How to choose a balance bike for your child

A guide to buying the best bike for your little one.

Written by Cadel Evans

Balance bikes are more popular than ever. With so many styles, sizes and materials available, how do you know which one is the best for your child?

To help you make the right choice, here is a quick guide to the main things to consider when buying a balance bike.

1. Size

When it comes to balance bikes, size should be your number one consideration. When standing over the bike, your child needs to be able to put both feet flat on the ground and have at least 2 to 3 cm clearance above the seat.

Another way to measure this is by using your child’s inseam measurement. The inseam measurement is the distance from your child’s crotch to the floor.

Don’t be tempted to buy your child a bike ‘to grow into’. The right size bike will be easier to ride and will be used more often. If you want to make your child’s bike last longer, look for features such as adjustable seatposts and handlebars.

2. Weight

As a rule, a balance bike shouldn’t weigh any more than 30% of your child’s weight. If the bike is too heavy, your child will have trouble moving and turning it around. Besides, if you’re the parent of a toddler, you’ll be the one carrying the bike when your little one decides they don't feel like riding – so a lighter balance bike could be a better choice for you.

3. Material

Balance bikes comes in three main materials: wood, metal and composite. Each material has its pros and cons, so choose the one that suits your child best.

  • Wood. Wooden balance bikes are light, come in a range of trendy styles and tend to be more eco-friendly. However, bikes made from wood are not as adjustable as metal or composite ones.
  • Metal. Made from steel or aluminium, metal balance bikes often have seats that you can adjust as your child grows. Steel balance bikes are heavier, while aluminium bikes are lighter yet less durable. Both are prone to rust if kept outdoors.
  • Composite. These balance bikes are typically made out of a heavy-duty composite plastic. Extremely durable, composite plastic balance bikes won’t crack, rot, or rust. They can be more expensive but it could be a wise investment if you’re planning to pass the bike down from child to child.

4. Safety

Safety is another important consideration when choosing a balance bike. Make sure the bike has rounded or recessed bolts, rather than exposed ones that could scratch little legs. Also, look for handlebar grips that have a rounded rubber knob on the end. These will protect your child’s hands during falls and will stop the handlebars scratching your walls.

5. Brakes

Some balance bikes are fitted with brakes, some aren’t. Whether or not you choose a bike with brakes depends upon your child’s age and preference. Younger children and toddlers probably won’t use brakes. Their natural instinct will be to use their feet to stop. Having brakes may confuse or frustrate them. Plus, unless designed for toddlers, most handbrakes will be too large for little hands to use.

Older children are more likely to want to go at faster speeds, so a balance bike with a handbrake will be the safer and more useful choice. Learning to use handbrakes will also prepare your child for when they move on to a larger pedal bike.

Cadel Evans offers one more piece of useful advice for choosing the right balance bike. “The best bike for your child is the one that is safe and enjoyable to ride,” he says. “Don’t forget that your local bike shop can help you find it. The right bike can start a love of cycling that will last for life.”

Written by Cadel Evans

Cadel Evans is a Medibank ambassador, former Australian professional racing cyclist and winner of the 2011 Tour de France.

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