A balance bike is the first-ever bike for most kids. Riding a perfectly fitted kid’s balance bike is tons of fun. Once your child learns to sit on the saddle and glide with the feet sticking out front or rested on the footrest, they won’t want to stop riding. But what on earth is a balance bike?
Related: Best Kids BMX
What’s a Kids’ Balance Bike and Does Your Child Need One?
A balance bike is a small kids’ bicycle whose saddle height keeps the little rider close to the ground. It’s a simple, clean design and comes without a drivetrain. There’s no chain, chain rings, derailleur, crank-arms, pedals, or sprockets, but some may have a footrest. It may or may not have hand brakes, but it’s best to buy an option with brakes if you’re from a really hilly state, province, or country. Kids primarily use this bike type to build up good balance over a reasonable period of time.
What Age Are Balance Bikes For?
If a child can walk steadily, they can learn to ride a balance bike. Kids as young as 1 year can learn to ride a balance bike, but most kids start learning from 18 months all the way through age 7.
Balance bikes lack a drivetrain (pedals, crank arm, sprockets, and derailleur) the components a drivetrain consists of), which means they’re lighter than regular pedal bikes, and younger kids prefer lighter bikes.
Most importantly, balance bikes stay close to the ground, which means if the little budding ripper falls over, they don’t have much distance to cover before eating crap. For this reason, major injuries after falling off a balance bike are rare.
How Do Balance Bikes Work?
Since a balance bike is a small bike that stays low to the ground, the rider sits on the saddle with the feet on the ground and starts pushing off for forward propulsion. If the kid is too young, they may not do more than sit and walk on the bike.
But if they’re a little older, they can sit, walk, and run. As the kid’s riding experience increases, they’re able to sit, walk, run, and balance on the bike. After they’ve been riding for some time (anywhere between 10 days and 12 months), the child finally learns to sit, walk, run, balance, and glide.
As the child glides on a balance bike, they can place their tiny feet on the footrest if the bike has one. Or they can just stick the legs out forward and just enjoy the ride.
To stop, the child can either put their feet down and drag them on the ground to create friction. This stopping method is super effective, but it rips shoes faster than the kiddo can ride. Alternatively, the young rider can press both heels against the back of the front wheel to slow down the bicycle.
But the best way to stop is to use hand brakes, and if the little speed demon was traveling too fast, they can use their feet for quicker, more powerful stopping power.
A balance bike teaches a kid how to balance on a bicycle, how to steer, and how to coordinate the eyes and hands when riding. By the time a kid masters a balance bike, they can sit on a pedal bike and just start pedaling.
Are Balance Bikes Better Than Bikes With Training Wheels?
Yes, balance bikes are better than bikes with training wheels. Training wheels are OK because they provide the stability a starting rider needs to feel safe during the learning phase. But these wheels can create a kind of comfort zone, and most kids hate it when you try to wean them off of this kind of bike.
Training wheels mount higher than the back wheel. And as the little rider shifts their weight from one stabilizer to the other, side-to-side tipping happens. For this reason, a bicycle with stabilizers isn’t a good option for riding down sloping terrain or any kind of uneven surfaces.
Parents prefer balance bikes over stabilizers because balance bikes are much safer. Aside from that, they’re the perfect option for learning proper balancing and steering. If one child learns on a balance bike while another learns on a pedal bike with training wheels, the balance bike kid will have an easier time transitioning to a normal pedal bike down the road.
Are Balance Bikes Better Than Tricycles?
It’s better to introduce a kid to a balance bike instead of a tricycle because a balance bike fits toddlers better than a tricycle does. Also, balance bikes are safer than tricycles when riding on uneven or sloping terrain. While a tricycle offers better balance, it doesn’t challenge the rider to develop their balancing skills.
Besides that, tricycles tend to be heavier than balance bikes, which means the latter are more fun to ride. Since balance bikes are lighter, your kiddo can exercise for longer. Also tricycles can be a bit awkward when navigating tight spaces, and they’re not great at negotiating turns. Definitely get a balance bike and not a tricycle for your LO.
What’s the Right Weight of a Balance Bike?
