Balance bikes look just like regular bicycles, but without the pedals, and there’s one simple, but major, reason all youngsters should have one. Research shows that children who ride them generally progress to riding pedal bikes independently at a much younger age than those who learn using stabilisers. What’s more, the transition is smoother. No need to run along beside them, holding their seat, while they cry in fear. That’s because, unlike tricycles or bikes with stabilisers, which simply teach kids to pedal, balance bikes enable children to master the art of balancing, so they are more confident and less likely to fall off and skim their knees when they move onto the real deal. Balance bikes are more efficient than tricycles too – enabling kids to travel much greater distances.
When buying one, make sure you get the right size frame. A bike that fits a one-year-old won’t be any good for a five-year-old, unless it’s convertible. Also make sure the seat height is suitable for your child and ideally it will be padded too. While tyre size can range from 10-inch to 20-inch, for most kids, 12-inch bikes are the best place to start. The more grip the tyre has, the better, and you should also check the comfort of the handles.
Then there’s weight. The general rule here is that it shouldn’t weigh more than a third of your child’s weight, otherwise it’s just too clunky to manoeuvre. Lighter bikes have the added bonus of being easier for parents to carry when pre-schoolers get tired. While the primary braking mechanism for a balance bike rider will be their feet, a hand brake can be useful, especially for those who love speed. And we think steering locks are particularly useful, restricting turning so that the handlebars can’t spin right round and leave your child wondering why they’ve fallen over.
1. Islabikes Rothan: £149.99, Islabikes
This aluminium-framed balance bike is the lightest in our roundup, weighing just 3.2kg. The custom handlebar and grips are narrower than most, with our testers telling us these features – along with the restricted steering and mini-brake – made them feel more in control. We also like the rounded bolts that mean no scratched legs. From two years.
2. Ridgeback Dimension 12 Runner: £124.99, Ridgeback
This is a more lightweight version of the bestselling Scoot bike. Everything, from the easily manoeuvrable aluminium handlebars and stem to the sealed bearing hubs for smooth wheel action, is exceptionally well made with robust Shimano components that ensure longevity. The Schwalbe Big Apple tyres give impressive grip. Two to four years.
3. Grattify Draw On Me Balance Bike: £55, Not On The High Street
Inject some extra fun into your child’s early riding experiences with this customisable wooden balance bike. It comes complete with an inbuilt chalkboard and multi-coloured chalks to bring out their inner artist, while the padded seat and ergonomic handlebars mean it’s practical too. Three to six years.
4. Kiddimoto Kurve: £64.99, Kiddimoto
The rubber handles and upright seat with three adjustable heights are just two nifty features to be found on this wooden balance bike. We also like the steering lock that restricts turns to 30 degrees, ultimately preventing bars from spinning right round and causing a tangle. The curved styling looks great and there are plenty of funky designs to choose from. Three to five years.
5. Early Rider Bonsai 12-inch Childrens Balance Bike: £119.99, Cuckooland
Can’t decide between wooden and metal? This British-made bike combines the benefits of both – the lightweight and stunning finish of wood with the performance advantages and longevity of an aluminium frame. It’s small and lightweight enough to use from 18 months old, and it has a particularly manoeuvrable yet restricted steerer and easy-to-grip handles.
6. Flip Balance Bike: £39.95, Amazon
This foldable bike is a godsend for holidays and those who lack storage space. It unfolds with one click into a sturdy and safe metal bike, and has three adjustable seat heights. The seat isn’t quite as comfortable as some and the handles can come out of the holders when folded, but the positives of easy transportability definitely outweigh these minor niggles. Two to five years.
7. Yvolution Y Velo Junior Balance Bike: £49.99, Yvolution
This has a single front wheel and two rear wheels, which offer extra stability for younger riders – and one of them can be removed when they’ve built up confidence. We found the wide tyres work on a range of surfaces, including grass, footpaths and pavements, and the seat and handlebars are adjustable. Available in a variety of colours. 18 months to four years.
8. Wishbone Bike Recycled Edition 2-in-1: £150, Cheeky Rascals
No need for tinytots to miss out on the fun, with this three-wheeled vehicle that can be used from just 12 months old. Once they’re ready, convert it to a two-wheeler and later, when they’re older than five, make it a large two-wheeler. Both involve minor adjustments to the frame, with each conversion taking just a few minutes. Eco-warriors will love the fact that it’s made from 100 per cent recycled carpet that is turned into a sturdy, long-lasting plastic resin. From one to six years.
9. Wiggins Pau Balance Bike: £100, Halfords
As you might expect from a bike that has such a big cycling name behind it, this has a number of well-engineered features, including grippy pneumatic tyres and a very lightweight frame. Parents will also appreciate the hidden handle under the saddle that makes it easy for them to carry it when the kids get tired. Two to four years.
10. Carrera Coast Balance Bike: £69.99, Halfords
This is metal-framed, but still lightweight, and the low standover height frame and adjustable seat mean it is never too tall to enable youngsters to feel confident from the off. There’s a rear brake and decent tyres and kids will like the bright colours. It’s a doddle to put together too. Two to four years.
11. Micro Balance Bike: £99.99, Micro
This company is better known for its scooters and it’s transferred its expertise in design and durability into the world of balance bikes extremely well. This one is lightweight, easy to adjust and we found the tyres particularly long-lasting, while kids love all the different colour options. Two to five years.
Islabikes Rothan costs more than most balance bikes, but we found it gives uncompromising confidence to young children to prepare them for graduating onto a pedal bike. For a wooden balance bike, the Kiddimoto Kurve gets the biggest thumbs up from us for its winning combination of good looks and practicality.
IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing