It’s not easy to find a toddler toy that has lasting value, helps them learn, wears them out, AND will be the hit of the party, but this sweet ride-on toy made for toddlers meets all those criteria.
Hello, balance bike. Let’s find out more about you.
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What’s a Balance Bike?
Balance bikes have two wheels, no pedals and no chain. They’re also called “pedal-free bikes” and “push bikes” because kids ride them by pushing off the ground with their feet. Unlike the stable, three-wheeled tricycles we had as toddlers, balance bikes help kids learn the balance and body control they’ll need to ride a “real” bike.
The best balance bikes cost more than $100, and there are dozens of brands to choose from. That’s OK, though, because this isn’t an impulse purchase (after all, your kid will be whizzing across concrete on it).
Let’s do some research.
Is Your 2-Year-Old Ready for a Balance Bike?
Most online balance bike stores claim that any confident walker can use a balance bike. Maybe so, but that seems pretty optimistic (and very convenient for business).
After poring over a ton of online comments and reviews, I got the impression that the most athletic toddlers out there can handle balance bikes even before age 2 (as early as 16-18 months), but that most children aren’t coordinated enough to really get any use out of one until sometime between 2 and 3.
In fact, most balance bikes on the market are sized for kids aged 2-4, because 2 is the typical age for starting to be able to balance, and by 4 the most athletic kids will be riding pedal bikes (the average age for starting to ride a pedal bike is age 5).
Being realistic about when your child will actually use a balance bike can help you make a better purchase, because the biggest limiting factors in your bike search will be your child’s height and weight, which can change a lot over 6 months.
I’d suggest holding off on buying a balance bike until your kid is confidently zooming around on other, less advanced ride-on toys, such as a Scuttlebug (that’s the one my kid had just figured out by his second birthday).
Some parents have also reported that their kids who didn’t love their balance bikes felt more comfortable with scooters, so you could try a scooter instead of a balance bike, since they also help develop balance (unlike tricycles).
Sold on the balance bike? Here’s how to pick one.
Seat Height and Bike Weight
The first step is to measure the rider’s inseam — that’s the length from the highest point in the crotch all the way down to the floor, and note that the shoes she’s wearing might affect the measurement. Subtract one inch from that inseam length; that will be your child’s ideal bike seat height right now.
Armed with this number, you can eliminate any bike from your search whose seat doesn’t go low enough for your child to ride comfortably. And since your tot is 2 or just turning 2, the seat height can be a significant limiting factor; a lot of these bike seats start at 12 inches.
Next, note your child’s weight, and calculate 30% of that total. According to this detailed balance bike site, the bike shouldn’t weigh more than that. The lighter the bike, the easier and more fun it will be for your child.
If your child is on the more athletic side, you can buy a smaller, lighter balance bike that they can use from age 2 through 4 or so, when they’ll probably switch to a pedal bike. This balance bike from Strider is the lightest one I found at just 6.4 pounds, and the seat goes down to 11 inches. Strider bikes use foam tires, which are very light and remove any worries about flats — but don’t provide as much grip or cushion as air-filled tires (which is why you might choose a different model if you think your child will be riding a balance bike instead of a pedal bike past age 4 or so). This bike seems to be one of the most popular balance bikes on Amazon.com (check out the reviews). It comes in red, blue, green, orange and yellow, and costs $109, which is on the more affordable end of the top rated balance bikes. This is the bike I’d get my 2-year-old if I thought he’d pick it up and ride it right now.
If your child is more on the cautious side and you don’t expect them to pick up on the pedal bike in the early range, wait to get them a bigger balance bike with air tires when they’re 3 or closer to 3. (I’m going to wait until the spring to measure my lil guy and then reassess the bikes with air tires using this list. I’ll post again when I make my final pick.)
If your kid going to ride a balance bike, your kid needs a helmet. Might as well start the helmet habit early.
One more thing: During my balance bike research, I came across several suggestions to skip the balance bike and just lower the seat and remove the pedals on a “regular” kid’s bike. But unless you can also lower the handlebars enough for your child to be able to lean forward comfortably as they ride, they won’t have as much control as they would on a bike that’s sized for toddlers. Riding position affects center of gravity big time.
Also, I’m not sure how complicated it is to remove the pedals on a bike, but before you go at a bike with your screwdriver, remember that the chances of this bike falling on top of your kid are pretty high, so you have to make sure that there are no parts sticking out that could do damage. That’s why I think it’s worth it to pay for a higher quality balance bike and then upgrade to a pedal bike later.
Did you buy a balance bike for your 2-year-old? Which one did you pick?