Everything You Need To Know About Balance Bikes

If you are the parent (or grandparent) to a 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. 

If you already have a balance bike and are trying to figure it out how to motivate your child to ride or are wondering if their bike fits, we’ve got some tips for you too.

Now go ahead and clean up that spilled milk, get the kiddo a new snack, and then read on.

child on the hornit airo balance bike

Table Of Contents

About Balance Bikes
Reasons To Choose A Balance Bike
Best Balance Bikes
  Toddlers
  Preschoolers
  Wooden
  Convertible
  Budget
How To Pick A Balance Bike
How To Motivate Your Child To Ride
Balance Bike FAQs
Balance Bike Reviews

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 instead.

Kiddimoto Super Junior Max Balance Bike

Why Your Toddler (or Preschooler) Needs A Balance Bike

In addition to being fun, a balance bike helps with gross-motor skill development, builds confidence, and provides an easy transition to a pedal bike. Here are some of the top reasons you should get a balance bike for your toddler if they don’t have one already.

Gross-motor skill development

This is the least-cited yet most important reason for a balance bike. As a mom, I’m always looking for materials and toys that are developmentally-appropriate for my child.

Balance bikes are one of the best tools out there for helping your toddler develop their gross motor skills. According to Kid Sense Child Development, learning balance and coordination is important for injury prevention, self-regulation, and developing a foundation for future development of fine motor skills.

Balance bikes also help develop core muscle strength and endurance.

Glide Mini Balance Bike

Easy transition to a pedal bike

Most of us have vivid memories of learning to ride a bike—and they are not always good ones. On my first ride without training wheels, I fell, hit my face, and ended up with a bloody mouth.

Kids who start out on a balance bike usually transition easily to a pedal bike, forgoing the training wheels altogether. Toddlers who start on a balance bike early (at 18 months – 24 months) are often riding a pedal bike without training wheels by 3 years old. The balance bike familiarizes kids with the concepts of balance and motion and provides a safe foundation for learning to ride a pedal bike.

Exercise

We’ve all heard the reports about the state of childhood obesity in the U.S. Kids are frighteningly overweight and under-exercised. According to the CDC, childhood obesity has more than doubled over the last 30 years.

Fortunately, when it comes to young kids, they don’t view activity as “exercise” — they view it as “fun.” This is especially true when it comes to riding bikes.

The other bonus is that riding a balance bike burns off some of that never-ending energy that toddlers have. My 2-year-old can manage a couple miles on his bike.

When he gets home, he takes a really good nap. Score an extra hour of free time for mom and dad.

rev 12 sizing

Fun

This is the most obvious reason to buy your kid a balance bike. Almost all kids love bikes—it’s a universal kid thing. If you want to make your kid happy and put a smile on their face, a bike will do it.

Self-confidence

I don’t think there is anything that makes my son puff out his little chest like riding his balance bike. Every time he rides off a “ledge” or a “jump” or manages to coast ten feet without stopping, he just beams with pride.

I like that his balance bike is helping him develop a sense of athletic ability and confidence in his body. Especially for really young toddlers, it is so hard to do even the simplest things (i.e. walking fast enough to keep up with mom and dad) that it makes them feel amazing to be able to ride a bike.

Kiddimoto Helmet and Balance Bike

Exposure to the outdoors

The great things about bikes is that it gives us a reason to go outdoors. It is hard to get my son as excited about anything as he is about cartoons, but he loves to bike.

Most kids today don’t get enough time in nature causing a wide-range of behavioral and emotional problems. If you get a well-built balance bike it is capable of not just riding around the driveway, it can be ridden on the grass at the park or even on your favorite hiking trail.

Cost effective

So many of us spend ridiculous amounts of money on toys. Most of these toys span a season or so of interest, and then they are discarded in favor of something new. Plastic toys break and end up in the landfill.

A quality balance bike, on the other hand, can be used by your child for several years and then still be in good enough shape to hand-down to a younger sibling or be sold on Craigslist. Even once a child has moved onto a pedal bike, they often still enjoy a balance bike for riding at the BMX track or for doing tricks in the backyard.   This makes a balance bike a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly purchase.

gomo balance bike upright geometry

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.

If on the other hand, you are the kind of person who likes to research everything (I’m like this too), keep reading.

Best Balance Bike For Toddlers

Woom 1

The Woom 1 is our top pick for toddlers. It’s crazy lightweight, has a low standover height to fit even the smallest riders, and will last thru multiple children.

