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Buying a balance bike for your child is a big decision. It's probably their first bike (unless they've been riding a pre-balance bike), and you want to make the right choice. There are so many makes and models available it can be rather bewildering. The age, height and physical maturity of your child, your budget and how much use it will get will help you decide which balance bike is right for your child. To help you though the decision making process, here are a few questions you'll want to think about before you buy a balance bike.
It is important that your child can get both their feet flat on the floor to "scoot" along, so don't be tempted to buy one for them to grow into. The most common size balance bikes come with 12" wheels, and need an inside measurement of approx. 32cm. However as balance bikes are all different, do make sure you measure your child's leg length, or get them to stand over the frame before you buy.
If they're not big enough, or don't have the co-ordination, for a balance bike then consider a pre-balance bike such as the Toddlebike until they're able to manage a balance bike.
Whilst most balance bikes come with a 12" wheel, there are a few manufacturers making 14" wheel and larger balance bikes for taller and older children who aren't ready to move onto a pedal bike. Some options for the 3 - 5 year age range include the 14" Frog Tadpole Plus and the 14" Wee Ride Delux . For older ages the 16" Strider Youth (usually for ages 6 plus) and the Strider 20 (usually for teens and adults) are good choices.
Another alternative is the new range of "growing" bikes from Black Mountain (above), which grow with your child. Their larger offering is the Skøg which has 16" wheels and converts into a pedal bike when your child is ready.
Not all models of balance bike come equipped with brakes. Whilst this can be off-putting to some parents, it should be remembered that a 2 year old is unlikely to have the co-ordination and response times to use brakes if fitted.
With balance bikes it is the feet that generate the momentum, and they are also the main tool used for braking.
Brakes will obviously add cost to the bike, but some parents like their child to get the feeling of using a brake before moving onto a pedal bike.
Some models such as the Puky Balance Bikes come with brakes on some models and not others. Other makes, such as the Early Riders, have no brakes on any of their models. Others, such as the Frog Tadpole come with a rear brake. The Black Mountain "Growing" bikes come with both a front and rear brake, as they'll be needed when you move to the pedal bike mode.
Very heavy steel balance bikes can be difficult for young children. Your little one needs to be able to hold the bike up by themselves and propel it along. They need to be able to pick it up when they've left it on the ground. You need to be able to carry it when they've had enough and decide to walk, or get back in the buggy / bike trailer / cargo bike.
The lighter the balance bike, the better, is the general rule to follow.
If you're going to be using the balance bike on a daily basis, or on off road terrain, then the quality of the frame and components plus type of tyre are going to be very important to you. Cheaper balance bikes often have components that will rust if used in the rain and are heavy to ride / carry.
There are balance bike models on the market made from metal, plastic or wood so there really is something to suit all requirements and budgets. As with all kids bikes you do get what you pay for in terms of quality. More expensive balance bikes tend to have lightweight aluminium frames and come fitted with pneumatic tyres because these are more comfortable than solid plastic tyres, especially if your going over bumpy ground. However, the trade off is that you do run the risk of getting a puncture, although tyres and inner tubes are more robustly made these day, so this doesn't tend to happen very often.
Balance bike design has improved significantly over the past few years, and now there are some very desirable looking balance bikes available if you've got the budget, such as this Early Rider Road Runner.
Most balance bikes have a standard seat and post arrangement enabling changes in height to be performed quickly and easily. On some models handlebars can be lowered or raised to take account of child size and get them comfortable for the fun ahead. Check manufacturers guidance to confirm what can or cannot be adjusted.
This is probably going to be one of the most important factors when buying a balance bike. Prices range from around £40 up to £160, depending on the quality of the bike you're buying. The most popular in the cheaper range of bikes is the Chicco Bullet Balance Bike (RRP £34.99).
Puky Balance Bikes got the most thumbs up from parents in our recent balance bike poll and come in at between £56 and £170 depending on the model you choose.
The quality kids bike brands all tend to do a balance bike and cost £100 plus. Options include the Frog Tadpole, Islabikes Rothan, Wiggins Pau, and the Hoy Napier. For this you can expect to get lightweight frames, brakes and pneumatic tyres.
The Black Mountain Bikes are £330, but they also convert into two sizes of pedal bikes, which means they're actually good value for money over the longer term.
At the far end of the scale Kiddimoto also recently released a carbon fibre balance bike for £1000, but I'm guessing this is out of most people's price range!
A secure fitting helmet can be a wise investment as little ones are prone to falling off, and a helmet can help to reduce the number of nasty bumps and scrapes.
If your child is riding in low light conditions (especially during autumn and winter) you might want to consider some clothing that has a ‘high visibility’ element such as a reflective strip to alert drivers to the presence of a child, or a hi-visibility tabard to go over their coat.
If you want to bling your balance bike then look out for ranges such as Strider that have a range of accessories such as wheels, handle bar grips, water bottle holder and number plates to personalise as much as you want.
So, there you have it - 10 questions to ask yourself before buying a balance bike. Whichever bike you choose, I'm sure the lucky young rider will have a fabulous time getting up some speed. I'd love to hear how you got on, so do get let me know via Facebook, or share your photos on Instagram using #cyclesprog.
Some of the best balance bikes available on Amazon:
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