Many parents out there learned to ride a bike on a regular pedal bike. But this doesn’t mean your child must learn to ride on a regular pedal bike, with or without training wheels. A balance bike is a great way to help a child master balancing skills as well as basic motions such as steering.
Related: How to Teach a Child to Ride a Balance Bike
By the time the child’s learned how to ride a balance bike, they don’t need tons of time to master a normal pedal bike. There’s no better way to introduce a kid to the exciting world of bicycling than getting them a good balance bike. The beauty of using a balance bike instead of a pedal bike with training wheels is that the child hardly needs a teacher when learning. But how do you choose a balance bike for a kid?
This and a few others is the question this balance bike buying guide seeks out to answer. By the time you’re done reading this resource, you’ll have evolved into a hard-to-confuse parent/grandparent, one who can quickly tell a dud from a worthy balance bike.
Here’s what you’ll learn in this guide: how to correctly size a balance bike for a child, the right age to introduce a kid to a balance bike, and most importantly what to watch out for when out there in the market shopping for a balance bike.
Right Age for a Balance Bike?
Most kids today get a balance bike as their first-ever bike. It’s not hard to master, and it helps kids learn how to balance on a balance bike while walking/running/gliding and steering. Age is the ideal age for riding a balance bike, but tots as young 18 months or even younger can learn on a balance bike.
Balance Bike Sizes: How Do You Fit a Kid on a Balance Kid?
When determining the right size balance bike for a kid, there are two key things to consider: how high the seat sits above the ground and wheel size.
Picking a bike on the basis of wheel size alone may lead to a choice that doesn’t properly fit your kid. An uncomfortable ride that won’t encourage your little one to get out and exercise as often as you’d like.
2 Problems Parents Face When Sizing a Balance Bike
One problem parents frequently face when purchasing a balance bike is that different balance bike brands don’t size their bikes in a standardized way. One bike size from a particular brand may fit a child of a given height perfectly while the same bike size from a different brand may be smaller or bigger for the same kid.
The other problem is that relying on wheel size can be totally misleading.
The diameter of a balance bike wheel is the wheel’s inside diameter. Any time you try to figure out how a particular bike wheel size might fit a child of a given height or age, you’ll encounter challenges.
As you’ll learn in the next section, a 12″ wheel size bike from Woom may fit 18-month-olds while a size 12″ bike from Strider may be a great fit for 18-month-olds to 3-year-olds.
In the end, the best way to determine if a given balance bike model will fit your child is to measure their inseam length and then choose a bike whose stated seat height range accommodates this measurement.
I’ll give you a few examples to help you better grasp my point.
The 12″ Strider Sport Balance Bike (one of the most popular balance bikes ever BTW) offers a saddle whose height adjusts from 11″ all the way to 19″. In comparison, the 12″ Woom 1 offers a 10″-14″ seat height.
The 12″ Ridgeback Scoot’s saddle height grows from 14″ all the way to 20″. And the 14″ Strider 14X allows for a 15″-22″ seat height adjustability. Again, take your child’s inseam to determine if a bike would fit them well.
How to Measure the Inseam of a Child When Sizing Them for a Balance Bike
To measure a child’s inseam, you need: a child, a hardbound book, a tape measure, a hard flat surface, and a vertical wall. And here’s how to do it correctly:
- Ask the young aspiring balance bike rider to stand straight up in front of a wall. They need to have their shoes on BTW. And the legs should stand a small distance apart.
- Get a hardbound book between the kid’s legs and move it up until it barely touches the crotch. Position the book so that the spine faces towards the crotch. The spine should sit parallel to the ground.
- Take a tape measure and get the distance from the spine of the book to the floor. This distance is what we call the inseam, and it’s the number that helps you decide which balance bike size would best fit your kiddo.
It’s a pretty straightforward process, and it keeps sizing mistakes at bay.
How to Calculate the Correct Saddle Height on a Balance Bike
One thing every parent needs to get right is saddle height. How far above the ground should your kiddo sit when out riding their balance bike? The correct saddle height on a kid’s balance bike is obtaining by subtracting 0.5″-1″ from the child’s inseam length.