If a balance bike weighs more than 1/3 of its intended rider’s weight, it’s simply too heavy and the kid may ride it less than expected. The frame and wheels account for the majority of the weight. Most of these bikes have lightweight aluminum wheels, lightweight foam tires (no tubes inside), and no drivetrain to cut on bike weight.
Can I Remove the Pedals and Convert a Pedal Bike to a Balance Bike?
While you can remove the pedals of a regular pedal bike to convert it into a balance bike, it’s not always a good idea. When most parents take off the pedals, they don’t remove the crank arms, and these protruding pieces of metal can hurt small legs when striding.
Removing the pedals allows you to easily switch from a pedal bike to a balance bike, but unscrew pedals and adding that back on isn’t most parents’ idea of fun.
Balance Bikes vs. Regular Pedal Bikes, What’s Better?
For learning purposes, a balance bike is better than a normal pedal bike. How so? On a pedal bike, the child naturally sits higher above the ground, which doesn’t feel super safe or stable.
The reason a regular pedal bike for kids keeps the child perched high on the saddle is that it features a drivetrain. And having a drivetrain means there should be adequate ground clearance for pedal rotation.
That said, not every kid learns on a balance bike. In fact, balance bikes are a pretty recent discovery. Many adults today learned to ride on a regular pedal bike.
Parts of a Balance Bike
A balance bike isn’t a complicated bike design, but it happens to be harder to ride compared to a pedal bike with training wheels. Below is a list of the various parts of balance bike and what role each part/component plays.
1.Wheels and Tires
hey roll on the ground and get your kiddo from point A to point B. Balance bikes for kids typically come with 12″-20″ wheels.
To prevent these wheels from getting flats from time to time, consider pouring in slime or tire sealant. The All-Tires Slime does a pretty good job of sealing up tiny and relatively large holes. Here’s how to add in tire sealant into a balance bike’s tires to stave off punctures.
There are two main types of tires used on kids’ balance bikes: foam balance bike tires and air-filled tires. Each tire type has advantages and disadvantages which you need to be aware of.
Foam Tires vs. Air-filled Tires on a Kid’s Balance Bike?
Foam tires are lightweight and never ever get those annoying flats every bike rider deals with from time to time. No time wasted fixing pierced tires. However, foam tires don’t offer great traction. Another con is that foam tires don’t have much give when you throw rough terrain at them.
When a fun-pursuing kid rolls down a cracked sidewalk or a rough driveway on foam tires, they feel every little bump and pothole. For this reason, foam tires are most suitable for super smooth surfaces such as high-quality pavement/sidewalk and driveways.
Air-filled tires are also lightweight because the air in a balance bike’s tires weighs close to nothing. They have better traction compared to foam tires, and they’re the better choice when it comes to navigating sharp turns.
Inflatable balance bike tires are also the better option when riding over rough terrain because they’re designed to smooth out bumps, small rocks, twigs, cracks, and other obstacles. And when rolling over the roughest terrain at speed, your kid is going to need to have air-filled knobby tires under them for traction and comfort.
For aggressive balance bike riders who want to have fun while doing little tricks (yes, some kids find a way to do basic tricks on a balance bike) on their bicycle, air-filled tires are best.
But if your kid will mostly do light balance bike riding or is a younger child learning to ride a balance bike on mostly smooth surfaces, foam tires are OK.
2. Brakes: It’s Mostly Hand Brakes
Not all balance bikes come with brakes, but since your kid’s safety matters a lot, I recommend options that feature hand brakes.
But are brakes really needed on a balance bike? It depends. If your child will mostly ride on hilly terrain, it’s critical to have good brakes on that balance bike. Also, if they ride aggressively/are speed demons, it’s important to be able to stop smoothly and fast.
Brakes make stopping easier, and your kiddo’s shoes will last a little longer since they won’t have to drag their feet on the ground to stop. And because pedal bikes have brakes, using a balance bike with brakes makes transitioning that much easier.
When buying a balance bike for a 2.5 year old preschooler or older kid, consider choosing a model that boasts properly functioning hand brakes. Most kids 2.5 years old and above have enough eye/hand coordination to reach the hand brakes and squeeze them. And when the child starts learning to ride a regular pedal bike, they won’t have to re-learn braking skills.
