If you are the parent (or grandparent) to a to toddler or preschooler, no doubt you’ve become aware of the omnipresent balance bike! It’s not uncommon to see a balance bike every time you go to the playground, take a walk around the neighborhood or head to a playdate.
In this guide, I’ve tried to outline everything you need to know about a balance bike, whether you are totally new to bikes or an experienced cyclist. For newbies, I start off with an explanation of balance bikes and why they are so popular and then delve into everything you need to know to choose the best balance bike for your child. You can pick a bike from my “best of” lists or use the comprehensive comparison chart. You’ll also find that we have first-person detailed reviews of many of these bikes.
Now go ahead and clean up that spilled milk and get the kiddo a new snack, and then read on.
What is a balance bike?
Balance bikes, also known as push bikes or run bikes, are pedal-less bicycles designed for young kids. As soon as kids can walk and have decent motor skills (generally around 18 months), they can start on a balance bike. These bikes are different than tricycles in that they have two wheels, and are intended as real bicycles as opposed to toys. If your child isn’t yet 18 months old, OR they’re just not ready for a balance bike, consider a pre-bike or scoot-on toy.
Why choose a balance bike?
There are a couple reasons that balance bikes have become so popular. For one, they allow very young toddlers to start biking. When kids start on a balance bike at 18 months old, they are often able to pedal (without training wheels by 2.5 or 3 years old)! They also help toddlers and preschoolers to develop gross motor skills.
Another reason that balance bikes are so great is that unlike a tricycle or bicycle with training wheels, balance bikes allow kids to ride long distances around the neighborhood or even off-road on a dirt singletrack or BMX track. It is not unusual to see young kids developing very impressive bike handling skills on their balance bikes.
Finally, for kids of any age, balance bikes do what their name implies—they teach balance! You may well remember trying to learn to ride as a child. Your parents probably took off your training wheels and then held onto your bike as they ran around the neighborhood with you. Crashes and tears ensued. Most kids who learn to ride on a balance bike skip the training wheels altogether, and when they do transition to a pedal bike—they already know how to balance and ride. No crashes or tears (or at least not many).
For more on this topic, read my post, Benefits of a Balance Bike: 7 Reasons Why Your Toddler Needs One Now.
The Best Balance Bikes
So now that you’re convinced that your child needs a balance bike, it is time to pick one. If you want to skip the information overload, buy one of these bikes, and you won’t be sorry. No further research required.
- The 5 Best Balance Bikes for Toddler
- The 5 Best Balance Bikes for Your 3 to 5 Year Old
- The Best Wooden Balance Bikes
If on the other hand, you are the kind of person who likes to research everything (I’m like this too), read on.
7 Things to Consider When Shopping for a Balance Bike
If you’re not intimately familiar with balance bikes, it is hard to know what you should be looking for. Why are some bikes more expensive than others? How do you know which bike is best for your child? There are 7 things that we recommend looking for or considering when shopping for a balance bike.
Balance Bike Tires
There are two general categories of balance bike tires: (1) pneumatic (air) tires and (2) solid tires made of some sort of foam or plastic. If you can afford it, we always recommend choosing a balance bike with pneumatic (air) tires. Pneumatic tires have tubes in them and copy the same design that you find on adult bicycles. They provide significantly better traction and allow kids to ride their bike in varied terrain—thru gravel, on dirt, and across the lawn. This might be less important for an 18-month old who is riding around the house or on the patio—but remember, they will want to venture out sooner than you realize. On the flip side, the one big advantage of foam tires is that they will never go flat. For folks that don’t want to mess around with bike maintenance, this can be a big plus.
In the picture below, the bike of the left has pneumatic (air) tires and the bike on the right has foam/plastic tires. You will see a noticeable difference in the tread and quality of the two different types of tires.
Balance Bike Wheel Size
Wheel size is a basic indicator of how large a balance bike is going to be. The smaller the wheels, the smaller the bike. Toddlers will be best off on 12″ wheels, and pre-schoolers will generally be best off on 14″ wheels. There are also a few (but not many) 16″ wheel balance bikes that are best suited for older children that have not yet mastered a balance bike.
Balance Bike Seat Height
When choosing a balance bike, you want to make sure to pay attention to both the minimum and maximum seat height for that bike. Measure your child’s inseam and ensure that it is at least as long as the minimum seat height. A bike that is too big will only frustrate and discourage your child. On the flip side, the higher the maximum seat height the more the bike can grow with your child. For this reason, we recommend looking for a balance bike with a minimum seat height that matches your child’s inseam or that is just slightly lower to maximize the life span of the bike.
