It’s the quickest and safest way to get your kids comfortable on two wheels: here are the best balance bikes on the market
A balance bike is one of the best ways to introduce your child to cycling. Forget stabilisers, learning to ride on a balance bike is both safer and more fun, and makes for a seamless transition to pedalling unaided.
The appeal of balance bikes is that they do away with cumbersome pedals and cranks, allowing children as young as two to hop aboard. Kids can start by scooting along with both feet safely on the floor, and then quickly learn to balance and steer. Then, when the time comes to move up to a bike with pedals, they’ve already mastered the hard part. Riding a balance bike also provides all the regular benefits of early cycling, such as improved health and confidence – and there’s less need for you to push or carry your little one around.
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How to choose the best balance bike for your child
As with adult bikes, there’s a large number of balance bikes to choose from, chiefly distinguished by size, components and features.
How much should I spend?
The cheapest balance bikes are really just ride-on toys. Spend more and you’ll find the moving parts rolling on proper bearings rather than cheap bushings. These will ride better, with a feel that’s closer to a grown-up bicycle, and last long enough to pass down from one sibling to the next. It’s worth spending at least £60 on the smallest models and £80 or more for larger ones.
In short, don’t neglect the importance of design, geometry and construction. Your child will appreciate a bike that looks good, fits their body and rides smoothly.
What size bike should I buy?
The ideal size depends on the age of your child. Small frames with 10in wheels are suitable for the very youngest children, starting at around 18 months; the more popular 12in and 14in sizes cover kids between two and six years of age.
Does it matter what the frame and wheels are made from?
The frame material mostly impacts overall weight: steel is heaviest while aluminium tends to be lighter but is more costly. Tyre material meanwhile affects performance and maintenance.
The cheapest balance bikes use hard plastic tyres, which are light but bumpy and prone to skidding. Solid EVA foam tyres give a smoother ride. Pneumatic (air-filled) tyres, as found on adult bikes, are the best for grip and comfort, but they’ll need occasional pumping and are prone to punctures.
Should I buy a balance bike with a brake?
While the normal way to stop a balance bike is simply to put one’s feet down on the ground, some models also come with a hand-operated brake. The main purpose of this is to prepare children for their first pedal bike. If you choose a bike with a brake, check that the lever is the right size for your child’s hands; the same applies to the saddle and handlebar grips.
How we test balance bikes
At Expert Reviews, we know that hands-on testing gives us the best and most complete information about a product. So we personally test all the suitcases we review in real-life situations, which always includes packing them and travelling with them – negotiating train stations, or airports, and loading them into a car boot. We put the exterior through its paces to check how sturdy it is – all sorts can happen to luggage while in transit, so we need to see how well the case can withstand biffs and bumps.
We consider the overall quality of the suitcases’ construction, examining any zips, buckles, joins and seams to check they have been well crafted and neatly appointed. Then we pack, noting helpful compartments, pockets, or features such as waterproof pouches, interior straps, and flat dividers. We take into account what, if any, options there are to ‘expand’ the capacity and dimensions of the cases, should we need extra room, but we don’t overfill to the point that zips strain.
We then test how easy it is to manoeuvre the full case. We consider the handles and, if the handle is extendable, is the action smooth, or glitchy? Does the case have wheels? If so, how many? And we assess how easy and light it feels to steer.
Finally, we confirm the weight, dimensions and capacity of the case.
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The best balance bikes you can buy in 2023
1. Puky LR M: Best-value balance bike
Price when reviewed: £80 | Check price at Cycle Heaven The smallest of German brand Puky’s balance bikes, the LR M is as cute as a button. It has a cool retro-style paint job, with a choice of simple but bold colours, including blue, red and pink. It’s also fantastically durable and practical, with dinky foam wheels that will suit smaller riders and require no maintenance.
Despite its steel frame, the LR M weighs an easily portable 3.5kg, and Puky will even sell you a dedicated carry strap. The neatly-integrated deck makes stepping on a doddle and serves as a handy footrest once you’re gliding along. The supportive, scooped back saddle is ideally shaped for coasting, too, while the skinny grips have integrated bumpers at the end, so they will protect little hands in the event of a crash and save your paintwork at home.
