Home > Biking with Kids > 2018 Buying Guide to the Best Balance Bikes for Kids

 

Balance bike options have skyrocketed since I had my first nephew, let alone my own first child! There are so many choices out there and this guide is intended to help you understand what to look for when combing through the best balance bikes for kids in order to find the one that will work best for your child.

The joy that biking can bring to a child is something we truly believe in supporting, we hope this guide helps to get your family started off on the right foot for instilling a lifelong love of two wheels!

balance bike advice

 

What is a balance bike?

A balance bike is a small wheeled bike with no bottom bracket, cranks, or pedals. A small child can walk or run while seated on such a bicycle.

The majority of the market lies with the roughly 18 month to 3 year old crowd. Currently, there is a trend towards slightly bigger models aimed at the 3 to 5 year old crowd — riders that are reluctant to totally ditch their balance bikes in favour of a pedal bike (just yet). There are also some models aimed at older children and/or children with disabilities.

 

Benefits of balance bikes

Because these bikes are so small and simple, a young child gets to focus on what is arguably the hardest and most important skill to learn in order to ride a bike: balance.

They also learn to steer and if their bike has a hand brake, braking.

 

How does a balance bike work?

Once they have a bit of speed with their seated walking or running, your child can start to learn to balance and glide. It will come in spurts at first and then will start to look smoother. At this point, braking by dragging their flat-footed feet will develop and/or the use of a hand brake (if the model has one, many don’t). And, thus, a little ripper is born!

 

Overview 2018 Best Kids’ Bikes: Balance Bikes

You can sort this table by weight, for example.

BrandModelRecommended Age
(years)
Weight in kg
(lb)
Wheel Size
(inches)
Brake
(Y/N, rear or both)
Check Price
StriderSport18 mo - 53
(6.7)
12Add onCheck price
StriderPro18 mo - 52.5
(5.6)
12Add onCheck price
Strider14x 2-in-13 - 7Without pedals: 5.4
(12)
With pedals: 6.9
(15.5)
14Coaster brake when pedals onCheck price
Strider166 - 108
(17.7)
16Y, front and rear v-brakesCheck price
Early RiderClassic 12"/14"2 - 54.25
(7.2)
14 (front)
12 (rear)
NCheck price
Early RiderRoad Runner 14"3 - 53.6
(7.9)
14NCheck price
CruzeeUltralite18 mo - 52
(4.4)
12NCheck price
CruzeeUltralite Air18 mo - 52.2
(4.8)
12NCheck price
IslabikesRothan2+3.2, red=3.3
(7, red=7.3)
12Y, micro-reach rearCheck price
RunnersUltralight Runners Aluminum Bike2 - 53.6
(7.9)
12NCheck price
Woom118 mo - 43.3
(7.3)
12Y, rear v-brakeCheck price
Woom1 Plus3+4.1
(9)
14Y, front and rear v-brakeCheck price
Bixe12" Extreme Light Bike1.8
(4)
12NCheck price
PreveloAlpha Zero 12"3.8
(8.5)
12Y, rear v-brakeCheck price
FrogTadpole2 - 34.2
(9.2)
12Y, rear v-brakeCheck price
FrogTadpole Plus3 - 44.2
(9.2)
14Y, rear v-brakeCheck price

 

How to Buy the Best Balance Bikes for Kids

If you are anything like me or my husband, you will be beyond stoked when the time comes that you can finally give your kid their very first bike. It’s a pretty special feeling being able to share something that you love with your child!

 

Balance Bike: Age

The age that you can buy their first bike is much earlier than when we were kids. Now there are balance (or run) bikes that were not around when I was a kid (at least not where I come from) and it was very rare to find a family that removed the bottom bracket and crankset off of a bike so that they could function like a modern run bike.

Your child is ready to start playing with a run bike when they are approximately 18 months old, give or take, depending on if they are walking and how big they are.

We got our eldest a Strider brand run bike when she was about that age and she was pretty happy to finally be like mom and dad, even if she did not figure out gliding for almost another year. She would straddle it and walk around, working on her coordination, practicing getting on and off the bike independently. It provided hours of entertainment.