Read Our Review: Woom 1

Price: $199

More Options For Toddlers: 5 Best Balance Bikes For Your Toddler & How To Choose!

Best Balance Bike For Preschoolers

woom 1 plus

Like the Woom 1 above, the Woom 1 Plus is our favorite bike for kiddos ages 3 and 4. The bike has bigger wheels (14″) that roll over obstacles easily. It has a handbrake which we love as kids this age can start to learn how to operate it before they move on to a pedal bike.

Read Our Review: Woom 1 Plus Balance Bike Review

Price: $269

More Options For Preschoolers: 5 Best Balance Bikes for Your 3 to 5 Year Old

Best Wooden Balance Bike

Early Rider balance bike

The Early Rider Classic is just that–a classic! This beautiful bike is environmentally friendly and beautiful. It is also easy to ride. The bike has a smaller (12″) rear wheel to provide a low standover height, but a bigger (14″) rear wheel to easily roll over obstacles.

Price: $149

More Wooden Balance Bike Options: 5 Best Wooden Balance Bikes

Best Convertible Balance Bike

little big bike

The Little Big Bike converts from a balance bike to a pedal bike once your child is ready, making it an attractive option for parents who don’t want to dish out for a second bike in a few months. The bike has 14″ wheels and is a good fit for 3 and 4 year olds.

Read Our Review: Little Big Bike

Price: $215

More Convertible Balance Bike Options: 5 Best Convertible Balance Bikes

Best Budget Balance Bike

GOMO

The GoMo balance bike isn’t as durable as our top picks (it has plastic rather than metal wheels for instance), but it does offer a lot of bang for your buck. We also appreciated the quick releases on both the handlebars and the seatpost, so you can quickly and easily adjust the size without needing any tools.

Read Our Review: GOMO Balance Bike

Price: $69.99 (Last updated: 2021-10-10 at 14:07 – More Info)

More Budget Options: 7 Best Budget Balance Bikes Under $100


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 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 preschoolers 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.

Eastern Bikes Pusher Balance Bike

Frame material

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.

Brakes

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.

Kiddimoto Super Junior Max hand brake

Bike weight

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.

Price

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.  This is especially important if you have more than one child that will be sharing the bike.

Saracen Freewheel Quick Release Seatpost Collar
Quick-release seatpost collar

Sealed cartridge bearings in the hubs and headset will make a bike last longer and will make it roll smoother. 

Internal cable routing for bikes with a hand-brake can help keep things clean and tidy.

Glide Bikes Rear Brake Cable
Note the internally routed rear brake cable.

Recessed bolts make sure your child won’t get scratched.  They also look nicer than rounded or exposed bolts.

The balance bike on the left has recessed bolts, while the balance bike on the right has exposed bolts.

A threadless headset is superior to a threaded or quill style headset. We’ve found that balance bikes with threaded headsets rattle loose really easily.

Threadless headset (left) vs a threaded headset (right).

A steering limiter keeps little ones from over rotating their bars which can cause a crash. We particularly like balance bikes with a removable steering limiter, so you can remove it once your child becomes more adept and aggressive on the bike.

woom 2 steering limiter
Removable steering limiter.

Foot rests or foot pegs can be nice as they encourage your child to lift their feet off the ground and glide (like they would on a pedal bike). That said, many balance bikes have foot rests that decrease ground clearance or get in the way of the child’s stride. This is where reading some reviews come in handy.

gomo footrest

5 Ways to Encourage a Toddler to Use Their Balance Bike

Okay, so you have a balance bike. Now what?!

Some kids take right to their balance bike with no encouragement.  Others, especially young toddlers, need a little help to learn how to ride a balance bike.  They get frustrated or show no interest. 

Here are our five no-fail tips to get them excited about riding in no time.

Ride your bike too.

Toddlers love nothing more than copying what their parents do.  Both my husband and I are avid cyclists and my son had watched us riding since he was a few months old. 

When he finally got his first balance bike (a little before 18 months), he was shaking he was so excited.  Even if it is just riding around the driveway, seeing you ride is a sure way to create interest in your little. 

If they have a big brother or sister (or friend) they can watch ride, even better. A little “peer pressure” can go a long way.

Get a balance bike that fits. 

If your kiddo is frustrated with their bike, there is a good chance it is too big or too heavy.  Pick a lightweight bike with a low stand-over height that’s designed for the youngest kids.

