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Is your child ready to retire the tricycle but not quite ready for a two-wheeler? That’s where balance bikes come in. A balance bike is a training bicycle that helps children learn how to balance and steer without worrying about pedals, so there’s less chance of falling or injury. But to master the skills necessary to move on to a traditional bike, finding the right balance bike is key. That means choosing the right size, weight, and frame to ensure that it’s the best fit for your child. With so many balance bikes on the market, where do you begin?
Start here. At BestReviews, we want to make shopping easy. We do the research, buy and test the products, grill the experts, and poll real-life owners, so we can pass on the info to you. We never accept free products or perks from manufacturers. Our reviews are thorough, honest, and unbiased.
If you’re ready to buy a balance bike, take a look at the matrix above for our top five picks. For an in-depth look at balance bikes, including everything to consider before you buy, just keep reading.
Like a traditional bicycle, a balance bike has two wheels, but there are no pedals.
A child sits on the bike and walks with his or her feet insteading of pedaling. He or she learns to balance on the bike without any assistance from adults and also how to steer the bike properly.
Be sure to support your child, not the balance bike. If you hold the bike, your child won’t learn how to balance for herself.
Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of a balance bike:
Balance bikes allow kids to learn to ride at a very young age. Some models are recommended for kids as young as two.
When children get a little bigger, they can transition from a balance bike to a traditional bike without needing training wheels.
Because balance bikes teach skills like balancing, steering, and braking, they help kids gain confidence in their riding, which makes the transition to a traditional bike more seamless.
Training wheels can make a bike fairly heavy. Balance bikes, on the other hand, are lightweight, so kids can maneuver them more easily.
Because there are no pedals, kids keep their feet on the ground. That means there’s less chance of the bike tipping over, so there are fewer injuries.
Footrests are unnecessary on balance bikes. When gliding on a balance bike, most children know instinctively to lift up their feet.
Metal frames are usually steel or aluminum alloys. Steel alloy bikes tend to be heavier and less expensive. Aluminum alloy bikes are lightweight, durable, and rust-proof, so they typically cost more.
Plastic frames are very lightweight, and there are no issues with chipping paint or rusting. However, plastic balance bikes can bend or flex if taller or older children ride them.
Wood frames aren’t as adjustable as metal or plastic frames, though they are more environmentally friendly. High-quality wood balance bikes are very durable, but lower-quality wood bikes break down fairly easily.
Balance bikes can replace training wheels as a transition to a traditional two-wheel bike.
To find the right size balance bike, consider both the tires and the seat height.
Tire Height: Balance bikes usually have tires ranging between 10 and 16 inches in height. Toddlers can quickly outgrow 10-inch tires. A model with 12-inch tires is the best option for most children. However, if your child is tall or older, look for 14- or 16-inch tires.
Seat Height: A child’s feet should hit the ground when seated, so he or she can push off. To get the height right, measure your child’s inseam from crotch to floor without shoes. Choose a balance bike that is adjustable and allows for a maximum seat height that’s at least two inches above your child’s inseam. That way the bike can grow with your child, and he or she can ride it until transitioning to a traditional bike.
On a balance bike, a rider’s feet are usually the brakes. However, you may prefer a model with hand brakes. Hand brakes can get a child comfortable with using the brakes on a regular bike. Keep in mind that balance bikes with hand brakes work best for children three-and-a-half years and older, who have the hand-eye coordination to use them.
To work properly, a balance bike should be small enough that a child can walk it while sitting on the seat and keeping both feet on the ground.
A balance bike should be lightweight, so your child can easily balance and maneuver it. In general, the bike shouldn’t weigh more than 30% of your child’s body weight. For example, if your child weighs 30 pounds, you should choose a balance bike that weighs nine pounds or less.
In addition to the seat’s height, its position can affect how comfortable the bike is for your child. There should be plenty of room between the seat and the handlebars, so the child can extend his or her legs and move the bike along for proper balance.
The grips on a balance bike’s handlebars are an important safety feature. Look for a bike with protective bumpers to protect the rider’s hands if the handlebars run into a tree, fence, or other obstacle.
Balance bikes are small enough to throw in the backseat of your car and lightweight enough to carry home if your child gets tired of riding.
Air Tires: Air tires are highly cushioned and provide effective traction. They add a few pounds to the bike’s weight, but it’s usually worth it for the smooth, comfortable ride.
Rubber Tires: Rubber tires offer mid-range cushioning and traction. However, they don’t puncture, which is a benefit outside.
Foam Tires: Foam tires are an inexpensive option, but they don’t provide the same traction and cushioning as other tires. Like rubber tires, they won’t go flat. They work best on paved surfaces.
Big Apple/Fat Boy Tires: These tires are very wide and provide more traction and cushioning for children who wish to do jumps and other tricks. They are typically the most expensive type of tire.
Plastic Tires: Plastic tires are very lightweight but provide virtually no traction or cushioning. They can only be used indoors but are inexpensive.
Balance bikes with hand brakes work best for children three-and-a-half years and older.
Balance bikes vary in price based on their material, size, and special features, but you can typically expect to spend between $30 and $160.
For a plastic balance bike, you’ll usually pay between $30 and $40.
For a wood balance bike, you’ll usually pay between $45 and $80.
For a metal balance bike, you’ll usually pay between $50 and $160.
While a balance bike usually leads to fewer injuries than a traditional bike, get your child a safety helmet to wear when he rides. That will get him used to wearing a helmet, and he’ll be in the habit when he moves on to serious riding.
While a balance bike is usually easier to use than a bike with training wheels, don’t push your child to ride if he isn’t interested — and be sure to praise him for any time he does spend on it.
When you’re helping your child get started with a balance bike, be sure to support her, not the bike. If you hold the bike, you’ll actually impede your child’s ability to learn how to balance for herself.
It’s all right if your child doesn’t sit on the balance bike to start. As he feels more secure, he’ll eventually sit down and start to learn proper balance.
As with teaching your child anything, it’s important to have patience when you’re helping her get used to a balance bike. Start with small distances like 10 feet, and gradually increase the distance until your child is completely comfortable.
Consistency is key with a balance bike. Have your child ride a little bit each day to help him learn the necessary riding skills.
Q. What is a balance bike’s age range?
A. The recommended age for children to start riding balance bikes is two years old. Some children can start as early as 22 months, though you may need to lower the bike’s seat to accommodate the child’s smaller size. In general, it’s best to get your child started on a balance bike as early as possible. Children who don’t start riding balance bikes until they’re four or older typically have a more difficult time learning to balance.
Q. Should a balance bike have footrests?
A. Most balance bikes don’t have footrests because they’re not necessary. When they’re gliding on the bike, most children know instinctively to lift up their feet. If the bike has footrests, kids can worry too much about where they’re putting their feet, rather than focusing on how to balance and steer the bike. Footrests often interfere with riding, too, hitting the back of the calves while children are gliding.
Q. How can I make sure a balance bike is safe for my child?
A. Falls are unlikely with a balance bike, but they can still happen. Make sure your child wears a helmet whenever he or she is riding to be safe. It’s also a good idea to choose a model that doesn’t have exposed bolts. If the bolts stick out, they can scratch your child’s legs, so recessed, rounded, or covered bolts are a better option.
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.