Our second child had the bike around at an earlier age simply because it was already around, so she started younger. She wanted on that blue Strider before she could even touch the ground. She would walk around with it, straddling the top tube because she was too short to sit on the seat and touch down with her toes. She was riding by 15 months or so and really started to get proficient between 18-20 months when the glide really kicked in.

It’s a beautiful sight to behold. Run bikes teach kids the hardest thing to learn about riding a bike: balance. They also teach a kid how to steer.

Hopefully you have a great local bike shop (LBS) where you can pop in and ask them questions, otherwise, my intentions are that you find the information below useful in selecting the right balance bike for your child and budget!

 

Fit

Fit for a run bike is pretty simple. You want two things: low standover height and your child needs to be able to touch down with their feet (preferably their whole foot) when seated on the saddle. Kids will starting fitting most models of run bikes in the 18 month age range, give or take, depending on your child and the bike. They might even get started earlier with a 10″ wheel model, using it as a walker!

 

Cockpit

The space between where your toddler is sitting and where they place their hands should not be a big issue with a run bike. I would advocate for a nice upright position, so that they can centre themselves easily but make sure they have a bit of weight on the front wheel to minimize speed wobbles later on.

 

Standover height

The more sloped the top tube of the frame, the better. If it is a proper step through, bonus. Most balance bikes only have one tube, unlike a conventional bicycle that has both a top tube and down tube.

Having a nice low standover height makes it easier for your child to get on and off the bike. Plus, if they fall forward, it spares them some pain of hitting the top tube of their new bike.

 

Seat height

With your child sitting on the seat, they should be able to touch with the full front half of their foot but preferably completely flat-footed for extra stability, confidence, and power in their pushing stride. The minimum seat height should not be much more than their inseam measurement; theoretically, the inseam measurement equal to minimum seat height means they could sit on the bike with feet flat on the ground.

Some run bike brands offer a regular seat post length and a longer length. Consider this option depending on the height of your child — you’re aware of whether or not they are taller for their age or not — and know that many children are reluctant to move on from their run bikes once they’ve mastered them, so being able to extend the life of the same bike by changing out seat posts could be a selling feature for you.

 

Brakes

It is easy to find a balance bike with brakes these days and I would highly recommend a model that does have a rear hand brake. The biggest skills that kids acquire with a run bike is balance and steering, if you can also add “operate a hand brake” to that list, the only thing that they need to learn when they grow in to a pedal bike is how to pedal. That’s it. Plus, if you find you have a little speed demon on your hands, a brake could really give you some piece of mind (if they use it). Note that some very young toddlers may not be able to reach the child sized brake nor have the hand power to use it initially, but they will grow into it.

However, most kids will learn to drag both feet, flat footed, in order to slow down and stop their run bikes. By age 3 or so, you might get sick of all of the wear and tear on their shoes and want a hand brake!

Neither of my kids had a hand brake on their run bike. My eldest was the queen of two-foot braking; it took a long time for my youngest to really figure it out and even now, she is still not proficient at it but she has progressed to a pedal bike. Being hand brake free has been fine for my different kids — you know your kids best.

If you choose to go hand brake free (or your kid doesn’t take to it), teach braking right away when they progress to a pedal bike. The way that we started our girls off was by removing the pedals on their new pedal bikes so that they could focus on balancing their new bike and learning how to brake. Within a week or so, both wanted the pedals on and were off on their way, riding.

 

Run Bike Features

There are a few more things to consider when purchasing kid or toddler balance bikes: wheel size; tire type; and, frame material.

 

Balance bike wheels

There are a whole host of balance bike wheel sizes now. Beginner bikes are usually 12 inches, sometimes 10″.

For approximately the 3-5 year old crowd, you can find 14 inch balance bikes. 5-8 year olds will fit the 16″ models on the market. And 8 years old to adult (about 5’8″) will fit most 20″ models available.

 

10 inch balance bike

There are some 10 inch wheel models, like the Frog Tadpole Mini or Norco Ninja 10 Run Bike. These can be a fun walker for the really bike focused family and may get your wee one rolling early but in the long run 10″ wheels just aren’t as smooth as 12″ ones.