Key specs – Wheel size: <10in; Suggested age: 2 years+; Frame material: Steel; Tyre type: Foam; Weight: 3.5kg; Additional features: Handlebar pad
2. Little Dutch Balance Bike: Best for vintage charm
Price when reviewed: £130 | Check price at KidlyIt’s hard to overstate just how gorgeous this Little Dutch bike is. The sleek steel frame comes in a variety of pastel shades, and the 12in wheels come with matching pastel-coloured rims and retro-looking cream tyres. Meanwhile, the matching brown grips and saddle do a lovely job of mimicking the classic leather bike accessories of yesteryear.
Thankfully, there’s plenty of substance to match the style. The bike is suitable for children aged three years old and up, and there’s enough adjustability to accommodate your little ones as they grow – saddle height is adjustable for a standover height from 36cm to 42cm, and you can swap around the spacers to raise or lower the handlebar height. There’s also a bell mounted to the handlebars as standard, which is good to see (and hear).
If you’re looking for a sturdy, affordable balance bike with lashings of vintage charm, this is a lovely option.
Key specs – Wheel size: 12in; Suggested age: 2-5 years; Frame material: Steel; Tyre type: Pneumatic; Weight: 4.5kg; Additional features: Bell, ergonomic seat
3. B’Twin Runride 500 balance bike: Best budget balance bike
Price when reviewed: £70 | Check price at DecathlonDesigned for children between two and four years old, this budget balance bike doesn’t scrimp on features. With an easy-to-activate rear brake, its solid tyres are both lighter and easier to maintain than their pneumatic counterparts – a quality enhanced by its plastic wheels. Despite a cost-conscious steel frame, it’s still not too heavy, making for easy handling for your tot, and stress-free carrying for you. Bright and colourful, it’s available from Decathlon in a choice of two designs: black (pictured above), and desert rose.
Runride isn’t just pretty, though. It’s been developed specifically to meet the ergonomic needs of its young riders. Among other features, this sees the brake lever brought closer into the handlebar, making it easier for small hands to grasp.
Key specs – Wheel size: 10in; Suggested age: 2-4 years; Frame material: Steel; Tyre type: Solid; Weight: 3.6kg; Additional features: Rear brake
4. Strider Sport: Most versatile balance bike
Price when reviewed: £130 | Check price at StriderDespite its steel frame, the Strider Sport weighs just 2.9kg, thanks to clever one-piece composite wheels and EVA foam tyres. While these don’t provide the cushioned ride of pneumatic alternatives, they’re tough and require zero maintenance – and, if you want, you can upgrade them later, as the rims will also accept conventional tyres and tubes.
Even out of the box, the Sport is exceptionally configurable. It comes with two seat posts of different lengths, designed to accommodate inside leg measurements of between 27cm and 48cm, so will suit growing children. Both saddle and handlebar height are easily adjustable too, using a tool-free quick-release system. There’s even a foot brake available as an upgrade, which can be retrofitted. An uncommonly small diameter handlebar allows for correspondingly narrow grips that are suited to little mitts, and the saddle is similarly designed to provide comfort and control for small hips.
Key specs – Wheel size: 12in; Suggested age: 1.5-5 years; Frame material: Steel; Tyre type: Foam; Weight: 2.9kg; Additional features: Handlebar pad
5. Kokua LikeaBike Jumper: Best balance bike for comfort and handling
Price when reviewed: £195 | Check price at LikeaBikeIf you take away a bike’s pedals, all your weight will fall on the saddle. It’s this fact that makes the suspension on the Kokua LikeaBike Jumper so useful. Ensuring a comfortable ride for its owner, it also improves the bike’s handling.
Made by folding-bike specialist Tern, the design itself is cleverly thought-out, with a pivot and integrated elastomer bumper providing the Kokua’s additional squish, and a steering limiter stopping the whole assembly ever swerving off course.
Finished with an A-head headset, integrated bar and stem, plus puncture-resistant Schwalbe big apple tyres, its 7005 aluminium construction keeps the overall weight down.
It’s supplied with two seat posts, which can be swapped to allow the bike to grow alongside its rider.
Key specs – Wheel size: 12in; Suggested age: 2-4 years; Frame material: Aluminium; Tyre type: Pneumatic; Weight: 3.4kg; Additional features: Suspension, steering limiter