The Balance Bike Buyer's Guide
There are a lots of factors to consider to find the best balance bike for your child. There is not one balance bike which is the best for every child. As a child’s height and age varies so does the best balance bike for them. So here are a list of things to consider before choosing your bike.
As every child is unique in weight, height and ability so will the balance bike that is best for them be unique. So, firstly its very important to consider the physical attributes of your child as detailed below:
Your Child's Inseam
its important to measure their leg from the top of their crotch to the floor. This will give you an inseam measurement. The seat height on the bike should be about one inch less than their inseam. This should mean their feet can touch the floor flat to the ground so they are able to push the bike along. If the seat height is too big for them, they will be unable to push the bike along with their feet and will not be able to ride the bike. It should also give them enough room to get on and off the bike.
Many people buy balance bikes with seat heights that are too big for their child. This is one of the main reasons young children are not able to ride balance bikes.
Your Child's Weight
very light and young children will find it harder to manoeuvre and control heavier bikes. Toddlers and young children will benefit from lighter bikes with they can manage more easily. As your child gets older and heavier the weight of the bike will become less important as they will be able to manage heavier bikes.
Your Child's Height
A child’s height is important as they get towards 4 or 5 in particular. Taller kids of 114 or 115 cm or more will get on better with a balance bikes with larger 16 inch wheels. Smaller children will be okay to stay with the 12 inch wheels which are standard on many balance bikes.
Are the seat height and handlebars easily adjustable?
As the seat height is very important when making sure your child’s feet can be flat to the ground and push the bike along, it also makes sense to have a seat which can be easily adjusted as your child grows.
Quick release seat post clamps will allow the seat height to be adjusted quickly and easily without the use of any tools. This is especially great if you have siblings or friends who may want to use the same bike as the seat height can be adjusted there and then.
However, having a seat post clamp that does require tools isn’t the end of the world. It should be fine if you want to use the bike for just one child. Although it will be a bit more hassle to adjust the seat when you need too.
I have learned first hand from buying a cheap pedal bike for my older son that cheap bikes will generally come with cheap seats and this is one of the things many cheaper balance bikes will compromise on. Cheaper saddle seats will generally rip and tear more quickly and it will be likely you won't be able to pass on the cheaper balance bike to a younger sibling or sell it without replacing the saddle.
Higher end balance bike seats generally offer more padding and are more comfortable too.
The frame sizes on balance bikes do vary quite considerably. The most important thing is that your child can sit on the seat and reach the handlebars comfortably with their feet flat on the ground. You will obviously normally see smaller frames on bikes for younger children. Bikes with larger frames normally have larger wheels too (14 or 16 inches). Whereas smaller frames have smaller wheels (10 or 12 inches).
Material Of The Frame
You will generally find most balance bikes are made of metal or wood. Metal bikes tend to be either steel or aluminium. The benefit of aluminium is that it’s lighter so is easy for younger kids to manoeuvre and control as well as parents to pick up and carry. However, bikes with steel frames tend to have a higher weight capacity so can hold bigger children although most aluminium bikes still have a high enough weight capacity that they will be able to take the weight of the majority of children that want to use them.
A light bike is quite important for very young children as they will find heavier bikes more difficult to handle. As you child gets bigger the weight of the bike becomes a little less important. Older children will be able to control and manoeuvre heavier bikes.
The other thing to consider regarding the weight of the frame is that you may have to carry the bike if your young child gets tired and no longer wants to ride along.
You will also see wooden bikes. Its important to make sure that wooden bikes aren't left outside so they don't get damaged if they are left out in the rain unless they are made out of marine grade wood.
You will find that many balance bikes have EVA foam tyres and some have rubber tyres. These are a good option for young children as you don't have to worry about flats or pumping them up. They are also lightweight and are generally fine for use on the pavement and on paths.
However some balance bikes have air filled tires. Pneumatic or air filled tyres have lots of advantages. They provide more traction and cushioning for the rider. They are particularly worth considering if you are riding off road (along the grass and on dirt tracks). They are also more hard wearing and will support heavier riders better.
The reason that most balance bikes don't have air filled tyres is that rubber/EVA foam tyres are less expensive to produce. Rubber and EVA foam tyres also tend to be fine for toddlers and the younger riders that use balance bikes. They are also great for busy parents and nurseries that don't have time to deal with pumping up tires and sorting out punctures.
You will find brakes on some balance bikes. However, young children often don't bother with the brake and will slow down by using their feet. The advantage of trying to teach a child to use the brake is that it may prevent shoes from being scuffed. Older kids may instinctively feel better with a hand brake on their balance bike and if they can use it, it’s a good option. However, for younger kids I would say it’s not so important as they may not even use it.