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Long before any of us ever took the keys to the car and drove off down the street, we were learning how to ride bikes. Bikes gave us that first taste of vehicular freedom, not to mention plenty of adventures with our friends.
Since we all want our kids to have the fun experiences and independence that bikes provide, why not start teaching them early? Tricycles and training wheels have their places in childhood, but, when it comes to preparing your tot to one day ride a real bicycle, balance bikes are where it’s at.
Balance bikes for toddlers develop the skills that will enable your little to peddle off on their own. Unlike tricycles or training wheels, which can function more as a crutch than a learning tool, balance bikes will teach your child to look where they are going, how to steer, coasting skills, and, of course, balance. All in all, they are simply the best way to prepare your child for that future big-kid bike.
But of all the balance bikes on the market, which one is best for your child?
Parent Guide and Buying Tips
How old does my child need to be in order to begin using a balance bike, and does their size matter?
Making sure to choose age-appropriate toys for our kids is one of the many ways we keep them safe. In order for your child to ride on a balance bike safely, they need to have reached at least 18 months of age. This will give them the strength, balance and coordination necessary to use a balance bike properly and with minimal risk.
One thing it’s important to understand is that while some balance bikes market themselves as being suitable to span the full age range of children who use the toys, it’s not likely that a toddler and an older child will be able to comfortably and safely use the same balance bike. Smaller children need their feet to be able to touch the ground, and larger children need to be extending their legs, not squatting. This means that balance bikes need replacing as they get older, but some picks with adjustable seats can see continuous safe use.
Why is adjusting the seat height of my toddler’s balance bike important, and how can I determine the best position for their seat?
Just like a regular bicycle, the seat height of a balance bike correlates with your child’s height to determine where their feet will fall when they sit on the bike’s seat. The purpose of a balance bike is for children to learn the movement, steering and balance required for them to maneuver a real bicycle, and in order for that to occur, their feet need to touch the ground with their knees bent just slightly.
When their seat height position is incorrect, kids don’t get the true effect of their balance bike and are less likely to be comfortable and ride safely. Therefore, it’s important to stick with picks that have a seat which can be adjusted to a range of positions. Determining the correct height for their seat may seem challenging, but in order to get it just right, simply measure their inseam and subtract between 1 and 1.5 inches. The remaining figure is the height position you should choose, as it should allow them to reach the floor with ease.
How does tire size affect my child’s use of their balance bike, and what size tires should I look for?
Balance bikes are a popular toy for a fairly broad range of younger kids, which means there can be size variance that parents should be aware of. One of the places this issue tends to come up is their tires.
Some balance bikes have tires that are as small as 10 inches in diameter, which makes them a less than stellar pick for your toddler to grow into. They’re okay when starting out, but as kids get bigger, the smaller wheel size makes them less safe. The average balance bike tire is about a foot in diameter, which is a great size for kids from 18 months to five years – combine these with an adjustable seat and you’ve got the potential for a pick that won’t need to be swapped out as they grow.
What type of balance bike tires are available, and how will they affect my toddler’s experience with their toy?
Like any wheeled vehicle, a lot of your child’s riding experience on their balance bike will be determined by the type and quality of their tires. Tires can vary by model, so it’s best to know a little bit about what’s out there before you start shopping in order to make an educated choice. We took a closer look at some of the most popular balance bike tire types to give you some insight into which kinds are the most functional in use.
Air tires: Standard air tires are easier to fill, but they’re also a bit heavier than some other picks. This means they add more weight to the vehicle, but they also provide good cushioning during riding and have a greater capacity for traction regardless of the terrain.
EVA foam tires: These picks are a bit cheaper than air tires, but the flip side of the financial windfall is a lighter-weight tire that’s not able to provide as much cushioning as an air tire. They can grip pavement well, so they’re good for riding in the neighborhood, but smoother surfaces and rugged terrain might find EVA foam tires struggling to stay stable. An upside of these less durable picks is that, since they’re made of foam, flat tires simply aren’t a thing.
Rubber tires: Sturdy and dense, rubber tires are similarly invulnerable to going flat. They’re better picks when it comes to traction thanks to their natural ability to grip, but they don’t offer much cushion, so small collisions can create a bit more of a shock. Like air tires, they can add a bit of heft to a toy.