No one frame material is best–they each have their own advantages. Steel is a traditional material for bicycles, and is known for being strong and durable (something that’s important when we’re talking about toddlers). Aluminum is lightweight and has the look and feel of a “real” grown-up bicycle. Wood is both environmentally-friendly and aesthetically pleasing. And composite frames are ideal for those looking for a lightweight bike that is also easy to clean and maintain.
Most balance bikes, especially cheaper ones, do not come with any brakes. This is okay for very young toddlers, since they don’t yet have the eye-hand coordination required to operate a hand brake. They also aren’t moving very fast yet and do just fine stopping with their feet.
By 3 or 4, however, a brake becomes increasingly important (and can save the soles of a lot of shoes). A hand brake is especially important if your family enjoys going to the pump track or bike park, or if you live in an area with a lot of hills. Finally, introducing your child to a hand brake while they are still on a balance bike can make the transition to a pedal bike with handbrakes that much easier.
Generally, a lighter weight bike is going to be preferable to a heavier one. This is especially true for very young kids (1 and 2 years old). In all cases, a lighter bike is easier to maneuver and manage. We recommend choosing the lightest bike you can find within your price-range.
Any bike is better than no bike. Expect to spend $100 to $150 to get a good quality bike—one that will last a while, be safe, and will ride well for your kiddo. For bikes above $150, you get extra bells and whistles which can vary from special colors to carbon-fiber handlebars to extra-beefy tires.
Other (Less Important) Items
I’d put most of my time and emphasis on the categories I’ve listed above. There are, however, a few other things that you might want to consider if you’re really getting down into the nitty-gritty. A quick release lever on the seatpost can make seat adjustments so much faster and easier than a traditional bolt-on clamp. Sealed cartridge bearings in the hubs and headset will make a bike last longer. Internal cable routing for bikes with a hand-brake can help keep things clean and tidy, and recessed bolts make sure your child won’t get scratched. And of course, we can’t forget that small things like bike color and a bell can do a lot to help motivate a young child to ride.
Balance Bike Comparison Chart
There are A LOT of balance bikes on the market. Here is a comprehensive comparison chart that shows how they all stack up. The bikes are sorted by age first and then by price. In cases where we’ve done a full written review of a bike, we’ve linked to the review; otherwise we’ve linked to where you can purchase the bike.
|Our Top Pics||Bike||Wheel Size||MSRP||Suggested Age||Seat Height||Frame Material||Tire Type||Bike weight||Brake?||Multiple colors|
|Strider Classic||12"||$90||18 months - 5 years||11"-16"||Steel||Foam||6.7 lbs||No||Yes|
|Haro Z10||10"||$109||18 months- 2 years||11"-17"||Steel||Foam||8.8 lbs||No||No|
|TOP PICK!||Frog Tadpole Mini||10"||$200||18 months - 2 years||9.5" -||Aluminum||Air||7.6 lbs||Yes||Yes|
|Strider Sport 12||12"||$119||18 months - 5 years||11"-16"||Steel||Foam||6.7 lbs||No||Yes|
|Eastern Bikes Pusher||$130||12"||18 months- 4 years||10.75"-17"||Aluminum||Foam||4.6 lbs||No||Yes|
|FirstBike Basic||12"||$130||18 months (with lowering kit) - 3 years||12"-18"||Composite||Air||7.7 lbs||No||No|