The best balance bikes for children come with easy-to-reach/short-reach, high-quality hand brakes that small hands can quickly grab and squeeze for safety. Ever wonder why Woom balance bikes are common even when they’re not as cheap as most? It’s because they’re solid bikes that last long, plus they have really good, short-reach brakes that tiny hands can reach quickly and squeeze.
You can buy a budget balance bike if you choose, but chances are that it’ll have stand-reach brakes. Standard-reach brake levers can be challenging to reach and squeeze, which means your child’s safety out riding may be compromised.
The saddle needs to be comfortable and adjustable. If saddle height isn’t adjustable, you have to buy a bigger sized bike every few months because children grow fast. When fitting a balance bike for a kid, measure the distance from the ground (shoes off) to the crotch. This distance is referred to as inseam length.
If the inseam measures X inches in length, the correct saddle height should be X-1″-1.5″. When you have set the saddle height correctly, the rider’s feet stay flat on the ground with the kiddo seated, and there’s a slight bend to the knees.
A footrest is a U-shaped plate placed in front of the rear tire, and its job is to provide a comfortable resting place for tiny feet during gliding. When a kid glides on a balance bike, they lift the feet off the ground and either straighten them out front or pack them on the footrest. A balance bike doesn’t really need to have a footrest, but it’s a nice-to-have feature.
When buying a balance bike with a footrest, make sure to pick a choice with a well-designed footrest. Some bicycles have a poorly designed footrest, one that keeps getting in the way during riding.
Not only does a faulty footrest get in the way, but the calves of the young rider keep striking on it. Sooner or later, the child starts associating riding with experiencing pain and begins doing less of it. It’s better to have a footrest-less balance bike than one with a poorly deigned one.
5. Handlebar Grips and Protective Bumpers
A good balance bike has high-quality rubber handlebar grips. Rubber grips make sure that tiny hands don’t slip off the handlebar at any time. You also want to have knobby bumpers on each end of the handlebar. These bumpers are thicker than the area where the rider rests their hands.
If the child falls, the bumper and not your kid’s hands hits the ground first. A knobby bumper also prevents sweaty hands from slipping off the bar.
6. Turning Limiter
A turning limiter on a balance bike is a small metal component that prevents the handlebar from spinning a full 360 degrees at any time during riding. A balance bike isn’t a freestyle BMX bike, and it’s best if the handlebar doesn’t make a complete revolution during use.
Another role the turning limiter plays is keeping brake cables from twisting during steering and causing problems. Some also claim that this little component makes sure that the rider’s body never jackknifes.
Others argue against having a turning limiter saying that it can drastically diminish the turning radius if not properly designed. Additionally, opponents believe that this feature can hold a younger child’s learning progress. It supposedly makes steering more challenging since such riders don’t ride at speed.
Having a turning limiter is a good idea, but it isn’t a must-have feature. If you want this feature on your tyke’s balance bike, make sure it’s elastic and removable.
7. Axle Bolts
Axles keep the tires attached to the frame. On cheap balance bikes, the axle bolts stick out and tend to strike on objects and get dented and scratched. As a result, the scratched axle bolt can hurt the rider’s legs during use.
Better balance bikes come with sheathed axle bolts to prevent injuries. Other bikes have recessed or flat axle bolts, and the kid’s legs never get close enough to get hurt.
9 Reasons to Buy Your Kid a Balance Bike
Below are 9 good reasons why you should buy your kid a balance bike as opposed to other bike types.
1.Balance bikes are lighter than other bikes, and kids prefer lighter over bulkier bikes.
2. They’re safer than other kinds of bicycles because they have a lower center of gravity and the rider sits closer to the ground.
3. They don’t have pedals, so no pedal strikes to deal with.
4. There’s no chain, derailleur, shifters, and cogs to maintain and clean. Cleaning a bikes drivetrain can be a messy and time-consuming affair. And it’s easy to do it all wrong. Here’s how to clean a kid’s bike and leave it sparkling clean. And here’s how to degrease and lube up a bike chain if you’re interested.
