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How to Choose the Right Balance Bike for Your Kid

By Adam Marsal

Balance bikes do not come in one size that fits all. You can find a wide range of sizes intended for kids of different height and age. Buying a wrong size might make kids struggle to ride or stop the bike, and even develop a distaste to bicycling as such. This article sums up all you need to know to choose a balance bike your kid will love to ride.

There are two most significant sizes determining the adequacy of any balance bike: the wheel size and the seat height. Since balance bikes are designed for kids from toddlers to pre-schoolers, the sizes differ a lot, meaning you have to consider several aspects to pick the right one.

Learning to ride
Balance bikes help children grasp the concepts of balance and steering.© Profimedia

Wheel size indicates the speed

First of all, the wheels. You can find balance bikes with three different wheel diameters: 12, 14, and 16 inches. A smaller diameter makes a bike roll slower, while a large diameter ads momentum. As we know from the bikes for adults, one person can ride a BMX with 20” and an MTB with 29” wheels, so the wheel size is not the only factor to consider. The more important figure is the minimum seat height.

Why the seat height matters

If the seat is too low, the child has to bend the knees too much, and gliding is less natural. With the seat position too high, the kid must stretch out their legs to reach the ground. Pushing forward takes too much effort, and the bike may well be hard to stop. That’s why we consider it dangerous to buy a larger bike for the kid to grow into.

Kid on a bike
Start lifting the height of the seat with every lesson so the kids will need to lift their heels off the ground when saddling up. © Profimedia

Finding the size

If you’re buying online – which is likely to happen these days – you cannot let the kid find a bike that simply fits. No worries, though, as you can also find it thanks to a brief home measuring. Both parents can take part to make it more fun for the kid. Let your kid put their shoes on and stand with his or her back against the wall, feet slightly apart, and put a hardcover book between their legs with the book’s spine facing upwards. Pushing the spine to your kid’s crotch, you can measure the exact distance between the ground and the spine of the book: that’s the inseam, which will help you find a bike of the perfect size. The inseam should be about 3 cm above the bike’s minimum seat height, giving your kid enough clearance above the seat. With this in mind, you can never buy a bike too small or big.

The right geometry

The seat height is not the only parameter responsible for bike handling. The bike’s geometry either allows your kid to learn to manage their body balance or makes them struggle. Even though everybody prefers a different geometry, kids should have enough room in the cockpit, which is the distance between the handlebars and the tip of the seat. A short cockpit prevents kids from leaning over the handlebars to properly push the bike. The fork angle has a direct impact on steering. An upright fork shortens the wheelbase, makes the bike less stable and forces the kid’s weight over the front wheel. A more laid-back angle provides a better stability and a more comfortable ride. Some people ask about footrests, even though kids never use them, which makes them literally useless.

Child on a balance bike
Kids must also learn how to break, which takes them some time to master. © Profimedia

More features to consider

There are more features to consider, such as frame material, total weight, type of tyres, brakes and footrests. A rule of thumb says the bike weight should not exceed 30% of the total weight of the kid. Heavier bikes are harder to manipulate. The overall weight is also crucial for the parents who must carry the bike whenever their kid gets exhausted. On the other hand, lightweight bikes are not always a better option because air tyres tend to be heavier than foam tyres, but air tyres provide better riding comfort, traction and handling. The weight is mainly determined by the frame material. Wooden frames are sustainable but can deteriorate depending on the quality of the wood used. Metal frames will allow you to adjust the seat height.

How about brakes?

Some people insist there’s no need for brakes on balance bikes because kids manage the speed with their feet. According to some experts, braking using a lever on the handlebars makes coordination more difficult and might confuse the kids. An opposing argument says that thanks to using a hand brake, kids get used to it soon enough to experience a faster transition to a regular bicycle. You can check the brake lever using your little finger to simulate the strength of your kid’s finger. Can you press it effortlessly? Then your kid can do it too. Hopefully, we’ve helped you make the right decision. Happy first rides!