 

12 inch balance bike

Most run bikes are based around a 12 inch wheel, like the Strider, Woom 1, or Prevelo. This category of wheel size is generally the “one size fits all” or “18 months to 5 years” fit, but really, it’s more like 18 months to 3, give or take. Some of these brands offer extended seat posts and adjustable handlebar height which helps, but eventually older toddlers and preschoolers start to get pretty top heavy on such lightweight run bikes and will need pneumatic tires to weigh them down or the next wheel size up. However, this wheel size does lend itself to getting your kid through the balance bike stage to a pedal bike.

 

14 inch balance bike

There is also a 14″ Strider aimed at the 3-7 year old crowd that can be either a balance bike or pedal bike. This 2 in 1 balance bike seems like a great option for a less confident rider, late starter, or for a kid who still loves their 12″ (or smaller) wheeled balance bike but has grown out of it. When ready, you just add pedals to this model of Strider! The only drawback that I can see is for this 14 inch balance bike is that the brake option is a coaster/back pedal brake.

Or there is the new 9 pound 14″ Woom 1 Plus now available for the 3+ year old crowd who just want to keep ripping on their balance bike or like to switch back and forth, having the option to ride an awesome balance bike or their rad pedal bike.

Frog bikes also makes a 14 inch balance bike, the Tadpole Plus.

 

16 inch balance bike

There is also the Strider 16 inch balance bike aimed at the later starting crowd or kids who just can’t let go of their balance bike (because… FUN!).

 

20 inch balance bike

Strider is one brand offering a 20 inch balance bike and it is suitable for kids or adults, it has two handbrakes and I bet it would be really fun on a pump track. There is also the more budget-friendly Kazam balance bikes model with only one hand brake.

 

Tires: Balance bike tire materials

There are two styles of tire material available.

 

Foam tires

The main benefit of a balance bike with foam tires is the reduced weight. A lightweight balance bike is key for the youngest keeners, it is also really helpful if your child does not ride the whole time that you are out on a walk as you can easily hook it on to the back of a Thule Chariot, for example.

Another benefit is that you do not have to deal with punctures or flats.

The downside to foam tires is that they will wear out after a kid or two (ours were pretty bald after two kids and heavy use) and the traction and feel is a bit different than a rubber tire.

 

Pneumatic tires

People will argue that pneumatic rubber tires make a run bike feel like a “real bike”. Personally, I would not get hung up on this in the beginning. Pneumatic tires add significant weight to a small balance bike for a tiny toddler. I still remember our friend’s kid’s grandpa insisting on getting him a balance bike with pneumatic tires at the same time that we got our same-aged kid a foam tired Strider. Guess who was riding first? It was in part due to personality but I would argue that his bike weighed twice as much as hers and that made a big difference in ability and desire to play with the bike, ultimately leading to riding it.

That being said, when our Strider‘s foam tires were wearing out last year (after four years of solid seasonal use) and our then 35+ pound 2.5 year old toddler seemed a bit top heavy, I opted to replace her tires with the pneumatic set that Strider does offer and it made a big difference, both with improved traction and lowering the centre of gravity a bit with the added weight.

 

Balance bikes: Frame material

When balance bikes first gained popularity, they were featured more as wooden kids’ balance toys.

 

Kids wooden balance bike

There is a certain charm and appeal of wooden balance bikes for toddlers, much like wooden toys, in general. One of my nephews rocked a beautiful wooden balance bike for a long time, our neighbours also used one with their first two kids but, unfortunately, the wood did not withstand the abuse of childhood and weather and was in rough shape for their third child.

The wooden frames are heavier for better or worse. For better because it can really ground the child and centre the weight well; for worse because they can often be half the weight or more of the child themselves! This is also awkward for you if your child decides they do not want to ride anymore and you are left carrying the bike.

If you choose to go with a wooden frame, be sure to not leave it outside in the rain. Two families have reported to me that without meticulous care of not forgetting the bike outside, the wooden bikes only really last a season or two.

 

Aluminium balance bike

Aluminum is your best bet if lightweight is what you are seeking in a balance bike for toddlers. There are some super lightweight aluminum frames out there which is fantastic for early adopters of balance bikes, but a more robust rider might find them too light!

