Balance Bike Buying Guide - What To Look For
The Essentials to Consider with Buying Your First Kids Balance Bike
What goes into choosing the right balance bike for your child? The process may seem quite straightforward, but we have highlighted the top 10 things to consider when buying your first balance bike for your child. Following these steps will ensure that you have got the balance bike basics right, and you are setting your child up for a more successful balance bike riding experience.
The frame of your balance bike has a large effect on the overall weight of the bike. The most common materials in balance bikes frames are wood, steel, aluminium and composite plastics.
Wood bikes are a low-cost option and can have great durability for years if well taken care of. This is only applicable if choosing a high quality wooden-frame bike.
Be wary of cheap wooden alternatives as their quality is under-oar and generally fall apart or disintegrate quickly. A downfall of a wooden bike is that they are generally set and not as adjustable
Steel bikes are strong and durable option however are also heavy as a result. Due to their weight, they are advised for those of a heavier weight or older rider, so they can handle the extra weight. Steel bikes will rust if left out in the elements.
Aluminium bikes are a more lightweight option than steel so are suitable for younger riders (35-40kg max). An added bonus is that they also won't rust.
Composite Plastic frames are both lightweight and very strong, however their downfall is in their cost. They are generally more expensive (upwards of $200) due to their combination of strength and weight, with the added bonus of zero rust and scratches.
As we mentioned above, the choice of frame can very much determine the weight of your bike. So it is important to match the weight and size of your child to a suitable frame. The heavier/older your child, the heavier bike they can manage. If your child is light, they may struggle with a heavy-framed bike. As a general rule, it is advised to look for a bike that weighs no more than 30% of your child's weight. Choosing the right weight of bike for your child may mean sacrificing some of the added extras, as they serve to simply add weight to the bike.
- Aluminium bikes should weigh between 2 and 2.5 kg.
- Steel bikes should weigh between 3 and 6 kg.
Consider a 2 year old who weighs 12kg. A 2 kg bike represents 16% of their weight. A 6kg bike represents 50% of their weight! Stick to the less than 30% of their weight rule and you can't go wrong.
One size definitely does not fit all when it comes to choosing the right size of balance bike for your child. Looking at the seat height is the easiest indicator of the right balance bike fit for your child.
The correct seat height should allow for a light bend in your child's knee. It will allow them to maintain control and use their feet to push forward. They are neither too high and on tippy toes or too low and compacted. 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. The easiest way to ensure you have this right is to measure your child.
Adjustable seats are a must as kids do grow! Changing the height of the seat is important to do as your child grows to maintain optimal height. A quick-release seat leaver makes this super easy as opposed to one that requires a spanner.
Think long term:
Choose a bike that has a maximum seat height at least 3-4 cm higher than your child's current requirements. This will ensure you get more years from your bike!
- A short 18 month old has an inseam of about 27cm.
- A tall 5 year old has an inseam of about 49cm.
- The most versatile balance bikes should have a seat post adjustable from 27cm to 49cm.
Tyres determine the comfort of your ride - how smooth it will be and the type of traction you will get when riding on different surfaces. Tyre choice can also have a significant impact on the weight of a bike. Our tests have shown the difference tyre weight can make with foam tyres on an aluminium bike weighing 2.0kg, compared to then pneumatic tyres on the same bike and the bike weighing 2.8kg.
Put simply, tyres differ in material and tread. So let's look at the different types of tyres available for your balance bike.
Pneumatic (standard) air tyres are your general all-rounder as they provide good cushioning and tread. Different tread patterns are available for on or off-road use. Air tyres are heavier than other tyres so they will add to the weight of the bike, and will get punctures from time to time.
EVA foam tyres provide good traction, are lightweight, cheap and puncture proof. There's little cushioning so riders will absorb any impacts. The traction is suitable for pavements and concrete but not for all-terrain or slippery surfaces. Generally found on lower-end bikes but many parents prefer them as there is nothing to look after.
Solid rubber tyres provide good traction and are puncture proof (aka maintenance free) but can be heavy. Once again, their cushioning is not great and traction decreases on off-road use.
Hard plastic tyres are generally only found on lower level bikes as they are the lowest in quality. They provide no cushioning or traction, wear quickly and are generally for indoor use only.
- Balance bikes are available with 10' to 20" tyres.
- Most bikes have 12" tyres to cater for more riders.
- Bikes with 10" tyres are geared for toddlers up to 3 years old.
- Bikes with 14" tyres or more 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.
Balance bikes are different to a pedal bike in that children use their feet to slow down and stop. However, some balance bikes do come with brakes and they are useful to help prevent injury and prepare your child for moving up to a pedal bike.
A good, quick acting brake can help children stop quickly to prevent accidents, however, you will need to keep in mind your child's age and necessity for brakes. Most children under 4 are not likely to use a brake. Instead they opt to use their feet to stop or fall over if the going gets too scary.
Once a child is between 3.5 and 4 years old, their hand/eye coordination kicks in and they generally start to use a brake. They then use the brake in conjunction with their feet to slow down or stop. This will help them n the transition to a pedal bike.
- If under 4 years old, children generally use their feet as opposed to a brake so it is advisable to skip the break to alleviate the additional weight on the bike.
- Once over 4 years old, children will start to use their brake combined with their feet and can handle the additional weight of the brake.
Footrests on balance bikes are not a necessity and therefore many bikes do not have them. Generally, children instinctively hold their feet up when riding on a balance bike. Footrests can often just get in the way of their natural movements. If you try a bike with a footrest and it seems to interfere with your child's stride or they continually hit or brush past it, give it a miss.
- Footrests are not essential. Kids do not need them and they add extra weight.
A seemingly overlooked part of the balance bike. They are not just there for looks! Hand grips with a knobbly end help protect your child's hands during a fall or if they run alongside a wall (this is commonplace, trust us!) This handy knobbly end will save many scratched and bruised hands and tears.
- Always choose handgrips with knobbly ends.
This one is undoubtedly for the kids. For a child, the colour of their bike is everything. As parents, we think of safety as #1. For a child, the colour rates much higher! Buying a bike in the colour they love will help to ensure its ongoing, future use and enjoyment.
- If possible, choose your child's favourite colour and one that may be in favour for a few years.
The cost of your chosen balance bike needs to fit into both your budget and priorities in a bike. That is why we have compiled this essentials vs non-essential list of bike extras so you can design your balance bike to your needs and budget.
- Eliminate the non-essential extras where they are not needed to keep the cost down on your bike.
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.