Balance bikes look just like regular bicycles, but without the pedals, and there’s one simple, but major, reason all youngsters should have one. Research shows that children who ride them generally progress to riding pedal bikes independently at a much younger age than those who learn using stabilisers. What’s more, the transition is smoother. No need to run along beside them, holding their seat, while they cry in fear. That’s because, unlike tricycles or bikes with stabilisers, which simply teach kids to pedal, balance bikes enable children to master the art of balancing, so they are more confident and less likely to fall off and skim their knees when they move onto the real deal. Balance bikes are more efficient than tricycles too – enabling kids to travel much greater distances.
When buying one, make sure you get the right size frame. A bike that fits a one-year-old won’t be any good for a five-year-old, unless it’s convertible. Also make sure the seat height is suitable for your child and ideally it will be padded too. While tyre size can range from 10-inch to 20-inch, for most kids, 12-inch bikes are the best place to start. The more grip the tyre has, the better, and you should also check the comfort of the handles.
Then there’s weight. The general rule here is that it shouldn’t weigh more than a third of your child’s weight, otherwise it’s just too clunky to manoeuvre. Lighter bikes have the added bonus of being easier for parents to carry when pre-schoolers get tired. While the primary braking mechanism for a balance bike rider will be their feet, a hand brake can be useful, especially for those who love speed. And we think steering locks are particularly useful, restricting turning so that the handlebars can’t spin right round and leave your child wondering why they’ve fallen over.
1. Islabikes Rothan
This aluminium-framed balance bike is the lightest in our roundup, weighing just 3.2kg. The custom handlebar and grips are narrower than most, with our testers telling us these features – along with the restricted steering and mini-brake – made them feel more in control. We also like the rounded bolts that mean no scratched legs. From two years.
2. Ridgeback Dimension 12 Runner
This is a more lightweight version of the bestselling Scoot bike. Everything, from the easily manoeuvrable aluminium handlebars and stem to the sealed bearing hubs for smooth wheel action, is exceptionally well made with robust Shimano components that ensure longevity. The Schwalbe Big Apple tyres give impressive grip. Two to four years.
3. Grattify Draw On Me Balance Bike
Inject some extra fun into your child’s early riding experiences with this customisable wooden balance bike. It comes complete with an inbuilt chalkboard and multi-coloured chalks to bring out their inner artist, while the padded seat and ergonomic handlebars mean it’s practical too. Three to six years.
4. Kiddimoto Kurve
The rubber handles and upright seat with three adjustable heights are just two nifty features to be found on this wooden balance bike. We also like the steering lock that restricts turns to 30 degrees, ultimately preventing bars from spinning right round and causing a tangle. The curved styling looks great and there are plenty of funky designs to choose from. Three to five years.
5. Early Rider Bonsai 12-inch Childrens Balance Bike
Can’t decide between wooden and metal? This British-made bike combines the benefits of both – the lightweight and stunning finish of wood with the performance advantages and longevity of an aluminium frame. It’s small and lightweight enough to use from 18 months old, and it has a particularly manoeuvrable yet restricted steerer and easy-to-grip handles.