For many parents teaching their child to ride a bike is an important milestone in their child’s development.That said, children all progress through stages of development much differently. Catering to your child’s unique personality traits and comfort level is an incredibly important factor in teaching them new things. A Balance Bike does all this and more.
By now, I’m sure you have heard of the many benefits of choosing a Balance Bike for your child (see Goodbye Training Wheels, Hello Balance Bike) . They’re safer and easier to learn on than a bike with training wheels. As a parent of the training wheel generation, I’m sure you can remember at least one topple caused by training wheels rounding a corner, or encountering an unstable surface.
So you’ve decided to buy a Balance Bike. With so many options though, how do you decide what features are necessary? Read on to find out what sets Balance Bikes apart, and why they matter.
The purpose of a Balance Bike is to teach your child to balance. Simple as that. Balance Bikes operate on a balance now – pedal next philosophy. The theory goes that it is not pedaling that is the new skill, but the balancing required to stay upright on two wheels. Balance bikes are suitable for children as young as 18 months, and as old as 10 depending on the bike.
Balance Bikes allow your child to focus on the fine art of balancing before they need to combine this with pedals, or brakes.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Balance Bikes
Balance Bikes come in all shapes and sizes. While variation exists in frame components, brakes, footrests and seat height there are three things that Balance Bikes have in common: they do not have pedals, training wheels or chains.
What to Look for in Balance Bike
Balance Bikes are available in metal, wood, or composite. The material the frame is made from will dictate the weight and at times, quality of the bike itself. That said, the frame material does not affect the overall usability of the bike. No one material is better than the other. If weight is concern though, or if you would like to be able to have your child move their bike themselves, ensure that the bike is no heavier than 30% of the child’s total weight.
- Metal: Metal Balance Bikes may be built from steel (suitable for a 100lb limit), or aluminum (suitable for a 75lb limit). Metal frame Balance Bikes are durable, with their welded frames.
- Wood Balance Bikes are an environmentally conscious decision. If this is important to you, there are many options available to you. Wooden frame Balance bikes are usually made from Birch, and are equally as durable as their metal pals. Bear in mind that they can be limited in their seat and handlebar adjustments. Just ensure that the bike you choose offers a seat position that fits your child.
- Composite Frames for Balance Bikes are new to the market. They are suitable for a much higher weight capacity. They are also lightweight enough that most children can carry them short distances themselves! A plus for the parents!
There are six kinds of tires available to Balance Bikes. They each have their advantages, as well as disadvantages. Please note that the Fat Boy, EVA Foam, Hard Plastic and Solid Rubber are only suitable for Balance Bikes used by toddlers under 3 years old.
- Fat Boy tires are extra cushioned, and wider than most tires. They also hold more air than regular tires. In turn they offer a very stable, cushioned ride. Not recommended for Ages 3+
- EVA Foam are the lightest tires. And they’re puncture proof! The downside is that they do not offer traction or cushioning. They’re suitable for zooming around the driveway, but won’t respond well to a variety of surfaces. Not recommended for Ages 3+
- Hard Plastic tires are the type usually used for indoor toys as opposed to bikes. They will be found on very small bikes. Not recommended for Ages 3+
- Solid Rubber are also puncture proof! Solid Rubber tires offer more traction than foam tires, but once again, do not offer very much cushioning. Not recommended for Ages 3+
- Rubber Honeycomb tires are new to the Bike world. These tires provide the traction of an air tire with the “zero-flat” risk associated with foam tires.
- Standard Air are Pneumatic tires. They are the most universal. The advantage is that they are comfortable to ride, but they are prone to flats and punctures.
Saddle / Seat Sizes & Adjustability:
Possibly the most important aspect of purchasing a Balance Bike is whether or not it fits the rider! They’ll simply never ride it unless it fits them. Furthermore, the better it fits the safer it will be. Your child is going to make tumbles while on their bike. It’s a fact! The best thing you can do is make sure their bike fits them.
- Making Sure it Fits – the bike should have a minimum saddle height of 1” – 1.5” less than their inseam. This will ensure that your child can get on and off the bike with ease. Make sure that there’s room within the seatpost for your child to grow. Read the reviews on each bike to see what other parents have to say about the sizing of the bike.
- Frame Style – the style of the frame will also play a part in ensuring the bike fits your child properly. Some bikes use a more typical diagonal cross bar structure (Strider 12 Sport No-Pedal Balance Bike), while other have a foot rest to connect the front from the back (KaZAM Classic Balance Bike) Both bikes have their advantages. While the traditional cross bar mimics the style of bike that your child will eventually transition to, the “step in” footrest style allows your child to quickly start gliding with the intuitive foot rest positioning. Regardless of the style you opt for, make sure that you know before hand how difficult / easy it is to make seat adjustments. Many Balance Bikes have no-tool adjustments, using spring clamps. These make for simple adjustments while you’re out and about. That said, not all models use the highest quality clamps meaning that they will gradually slip.
- The Saddle Itself – make sure that the saddle is comfortably padded and shaped for your child. There are about four types of common Balance Bike saddles: Hard Plastic, Gel Seat, Leatherette, and Standard Shaped Vinyl. The best way to find out is to try out a few at a local shop, or in the driveway of friends.
The purpose of the Balance Bike is to get your child gliding, and balancing for short periods of time, or even down small slopes. While gliding, they need a spot to put their feet! By having a location that is intuitive to your child their ability to balance will take off even quicker!
Some children don’t need a footrest. And for some it may even get in the way of them running/ walking the bike forward. There’s a chance your child won’t even use the footrest, and they’ll just kick their fit out to the side while they’re coasting away!
Some parents believe that watching their children use the footrest is a good way to judge when they’re ready for a pedal bike.
All this said, if you opt for a bike with a footrest, there are many options out there. Footrests are either located near where pedals on “bike kid” bikes are, or are integrated into the frame, somewhat like those old scooters with the giant wheels. Both have their advantages.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, most children 5 years and under, do not have the motor skills nor hand strength to operate hand brakes. As a result, many Balance Bikes don’t come with hand brakes.
That said, there are two theories on Balance Bikes and brakes. Firstly, that if the goal of a Balance Bike is to slowly get a child ready for a pedal bike, why not make braking an option. Secondly, that Balance Bikes are purposefully simple. That without pedals and chains and brakes they are encouraging it’s young rider to focus simply on balancing.
Ultimately,the choice is yours. Hand braking will be a learned skill. Your child will instinctively put their foot down when they want to stop.
An alternative to hand brakes offered on some balance bikes, are rear lever brakes. It works as a single pivot lever that when stomped acts as a fast acting rear tire brake. An alternative to children without strong hand muscles.
Balance Bikes range in price from $50 to $250. The quality of the materials, the brand name, and the flashiness of each bike contributes to dictating the price.
The best way to make the most intelligent choice is to decide what is important based on your child’s personality. Then read my reviews, and if you’re buying a bike online, check-out 5 tips for Buying a Bike Online.
But most of all, have fun! Remember that learning to ride a bike is a big and potentially terrifying new adventure for your little one. Be patient, and let them set the speed.