There are a number of important factors to consider when purchasing a balance bike for your child. Some are practical and some come down to individual taste and the demeanor and preferences of your son or daughter. Below are some of the things that we feel are important and factor into our balance bike reviews.
Balance bikes are generally made either with a metal frame or wood. Parents generally chose one or the other based on their child's personality. Some kids love wooden toys and having a wooden balance bike might make it easier for the child to embrace the journey of learning to ride a bike. We feel like the metal bikes will hold up longer over time, but a wood bike if well cared for can be passed down to younger siblings too.
Not all metal bikes are created equal. Some bikes, like the Strider models and the Boot Scoot balance bikes have an all steel frame. The Mini and Go Glider from Glide bikes offer an aluminum alloy frame that's more durable. The same is true of the Kinderbike models.
The FirstBike is a unique balance bicycle with a composite frame that's nearly indestructible. This is welcome as it resists rust and warping and looks like a really cool toy.
Weight and Seat Height
Check our balance bike size chart for the bike weight and seat height for all the bikes featured in our store. Some balance bikes can accomodate kids under two because of their low seat height and light weight. The Strider, Mini Gliders, Kinderbikes and Smart Gear balance bikes are all great options for very young kids because they are so small and light.
Other bikes will be better for older three-year-old children up to five or six like the Kazam balance bike. The Go Glider is a balance bike for older kids that's best suited for a 5-7 year old child.
The best way to determine if a bike is right for your child is to measure their inseam and then find a bike that can be adjusted to 1" lower than their inseam measurement. The bikes may seem small, but that's okay and kind of the point. A big heavy bike is tough to control and scary. Learning on a small, lightweight bike reduces fear and anxiety and makes balancing much easier. Check the bicycle's weight capacity so you can be sure it will support your child.
We prefer the bikes that have a tool-free, easy release seat clamp. Some of the wood balance bikes have adjustable seats with peg settings and the FirstBike adjust by turning a knob.
Handlebars and Limiters
Another factor worth considering is the ability of the handlebars to adjust up and down for the best fit for your child. The wood bikes don't usually offer the ability to adjust the handlebars and only a few of the metal bikes like the Kinderbike, KaZAM and Glide bikes can be adjusted. If you're starting a toddler on one of the small bikes like the Strider ST-3, it's probably not a big deal but if your son or daughter is 4 or 5, you may be better off with a bike where the handlebars adjust.
Limiters are a feature that limits the range of motion for the front tire, preventing a child from being able to make very sharp turns. This is a safety feature intended to keep kids from jack-knifing, a danger that occurs when a child turns so sharply that the handlebars turn completely around and the child is flipped over the handlebars. It's a worthwhile feature found on some models, but isn't a dealbreaker in our view.
While it sounds awful, jack-knifing is more likely to occur at low speeds. Since balance bikes are so low to the ground, even a spill like this won't be too bad as long as your child wears a helmet.
Balance bikes feature either pneumatic air tires or EVA foam tires. Air tires are more durable and provide better traction, but they lose air like an ordinary bicycle tire. Foam tires are light and convenient because they'll never need air but can get chewed up by rough asphalt. This is an important consideration depending on where your child will ride their bike.
To Brake or not to Brake
Many of the balance bikes reviewed here come with a hand brake or have an optional handbrake. In our experience, this is the least useful feature on a balance bike. we've yet to see a kid use their handbrake to stop. It's all about the feet. Otherwise, how would they be able to wear out their brand new shoes! The handbrake does train a child to place their hand on the brake and gets them familiar with the concept, but don't expect much actual hand braking to occur.
Kudos to the Mini Glider for having a kid size break that is easy to squeeze. It's the one model we've seen where a child might make use of the brake.