As our kid approaches his second birthday, my wife and I have recently been debating whether to get our kid a tricycle or go with a balance bike. More and more, we are seeing our friends get their kids on these new bikes, starting at about 18 months to 2 years of age.
A lot of kids take to it. They skootch around like teenagers at a skate park, and — before you know it — they are coasting everywhere and ready for a real bike.
The thing folks like about tricycles is that they teach a kid how to pedal. Which, granted, is important. And we may get him a trike, too. But the real trick to learning how to ride a bike is the balancing act it requires.
I mean, anybody can learn how to pedal.
The neat thing with a balance bike is that it allows the kiddo to start “riding” immediately. Any kid can kick themselves around on a toy — in fact most two-year-olds have some type of small car they ride around on anyhow.
These cool little bikes take that innate knowledge our kids learn from their other ride-on toys, and leverages it into a shorter learning curve for bicycle riding.
With a these bikes, it lets the kiddo get used to balancing around on a bike while giving them the re-assurance of always being able to touch the ground. Their natural inclination is to see how far they can “coast” without touching the ground.
And, voila! you’ve taught them the most important think about riding a bike with no tears, bruises or scrapes.
Now you just put the kiddo on a normal bike and let them get used to pedaling. The transition is swift and easy. Most kids are no longer needing training wheels, and some are learning to ride 1-2 years younger than was previously typical.
Balance Bikes Are Becoming A Hot Thing!
I just discovered this week that so many kids are riding these bikes that special “balance bike tracks” are springing up all over the country. A lot of the BMX tracks are adding little pump tracks for these kiddos to ride their bikes on while big brother or big sister are racing the “real thing”. Mountain bike trails are also starting to add them.
This is really neat because it validates the child. Now they are a part of the family fun. We are going somewhere just so they can ride their bike. It ingrains a healthy, fun lifestyle at a young age.
Riding At A Local BMX Course
Top Picks and Balance Bike Reviews
My #1 Pick – The Kazam Balance Bike
There is so much that I love about the Kazam, that it is tough to know where to start. At first, I tried finding a good alternative because the Kazam is consistently $20-$40 more than the competition.
However, as I researched, I began to realize just why the Kazam tends to cost more. It’s built so much better and has a ton of neat features that the competition chooses to leave out.
Footboard - Mos of the balance bikes do not have any place for the kiddos to put their feet and coast. Now, that isn’t the end of the world, but the whole point for getting one of these bikes is so that we can encourage our kids to coast and learn how to balance. Giving them a place to rest their feet encourages them to do this.
Aired Tires – So many of the bikes use solid rubber or foam tires. Sure, if these ever go flat, they will be a bugger to fix, but aired tires provide a much, much smoother ride. Plus, it requires a better constructed wheel, quality- wise. So this is a nice feature.
Quick Release Seat Adjustment – Sure, not a huge deal, but it makes seat adjustments easy as the kiddo grows. More than that, it speaks to the quality of the design.
And then you have all of the technical stuff that I could get into. Basically, the Kazam incorporates smart use of bearings and solid metal where a lot of the competition tries to cut corners.
This is the bike I bought for my kiddo, and I really love how well it is constructed. He’ll get it for his birthday in a few weeks, and I will keep this review updated for you.
Update: Two downsides. First of all, this bike is really heavy. I haven’t weighed it, but it seems heavier than the bikes our local shop sells. And heavier than what most of my kid’s friends ride. I think the weight really challenges his confidence. It is like a 5’2″ chick on a 1700cc Harley. It takes a lot of confidence to ride it, and my kid isn’t there yet.
Secondly, The reach on it from saddle to handlebars was just a couple of inches too long to give him good control.
Bottom line is, he doesn’t really enjoy riding it.
However, that he is almost 4, he has started riding it more, and I expect him to take off in the next 8 weeks. And I’m really excited for him to try the footboard.
Recommendation: Solid bike. Made to last. Buy it for 3+ year olds. Or for really tall, confident toddlers.
Bike #2 – The Strider
This is the #1 kids bike on Amazon — and for good reason. It is affordable, lightweight, and one of the first balance bikes on the market.
Now, it doesn’t have the footrests that I wanted my bike to have (or the aired up tires), but it is significantly lighter than the Kazam bike, which makes it a fun toy, that is easy for little kids to move around.
Plus, many parents will appreciate the fact that the tires cannot go flat. After all, kids aren’t likely to be too concerned with ride quality. The only downside is that if you wear out these tires, they would be more pricey to replace. (Should only happen occasionally or with multiple kids)
The bottom line is that you cannot go wrong with the Strider. If it had foot rests, I would make it the #1 bike on this review list.
Update: I’ve probably seen more kids get started on this bike than on any other. Footrests, or no, the bike is small and light-weight enough that they can really get it going. It is also very close to the ground, making it especially ideal for short toddlers.
The downside is, the tires are super-soft and not durable at all. So if your kid is putting the mileage on it, the tires actually wear down and start showing their innards — making them lumpy. So you might have to buy a new bike for every kid you want to train (unless they sell tires for it. Haven’t checked).
#3 Bike – The Mini Glider
I don’t have much personal experience with the Mini Glider, but at first glance, looks like it combines the best features of the Strider and the Kazam.
It could be that by this time next year, mini glider has put the other two companies out of business!
The Mini Glider strives to keep the same, lightweight design that the Strider uses, but still incorporate a foot rest. Frankly, I think the bar they have for a footrest is just begging to bang a shin, but once the kid gets used to it being there, it should work just fine.
It has a rear handlebar brake. Really? If you are putting your little kid on a hill where they need a brake, your kid has much bigger problems. There is no need for that contraption on this bike. Just saying.
This one uses the EVA filled tires. So, once again, no tires to go flat. From a maintenance standpoint, that makes this bike much easier to deal with. From a rideability standpoint, I’m sticking by my love of air-filled tires.
Mini Glider has created some great videos on Amazon of their bikes in motion, so hop on over there and check them out. Also be sure to read some of the other reviews by parents who have used this bike. It is certainly a top-notch contender. However, if your child is going to be riding the pump track with this, I would probably take the foot pedals off.
Balance Bike Vs. Training Wheels
Balance bikes are literally changing the way we learn how to ride bikes. The newest generation of children are literally skipping the step of training wheels, thanks to these bikes.
The problem with training wheels is that once parents take the time to put them on, they are loathe to take them off again. So children stay in the training wheel stage much longer than they probably should.
The children, also, grow dependent on them, and are often hesitant to have them removed — I know that I was quite hesitant as a child to go sans trainers.
There isn’t a lot of proof that says “your child will ride a bike sooner by using a balance bike”, but there is a lot of anectdotal evidence pointing to the fact that once a child grows confident riding these bikes, they will not need training wheels to transition to a “regular” bike.
We’re entering a new era. Aren’t our kids just plumb lucky?