Also known as 'run bikes' or 'straddle bikes', the best way to describe a balance bike is "a little bike without pedals that kids as young as 20 months can ride." The idea is that kids can master the art of balancing and get confident turning and riding over bumpy terrain without having to worry about pedalling just yet. They coast along at little more then a walking pace and are easy enough to ride for almost any child.
Why are balance bikes so good?
A balance bike will help your child ride a pedal bike sooner. Initially, kids will just sit on the seat (or stand over it) and "walk" the bike. Then in no time at all they'll start to take bigger steps or strides and then start to sit and glide along without their feet on the ground! The beauty of the balance bike is that you actually don"t need to "teach" the child anything. They"ll naturally get on it and start moving. Then when they're ready for a pedal bike, they just get on it and ride without the need for training wheels (or "stabilisers" as Peppa Pig calls them).
I always cringe when I see kids on bikes with training wheels, awkwardly trying to turn corners, or when the parent is cumbersomely maneuvering those bikes with the pole out the back (so the parent can try and control the kids on steep descents or push the kids up hills). There I'd be with a coffee in one hand watching my 2.5-year-old on a balance bike cornering like a champion. I liked the "hands off" approach of the balance bike. And after your child masters balancing all by herself, by the age of three to four, she'll be confidently pedalling a bike (and probably still enjoy riding the balance bike).
Things to consider before buying a balance bike
As with any bike purchase, there is a lot to consider when buying a balance bike. There are heaps of different brands and models on the market and they all vary with price. Here are a few things to consider:
- Frame type: Steel is heavy, aluminium is light, and wooden bikes have less flexibility in seat height and the cheaper wood ones could splinter. Lighter bikes make it easier for a child to ride and push up hills.
- Height of the child: The seat height or standover height of bikes vary. Wooden frames tend to not be as adjustable as aluminium or steel frames. Some have lowering kits available or different sized seat posts to fit smaller or taller children.
- Tires: Air filled tires give more cushioning and grip on rough terrain, but they are usually more expensive and a little heavier than plastic or foam solid tires.
- Brakes: Most balance bikes don't have brakes, but sometimes you get the option to add one on. From experience, kids don't tend to use the brakes as their feet are much easier to stop with. Having a brake may teach the child to get used to it prior to using brakes on a pedal bike.
- Turning limiters: This stops the handle bars from doing a full rotation. Some people say that the limiter is better because it prevents the bars spinning during a crash, which can cause stomach injuries. It also prevents sharp turns which can assist the rider to keep in control while steering. Others claim that kids should experience the full range of movement of the handle bars and that turning limiters actually increase likelihood of injury caused by handlebar ends.
Now that you know what balance bikes are and what makes a better one, here is a list of the balance bike we love.
The First Bike is the cause of many arguments between the 3-year-old and 5-year-old in my house. They love it. It's tough and can withstand a lot of wear and tear. The seat is great because its odd (non-circular) seatpost shape means it cannot twist around and point the seat off center. The air tires on the 'Cross' model are nice and grippy and give more cushioning for the rider. A smaller child (20 months - 2 years) will not fit on the bike out of the box, but you can get a lowering kit, which is easy to install; it drops the stand over height and makes it perfect for a smaller child.
Cruzee has one model of bike that comes with two different seatpost lengths and handlebars, which you can extend the height so it "grows" with the child. This one is super light, weighing only 1.9 kg (4.2 lbs) which makes it easy to ride on the flats or up hills. The lowest seat height setting is perfect for very small children (20 months). The downfall is that it has solid tires, which are quite noisy and not as grippy as air tires. There is no turning limiter, so it gives more range of steering.
The top of the line Strider Pro has puncture proof polymer tires, which tend to not grip as well as air tires. It's got an aluminium frame, which makes it really light (2.4 kg / 5.3 lbs). This model comes with an extender seat post so it can fit older children.
The Haro Prewheelz (12 Spoke) has air tires and an oversized seat to help toddlers be more stable and gain confidence. There's no turning limiter on this one and it's on the heavier side (5.17 kg / 11.4 lbs), but with the long seat post and wheel base this one will suit children from 2 years old up to a 5-year-old.
The wooden bike's quality and decals make this one look stunning. The top quality wood and finish of the Early Rider means it's durable. It's got air tires, but coming in at 3.25 kg (for the LITE model) it's one of the heavier ones on the market. This one has a dual steering option, where you can choose to have the turning limiter on or off, which is great if you are unsure of whether or not you actually want it.
Check out the Comparison
Compare 4 of the best balance bikes from Strider, Early Rider, Cruzee, and First Bike