How to choose a balance bike

Those looking to purchase a balance or run bike these days are spoilt for choice due to the available brands in the market nowadays. This was a far cry from our initial days of importing the Strider back in 2008. In any case, we have made it a point to only carry the best balance bikes which are value for money. We only carry metal or composite balance bikes because our initial use of a wooden balance bike made us convinced that wood material (though good looking) does not do well in our Singapore weather with hot sun and rain.

When choosing a balance bike, you should look at the size, height and angle adjustability, type of tyres, accessories and safety.

Your child’s riding inseam (distance between the floor and his/her crotch or seat area) should be at least 1cm taller than the bike’s inseam for ease and comfort of handling and riding. Measure your child’s inseam when he/she is wearing shoes to be more precise. When your child is seated on the saddle, his/her knees should be slightly bent with two feet firmly on the ground. See the chart below for a rough gauge on the suitable heights of inseams.

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Height of child (cm) Bike Inseam (cm / inch)
80 28 / 11
90 35 / 14
100 38 / 15
110 45 / 18
115 48 / 19
120 51 / 20

Sizing and weight

Parents tend to look for a one-size fits all bike and may end up buying a bike that is too large for the child, thinking the child will grow up quickly to fit the bike soon. The trouble with this thinking is that if the child is expected to try riding the balance bike now, he/she may be put off by too large a frame or too heavy a bike such that he/she gives up totally and not want to ride at all.

The child should be able to get onto the bike himself with the parent holding onto the handlebars to keep it upright. So the bike should have a low enough frame such that one leg of the child can cross through either from the front or the back comfortably.

For the youngest riders, lightweight is important so they can pick up the bike from the ground to get onto it. So those who under 2.5 years generally should go for a bike that is under 3kg. Of course there are 2.5 year olds who are tall and strong enough to handle bikes which are 4 kg. The good about very light bikes is the easy handling and carrying, children tend to prefer light bikes. However, parents should be careful and be on the lookout for children going too fast on a light bike veering off control easily because the lightness of the bike lacks the weight to steady the ride at faster speeds.

On average, children 3 and above can normally handle the ‘heavier’ bikes of 3-4 kg which provides for a more sturdy ride and better control down slopes.

Adjustability

Balance bikes come in a variety of adjustability. Almost all balance bikes can allow for adjustment of seat height, some using screws and others with a quick release clamp. Most balance bikes should allow for adjustment of the handlebar height to grow with the child. Some bikes also allow for angle adjustments for handlebars (to fit the length of the child’s arms) and angle of the saddle seats. Do also note that while most saddle seats are cushioned, there are some which are made of plastic, rubber and other materials.

Tyres

Lightweight bikes normally have EVA plastic/foam tyres which are puncture proof and no maintenance required. However, these tend not to have good traction on smooth indoor floors and may slip easier than air tyres. The advantage of air or pneumatic tyres (besides better traction) is that it offers better suspension and a cushioned ride, riding more like a pedal bike which the child will eventually be graduating to. EVA plastic tyres tend to give a ‘hard’ ride on the bums! The disadvantage of the air tyre is that it needs to be pumped and can, in the rare occasion get a puncture.

Safety and steering limiters

Balance bikes are generally built with a low centre of gravity which makes it safe and guards against tip offs. Some bikes have flat screws that are flushed into the frame which is an added feature.

Some have steering limiters on the headsets that restrict the steering ability of the bike to 20-30 degrees on each side and do not allow the handle bars to turn 360 degrees. This is called a jack-knife situation where the child turns and leans too far to either side. This is supposed to prevent veer offs and is a safety feature but the jury is still out there as to whether this is indeed a safety feature or not because when a child falls down and lands on the bike, a steering limiter will prevent the handlebars from laying flat on the ground (thus one side sticks out in the air) thereby poking the falling child. Moreover, steering limiters are not found on pedal bikes which the child has to transit to ultimately so it’s good to learn early how to control the steering of a bike. Most good balance bikes have since removed steering limiters and provide enough fork rake space and improved geometry to increase safety on the use of the handlebars.

Brakes

Some balance bikes come with a hand brake which is useful for down slopes only if your child’s hand size and strength can use them. Kids below 3 generally do not have enough strength to pull on the brakes and tend to instead keep their feet close to the ground to control speed and to stop. Some bikes come with leg or coaster brakes.

Accessories

Some balance bikes come with XL seat posts to grow with the child’s height. Others come with feet rest or light reflectors. Leg stands are areas on the frame where a child can rest his feet when cruising on high speeds. Our observation is that almost all kids prefer to have their two feet close to the ground while riding for better control and to feel more secure, so the feet rest is not crucial unless you are trying out stunts on your balance bike.

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