If you already have a bike and don’t want to spend money on a new one, make sure the seatpost and handlebars are lowered all the way.  If that doesn’t work, put the bike away for a few months and let them get a little taller.  It is amazing how quickly they will grow and be ready for it!

Practice for 10-15 minutes a day.    

Repetition is key for kids at this age, so try to get outside and offer them their balance bike for a little bit every day.  That said, don’t overwhelm them. 

Let them try for a few minutes and if they start to get frustrated, move on.  Try again tomorrow.

hornit airo balance bike in action

Find a hill.

No, not a big one—just a slight incline where they can get a feel for momentum.  A grassy hill at the playground, a sloped driveway, or a small bike ramp can all work.

For some kids, this will make all the difference.   This is especially true for little ones who are stuck in the walk or scoot phases of balance biking.

If they need reassurance, walk alongside them with your hand on their back.

Balance Bike On A Ramp

Pick some fun accessories. 

My son has a helmet he loves.  Sometimes he rides his bike just so he can wear his helmet. 

Other kids might enjoy bike gloves, a bell on their handlebars, or a basket to tote their teddy bear in.  No, this isn’t going to help them to learn to actually ride, but it might entice them to spend more time on their bike.

Go On An Adventure

If you’ve only tried using the balance bike in the driveway, try GOING somewhere. Find a mellow dirt trail, or a grassy field, or even a rocky area. Some little ones love the idea of adventure and exploration.

balance bike on rocks

Bring It Inside

On the flip side, you can also try offering the balance bike inside the house. Leave it in their playroom or somewhere they pass by often. In a low-pressure, familiar environment, they might be more likely to give it a try all on their own.

This is especially true for very young toddlers who are likely to have a short attention span. They might pick up the bike for a minute or two at a time, but over weeks or months, they’ll start to develop skills and confidence that will serve them well.

yvolution-balance-bike-being-ridden-indoors

Practice Patience.

 In the end, be patient.  Some kids ride at 18 months with no problem.  Others don’t show an interest until much later—like 4 or 5.  Every kid is individual. 

If it is important to you that they ride, the best thing you can do is make cycling a part of your family routine.  Get a trailer or child seat and go for rides that way.  In no time, they will demand to be riding on their own.

Thule Chariot Cougar

Balance Bike Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some of the most common questions we get asked from parents. Don’t worry–you are not alone!

Are Balance Bikes Worth It?

In a word, yes. Balance bikes help develop gross motor skills, help kids transition easily to a pedal bike without training wheels. and provide hours of fun and exercise.

The only time we would suggest NOT buying a balance bike is if your child is already older (5 or over) and you think they’ll transition to a pedal bike quickly. In that case, invest in a good pedal bike and remove the pedals for a while. (More on that in a moment).

How Do You Use A Balance Bike?

It depends on the age and skill of the child. There are generally three phases of riding a balance bike: the familiarization phase, the walking phase, and the gliding phase.

In the familiarization phase, put your child on the bike and let them just practice standing over it. They might want you to hold and push them. They might not even want to ride the bike.

Instead, kids (especially younger ones) may simply choose to spin the wheels on the ground, practice picking up and putting down the bike, and otherwise play with the bike without “riding” it. That’s okay.

In the walking phase, encourage your child to sit (or stand) on the bike and walk with it. If they stand, gradually try to get them to sit down on the saddle. This might be easiest to demonstrate on your own bike.

In the final gliding phase, kids will begin balancing with their feet off the ground. They can walk or run forward and then practice picking their feet up for a few moments.

The three phases of balance biking: familiarization (left), walking (center), and gliding (right)

How Old Should A Child Be For A Balance Bike?

Most toddlers are ready for a balance bike around 18 months old, but some may not take to it until 2 years old (or later). The key is to introduce a balance bike early on, and then keep offering the bike until they get the hang of it.

But balance bikes aren’t only for toddlers! Preschoolers can have a lot of fun on balance bikes as well. Even my 8 year old will occasionally grab a balance bike to goof around on.

Older kids with balance issues or other disabilities can also benefit from a balance bike. Look for a 16 or 20 inch balance bike for these kids OR simply remove the pedals from a pedal bike to use like a balance bike.

Which Balance Bike Is Best?

Our favorite balance bikes are made by Woom. That said, there are some other awesome companies making balance bikes–Prevelo, Strider, Frog, and Early Rider are just a few of our faves.

