During my investigations for the best balance bike, I discovered that ratings can be misleading. When investigating further it turns out some bikes just aren’t designed correctly to grow with your child.
Choosing the best balance bike for your child to help them learn to balance before buying them a bike can be a minefield. You’ll need to understand what they need so that they can achieve what you’re trying to help them learn. Get this wrong and you’ll end up with tears and disappointment all round.
Best Balance bikes reviewed
This bike by strider is one of the best starter bikes on the market today, and I believe it hits the sweet spot between getting a top-quality product and not costing too much.
The seat is just 11 inches (28cm) at its lowest setting. This is one of the lowest seat positions on a balance bike and with the bike weighing in at just 6.3lbs it can be easily handled by a two-year-old child.
There’s plenty of adjustment on the bike, Strider also sells an optional longer seat post 8 inches (20cm) allowing for the growth of your child over the years. These seats are also well padded and durable.
The build quality and materials used are excellent; I especially liked the no tools approach. Strider used the same type of quick adjustment clamps for the seat post and handlebars that you get on adult bike seat posts.
The wheels are EVA foam while they offer less grip than pneumatic tires, they don’t puncture allowing more adventurous toddlers to explore anywhere.
Just as a side note you can start your child younger than 18 months if you buy the Strider rocking base this turns the balance bike into a rocking bike enabling your child to use it from about 12 months.
This bike is heavy for a balance bike coming in at 12lbs and isn’t recommended for children under three years. Even though it’s been designed for a three-year-old it’s still a heavy bike considering the average weight of a three-year-old is around 31.5lbs.
The bike is well built and will take a fair amount of abuse without any performance degradation. The bike comes with pneumatic tires that need inflating before the first use. These will provide a softer ride than foam tires as the tire will deform a little as it goes over a bump or off a curb.
There’s a hand brake on the back wheel, normally hand brakes aren’t found on bikes under £100. While I’m not sure how often a child will use the brake as it seems too big for their hands to operate, you should, however, encourage them to as it helps when they move up to a pedal bike.
The trade-off for these good features seems to be a lack of adjustment for the size of the bike, with only 2 inches (5cm) of seat height adjustment. This doesn’t allow for much growth but then if you’re starting at three your child will progress from a balance bike to a pedal bike very quickly.
The Banana GT went through a weight loss program in 2019 and as such now weighs in at just 8.1lbs. While this is still heavier than the Strider sport it has been designed for children starting at two years.
The wheelbase is also quite long at 22 inches (55cm) this helps to provide a stable platform for tall or older children. The seat has 4.5 inches of height adjustment providing plenty of growing room for your child.
The build quality is very good, part of the upgrade in 2019 introduced sealed head bearings and a threaded headset all this helps for a smooth operation when turning the handlebars. This also helps to stop the handlebars from twisting out of alignment when the bike is dropped on the floor.
The bike has pneumatic tires, providing more grip and cushioning than a foam tire. The downside is that you can get punctures if your child decides to be more adventurous and not stay on the path. While some parents want a maintenance-free bike and will select foam tires, I think all bikes should have air tires as they’re just better than the alternatives.
Seat post adjustment is easy thanks to the quick-release clamp, you’ll end up using this more than you think. The seat’s covered in vinyl, due to the properties of vinyl it means it’ll be prone to tearing.
These are essentially the same bike; the Elm is marketed for girls and the Keon for boys. The only difference being the colour schemes and decals, whey they can’t be one bike with multiple styles is a mystery.
These bikes are well designed and built; the step-through frame makes it easy to get onto the bike. The geometry is good albeit a bit aggressive, by this I mean your child will lean slightly forward.
Normally when learning you’ll see your child start upright and as they grow in confidence, they start leaning into the bike to run faster. This bike starts you in this position so if you have a cautious child this may not be the bike for them.
The steering has a smooth action thanks to the ball bearing headset, while steering is limited to less than 90° to prevent accidents.
The seat post uses a quick-release clamp making seat adjustment quick and easy. Growth with this bike is limited due to only having 2.5 inches of adjustment and places it at the bottom end of the market for adjustability.
All balance bikes come with domed nuts for safety reasons, overtime these domed nuts will scratch up or become gouged leaving sharp edges. These sharp edges then catch on the child’s legs as they use the bike.
Schwinn has gotten around this problem by using a large plastic cap to go over the nuts. Given the size of this cap, an older child may catch it when trying to go fast. I couldn’t test this as I don’t have any testers aged four years old
If you have a child starting to learn to ride from three years of age then this could be a good choice. This bike weighs slightly heavier than the Banana GT at 8.4lbs due it being longer.
The handlebars are wide at 16 inches wide to help improve balance. When children learn to ride then tend to use jerky movements with a wide bar it helps prevent this.
The handlebar clamp is hidden under a red plastic cap and can be fiddly to access. However, I discovered that the clamp won’t hold the handlebars tight. After a while of being thrown to the ground, you’ll need to realign them.