For instance, if your child’s inseam measures 14″, the minimum saddle height shouldn’t be taller than 13.5″ above the ground.
What above the maximum saddle height on a balance bike? Add at least 2″ (more if you want the child to fit on the bike for a little longer) to the child’s inseam length. For example, if the inseam is 14″, the maximum seat height should be at least 16″ above the ground.
If the young rider sits too high, only the toes touch the ground, and mounting and dismounting the bike can become pretty challenging. And if the seat is too low, the sitting position gets awkward and makes pushing off the ground and overall bike control a tad more difficult.
Here’s what a good saddle height on a balance bike looks like: When the child gets on the bike and sits on the saddle, the soles of the feet sit firmly flat on the ground. And the knees don’t have a deep bend, nor are they perfectly straight.
Below is a simple table to help you understand how I mean more clearly.
|Inseam measurement||Ideal Minimum Saddle Height
||Ideal Maximum Saddle Height|
How to Buy a Balance Bike for a Kid (Buying Guide)
When it comes to buying a balance bike for a kid, there’s a few things you need to check off the list. Consider the bike’s weight, the nature of the material used to make the frame, tire type, and saddle height.
You also need to check whether the bike features hand brakes, a footrest, or a turning limiter. Other aspects to check include hand grips, seat quality, wheel bearings, and wheel axles. And of course, the price and brand are important factors to keep in mind when shopping.
Kid’s Balance Bike Weight: How Heavy Should the Bike Be?
When deciding if a balance bike would be too heavy for a kid, look at their weight. If the bike weights in at anywhere above 30 percent of the rider’s weight, consider it too heavy for them.
For example, if your kiddo weighs 48 pounds, the right balance bike for them would be one weighing not more than 18 pounds. The lighter the bike, the better. Kids tend to not like it when a bike is too heavy. Parents often notice the kid’s interest dwindle, and there’s always a decent chance that the kiddo will ditch the bike altogether.
Since kids’ balance bikes need to stay light, they come with a lightweight aluminum frame and foam tires as opposed to air-filled rubber tires. Inflatable balance bike tires are OK, except they tend to be heavier than foam tires of the same diameter.
Tire Type: Should You Go With Foam or Air-filled Tires
One admirable thing about foam tires is that your kiddo will never ever have to deal with a flat. Kids aren’t too careful when out riding. They’ll ride through all sorts of stuff including sharp thorns and other piercing objects.
However, foam tires don’t demonstrate a great performance when asked to roll over the roughest of terrains. They don’t absorb trail or trail shocks well, and every small impact travels to your kid’s bum and legs. A bike with foam tires works best where the riding surfaces are super smooth.
Inflatable tires grip the ground like a vise, and they keep your kiddo on the saddle when riding around bends at speed. Most importantly, they make for a more comfortable ride, and serious balance bike riders prefer them over foam tires.
Ask this question before choosing either foam tires or air-filled ones: where will my child most bike? If they’ll mostly ride the thing over silky smooth surfaces, then foam tires are a good option.
But if the child will ride over rougher terrain most of the time, consider picking a balance bike with inflatable tires. Nothing goes over curbs better air-filled tires. These are all-terrain tires that work well on a multitude of terrain types.
If your child’s balance bike comes with air-filled tires, learn how to add in tire sealant to steel them against thorns and other sharp objects on the ground.
Look at the Kind of Frame the Balance Bike Has
There are 4 materials used to manufacture the balance bike frames namely:
Aluminum or Steel Balance Bike Frames?
The vast majority of balance bikes, however, are made from either aluminum or steel alloy. The finest balance bikes (the priciest) come with lightweight aluminum frames.
Aluminum bike frames aren’t prone rusting, and they can substantially cut the overall weight of a bike especially paired with other lightweight parts. They’re also strong, but not as strong and durable as steel frames.
The downside of steel frames is that they’re heavier than their aluminum counterparts. But in case of breakage, you can get a competent welding technician to fix the issue, and cheaply too. Another downside is that steel frames have a tendency to rust when stored in moisture-rich conditions.