5. Balance bikes make bicycling accessible to even the youngest of kids. Many one-year-olds can’t ride a pedal bike, but there’s tons of tiny balance bikes for the smallest of kids.
6. They mostly come with foam tires, which means you won’t ever have to deal with unexpected tire flats.
7. While a balance bike is harder to ride than a pedal bike, it doesn’t keep the rider’s body tipping from side-to-side, nor does it tip over uneven or rough surfaces.
8. Kids who learn on a balance bike have been known to learn to ride a pedal bike in a matter of minutes!
9. Since kids need little to no guidance when learning to ride a balance bike, mastering the bike on their own instills a keen sense of independence. And if there’s one quality that the adults of the future must cultivate today, it is independence.
A Brief History of balance Bikes
Karl Drais, a German inventor, gave the world the first-ever balance bike about two centuries ago (1817). It was a type of clunky wooden balance bike for adults, and some wag then decided to nickname it a “Dandy Horse.” The inventor of this forerunner of the modern bicycle called it a Laufmaschine, German for “a running machine.” Like the balance bikes we see today, it didn’t have pedals or a drivetrain and the rider powered it through walking or running.
Balance bikes as we know them are quite a recent invention. They first showed up in 1997, a contraption a German designer named Rolf Mertens created. Mertens called this “running bike” LIKEaBIKE.
A decade later in 2007, an American company called Strider started making a kids-focused balance bike. This product started seeing serious annual sales right off the bat, and the bike eventually became something kids everywhere wanted to own and ride.
Funnily enough, there are all sorts of companies out there claiming to have invented the balance bike in a certain year. Well, they didn’t, Rolf Mertens the German did. Besides, parents started removing the pedals from pedal bikes years ago; they were doing it before even Mertens redesigned the Laufmaschine.
How to Teach a Kid to Ride a Balance Bike
Kids don’t need to be taught to ride a balance bike. What they need is constant admiration and encouragement from parents and others, and they can figure out the rest of the process naturally. If you buy them the right balance bike (I recommend Woom Bikes or Strider Bikes), fit the kid on the bike correctly, and find them a safe riding place, they can teach themselves to ride. Still, there’s a few little things you can do to help a kid master a balance bike.
How Much Do Kids’ Balance Bikes Cost?
Good budget balance bikes cost as low as $60 while better ones sell for anywhere between $150 and $300 or even more. Don’t pay too much attention to the cost. Instead, understand what features you’re getting from each offer. Then, weight the quality and number of those features against the price and decide if the bike is worth the money.
For the most part, the best balance bike for children costs $200-ish, but who says you have to buy it new? You can always head over to Craigslist and other online locations and see if you can bump into someone who’d sell their used balance bike for much cheaper.
Best Balance Bike Brands?
Woom, Strider, Co-op Cycles, Banana Bike, Ridgeback Scoot, and Yedoo TooToo are all good balance bike brands. However, you have to read the best balance bike reviews online to learn which are the best models from these companies.
Which is the Best Kids’ Balance Bike?
The 14″ Woom 1 Plus Balance Bike gets consistently good reviews from parents, grandparents who buy it as a Xmas gift or birthday gift. The 12″ Strider Sport Balance Bike is another great option. For toddlers (18-24 months), parents can’t stop raving about the Woom 1 Balance Bike. These may not be bargain counter deals, but they’re worth every penny.
What’s a Balance Bike Wrap-Up
A balance bike is a kid’s bicycle that keeps the rider closer to the ground than regular pedal bikes, and it doesn’t have pedals, crank arms, gear shifters, derailleurs, sprockets, or cassette. Parents get this bike for their kids because it’s the best way to learn balance and hand/eye coordination skills.
While riding, the little rider concentrates their attention on steering, balancing, gliding, and fun. Some may have brakes while others may not. Others may come with a footrest while others may not. Some may feature a turning limiter while others may not.
Brakes, turning limiter, and footrests on a balance bike aren’t absolutely necessary, but I strongly recommend that you get a bike with good brakes before being able to stop keeps your baby safe.
Riding a balance bike maybe harder than riding a pedal bike with stabilizers, but it gets you solid bike control skills. These skills transfer nicely to pedal bike riding when the time comes.