Riding a bike is a special kind of fun. It’s a little bit of thrill mixed with a whole lot of freedom – it’s good for your health and the environment, too. Balance bikes are a terrific way to introduce your little one to riding a bike and provide them with their own access to adventure. Balance bikes help young riders improve balance, develop leg musculature, and build confidence to advance to a pedal bike without having to rely on training wheels.
In fact, balance bikes will do a better job of getting your child rolling on a traditional pedal bike faster than starting off with training wheels. That’s because training wheels build bad habits and poor balance that your child has to unlearn when it’s time to make the transition. Read on to learn more about what a balance bike can do for you and your child, and see the best balance bikes to get your child rolling.
Our Top Picks: Summary
- Best Overall: Strider 12 Sport
- Budget Pick: Bixe Balance Bike
- Best Convertible: Strider 14X 2-in-1
- Best Wooden: Kinderfeets Bamboo Balance Bike
Why We Picked It
Strider was one of the first large brands in the balance bike world and has built a well earned reputation for delivering top notch products. The Strider 12 Sport is the company’s flagship balance bike. It’s perfect for introducing a youngster to biking or letting a slightly older more exuberant child race around the local park trail.
The bike has many size adjustment options that allow a child to be comfortable while learning how to ride. All the adjustments can be made without tools, which is a big favor to parents. The steel frame and puncture proof foam tires can take plenty of abuse and keep rolling. Despite this solid construction, the bike is still very light, weighing 6.7 lbs, so even petite children can easily handle the bike.
Keep in Mind
Strider is a well established brand and they cost a little more, but also deliver a top notch product.
In a Nutshell
- 12 inch steel frame with adjustable handlebars and seat
- Lightweight (6.7lbs) and maneuverable for small children, but strong enough for older kids
- Puncture-proof tires and no tools needed for adjustments
Why We Picked It
The Bixe saves some weight and dollars over the Strider model by manufacturing the frame from aluminum. This featherweight model weighs just 4 lbs and has an adjustable seat and handlebars that will allow the bike to grow with your child. Any adjustments to the height of the handlebars or seat does require an allen wrench, however.
The puncture-proof tires sit on a plastic rim and are made from foam, so no need to worry about flats. The Bixe has four inches of range for seat adjustments, which is an inch less than Strider offers, but more than a typical budget bike, which offers in the neighborhood of three inches. The Bixe also has three inches of handlebar adjustment space, a feature not common with budget balance bikes.
Keep in Mind
The Bixe is a budget friendly lightweight bike that can adjust to your growing child, however you’ll need an allen wrench to make the appropriate adjustments
In a Nutshell
- Lightweight aluminum frame
- Plenty of adjustable height for the seat and handlebars
- Seats and handlebar grips made of hard plastic
Why We Picked It
If you’re looking to invest in one bike that will last from balancing and gliding through pedaling, consider the Strider 14X 2-in-1. This is a terrific bike that will give your child the choice of pushing or pedaling. It is for children 3 to 7 years old with an inseam of 16-23 inches. The bike’s steel frame and rubber tires can maneuver on paved paths or in the dirt and grass on trails. After your child has mastered balancing and pushing, you can add on the pedal kit and give your child a new skill set to work on.
Keep in Mind
The rubber tires can go flat, but will offer more traction and cushion on rough rides.
In a Nutshell
- Bike can be used for balancing and pushing or pedaling
- Comes with an easy-to-install pedal kit
- Bike frame weighs 12 lbs without pedal kit installed
Why We Picked It
Kinderfeet manufactures bikes from sustainable bamboo, as opposed to steel or aluminum. Bamboo is not only sustainable, but also nearly as strong as steel or aluminum. It weighs 8 lbs and has foam tires that are biodegradable. Kinderfeet plants a tree for every product purchased so not only are you buying something your child can enjoy, but you are helping protect the planet as well. The material also has a chalkboard finish that allows your child to customize the look of their bike again and again. The bike has a padded seat that can be adjusted from 12 to 16 inches with tools.
Keep in Mind
The handlebars on Kinderfeet bikes are not adjustable, but the seat can be adjusted with the proper tools.
In a Nutshell
- Bike frame is made from renewable, sustainable bamboo
- Padded, adjustable seat
- Kids can draw on the bike with chalk
How We Chose the Best Balance Bikes
There are hundreds of different balance bikes available, which makes finding the perfect balance bike a challenge. We wanted to be sure the bikes we suggested are durable and versatile. We also wanted to recommend bikes that are inspiring and comfortable, so your child will want to put in the time and put forth the effort to learn how to ride. The specific categories we looked at are below.
As any avid cyclist will tell you, finding a bike frame that is comfortable to ride on is crucial. If sitting on the bike and leaning forward to grab the handlebars puts you in an uncomfortable position, or if the seat and handlebar grips are uncomfortable, then you won’t enjoy riding as much. Even though your little one won’t be tackling a century ride anytime soon, the same principal still holds. The handlebars should not be too far forward of the seat and shouldn’t be too wide. Also, the handlebar grips should be the right size for a toddler’s hand to fit around securely.