If money isn’t tight and you love the nicest things life offers, get a bike with an ultra-lightweight yet super-sturdy aluminum frame, something such as the aluminum alloy 6061. You often see these kinds of world-class frames on top-end bikes from brands such as Woom and Scoot Bikes.
What About Wood and Composite Frames?
Some of the cheapest balance bike frames out there are made from wood. Dirt-cheap toddler balance bikes with wood frames tend to fall apart as soon as the little rider starts learning on them.
If you want a wood-frame bike that lasts, be willing to pay more. If you buy a high-quality wood-frame balance and give it proper TLC from time to time, you can expect it to last quite a while. Also, making wooden frames is less taxing to the environment compared to manufacturing metal frames, but I stand opposed to the idea anyone cutting a tree to make a bike frame.
As for composite balance bike frames, they’re typically made from a combination of nylon and fiberglass. The beauty of composite bike frames is that they’re light while offering pretty high rider weight limits.
And like aluminum frames, they’re not prone to rusting. Plus, you won’t ever worry about the paint coming off after some time as happens with metal frames.
One disadvantage of composite frames is that if a heavier rider uses the bike, the frame tends to flex or bend. The good thing is that by the time the youngster gets too heavy to ride the bike, they’re ready to learn on a pedal bike.
Tip: If you scan the listing and it doesn’t mention that the frame is aluminum, you can assume it’s a steel frame. The marketer knows you’re probably looking for an aluminum one, so they conveniently leave out that information.
Brakes: Do You Need Brakes on a Balance Bike?
Brakes aren’t an absolute necessity on a balance bike, but they’re an important feature for kids who’ll mostly ride down slopes and hilly terrain. While kids can easily use their heels to stop the bike, hand brakes make stopping even faster and more certain.
Pedal bikes, the bike your kiddo will eventually ride, have brakes. Choosing a balance bike with hand brakes allows the kid to learn how to safely use them so they won’t struggle to use them once they’re mature enough to ride a pedal bike.
Another reason hand brakes are great to have is that they make it less likely that your kiddo will drag their shoes on the ground, tearing them sooner than you’re ready to replace them.
Hand Grips: Get Rubber Grips With a Knobby Bumper
When the handle is slippery, small hands slide off the handlebar and a crash happens. A safe handlebar features non-slip rubbery hand grips with knobby bumpers on either ends. If a child falls off the bicycle, the bulbous bumper hits the ground first and your kid’s hands stay nice and safe.
Cheap balance bikes tend to have plastic-y grips, and these aren’t known for keeping little hands on the handlebars throughout the ride.
Sealed or Non-Sealed Wheel Bearings?
Wheel bearings make it possible for the wheels to revolve the axle. The bearings need to allow for smooth spins, and you can’t expect the best quality bearings on the cheapest balance bikes.
The best bearings on a balance bike are those that are completely sealed, meaning that they don’t let dust, grit, and grim in. When these foreign materials accumulate inside of a balance bike’s wheel bearings, the result is more strenuous pedaling (since there’s less friction to overcome ) and less-than-smooth wheel spins.
However, sealed bearings can drive up the price point a bit. Most affordable kids’ balance bikes come with non-sealed bearings, and they’re OK, just not the smoothest-rolling options. Sealed bearings are primarily found on pricier options, but your kid doesn’t absolutely need them.
Footrest: Is it Really Necessary on a Balance Bike?
Parents constantly debate as to whether a balance bike needs to have a footrest or not, but this isn’t a matter of life and death if you ask me. A footrest is a metal component placed in front of the back tire, and it provides a resting place for tiny feet when the rider is gliding.
It’s funny that kids don’t really care whether a balance bike a footrest or not yet some parents pretty much overthink it. Whether there’s a footrest or not, every balance bike rider boasts the smarts needed to figure out what to do with the legs during gliding.
If you must pick a bike with a footrest, make sure that this component comes intelligently designed. Your kid will thank you if the footrest doesn’t keep getting in the way when striding or hurting their soft calves. It’s always better to0 footrest-less than to have an awkwardly placed footrest that causes more problems than it solves.