 

Steel/chromoly balance bike

Steel is often the cheapest material available and if it means the difference between your child having a balance bike and not having one, go for steel. Steel is what most of the Strider bikes are made of and it has worked for us, withstanding many years of use and abuse, kid-style.

Steel is usually heavier but it has the added benefit of being extremely strong. A great feature for all things toddler!

 

Extra details on balance bike fit and features

BrandModelRecommended Age
(years)
Seat Height Range in cm
(inches)
Handlebar Height Adjustability in cm
(inches)
Tire TypeFrame MaterialCheck Price
StriderSport18 mo - 528 - 41, XL seat post up to 48 (19)
(11 - 16)
46 - 66
(18 - 22)
Foam
(Pneumatic available as accessory)
SteelCheck price
StriderPro18 mo - 528 - 41, XL seat post up to 48 (19)
(11 - 16)
46 - 66
(18 - 22)
Foam
(Pneumatic available as accessory)
AluminiumCheck price
Strider14x 2-in-13 - 738 - 55
(15 - 22)
not adjustablePneumaticSteelCheck price
Strider166 - 1049.5 - 64.8
(19.5 - 25.5
adjustable fore/aftPneumaticSteelCheck price
Early RiderClassic 12"/14"2 - 531.5 -
(12.4 - )
not adjustablePneumaticWoodCheck price
Early RiderRoad Runner 14"3 - 537.5 - 47.5
(14.8 - 18.7)
not adjustablePneumaticAluminiumCheck price
CruzeeUltralite18 mo - 532 - 54 (two length of seat posts included)
(12.6 - 21.3)
10
(4)
FoamAluminiumCheck price
CruzeeUltralite Air18 mo - 532 - 54 (two length of seat posts included)
(12.6 - 21.3)
10
(4)
PneumaticAluminiumCheck price
IslabikesRothan2+30.5 - 42, 47 with longer seat post
(12 - 16.5, 18.5 with longer seat post)
not adjustablePneumaticAluminiumCheck price
RunnersUltralight Runners Aluminum Bike2 - 534.3 - 45.7
(13.5 - 18)
12.5
(5)
PneumaticAluminiumCheck price
Woom118 mo - 425.8 - 36.8
(10.16 - 14.5)
not adjustablePneumaticAluminiumCheck price
Woom1 Plus3+37.5 - 47
(14.76 - 18.5)
fore/aft:
+/- 10 degrees
PneumaticAluminiumCheck price
Bixe12" Extreme Light Bike28 - 43
(11 - 17)
50.8 - 61
(20 - 24)
FoamAluminiumCheck price
PreveloAlpha Zero 12"29 - 37
(11.5 - 14.6)
not adjustablePneumaticAluminiumCheck price
FrogTadpole2 - 331+
(12+)
not adjustablePneumaticAluminiumCheck price
FrogTadpole Plus3 - 438+
(15+)
not adjustablePneumaticAluminiumCheck price

 

Budget

Expect to pay somewhere between $80 to $150 dollars for a used to new high quality run bike. Some models are more around $200-250, give or take.

Get what works for your budget but also choose a bike that you will use. For example, I place a premium on a bike being lightweight because in the early days, my girls wouldn’t want to bike the whole dog walk, only part of it, and the Strider was light enough to just hook on to the Chariot stroller that I was pushing. Even if I didn’t have the stroller, at around seven pounds, it didn’t kill me to carry it for a bit. Having the bike around for them to ride increased their chances of riding it; some times they didn’t want their bikes upon starting our dog walk, but then changed their minds: voila! Bike ready for ripping, just sitting on the Chariot.

 

Used run bikes

They go like hot cakes! On kijiji or our local kid’s outdoor playgroup Facebook group, any Strider bike that goes up for sale is gone within days. Some resell for practically full price.

Set up alerts on an app on your phone. That’s what I did, and I still was usually only second to contact the seller so have yet to succeed in buying second hand but highly recommend it.

Start your hunt months ahead of time and good luck!

If you end up purchasing new, be comforted by the fact that you will be able to resell this product for not much less than you originally paid for it! Not a consolation if cash flow is an issue, but if that is not your concern, then an expensive kids bike may end up only costing you $20-50 after you sell it.

