Cycling has always been a huge part of my life. It is my preferred way to get around, and I love spending the weekends off-road and getting a serious adrenalin fix! When I had my first child, I knew that I wanted to get them on two wheels as quickly as possible so that I could share my passion with them.
I did quite a bit of research and learnt that if I got by child on a balance bike as soon as possible, from about the age of 2, they could be on a pedal bike by the time they are 4, depending on the child. That was what I wanted, so I immediately started looking for the right balance bike for my child (and now children).
While balance bikes seem incredibly simple, finding the right one is challenging. There are lots of factors to consider. There are also so many models and options available that the task can seem overwhelming!
You need to consider the age, weight, height and physical maturity of your child. You also need to balance your budget with how much they will use the bike. Will they be out on the road daily, or just making the occasional weekend outing?
Let’s take a look at some of the main things to consider when choosing a balance bike, and some of the best models on the market.
To safely use a balance bike your child needs to be able to place both of their feet flat on the ground, in order to be able to scoot along. While many parents will be tempted to go a ‘size-up’, anticipating that their child will grow into the bike, this is unsafe.
As a general guide, for a 2-year-old you are probably looking at 12-inch tyres. However, 10 and 14-inch tyres are also commonly available for smaller or larger toddlers.
The right tyre size should be combined with the right seat height. This should be 1-1.5 inches less than your child’s inseam. This allows for a slight knee bend. Get your child to stand over the frame to measure for height before making a purchase.
Many models now have adjustable seats and handlebars as well. This makes it possible for the bike to grow with your child, up to a point.
Balance bikes are made in a variety of materials from heavy steel to wood, plastic or light aluminium. The type of frame is one of the main determining factors when it comes to weight.
You need a bike that is light enough for your child to propel forward. As a rule of thumb, the bike should not weigh more than 30% of your child’s weight. Though this also depends on your child. A more athletic child can probably manage a heavier bike that a less coordinated child of the same weight will struggle with.
When it comes to weight it is often a trade-off with features. Better tyres, brakes, and other features all add to the weight of the bike.
As well as considering whether the bike is the right weight for your child, think about whether it is the right weight for you. When your child gets tired or simply doesn’t want to ride anymore, you will likely find yourself carrying it. Make sure it is a weight that you are happy to carry some distance, with your child in tow.
Just like with adult bikes, a balance bike’s tyres determine how smooth your child’s ride will be. What tyres are right for you will depend on where and how your child will be using their bike.
The best tyres to get are air (pneumatic) tyres). Very much like regular bike tyres, they offer excellent cushioning and traction. There are a variety of treads available, though this shouldn’t be a strong consideration for most riders. If your child is particularly keen on off-roading, knobby tread tyres are best, but not generally necessary. The downside with air tyres is that they can add 3-4 lbs to the weight of a bike, and punctures, so don’t forget your repair kit.
Other tyre options include EVA foam tyres, which are cheaper and lighter than air tyres, and also puncture proof. However, they provide limited traction, and pretty much no cushioning. Your child will feel every bump in the road.
Hard plastic tyres are extremely lightweight, but offer no traction or cushioning and wear out quickly. These are really only appropriate for bikes for smaller kids that need super light bikes, and who will mostly be riding indoors
Parents are often surprised that not all balance bikes come with brakes. This is not actually the major safety issue that it appears. Most 2-year-olds lack the coordination and response time to use bike brakes. With a balance bike, just as they use their feet to generate momentum, your child will use their feet to slow down and stop. A sturdy pair of shoes are your best brakes!
The main benefit of brakes as a balance bike feature is to help children become accustomed to the idea of hand brakes before upgrading to a pedal bike.
When choosing a bike, you will have to balance your desire for breaks against the extra expense and weight that they add to the bike.
When you do buy a bike with breaks, make sure that the space between the break and the handlebars is narrow enough for your child to pull comfortable. Wide spaces that don’t work for little hands are a common balance bike design flaw.