The bike shouldn’t be too heavy and cumbersome. The objective is to get your child comfortable enough to push and lift up their legs and glide. It is harder to get the child confident to take this step if the bike is too heavy or difficult for them to control. On the other hand, if the frame is flimsy the child won’t have confidence in the ride. We looked for bikes that were light enough for a child to maneuver, but stable enough to trust.
A bike is a big purchase for a family, and probably not something you want your child to grow out of anytime soon. The bikes we included have at least one adjustable feature so that it will outlast at least a couple pairs of shoes. Being able to adjust the size of the bike is also important to customize the fit to your child. A properly adjusted seat will allow a child to sit on the seat with knees slightly bent and feet flat on the ground. The seat height necessary to get to this position is different for every child. Being able to adjust – and adjust easily – is something that really set the bikes on our list apart.
Biking is an activity that requires dependable, reliable equipment to be safe and enjoyable. Each one of the balance bikes on our list are going to give your child a safe ride and stand up to general wear and tear without a problem. No one has ever learned to ride a bike without tipping over a few times. The bikes on our list can withstand being dropped and tipped over repeatedly without experiencing severe damage.
We did all the product research we could, including reviewing other customers experiences with the products. We wanted to be sure and capture all the commonly noted complaints and benefits of all the balance bikes on our list.
What to Consider when Purchasing a Balance Bike
Size & Adjustability
As we said earlier, any cyclist will tell you that buying a bike that fits well is essential to enjoying the ride. This principal is true if you’re riding hours at a time or if you are just riding a few loops at the local park. The first thing to consider before buying the best balance bike for your child is to determine what size would fit your kid best. All the bikes on our list are adjustable to a certain extent. Since your child is getting bigger every day, the best strategy is to buy the largest bike that will fit her so she can continue to grow into the bike. Most bikes have an adjustable seat that will slide up or down on a seat post. The recommended height of the seat is so your child can sit and have both feel flat on the ground with a very slight bend in the knees. Some bikes, like our top pick, have adjustable handlebars that can raise or lower to fit the preference of your child. Similarly, some balance bikes require tools to make these adjustments, some can be done by hand, so consider which will better fit your lifestyle.
Your child will spend a lot of time pushing the bike before they master the skill of gliding and coasting. Even after they master those skills, chances are you will find yourself carrying the bike much farther than you would have liked once your child decides he is done riding. It’s in everyone’s best interest to minimize the weight of the bike, but not at the cost of the bikes durability. Make sure a bike you are considering isn’t saving on weight by using cheap plastic parts where steel or aluminum would be better.
Generally speaking there are two types of wheels for balance bikes, foam and rubber. The advantage of the foam wheels is they are puncture proof. You don’t have to worry about filling the tires with air or patching holes. The downside is that foam tires offer less cushion for the ride and have less traction for steep hills or difficult terrain.
Rubber tires are a better all around ride, but they require some maintenance and attention, and they are also a bit heavier than foam tires. Chances are your child will be just fine with the foam tires, which will save you the maintenance hassle and save on weight. However if you have a daredevil that will be pushing the bike to the limits immediately, you might want to consider the benefits of rubber tires.
Why Get a Balance Bike?
Learning how to ride a bike is a seminal moment in childhood. Teaching your child how to ride a bike is something that many people imagine even before they have kids. It’s probably true that you learned how to ride a bike with training wheels. Why, then, should you consider a different methodology to teach your child?
Balance Bikes vs Training Wheels
There are some definite benefits to starting a child off with a balance bike. For one, it helps them develop a better sense of balance faster. They can then use this skill to quickly transition to a pedal bike, skipping training wheels altogether. The muscles they develop and use for balance biking will help them be better bike riders in the long run, and nap better in the short term. Training wheels teach children, incorrectly, to lean off to the side to balance on the wheels rather that balance on top of the bike. This creates bad habits that have to be unlearned once the child is trying to learn how to ride on two wheels.
Balance bikes are also easier to store and transport. The clunky training wheels take up a lot of space and are generally much heavier than the average balance bike. If your child changes his mind midway through a ride and decide it’s time to walk for a while, it’s much easier for you to pick up and carry a balance bike than one with training wheels.
Balance bikes are also safer than a bike with training wheels. A bike with training wheels can unexpectedly fall, especially on uneven or rough terrain. On a balance bike, children are prepared to keep themselves upright and they get more warning when they are starting to fall. A bike with training wheels can fall suddenly and children will be unprepared to protect themselves for the fall.
Setting Up the Balance Bike
Most balance bikes are shipped partially assembled. Depending on which bike you purchase, you may or may not have to use tools to put the rest of the bike together. You must follow all directions when assembling the bike and make sure any screw or bolt on the bike is tightened firmly.
Once the bike is assembled you should set the size properly and to the comfort of your child. Generally the seat should sit about one inch below the crotch while the child is standing flatfoot, straddling the bike. The handlebars should come up a little higher than their belly button while in this position. You can adjust to your child’s preference and comfort but be sure they can get both feet flat on the ground while riding and coasting to keep them balanced. Of course, your child should always wear a helmet when riding a bike, regardless of how far you’re going or where you use it.
For more information on kids biking or taking your kids on a ride or run, check out these other helpful resources: