Balance bikes come in all shapes and sizes and many parents swear by individual brands. But how do you know which are the best balance bikes and which will work for your child? Before making a decision, it is important to know what to look for when you go shopping for your child's first bike.
If you don't feel like reading through our reviews and guides, we recommend you purchase on of the three balance bikes below. They have consistently proven to be the best balance bikes currently on the market, both in terms of price, quality and durability.
Why a Balance Bike is Best
Those of you who are already convinced that a balance bike is the way to go, can just skip through this section, but if you are still on two legs between getting your kid a balance bike, a tricycle or a pedal bike with training wheels, read on.
A balance bike is so much safer than your other options. Tricycles are slow and fall over easily on uneven surfaces. With no pedals, kids can focus on their balance and act quicker when they feel the bike topple. Once they move over to a bigger, pedaled bike, they already know how to balance, reducing the countless falls that are usually associated with learning to ride a bike.
Also Read Our "Child Bicycle Safety - The Do's and Dont's" Guide.
While the initial costs may seem more, one balance bike can replace the need for a tricycle and a 12" bike with training wheels. 12" Bikes are not really useable without their training wheels, so many parents end up buying a 16" bike in any case. Balance bikes also have a better resale value.
Gets Kids Outdoors
With so many digital distractions, kids of today seem to prefer to stay in the house and have no reason to want to play outside. With a bike that they feel confident on, the kids will nag you to take them for a ride. With a balance bike, toddlers can easily cruise on sidewalks at moderate speeds and get some exercise instead of being strapped into a stroller. Children don't get tired as quickly as when they have to walk, and balance bikes are lightweight enough to carry easily when not in use.
Easier Switch to Pedals
Children who grow up on balance bikes usually are quicker to switch to pedal bikes. Many will already do the switch at three years, versus 5 or 6 years of age using training wheels. Because they know how to balance, these kids are also confident and won't be looking for the security of extra wheels to stabilize them.
Best Balance Bikes for Different Kids
Even the best balance bikes sometimes get bad reviews for one simple reason: the parents choose a bike that is wrong for their child. There are many child-oriented factors that you need to consider when getting a balance bike:
Your child's age is an important consideration when choosing a bike. Don't just go for the bigger model with the notion that he will "grow into it." A bike that is a good fit for your bike will boost his confidence right from the start.
For younger children (3 and younger) it is imperative that you choose a lighter bike that the child can handle. For this reason, wooden bikes are usually better suited for older children, while lightweight metal bikes are great for toddlers from 18 months upwards. Brakes would be wasted on a younger child and it can get in their way.
If you are planning on buying a balance bike online, be sure to measure your child's inseam length (from the ground to crotch). When on the bike, your child needs to be able to stand with his feet flat on the ground, walking forward. Balance bikes start at a height of 11 inches from the ground, but others start as high as 14 to 15 inches. If the highest seat setting is shorter or equal to your child's inseam measurement, you need to look for a higher bike.
Also Read Our "What Size Bike Does Your Child Need?" Guide.
Obviously you need to choose a balance bike that will suit your child's personality, and then I am not only talking about color and style. If your child is a bit timid and hasn't had any bike experience, it is better to go for a light bike with the least extra features (such as platforms, kickstands and handbrakes). Always keep the main goal in mind: your child needs to have fun while learning balance and coordination.
Best Balance Bikes Construction-Wise
Balance bikes vary widely when it comes to frame size, with the smaller frames. Smaller frames are nice and lightweight for younger kids, while larger frames with an extra-long seat post are more adjustable.
The main difference between the best balance bikes and your cheaper models is the geometry of the frame. Many toy manufacturers of cheaper balance bikes will not spend much time on research and this is a factor that many parents tend to overlook. The geometry of the frame will determine the child's balance and how easy it is to control the bike. High-end balance bikes usually encourage a better center of gravity due to the seat being placed a bit farther back. This leaves more room for the kids to lean forward will running with the bike.
When it comes to materials, you will likely have a choice between metal, wood and composite frames.
- Metal bikes are either from steel or aluminum alloys. Steel frames are heavier and can hold a heavier rider, but are often vulnerable to corrosion. Aluminum bikes are lightweight but can usually only holds a maximum weight of about 75 pounds.
- Wooden bikes are more eco-friendly, but often not as adjustable as metal and are not as long lasting.
- Composite bikes have a lightweight frame, but it has a higher weight capacity and are rust resistant.
Balance bikes come in one of 5 different types of tires, each with its own pros and cons, weight and cost considerations.
- EVA tires are filled with a hard rubber foam, making it look and feel a lot like a regular tire. This makes these types of tires puncture proof, and allows them to maintain their shape for several years. EVA tires are also about half the weight of that of air tires, making them a great option for smaller toddlers.
- Standard Air tires make for a more comfortable ride as they absorb bumps better than foam. They also have better traction, but are heavier. You also have the hassle of having to have a tire pump ready for when they deflate and punctures can be a real headache. Balance bike tubes can usually only be replaced by the bike manufacturing company, so it may be hard to try and get a replacement in your area. Add tire sealant to greatly reduce these concerns.
- Fatboy tires are larger, with a wider profile than standard air tires, increasing the air capacity. Thanks to the extra air, these tires offer better cushioning and are great shock absorbers. These tires are usually only found on your high-end bikes such as the LikeaBike and Early Rider models.
- Rubber Honeycomb tires are fairly new on the market, but are the most versatile. These tires offer the same great traction you get in air tires, without the risk of deflating. These tires are however only found on a small selection of balance bikes.
- Solid Rubber tires are also a new design. These tires have great traction, but offer almost not cushioning, making them less comfortable than air tires. These are great for shorter rides.
Handle Bars and Steering
The steering range and height of the handle bars vary between the different balance bikes. Opt for a bike with lower, adjustable handle bars for smaller riders. The grips are also a very important safety feature: a grip with a rubber knob at the end will protect the child's hands from chafing on walls and also protect the hands from hitting the ground when he falls.
Some balance bikes also feature turning limiters, which prevent sharp turns and keep the bike from jackknifing during a fall, limiting injuries.
Check the bolts and other parts before buying a balance bike. Components will usually either be metal or plastic, of which metal is simply more durable and reliable. Protruding bolts can cause scratches and injuries, so rather opt for a bike with recessed or covered bolts.
You have a wide range of options when it comes to choosing the best balance bike for your child. In the end your main considerations would be durability, comfort and how well the bike suits your child.