How exactly the different components of a balance bike are put together can have a huge impact on your child’s ability to use the bike, and enjoyment.
Riding a balance bike is about running and gliding. Kids have a natural tendency to lean forward when they run, so the bike needs to allow them enough room to do so. A bike needs to have an appropriate amount of space between the seat and the handlebars to give their legs room to run properly.
Many balance bikes don’t have a footrest, and kids don’t need one. Plus, a badly designed footrest can be a negative feature. It can interfere with your child’s ability to run by forcing them to run with their legs further apart than they would like. If the footrest is too far forward, your child can also hit their heels and the backs of their legs on the rest. The ideal footrest is further back on the bike, designed for your child to rest their heels, rather than their toes.
When looking at a bike frame, you want a relatively small space between the back of the seat and the rear wheel when the seat is at its lowest point. A large gap creates a high centre of gravity making it more difficult for your child to balance and control the bike.
6. Turning Limiters
Turning limiters stop the front wheel of the bike from turning a full revolution, stopping excessively sharp turns. This also prevents the wheel accidentally turning 360 degrees and compromising any brake lines.
Some people claim that a turning limiter makes riding safer, while others claim it prevents children from learning how to steer properly while they are still travelling at slower distances. If you do pick up a balance bike with a turning limiter, make sure it isn’t too restrictive.
When buying a balance bike, don’t forget the other accessories you will need!
Have you considered a helmet for your child? While they aren’t likely to be moving quickly, a helmet will add a bit of extra protection. It will also teach them the need to cycle with a helmet for when they do upgrade to a pedal bike.
When a child falls off a balance bike, they usually fall forward onto hands and knees. Gloves and knee pads can help limit any damage from falling, and can be a good idea in rougher terrain. However, for most outings, your child is close enough to the ground, and moving slow enough, that these aren’t really necessary.
If you intend to take your child out in low light conditions, it is prudent to get them high visibility and reflective clothing. While you will probably be close to your child, it helps other people in the same space see your child and avoid needless accidents or near misses. Again, it also starts to teach your child some of the principles of bike safety.
Best Balance Bikes 2019
Now that we have covered what the most important features to look for when choosing a balance bike, let’s take a look at some of the best balance bikes on the market that tick all the boxes.
Weight: 8.2 lbs
Weight: 6.7 lbs
Weight: 14 lbs
Weight: 7.7 lbs
Weight: 8.6 lbs
Weight: 4.3 lbs
Weight: 9.75 lbs
Weight: 11 lbs
Weight: 6.39 lbs
1. WOOM BIKES USA - Woom1 - The perfect first bike
One of the more expensive balance bikes on my list, it is still my first choice. It is perfectly sized for most 2-year-olds and features air tyres and handbrakes, while still managing to be light weight. The frame design allows your child to use the bike in a comfortable upright position that gives them good balance. It also comes in 4 colours, so there is something for everyone.
Responsive hand brake
Removeable turning limiter
Excellent frame design
Seat is not adjustable
2. Yedoo Too Too - The perfect first bike
Extremely lightweight, the Yedoo Too Too is great for smaller riders. Cheaper than the Woom1 but still at the higher-end, it still has air tyres and hand brakes, as well as a well-designed turning limiter. While great for smaller riders, it also has 6 inches of adjustable seat height, allowing it to grow. It has a nice padded saddle for comfort, but some exposed bolts on the frame have the potential to scratch little legs.
Responsive hand brake
Exposed bolts that can potentially
Steering limiter is not removeable
3. Strider 12-inch Sport - The best seller
For kids who will be riding about town, the Strider 12-inch Sport is a great choice. A mid-range bike, it has a light frame with an excellent design which allows kids to lean forward and run in a natural way. The main drawback with this model is the foam tyres. While these won’t puncture, it means that the bike is not idea for using off-road.