What Kind of Axle Bolts Does the Bike Have?
Axle bolts serve a critical role on any bike. Without axle bolts, you wouldn’t be able to mount the wheels onto the bike. But which is better, recessed/flat axle bolts or the usual protruding type?
Low-profile axle bolts translate to greater safety since they can’t catch on things, get in the way, or hurt small legs during striding. Axle bolts that stick out dangerously is what you don’t want, but these are the kinds of bolts often found on cheap balance bikes.
When axle bolts stick too far out, there’s always chance the bolts will strike on pavements and other hard surfaces and get scratched or dented. And scratched bolts can easily cut little legs.
Turning Limiter or No Limiter?
A turning limiter as the name indicates is a small ring-like feature on the fork that helps prevent the handlebar from revolving 360 degrees. This feature increases safety by helping avoid sharp turns as well as preventing the brake cable from getting dangerously twisted.
But you don’t want a terribly designed turning limiter at all because it seriously cuts the turning radius, making steering harder. Instead, choose a balance bike with an elastic limiter, one that you can also remove if needed. This one enables you to easily make steering-related corrections without decreasing safety, plus you can remove it if you feel it’s not needed.
Balance Bike Geometry
Bike geometry means how the parts work together to give the rider a distinct fit and ride quality. Geometry relates to elements such as wheelbase, cockpit size, fork angle, and saddle position. Don’t overthink geometry when buying a balance bike.
Wheel base: if you measure the horizontal distance between the point where each wheel comes into contact with the ground, that’s the wheel base. A longer wheel means better bike stability and easier balancing while a shorter wheel base makes for easier steering and greater general agility.
Fork Angle: How the head tube slopes affects how the bike handles, how easy or hard it is to maneuver it. If the head tube angle is too steep, the wheel base decreases, and more of the rider’s weight shifts closer to the front. As a result, the ride becomes less stable and steering becomes more challenging.
Seat Angle: You want the gap/space between the back of the saddle and the rear tire to as small as possible when the saddle is adjusted to its lowest setting.
The lower the seat, the lower the center of gravity and the safer the small rider. The converse is also true: the higher the seat, the higher the CoG and the harder it is to balance and control the bike.
Cockpit Size: What’s the cockpit on a bike? If you draw a perpendicular line from the front of the seat and the middle of the handlebar and then connect the two lines through a horizontal line, the length of this horizontal line is the cockpit.
Choose a balance bike with enough cockpit space. A spacious cockpit provides adequate room for the rider to lean forward over the handlebar when walking or running on the bike. Stay away from balance bikes whose handlebar sweeps too far back as this can cut the cockpit size dramatically.
You can choose flat handlebars or slightly raised ones, but most kids find that slightly raised handlebars fit and work best.
Price and Brand
With a budget of $60, you can get an OK balance bike, but $200 is where good quality start happening. And if you have some money to burn, there’s plenty of $1,000 balance bikes to look at!
In terms of brands, Strider, Woom, Yedoo TooToo, Prevelo, Ridgeback, and Scoot come highly recommended. This doesn’t mean that none of these companies sell a horrible bike some of the time. Spend some time reading balance bike reviews so you can learn which models work for most kids.
How to Pick a Good Balance Bike Wrap-up
When choosing a balance bike for a kiddo, look at wheel size and quality, the quality of handlebar grips, frame material, bike weight, saddle height, and geometry. You don’t absolutely need a turning limiter, brakes, or footrest, but if you must have at least one of these three features, let that be effective hand brakes.
In terms of geometry, don’t think too much about it. Just get a bike with ample cockpit space and a wide enough wheel base. And make sure to set seat height to a position that feels comfortable to the young rider.
Measure the inseam of the child, subtract 0.5″ from the inseam to get the ideal minimum seat height. And to get the ideal maximum saddle height, add at least 2″ to the inseam.
Remind your budding balance bike rider to always wear a protective bike helmet and a decent protective pad set because young brains and limbs are super fragile.