 

Homemade balance bike

Any bike can be transformed into a balance bike by either removing just the pedals or having your local bike shop remove the entire bottom bracket (plus cranks and pedals along with it). This is what one of my brothers chose to do for his kids. This is also a great path to take if your child is starting out later and then you can add back the bits once they are masters of balance.

We removed the pedals for our girls when they sized up to pedal bikes. This gave them the opportunity to get used to the feel and size of the new bike and learn how to operate the hand brake. Within 7-10 days they both wanted the pedals back on and off they went! While it looks a bit awkward leaving the cranks on and we worried about them bonking their ankles, but neither of them complained.

 

Our Family’s Choices

We tried a few different brands and went with the bike that our favourite LBS carries for kids. Plus, here are the bikes that my brothers and sister chose for their kiddos.

 

1. Strider Sport Balance Bike

balance bike

The weekend I got married was when I was introduced to Strider bikes. My nephew really wanted to bike but was still too little for a pedal bike. My sister had had heard of Strider balance bikes and found a little green one in the local bike shop in Fernie.

For a long time, Strider was the only truly lightweight model out there for us. It was either that or a wooden run bike, which was cool but heavy. Strider had a huge appeal to me for two reasons: it was the lightest bike on the market (and is still right up there in that category) and it is extremely adaptable with a quick release seat post and handlebar. As such, I didn’t research much beyond Strider when our turn came to get our first born initiated into riding her own bike.

Our blue Strider has seen many miles, caused many smiles (and some tears), has been easily tucked in a duffle bag for a plane ride, hooked on to the back of our Chariot stroller, and been generally just all ’round awesome. I highly recommend them.

But Please Note: In my humble opinion, do not bother with the Strider Classic balance bikes as they do not have a padded seat (and you will end up spending money to buy one because your child might be okay with the seat when they are in diapers, but once that stage is over they will want a padded seat which is what the Strider Sport model offers).

Check prices online here.

 

2. Homemade

My nephews started off on a sturdy little balance bike affectionately known as “Rah-Lee”, aka a Raleigh Lil Push Balance Bike. They then progressed to homemade models made out of great Garneau bikes that had a nice upright stance.

homemade balance bike

My brother and sister-in-law’s strategy was to use the same bike for balance and pedal, so they rocked the homemade balance bike strategy. They had the bottom bracket and crankset removed by their bike shop on one version and then when their kid was older, he was gifted the same bike in a different colour except they kept the pedals on. So, there wasn’t much for him to get used to, other than learning to pedal. Pretty smart if you ask me. And, easy going for the child who likes to switch back and forth lots in the beginning when they are first learning to pedal, yet are still so proficient at balance biking — some times you just gotta rip!

Their strategy would work well with an 12 inch bike. While it might be hard, look for one that does not have any extraneous features like chain guards or baskets (or remove them) as they just add extra weight. Try and find one a model that is an aluminum frame. This is a great budget-friendly approach.

 

3. Early Rider Balance Bike

wooden balance bike

Another nephew rode a beautiful little Early Rider wooden balance bike. It gave him such a great upright stance and he learned to rip with confidence at an early age (and is still going strong at 4 years old now)!

balance bike

The design of this bike is super funky with a 14″ wheel in front and a wide 12″ wheel in back! My brother reports that the bigger front wheel helped to get his son to stand tall and the “wider back tire definitely improved stability”.

Check prices online here.

 

More of the Best Balance Bikes for Toddlers

Here are some more suggestions of great looking 12 inch balance bikes for your little ripper!

 

4. Cruzee Balance Bike

ultralight balance bike

Cruzee balance bikes seem to be the current leader for the most lightweight balance bike on the market these days, weighing in at a whopping 4.4 pounds (2 kg). Yes, please!

Like the Striders, these bikes have quick release seat post and handlebar post clamps to easily adjust the size of the bikes and they are advertised as being good for 18 months to 5 years old.

You have the choice of getting the “Ultralite Air” model if you prefer pneumatic tires instead of the foam tires found on the “Ultralite” model. It only adds another 0.4 pounds for a total of 4.8 lbs.

The Cruzee balance bikes also have a good amount of accessories available, including different length seat posts to really be able to extend the life of the bike beyond 3 or 4 years of age.