Hard plastic:These are a tire style we don’t really recommend unless your child will be using their balance bike exclusively indoors. The wheels are very light, so they contribute to a toy that’s easy to transport over all, but they add no comfort or cushioning to your child’s ride and they’re especially inferior when it comes to providing a safe amount of traction on outdoor terrains.
Why is the weight of my toddler’s balance bike important, and how do I choose a bike that’s the proper weight?
As your toddler grows and develops, it’s important that the toys they play with be ones that they can operate safely and with relative ease. The weight of a balance bike can make a big difference in how good a pick it is for your child. Balance bikes that are too heavy are very difficult for growing toddlers to maneuver, and the best rule of thumb is to make a pick that weighs no more than 30% of your toddler’s body weight. This makes it likely that they’ll be able to zip around as intended.
What are turning limiters, and is it important that they be present on balance bikes?
If the concept of a turning limiter is new to you, let us give you a quick rundown before we go any further. Turning limiters are features which allow parents to limit the degree to which handlebars can be turned to a range that’s typically around 20 to 30 degrees. This prevents extra sharp turns that may be the unintentional result of trying to maneuver their balance bike, and can sometimes prevent a fall.
When it comes to whether or not a turning limiter should be used, different schools of thought exist on the issue. Some parents feel as though limiting their children’s ability to steer negates some of the benefits balance bikes offer by reducing their ability to learn how steering a bike works. Others would prefer to use them as a safety precaution, especially for younger children. They’re not absolutely necessary to make a balance bike safe, but if you’d feel more comfortable using a turning limiter, the option is available.
What are the pros and cons of balance bikes and three-wheeled scooters?
- Steering can be easier to understand: The steering mechanism of a balance bike is fairly straightforward and easy for kids to grasp, especially when compared to the steering mechanism of three wheeled scooters, which requires them to lean in order to change direction.
- They can rest their feet a bit: Kids can coast with their feet up while using balance bikes if they so desire – while they’re using scooters, their legs are always in action, which can be tiring for younger kids.
- They prepare kids for the feel of a real bike: Balance bikes are a great way to prep them for the feel and experience of real bike riding without the significant crutch that tricycles and training wheels can offer.
- They don’t typically feature brakes: Brakes add an element of safety to any wheeled toy for obvious reasons, but balance bikes don’t usually have hand brakes. Instead, they rely on children to use their feet to stop. Fortunately, if their seat height is positioned correctly, this will be easy for them to accomplish in most instances.
- They’re heavier and bulkier than scooters: While scooters tend to be slimmer and lightweight, balance bikes are a bit bulky and can weigh more than their counterparts. This makes them less travel-friendly and a bad pick for hilly areas where the toy may need to be carried.
- They’re lightweight and store easily: Scooters tend to have sturdy but lightweight metal frames and collapse into a thin design for carrying or storage, so transporting them is easy.
They can be better picks for hilly terrain: Because wheeled toys and hilly terrain usually means carrying or wheeling a bike or scooter uphill, the slimmer and lighter frame of a scooter makes it an ideal pick for toting uphill to play.
Riding a scooter provides exercise to multiple muscle groups: Scooters are great picks for getting full body cardiovascular and strength exercise, encouraging kids to create their own speed and power.
- The learning curve for steering is a bit steeper: Because kids need to lean to steer their scooter, some may find learning to steer it a bit more complex than learning on a balance bike. It becomes easier with time, but can take practice to feel comfortable with.
- Can be hard to introduce after a balance bike: When younger kids really love their balance bike, they may not be as interested in three wheeled scooters. Part of this is that riding a scooter can be more difficult and physically intensive, but practicing together and introducing the scooter outside can encourage them to try a ride.
Now that you know a few tips on what to look for in a toddler’s balance bike, let’s move on to some of our picks.
Best Metal Framed Balance Bikes
Common materials that make up balance bike frames are aluminum alloys and steel. Aluminum alloys are lightweight, rust-resistant, and tend to come with a higher price tag. Steel is more affordable but can be heavier and prone to rust if not stored properly.