Lightweight, manoeuvrable frame
Adjustable seat and handlebars
A bit small for older kids
4. Schwinn Stride 12-inch - The best loved bike
One of the most affordably balance bikes on the market, it still comes with air tyres and an adjustable seat which means that it can grow with your child. The main problem with this model is that, despite the 12-inch tyres, it is a little large for smaller toddlers. Also the foot rest is a little awkward as the kids start to learn to run with the bike.
Too large for smaller toddlers
Footrest poorly designed
Doesn’t come with hand brakes
5. Chillafish BMXie-RS - The Cool bike
The Chillafish is at the more affordable end of the spectrum, and weighs about 8 pounds. It is perfect for 2-year-olds that love their older siblings’ BMX bikes. What sets this bike apart from others are the rubber skin tyres. They are airless and puncture-proof like foam tyres, but offer the grip and cushioning of air tyres. The bike also features a light, fibreglass reinforced frame and adjustable seat. Unfortunately, the bike’s front wheel does have a tendency to wobble with lighter children, and the frame is on the small side for older toddlers. The seat also is not adjustable.
Rubber skin tyres
Light fibreglass reinforced frame
Seat not adjustable
Front wheel unstable with lighter children
No hand brake
One of the more expensive bikes on the list, the German designed FirstBike is certainly high quality. At around 8.4 pounds, kids should be able to start using the bike at 2, and still be on it at 4. The seat also adjusts from 12 inches to 18 inches, allowing it to grow with your child. However, the frame can bend a little under the weight of heavier children. It comes with quality air tyres, and an appropriately sized hand brake for small hands. The bike also comes with a lifetime warranty, so while you a forking out more upfront, you can have peace of mind around additional costs.
Responsive hand brake
Not good for heavier children
7. Croco Premium & Ultra-Light - The lightest bike
Another affordable option, the Croc Premium has an ultralight aluminium frame, so the whole thing weighs just 4.3 lbs (2 kg), making it great for younger kids. The seat also has 7 inches of growth in it, but the geometry of the bike becomes quite unstable when the seat is at the higher end. The bike also as EVA foam tyres, which means while it is useable on paved surfaces, it’s not great off-road.
Adjustable seat up to 7 inches
Light aluminium frame
No hand brakes
Not great for taller kids
8. Radio Flyer Glide and Go - The fun bike
-Another affordable balance bike, the Radio Flyer is on the large side and is best for older toddlers. The bike does have a quick release seat post clamp with 3.5 inches of adjustment to grow a little with your child. Another bike with foam tyres, it performs well on paved surfaces, but isn’t great off-road.
Easily adjustable seat
No hand brakes
9. Retrospec Cub Kids - The kid-friendly bike
The Critical Cycles Cub kid is an option if you are looking for something affordable. While the frame is designed for younger kids between 2-3 years with a maximum seat height of 16 inches, it is on the heavier side at 9.2 pounds. It is better for more athletic children. The main drawbacks of the bike at the foam tyres, which mean its not great for use off-road, and the footrest, which is quite large and located quite far forward on the bike, interfering with kids’ ability to run comfortably.
No hand brakes
Poorly designed footrest
10. Banana Bike LT - The best value bike
Still in the affordable range, this bike has a unique banana shaped low slung frame which makes it easier for smaller children to mount and dismount. The low seat also works well for 2-year-olds, but is adjustable for taller kids. Again, this bike is the foam tyres, which make it slippery and uncomfortable for your child on rough surfaces. However, the main drawback with this bike is the manufacture quality. Rust and jamming problems tend to occur more quickly than with other models.
Banana style frame for mounting and dismounting
No hand brakes
Poor manufacture quality
So What's Your Balance Bike?
Balance bikes for toddlers have become hugely popular in the last 15 years, which means that there is a lot to choose from. The choice can be overwhelming. The main things to remember are to get something the right size and weight for your child. Also, consider how often and for how long your child will be using their balance bike to help you weigh up the various features against your budget.