Understanding all the different features of a balance bike so you can make the best choice for your child.
Seat height range for balance bikes can vary greatly and it's the number one thing to consider before purchasing a balance bike. When choosing a balance bike for your little rider it's always important to choose the correct size. Not choosing the right size can frustrate your child and inhibited their ability to properly learn to ride a bike. It can also be dangerous. Most likely it's their first bike and we highly recommend that you purchase a bike that fits them now, not one that they will grow into.
Getting a proper fit on a balance bike requires one simple measurement, your child's inseam measurement. A proper seat height should have the child sitting on the seat saddle, with feet flat on the ground, with a slight bend in the knees. A good starting point is 1-inch less than the child's inseam. For long distance riding on smooth surfaces, you can adjust the seat slightly up. For obstacles, tricks and off-road riding, the saddle can be adjusted for slightly more bend in the knees.
One more thing to consider is the ability to quickly adjust the seat height. As a parent of two children with balance bikes, having the ability to adjust the seat height without the need for tools is extremely convenient and time saving.
Please note: Some balance bikes come with or have optional add-ons for lowering or extending the seat height beyond the base model.
When considering the overall weight of a bike there is a simple yet practical rule that can be applied, a balance bike should weigh no more than 30% of your child's weight. At 2 years old, boys normally weigh between 23.5 to 33.5lbs, while girls weigh 22.5 to 32lbs. If a child weighs 25lbs and we calculate this by the rule of 30% then their balance bike should weigh no more than 7.5 lbs (25 x 0.3 = 7.5).
A bike weighing 10lbs would be much more difficult and possibly dangerous for a 25lb child to maneuver than a child weighing 35lbs. There is also a side benefit for parents who choose a lighter bike, the carrying factor. A lightweight bike will make it much easier for any parent to simply grab and carry. There have been a number of times myself where I've had to carry my son or daughter in one arm and the bike in the other. Having a lightweight bike made it manageable.
Balance bike frames are designed from an assortment of distinctive materials: various metals and alloys, wood and composite materials.
Metal bikes built from steel can increase the overall weight of the bike but can also accommodate heavier and older children. Steel bikes are stiffer (not a bad thing) and also have a great strength reliability rate, but steel bike frames can be prone to rust, especially where paint chips and in damper climates.
Aluminum/Alloy bikes are very popular with parents looking for the ultimate lightweight bike. Aluminum bikes work especially well for smaller children or children under 3 years of age. The bikes weight capacity limit can max out around 60 – 75lbs, depending on the make and model. The good news is, a majority of children who actually reach the max weight limit have or are ready to move on to the next phase, a pedal bike.
Wood bikes can be more environmentally friendly, but have more limits on being adjustable than conventional balance bikes. Wood bikes are best suited for urban and flat/hard terrain surfaces. There have been some reports of wood frame bikes cracking/splintering underneath a child, which could lead to serious harm to any young rider.
Composite bikes are relatively new to the balance bike market. These bikes are becoming increasingly popular due to their near indestructible and lightweight frame. Their frames are easy to rinse and wipe clean when dirty, prone to withstand extreme weather conditions and have a higher rider weight capacity. Composite frames have proven to be extremely strong and reliable but there have been some reports of riders noticing an increased side-to-side flex on their composite bike at faster speeds.
There are a number different types of balance bike tires with various tread patterns. When choosing a balance bike you should consider the conditions/environment in which your child will be riding. Almost any foam or air tires will work on pavement, but tires with a deeper and nobby tread will provide increased traction on dirt and other natural surfaces.
EVA Foam tires have a distinct advantage in that they weigh significantly less than other tires and are maintenance free. These tires work especially well for younger children (3 years and under) who need a lightweight bike. Can be ridden on most terrains and surfaces - indoors and outdoors. Foam tires may not provide the same cushion ride as a pneumatic tire and traction is limited.
Air (Pnuematic) tires are the standard on most balance bikes. They provide a cushion and comfortable ride. Tread pattern varies between models. Air tires are prone to flats, will require proper air pressure maintenance and will increase the overall bike weight.
Rubber tires provide a lot of traction without the risk of flats. These tires are best suited for indoor use and flat hard surfaces. Perfect for indoor gyms, daycares, school or parents that don't want to worry about maintenance of an air tire.
Hard Plastic tires are the lowest quality tires of the group and lightest. Generally considered for use on toys and only suitable for indoor. Cheaply made and prone to cracking and provide little to no traction or cushioning for the rider.
Big Apple (aka Fat Boy) tires are the crème de la crème of comfort. A "Big Apple" tire is a much wider tire that uses air cushion as natural suspension. Air suspension is built-in without the use of suspension technology. A large volume air cushion has a natural damping effect providing a much smoother and comfortable ride on nearly all surfaces.
Take advantage and seize the power of today's most powerful tool - "word of mouth". You can read online reviews and testimonials but we also strongly suggest you go straight to the source, with any parent who has a child riding a balance bike, and ask for their opinion. We guarantee they will have one, especially when it comes to the happiness and wellbeing of their child.
Beginner riders use their feet against the ground to control speed and to stop. We want children to be safe, and so we researched various "stopping" methods as they relate to really young children. In the end, in a panic situation, the natural instinct of children is to put their feet down. Even children capable of using a brake revert to planting their feet if they have to stop quickly. With that said, and in our humble opinion we find that hand brakes are excellent for skill development and riding enjoyment, even for kids under the age of five. Children will need to learn how to use hand brakes at some point so why not introduce them from the get go.
Steering limiters prevents the bike from jack-knifing. It keeps the handlebar and front wheel from completing a full 360 degree revolution. Advocates of the turning limiter claim that bikes are safer with them as it prevents sharp turns, limits injuries during a fall and prevents the brake cables from becoming twisted. Critics claim that the steering limiter keeps the handlebars from being able to fold flat to the ground in the event of a fall and that a child should be exposed to the full range of steering from the get-go. Critics also claim the steering limiters are basically "training wheels" for handlebars. While there are pros and cons to steering limiters, the overall effect they have on a riding is minor.
Handgrips should be comfortable and protect their little hands during a fall or an accidental handlebar run-in (think tree, wall, etc). You want a handgrip with a protective rubber and cushion end. One that absorbs the impact and protects the hand from being accidentally pinched during impact or a fall. Younger children can benefit from smaller radius grips. Strider has come out with an unique 12.7mm handlebar grips that are 43% smaller than standard grips (22.2mm) to allow for better comfort and control with tiny hands. More and more bike manufacturers have followed their example and the smaller grips sizes have become the standard.
A balance bike footrest is a nice feature, if it doesn't interfere with the rider's ability to use their feet correctly, but not necessary. Generally utilized by children who have mastered their balance bike and are looking to take their riding skills to the next level. Most kids are not going to use a footrest unless going down hills or performing more advanced tricks on their bike.
Reputable manufactures and distributors will offer some form of a warranty. Most warranties will cover just the frame but not cover normal wear and tear. Some manufacturers will require that you register your bike within a certain time frame to be eligible. If a safety issue or recall should occur then you would be notified.