|Cruzee||12"||$160||18 months - 4 years||12"-18"||Aluminum||Foam||4.2 lbs||No||Yes|
|Early Rider Lite||12"||$150||18 months - 3.5 years||11.6"-15"||Wood||Air||7 lbs||No||No|
|Yedoo Too Too||12"||$159||18 months - 3 years||12"-18"||Steel||Air||8.4 lbs||Yes||Yes|
|FirstBike Street||12"||$160||18 months (with lowering kit) - 3 years||12"-18"||Composite||Air||7.7 lbs||Yes||Yes|
|FirstBike Cross||12"||$160||18 months (with lowering kit) - 3 years||12"-18"||Composite||Air||7.7 lbs||Yes||Yes|
|Strider Pro||12"||$169||18 months - 5 years||11"-16"||Aluminum||Foam||5.3 lbs||No||No|
|FirstBike Racing||12"||$180||18 months (with lowering kit) - 3 years||12"-18"||Composite||Air||7.7 lbs||Yes||Yes|
|TOP PICK!||Woom 1||12"||$199||18 months - 3 years||10.8"-15.7"||Aluminum|
|TOP PICK!||Islabikes Rothan||12"||$199||18 months - 3 years||11.5"-15.5"||Aluminum||Air||7.7 lbs||Yes||Yes|
|TOP PICK!||Prevelo Alpha Zero||12"||$199||18 months - 3 years||11.5-14.6"||Aluminum||Air||8.5 lbs||Yes||No|
|TOP PICK!||Frog Tadpole||12"||$210||18 months - 3 years||13.3" - 16.5"||Aluminum||Air||9.3 lbs||Yes||Yes|
|Commencal Ramone||12"||$198||2-4 years||Aluminum||Air||9.9 lbs||No||Yes|
|Glide Mini Glider||12"||99||2 - 4 years||12” - 17.5”||Aluminum||Air||8 lbs||Yes||Yes|
|Muna Zing/RBG||12"||$119||2-4 years||13"-18"||Steel||Air||11.8 lbs||Yes||Yes|
|Muna Pro/Glo||12"||$160||2-4 years||12.5"-18"||Aluminum||Air||10.5 lbs||Yes||Yes|
|Burley MyKick||12"||$185||2-3 years||12.5"-15.5"||Steel||Air||11 lbs||No||Yes|
|Stampede Charger||12"||$130||2 years - 4 years||12.5"-17.5"||Aluminum||Air||10 lbs||Yes||Yes|
|Haro Z12||12"||$139||2.5 - 4 years||12.5"-18"||Steel||Air||11 lbs||No||Yes|
|Kiddimoto Super Max Junior||12"||$140||2 - 4 years||13.4” - 17.7”||Aluminum||Air||9 lbs||Yes||Yes|
|Yedoo Too Too||12"||$159||2-4 years||12" - 18.1"||Steel||Air||8.5 lbs||Yes||Yes|
|Specialized Hotwalk||12"||$170||2-4 years||13.5"-17"||Aluminum||Air||8 lbs||No||Yes|
|Early Rider Classic||12" (rear), 14" (front)||$175||2-4.5 years||12" -15.3"||Wood||Air||10 lbs||No||No|
|Frog Tadpole||12"||$189||2- 3 years||13.3"- 16.5"||Aluminum||Air||9.2 lbs||Yes||Yes|
|TOP PICK!||Cleary Starfish||12"||$160||2-4 years||12"-17"||Steel||Air||11 lbs||Yes||Yes|
|Sacaren Freewheel||12"||$199||2-4 years||13"-17"||Aluminum||Air||10.5 lbs||Yes||No|
|TOP PICK!||Early Rider Trail Runner XL||14"||$230||3-5years||14.8"-18.7"||Aluminum||Air||8.5 lbs||No||No|
|Bixbi Bikes||12"||$210||2-5 years||13.8"-18.9"||Aluminum||Air||7.4 lbs||No||Yes|
|Little Big Bike||12"||$233||2-4 years||14"-18"||Aluminum||Air||11.2 lbs||Yes||Yes|
|Ridgeback Dimensions 12||12"||$299||2-5 years||14"-20"||Aluminum||Air||8.95 lbs||Yes||Yes|
|TOP PICK!||Frog Tadpole Plus||14"||$250||3-4 years||15" - 20"||Aluminum||Air||9.2 lbs||Yes||Yes|
|TOP PICK!||LIKEaBIKE Jumper||12"||$299||2- 5 years||13.4"-18.5"||Aluminum||Air||7.5 lbs||No||Yes|
|Kundo Ultralight||12"||$129||3.5-4.5 years||14.5"-17"||Aluminum||Air||7.1 lbs||No||Yes|
|Early Rider Evo||14"||$175||3-6 years||15"-18"||Wood||Air||10.5 lbs||No||No|
|Ridgeback Scoot||12"||$200||3-6 years old||16"-22"||Aluminum||Air||11.2 lbs||Yes||Yes|
|Ridgeback Dimensions 14||14"||$299||3-6 years||16"-22"||Aluminum||Air||9.95 lbs||Yes||Yes|
|Stampede Charger||16"||$139||4-6 years old||16"-23"||Aluminum||Air||13 lbs||Yes||Yes|
|Ridgeback Scoot XL||14"||$210||4-8 years old||21"-26"||Aluminum||Air||12.5 lbs||Yes||Yes|
|Early Rider Alley Runner||14"||$210||4-6 years||14.7-19.5"||Aluminum||Air||7.9 lbs||No||No|
|Strider Sport 16||16"||$249||6-12 years||19.5"-25.5"||Steel||Air||7.7 lbs||Yes||Yes|