbase ranging from 50 to 60cm.
Geek Tip : A longer wheelbase will provide more stability and hence, easier to balance.
4. Frame Materials
The most important consideration with frame material is the weight. Your child needs to be able to lift and maneuver the bike.
Here are 4 of the most commonly used frame materials.
- Steel is the most common material used for balance bikes but is also the heaviest. For example, the Strider Sport and Retrospec Cub balance bike.
- Aluminum is much lighter but also more expensive, such as the Cruzee Ultralite and Woom 1.
- Carbon fiber balance bikes are also available; however, these bikes, like their adult counterparts, come with a steep price tag.
- Wood balance bikes are also an option; however, it’s best to steer clear of most of these bikes. They are generally not as adjustable as metal bikes nor are they as durable.
Geek Tip : A good rule of thumb is that the bike should weigh no more than 30% of your child’s body weight.
Balance bikes offer two options when it comes to tires: foam and air.
- Air-filled tires are the traditional kind used by nearly all adult bikes. Because air-filled tires can flex, they offer a smooth ride. However, air-filled tires do add significant weight to a bike.
- Foam tires are lighter than air-filled tires, but they lack give when rolling over uneven terrain, making for a much rougher ride. Foam tires are also smoother, resulting in less traction. That coupled with their lack of flex make them a poor choice for aggressive riders.
6. Hand Brake
Many balance bikes come without breaks and are stopped by a child putting their feet down. While this may work fine for most children, balance bikes equipped with a hand brake offer a safer alternative and help to prepare kids for bigger bikes.
Children around the age of three typically have the hand-eye coordination to incorporate their feet and a hand brake for stopping.
It’s important to note that not all hand brakes are created equal.
Young children’s hands are too small to operate the hand brakes on adult bikes. Before purchasing a bike with handbrakes, make sure the reach between the handlebar and the brake lever is small enough to accommodate your child’s small hand.
Geek Tip : Test the hand brake by using the pinky test. If you can comfortably operate the brakes with your pinky finger, than your child should be able to work them too.
Contrary to popular belief, footrests actually can be more of a nuisance on balance bikes.
Kids instinctively know to lift their feet when gliding on a balance bike and generally don’t feel the need to rest their feet on something.
Footrests can also actually get in the way of a child’s stride as she propels the bike forward with her legs. That said, if you feel your child does need footrests, there are balance bikes that offer them.
Just make sure the footrests are mounted in the right place such as the KaZAM v2e.
Geek Tip : Footrests need to be positioned under the seat, as opposed to in front of it, in order to be out of the way of your child’s stride.
8. Assembly and Maintenance
Without the complexities of a drive train to worry about, assembly of a balance bike should be a relative breeze.
Getting a balance bike from box to road should take less than 30 minutes.
Instructions for assembly of these bikes are generally easy to follow with illustrated step-by-step instructions and video guides via YouTube.
Necessary bike tools for assembly are usually included. Assembly may range from ready-to-ride out of the box to having to install a seat, a set of two wheels, or having to adjust the handlebars for proper alignment.
All of these are relatively easy tasks that most parents should be able to handle.
As with any significant purchase, you’ll want some peace of mind that the bike your purchase will hold up and that if it doesn’t, the manufacturer will fix it.
Warranties vary depending on the company, but most of the quality balance bike manufacturers include multi-year coverage.
Strider bikes, for example, features a two-year warranty, which is generally the standard among balance bike manufacturers.
Woom Bikes offers one of the most impressive warranties with a no-questions-asked 90-day money-back guarantee, a 5-year warranty on frame and fork, and a 2-year warranty on components.
Our Favorite Balance Bike Picks
The Best Balance Bike for Your Money
Started out of a garage by a dad who wanted to find a better way to teach his young son how to ride a bike, Strider is considered to be a pioneer in the balance bike market.
As such, it is one of the better-known brands in balance bikes. This bike wins our best value category largely because of its broad size range.
The seat height and handlebars can be adjusted to accommodate your child from 18 months to 5 years. That’s a lot of bang for your buck when you consider how many pairs of sneakers your child will go through in that same time span.
The bike is light-weight at less than 7 lbs despite its steel frame and features puncture-less foam tires.
A Great Option for Those on A Tight Budget
KaZAM balance bikes feature a look that is certainly all their own with its design focused on making step-in as simple as possible. The top bar, if you can call it that, is very low to the ground. It’s so low in fact, that it features a built-in footrest.
Other features include puncture-resistant foam tires and adjustable handlebars and seat that make this bike usable for kids up to age 5. This bike also comes in a selection of 10 different colors.
But perhaps its most attractive feature is its price. At roughly half the cost of other balance bike manufacturers, this is our best budget bike.
Designed in Germany with Top Quality Materials
If you’re looking for top quality for very young children, then First Bike is your answer.
This bike, designed by an avid cycling dad from Germany, is built out of composite material, making it very light at around 8 lbs. The bike’s flexible frame, air-filled tires, and a horse-shaped saddle designed to keep little tikes from slipping off makes it one of the more comfortable balance bikes on the market.
First Bike comes with all the bells and whistles you’d expect in a top-quality balance bike. It features a rear disc brake with a brake lever that is designed to suit little hands. Other features include a steering limiter to prevent oversteering.
The lowering kit, an accessory that can be purchased to lower the standover height by 4 cm, makes this bike the perfect pick for very young riders.
One of the Best Looking Balance Bikes Available
Just because it’s your child’s first bike, doesn’t mean it needs to look like a kids bike.
The balance bike from Joovy, a company that offers everything from strollers to potty chairs, is sleek and just plain cool with its black aluminum frame, wheelset, and cushioned saddle. The bike also comes in a few other slick colors including hot pink.
This is certainly one of the best looking balance bikes on the market.
Aside from looks, this bike also features extra-wide pneumatic air tires for improved stability, traction, and comfort as well as a hand brake. The bigger tires don’t mean a heavier bike. An aluminum frame helps keep the total weight of this bike at just under 9 lbs.
Choose from 17 Different Color Combinations
This balance bike earned our pick as the most unique design because of its complete dedication to step-thru design. This bike, built by Retrospec, specializes in throwback bikes, skateboards, and paddleboards, focuses on safety and ease of use.
The top bar, if you can still call it that, drops all the way down to allow easy step-through for kids. In fact, the top bar is so low that it incorporates a footrest into its design.
This bike also features adjustable handlebars and seat height, giving it a broad age range from 18 months to 5 years. The Retrospec Cub comes in an impressive 17 different color options.
Early Rider Road Runner
A Unique, One of A Kind Design
Having dreams of your little guy or girl riding their first road bike, head down, hands on the drops like a criterium racer. Well, dream no more.
Early Rider, a company that has spent the past 12 years designing two-wheeled machines that get kids to be independently mobile, is set to prepare your little one for that experience with a balance bike clearly inspired by adult road bikes.
With its drop handlebars, Easy Rider’s offering is certainly one-of-a-kind for balance bikes that are on the market. This bike also features pneumatic tires, a carbon fiber seat post, and a leather saddle.
This is true for parents who want to get their tyke ready for a future road bike. Your child better like silver because that’s the only color Easy Rider does for any of its bikes. And if you like the looks, be prepared to pay for it. This is one of the most expensive balance bikes on the market.
A Beautifully Designed Bamboo Balance Bike
There aren’t many wood balance bikes on this list, and there’s a reason for that.
Wood generally doesn’t hold up as well as metal. Kinderfeets is an exception. Designed by a Dutch dad who wanted a pushbike for his son, the Kinderfeets Classic is constructed from lacquered bamboo, one of the strongest woods you can use (bamboo even has greater tensile strength than steel. Who knew?).
Needless to say, this bike is durable.
The Kinderfeets Classic features an adjustable seat height and footrest, a washable cushioned seat, no air tires, and a low step-through frame. One of the cooler features on this bike is its chalkboard paint finish, which allows your child to customize their bike with a pack of Crayola chalk (included with the bike!).
The Classic comes in six different colors ranging from black to pink. Oh, and as for the name, Kinderfeets is a play on the Dutch word kinderfiets, which translates to child’s bike.
A Super Lightweight Balance Bikes for Under 2 Years Old
Weight is a critical factor when it comes to balancing bikes. If your child struggles to lift or maneuver the bike because it’s too heavy, they’re not going to ride it.
Cruzee, which just began offering its balance bikes in North America in 2016, has weight first and foremost in its design. With its frame made of aluminum and foam rubber tires, the Ultralite is one of the lightest balance bikes you can buy, weighing in at just over four pounds.
The bike features a wide seat and adjustable handlebars that will keep the bike usable for up to three years. This bike also comes in nine different colors. With adult bikes, lighter weight usually means more expensive, and that’s no different here.
The Cruzee Ultralite is one of the more expensive balance bikes on the market.
Made from High Quality and Lightweight Components
Like Early Rider, Woom is one of a few niche bicycle builders that only build bikes for kids. Woom designs bikes for kids ranging in age from 18 months to 14 years old. In an effort to build bikes that are specially tailored to children, this German company, pronounced voom in English, produces 85% of the parts it uses.
The Woom 1 features a low step-through, an adjustable handlebar, and seat height that make it an option for ages 18 months to 3.5 years. Safety features include a steering limiter and a hand brake.
The Woom 1 is built with air-filled tires and lightweight aluminum, giving it our best quality rating. With quality comes cost. This is also one of the most expensive balance bikes on the market with a price point that is triple some of the other bikes on this list.