Scroll up for a list of of our favorite balance bikes by age and type.

woom 1 plus size

What’s The Point Of A Balance Bike?

A balance bike allows kids to learn to ride a bike much earlier and easier than they ever could on a pedal bike with training wheels. Remember how hard that was as a kid?

You can introduce a child to a balance bike around 18 months which is much much earlier than you can put them on a pedal bike. This allows a child to start learning balance, steering, braking, and general bike handling skills at a very young age.

The most important of these skills is balance. A balance bike teaching a child how to glide with their feet off of the ground. In this way, you never need to use training wheels.

By the time a child has mastered a balance bike, they’ll be ready to learn pedaling without training wheels.

Can You Remove Pedals From A Regular Bike to Make A Pedal Bike?

You can, yes. If you choose this route, make sure to drop the seat so that your child’s feet can rest flat on the ground.

Then encourage your child to use the bike just like you would a regular balance bike. Start with sitting on the bike and walking, eventually moving to running and gliding.

For toddlers, we don’t recommend doing this and encourage you to buy a true balance bike instead. This is because there simply aren’t many pedal bikes small enough fit, and if you do find one, it’s likely to be heavy. For bigger kids, this is a good option.

When Should I Transition My Child From A Balance Bike To A Pedal Bike?

You can start to introduce your child to a pedal bike once they’ve mastered gliding. This means your child should be getting a fair bit of speed and lifting their feet off the ground for several seconds at a time.

If your child started on a balance bike at 18 months and has been doing a lot of riding, they might be ready for a pedal bike as young as 2.5 years old. (This is when we transitioned my son).

That said, most kids will be much older than this when they are ready for a pedal bike. There’s no magic age and is much more dependent on how well your child is balancing and how confident they seem on the balance bike.

Even once you’ve begun the transition, your child may continue to ride their balance bike for quite some time. That’s normal and okay.


Balance Bike Reviews & Product Guides

We’ve tested A LOT of balance bikes over the years and are always testing more. We make sure to put the bikes through plenty of abuse and hours of riding before writing a review.

Wonder how we evaluate balance bikes? We look at all of the criteria we listed above in the “how to choose” section. This includes things like weight, brakes, durability of components, tire type, etc.

Here’s a list of the balance bikes we’ve reviewed thus far, as well as our product guides.


More Stuff You Might Find Helpful

Meet The Rascals

rascal rides family

The Rascals are a family of three. Kristen (mom), Blair (dad), and Parker (kiddo). We started Rascal Rides when Parker was born and we didn’t want to give up our passion for biking. As we learned, we shared. Over the years, we’ve tested hundreds of kids bikes, helmets, bike trailers, and more.

Kristen is a USA Cycling certified coach and loves to share her passion for biking with other families. Blair is a bike geek, mechanic, and mountain bike junkie. Parker is our resident tester and inspiration.

If you see us out on the trail, make sure to say hi!

7 thoughts on “Everything You Need To Know About Balance Bikes”

  1. Hi Kristen, my grandson will be 4 yrs old on Oct 19th. Since he never been on a balance bike what would you suggest I buy him so he can learn to ride?

    Reply
  2. Hi Kristen,
    What are your thoughts on scooters for toddlers? Where does it fit in the whole bike balance picture? My 2.75yo girl has more interest in scooters than balance bikes- however I’d really like to purchase something that is developmentally appropriate.
    Thank you

    Reply
    • Hi Louisa,
      For some reason I never saw this comment. So sorry! I’m sure you don’t need my answer anymore, but for anybody else reading, I’ll answer anyway. For toddlers (and even gradeschool kids for that matter), athletic skills are incredibly transferable. All kinds of athletic activities are important.
      Cheers,
      KB

      Reply
  3. Hello,
    We are having a problem finding the right bicycle for our granddaughter. She is almost 17 months old but is the size of a 3 year old. Her parents are athletes and very very tall. She is not ready for a pedal bicycle and other models we have tried have had the seat and handle bars raised to their highest points but are still not high enough. We were thinking of a balance bicycle. She really can’t balance on her own yet. We were thinking of a balance bicycle. Is that a good idea? Any suggestions? Thank you.

    Reply
  4. Hi Kristen!
    It’s a complete article with well-articulated.
    I ultimately agree with your views that balance bikes are a great choice to learn cycling.
    After all, kids love bikes, and it’s a fun activity.
    It’s a great content to read. Impress!!

    Reply

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