THE RIGHT BALANCE BIKE FOR MY CHILD?
How to choose the right balance bike for your child?
There are a number of decisions to make when choosing a balance bike for your child:
Unlike normal kids bikes, balance bikes are sized based on inseam rather than wheel or frame size. Your child should be able to have their feet flat on the ground while sitting in the saddle. To check if the bike is a good size, measure your child’s inseam, with shoes on. This should be the same or slightly longer than the minimum saddle of the bike. If your little one’s inseam is longer than the maximum saddle height of the bike, you need to choose a bigger bike! Your child should be able to reach the handlebars comfortably with their torso leaning slightly forwards. Balance bikes with a longer arm reach will allow your child to go faster and maintain a more aggressive, forward leaning stance on the bike. The geometry you choose depends on the type of terrain your child will ride their bike on.
In order for your child to push the bike easily, the bike should be as light as possible. The frames on kids balance bikes are usually made from aluminium alloy, steel, wood or plastic. The best material for balance bikes is aluminium alloy as it’s rust proof, and is much lighter than steel.
Wood balance bikes can look cute, but don’t come with brakes. Look out for those using marine plywood as this will not warp and delaminate when wet, unlike the cheaper bikes made of standard plywood.
Cost is obviously a big factor for many parents and really what you choose depends on the bike’s intended use.
A more expensive bike will usually be lighter and longer lasting, use better components, have better customer service, and will often have a better re-sale value. Most quality kids bikes will use genuine bike parts that can be serviced and replaced by a bike shop so they can keep the bike running perfectly for longer.
Cheaper bikes can often look like their more expensive counterparts – there are numerous copycat brands out there – but they fall down on attention to detail and build quality. They are usually missing some important features such as quality air tyres, ball bearings and quick release seat posts as described below.
It’s best to look for wheels with air (pneumatic) tyres, alloy rims and hubs with steel spokes. Air tyres will provide more cushioning and grip for your child, giving them more confidence. Tyres with a wide knobbly tread will give better grip on rough surfaces, while those with a narrower smooth tread will roll faster.
Some brands out there use EVA foam tyres which are puncture proof, but do not provide much grip. Once they wear out they cannot be replaced, so you need to buy a whole new wheel. Make sure your bike has ball bearings or cartridge bearings rather than nylon (plastic) bushings which can rattle and wear out easily.
Some balance bikes have no brakes, others have a rear brake only, and a few have both front and rear brakes. Look out for V brakes rather than sidepull brakes. V brakes are much more powerful than sidepull brakes, so your little one will be able to stop safely. Kids specific short reach brake levers are a must, to ensure they can be used by little hands.
6. Contact Points
Look out for a padded saddle rather than hard plastic. Check the material is tough so it doesn’t rip easily. Wood balance bikes usually have wood “saddles” with foam padding on top, which don’t seem as comfortable as a fully padded saddle.
Similarly with grips, look for soft rubber rather than plastic. Rubber grips are more comfortable and grippy than plastic one. The only reason brands use plastic is to keep the cost down.
The best balance bikes come with a ball bearing or cartridge bearing headset, this allows the handlebars to rotate & steer freely. Some cheaper balance bikes come with plastic bushings which are rattly and cannot be serviced.
Most decent balance bikes are built like a real adult’s bike with genuine bike parts that can be serviced and replaced as parts wear, ensuring that the bike keeps running for many years. Other cheaper balance bikes are more like toys, with parts like plastic bushings and moulded proprietary parts (handlebars, wheels etc) that cannot be sourced locally.
How much does a balance bike cost to buy?
Balance bikes vary in price from $60 to over $1000, but most decent balance bikes are between $149.00 to $399.00. Xchange Sports Australia offer balance bikes that are unique in that they come in 3 sizes of 12inch, 14inch and 18inch models, are lightweight, convertible and can adapt as your child grows, giving long term value for money.