Despite having a steel frame, this balance bike is exceptionally lightweight at under 7 pounds. It has EVA foam tires, rubber grips and bumpers on the handlebars, so those little hands are kept safe, and comes with two seats so the bike can grow with your child.
A well-known name in balance bikes, Strider certainly delivers comfort and ease with their sport model. It has a padded seat for extra comfort, requires no tools to adjust the height of the handlebars or seat, and has a built-in footrest.
Ages: 18 months – 5 years
Seat Heights: 11 – 19 inches (taller heights require switching to the included XL seat post)
Maximum Child Weight: 60 lbs
Although the price tag on this model is quite high, an obvious con, it is an intelligently designed product.
The aluminum frame is crafted to best benefit your child, with a low entry point and a long wheelbase for easy mounting and balancing. It includes a handbrake so that you can introduce your toddler to the concept of braking early in their life, as well as a turning limiter. The 12-inch wheels are rubber made and air filled, and the bike weighs just under 8 pounds.
Parents report that this bike is easy to assemble, so it won’t take long before your little one is powering around the yard on this popular and well-engineered balance bike.
Ages: 18 months – 4 years
Seat Heights: 10.8 – 15.7 inches
Maximum Child Weight: 150 lbs
Best Wooden Balance Bikes
As more people try to shrink their carbon footprint, renewable materials are a selling point in all sorts of products and balance bikes are no exception.
The birch wood that makes up this frame is sourced from an FSC approved forest. At 10 pounds, it is slightly heavier than its metal framed counterparts, so keep that in mind.
This balance bike comes with 12-inch, air-filled rubber tires and the seat is adjustable so that the bike can grow with your child. The handlebars have handle grips for a secure hold and a rubber bumper to protect your tot’s hands should they bump into anything on their sides.
Because this bike’s frame is 100% birch wood, you will want to be sure to store this bike out of the elements.
Ages: 18 months – 5 years
Seat Heights: 14.8 to 17 inches
Maximum Child Weight: 65 lbs
Here, we have another frame made from sustainably harvested birch wood. Like the above product, you will want to keep this bike safely stored away from the elements.
The ZÜM CX has a turning limiter, which is either a pro or a con depending on which side of the argument you fall on. The tires are air-filled rubber, and the handle grips come with a bumper to protect your little one’s hands.
At about 7lbs, it is a reasonably lightweight product. By taking the bike apart and reassembling it in “grown-up” mode, you have an affordable balance bike that grows with your child.
Ages: 2 – 6 years
Seat Heights: 12 – 14 inches (“low rider” mode) / 15 – 17″ (“grown-up” mode)
Maximum Child Weight: 50 lbs
Best Affordable Balance Bike
Although many balance bikes are on the pricey side for a family on a tight budget, there are a few affordable products that are good quality and will teach your toddler the valuable skills needed to one day ride a real bicycle.
At under $50, this product doesn’t have a lot of features, but it will absolutely help teach your tot the basics of balancing.
The frame is steel, but the bike is still quite lightweight, and the handlebars have rubber grips and bumpers.
Some parents have found that the 12″ foam filled tires lack traction on certain surfaces, but the bike is easy to assemble and comes with an adjustable seat and handlebars.
Ages: 2 – 3 years
Seat Heights: 15.5 to 17.5 inches
Maximum Child Weight: Not specified
This balance bike had an appearance on the show Shark Tank, which is a pretty fun thing to tell your tot.
It has a built-in footrest, EVA foam tires that won’t puncture, and is designed to help your child find their natural center of gravity as they learn how to balance on two wheels.
Some parents have found the paint job to be subpar and easily scratched on this product, but, if you’re on a budget, this is certainly a balance bike to consider.
Ages: 2 ½ to 5 ½
Seat Heights: 14 – 17.5 inches
Maximum Child Weight: Not specified
A good balance bike will put your toddler ahead of the game when it comes to learning how to ride a real bicycle. Beyond that, they will have a blast tooling around the yard or driveway while they learn valuable coordination skills and give you fun memories that will last a lifetime. So strap on your little one’s helmet and watch them delight as they take one of their first steps towards adventure and independence.