Balance Bike Buying Guide
As parents, choosing the right balance bike for your children can be quite daunting. There are so many choices and if you've never owned a balance bike before, it can be quite difficult to decide what's right for your children.
We've written this guide to help you select the right bike for your children.
The most widely used materials for balance bike frames are wood, steel, aluminium, and composite plastics.
Wood bikes are generally not as expensive and can last for many years if well taken care of. Cheap, lower end wood bikes however fall apart quite quickly. Wood bikes are generally not as adjustable as other bikes.
Steel bikes are strong and durable, but will rust if left out in the elements. They are also sometimes quite heavy. Steel bikes can generally hold a heavier rider (upwards of 50 kg in some cases)
Aluminium bikes are lighter than steel, won't rust but won't carry as much weight as steel (about 35-40 kg max).
Some bikes used an injection moulded composite plastic frame. These frames won't scratch or rust. They are also lightweight and very strong. Composite bikes can get quite expensive though (upwards of $200).
Balance bikes are available with 10' to 20" tyres. Most bikes have 12" tyres and the reason for this is they offer the widest range in terms of rider size. Bikes with 10" tyres are generally only for toddlers up to 3 years old. Bikes with 14" tyres or more, generally can't be ridden by kids under 4. Bike with 12" tyres and adjustable seats can be ridden by kids from about 18 months up to 6-7 years.
There are a variety of different tyre types available for balance bikes. They vary based on the material and the tread.
Pneumatic (standard) air tyres are great all-round since they provide a lot of cushioning and tread. Different tread patterns are available for on or off-road use. Pneumatic tyres however are heavier than other tyre types and will get punctures from time to time.
EVA foam tyres are lighter and completely maintenance free since they don't puncture. The however don't provide much cushioning and little traction for off-road use. Many parents prefer foam tyres since there's nothing to look after.
Solid rubber tyres provide good traction and are also puncture proof. There's little cushioning and they can be heavy.
Hard plastic tyres are generally only found on lower level bikes. They don't work very well on bumpy surfaces and wear quickly.
The weight of the bike strongly depends on the frame material. If you're choosing a bike for a smaller child such as a 2 year old, buy the lightest bike possible. This won't be so important for a 4 year old.
Aluminium bikes generally weight between 2 and 2.5 kg. Steel bikes should weigh between 3 and 6 kg and some bikes are even heavier than this.
Consider a 2 year old who weighs 12 kg. A 2 kg bike represents 16% of their weight. A 6 kg bike represents 50% of their weight!
Tyre choice can have a significant impact on the weight of a bike. During our tests we put foam tyres on an aluminium bike and the bike weighed 2.0 kg. We put pneumatic tyres on the same bike and the bike weighed 2.8 kg.
Some balance bikes come with brakes, with others it's an option. The need for brakes on balance bikes is not as strong as it is on pedal bikes since kids can always use their feet to slow down and stop.
A good, quick acting brake can help children stop quickly to prevent accidents, but most children under 4 wouldn't be likely to use the brake, they'd instead use their feet to stop or fall over if the going gets too scary.
It's of benefit for an older child to get used to using the hand brake as they're getting ready to transition to a pedal bike so they get the hang of it.
For younger children, it may be advisable to skip the brake since it's just going to get in the way and add extra weight to the bike. As children get older, a brake might be advisable.
A properly fitted balance bike is one where the seat height is about 2-4 cm lower than the child's inseam (inside leg) when they're standing straight with shoes on. This will allow for a slight bend in the knees when they're sitting on the bike. This will not only allow the child to maintain control but also comfortably use their feat to push themselves forward.
As kids grow, you'll obviously want to adjust the seat to keep it at the optimal height so having an adjustable seat height is a must. Having a quick-release leaver on the seat post makes it easier to adjust the seat up or down to accommodate your growing child or if you want to share the bike amongst several children.
When considering a bike, choose a bike that has a maximum seat height at least 3-4 cm higher than your child's current requirements to ensure the bike will last a while.
A short 18 month old has an inseam of about 27 cm. A tall 5 year old has an inseam of about 49 cm.
The most versatile balance bikes should have a seat post adjustable from 27 cm to 49 cm.
Some balance bikes have foot rests which allow the child to rest their feet while cruising. Many bikes however don't.
If you're considering a bike with a foot rest, make sure it does not interfere with their striding. Make sure your child tries it out, and if the foot rest protrudes a bit too far, and if you see their leg or foot regularly brushing or hitting the foot rest, stay away from the bike.
Kids generally don't have a problem holding their feet off the ground while cruising, so in our opinion a foot rest is not all that important.
Hand grips can help protect a child's hands during a fall so choose a bike that has grips with knobby ends. When the child falls, or brushes up against something while riding, the knobby end will prevent their hands from getting hurt.
All children love bright, fun colours and most children have favourite colours. Try and find them a bike with a colour they're going to love. There will undoubtedly be a better chance they'll love their bike which means it will get more use.
What's more important to you? Something that's simple, that doesn't require a lot of maintenance and that will last through the years, or something with all the gadgets that will increase the maintenance and chances of breakage?
Let's face it, most kids aren't going to be out professionally racing their balance bikes. They don't need all the bells and whistles. Keep the bike simple and it will last longer, and give you and your child a worry free bike.