Check current prices here.

 

5. Islabikes: Rothan 12 inch wheel balance bike

Islabikes balance bike

The Islabikes balance bike offering, Rothan, is beautiful but not cheap. This bike comes with pneumatic tires, a rear v-brake, and only weighs 7 pounds (the red colour is 7.3 pounds for some reason). There is the option for an extra-long seat post, too.

I like to support Islabikes for a couple of reasons in spite of their higher price points: a very interesting and awesome woman is behind the company; they employ a lot of female mechanics (which is not industry standard); they are tip-top quality (and thus have great resale value); and, I am beyond curious to see where their Imagine Project program goes. Constant innovation is worth supporting if you can financially afford it, in my humble opinion. *Please note that Islabikes is in the process (Fall 2018) of shutting down their American offices in order to focus on their UK and European markets. So far as I know, North Americans will still be able to purchase Islabikes products online. They have a massive sale on currently (but many items are already out of stock, 17 Oct 2018, FYI).

Check current price here.

 

6. Runners Balance Bike

runner bike

Our friends have this 12 inRunners-Bike UltraLight Aluminum Balance Bikech balance bike and it was the replacement for their wooden bike that fell apart after the heavy use and abuse of their first two kids! This Canadian-designed bike is holding up very well and their daughter likes it… a lot.

There is even a little bit of suspension built into the rear of the frame for those who truly love to rip and hit bumps!

Check current prices here.

 

7. Woom: Woom 1 12″ balance bike

woom balance bike

My kids have never tried Woom bikes but I love the looks of all Woom products more and more. They are very well thought out, lightweight, and superb quality — I have never heard or read a bad thing about them. I especially love the upright position for early riders.

This bike includes a hand brake and pneumatic tires.

Check current prices here.

 

8. Bixe Balance Bike

strider balance bike

This lightweight option (apparently only 4 pounds!) is being included because of its great price point. They also have a 10 inch balance bike but do not be fooled, their 12 inch balance bike has a lower minimum seat height. Tricky! The bigger the wheels, the better they roll over things, so go for their 12″ model.

Click here to see the latest prices.

 

9. Prevelo: Prevelo Alpha Zero 12″

prevelo balance bikeA gorgeous little 12 inch balance bike available in silver or purple-y silver. Lots have details have been thought through on this bike: rounded bolts so kids don’t get scratched, rear brake with its cable routed through the frame, nice long wheelbase for stability, and beautiful upright stance. This frame also has a true step-through, easing getting on and off the bike for your toddler.

Click here to see the latest prices.

 

Best Balance Bike for Older Kids

Here are three 14″ wheel options for the 3-5+ year old crowd who just can’t let go of their balance bikes for the pump track or wherever, even if they are rocking a pedal bike by now, too!

 

10. Woom 1 Plus

woom balance bike

Woom has just released their larger sized balance bike and it is receiving rave reviews (of course)!

I recommend this balance bike as your best bet for a kid that just won’t leave their balance bike behind. It has a hand brake, a foot rest, and the excellent quality that you would expect from Woom.

Check current prices here.

 

11. Strider 14x 2-in-1 Balance to Pedal Bike

2 in 1 balance bike

An excellent option for the budget conscious and late bloomer, this bike can be used as a balance bike initially and then converted to a first pedal bike. My only beef with this setup is that there is no hand brake option, which I see as key for older riders. Plus, both of my kids were back-pedallers when they began riding pedal bikes, especially my youngest, so I am very wary of coaster brakes (even if that’s what I grew up with).

Check current prices here.

 

12. Frog Tadpole Plus

frog balance bike

Aimed at the 3 or 4 year old beginner, this 14″ balance bike has some great features like an oversteering lock and a rear hand brake.

Check current prices here.

 

Other guides

 

Other relevant posts that might interest you

 

Disclaimer: This Mom Bikes is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com and its partners. Amazon and the Amazon logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates. But, never fear, not every link in this post is an affiliate link; I did not pick these bikes with the slim hope that I could make some referral marketing income: many of these links are not affiliate links and I have recommended them because I truly think that they are great balance bike options out there and available in the North American market. Good luck with your purchase decision and happy trails!balance bikeSaveSave

 

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