Seat adjustment is good at just over 4 inches however there’s a design flaw. At the lowest seat position, you can’t tighten the clamp up properly as it hits the seat. If you raise the seat by ¼ inch then you can tighten the clamp, this means the minimum seat height is 14 ½ inches (36.5cm) high.
Choosing the Best Balance Bike for a Toddler
Given the choices on the market and the price range it’s no surprise that first-time parents can get this wrong.
There’s so much you need to understand when looking for your child’s first bike. This guide will help you know what to look for so you can get it right first time.
Size and Geometry of the bike
Size matters, while balance bikes are advertised as one size fits all this isn’t the case, no two children are the same.
Most balance bikes have 12 inch wheels some have 10 inch wheels. I’d recommend you stay away from 10 inch wheels as they don’t go over bumps as well as 12 inch wheel. They also tend not to have as much room between the handlebar and seat as a 12 inch wheel bike.
Having plenty of room between the seat and the handlebars allows for the bike to grow with your child. It could also impede their ability to control the bike when turning if they don’t have enough room between their body and the handlebars.
Trying to decide if a bike has the right geometry for your child will be down to you. Choosing a bike with a longer wheelbase will work with your child whereas a shorter wheelbase will work against them.
Correct Seat Height
The correct seating position for a balance bike is with your child sat on the bike, legs slightly bent and both feet flat on the floor. To achieve this, you need to measure their inseam.
The easiest way to do this is to get them to stand with their back against a wall. Place a hardcover book under their crotch to simulate sitting on a seat and then measure from the spine to the floor.
This measurement indicates what size balance bike you need to look for. In an ideal world, you want the lowest position for the seat to be between 1 and 1.5 inches smaller than their inseam.
Image courtesy of Strider bikes
This gives them the best starting position and they’ll be able to control the balance bike better, as they’ll have four points of contact, two wheels, and two feet with the ground.
This is very important especially if you’re starting your child on a balance bike at 18 months old. A good balance bike shouldn’t weigh more than 30% of your child’s total weight.
If however, you’ve got a very active child they’re less likely to be bothered by the weight. If you have a cautious child that isn’t rushing around then the weight tends to play a bigger factor, even to the extreme of them refusing to get on it.
The weight of a bike can also be an indicator of a quality bike, manufacturing a lightweight high-quality bike is costly. However, manufacturing a low-quality heavy bike is relatively easy.
Higher quality bikes will normally have better features like a hand brake, pneumatic tires, and weigh less than 6lbs but will cost upward of £150.
Bike Frame Material
There are three types mainly used: Steel, aluminium, and wood. The cheaper end of the market is normally steel; these types of bikes can take a lot of abuse without any performance degradation.
The higher end of the market tends to be made from aluminium. These bikes don’t rust and take a fair amount of abuse while still holding their value when you come to sell them.
Then you have the wooden bikes that don’t stand up too much abuse without being damaged. They can look really good yet they aren’t waterproof and will eventually either rot or break if let out in the garden.
There are three types of tires for balance bikes, Plastic, EVA foam, and Pneumatic (air-filled). The cheap balance bikes will use plastic and while this is great if the bike never leaves the house, as they’re no good outside. You also need to be aware they’re slippery on wooden floors.
EVA foam tires are normally the next range up, and while these provide more grip than plastic wheels they don’t provide that much more. They also offer no cushioning when going off a curb or over a bump as there’s no give in the tire. However, they also never go flat.
Pneumatic tires provide the best grip and give a little when riding much like the tires on an adult bike. The trade-off is that these tend to be heavier than the other types and go down if you get a puncture.
Most balance bikes won’t have hand brakes, the main way a child stops will be using their feet. Having said that some balance bikes do have hand brakes and you’ll find that these are mainly on the high-end bikes.
If you’re lucky enough to find one on the lower to mid-range bikes it’s likely to be difficult to use. A hand brake would be useful to help prepare for riding a pedal bike, it’ll also save on your wallet not having to replace shoes every five minutes.
Not all balance bikes have these, while some parents like them others don’t. I can see both sides and I think they add more value while learning to ride a bike.
Limiting the turning angle of the handlebars prevents children from turning too sharply and coming off their bike. However, they’ll then have to learn this lesson on a pedal bike later, so be prepared for that.
Are Footrests Necessary?
In short no, however, as your child grows in confidence then they’ll start to coast more and more. Having someplace to place your feet at this point seems worth it and will save on shoe wear and tear.
If you select a bike with a footrest, you’ll need to make sure it doesn’t interfere with their stride. A poorly designed footrest will impede them; a well-designed footrest will benefit them once they start coasting.
Cycling Ambition Recommendation
Overall, the Strider Sport is my recommendation. Although this is more expensive than a lot of balance bikes available. I believe it offers the best quality for the price and will hold its value when you come to sell it on.
The age range of children that this bike can use makes it stand out above its competitors. Because it’s the lowest seat on the market at just 11 inches your child can learn to ride earlier. Then if you purchase the extended seat post later on the bike will last even longer as your child grows.