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9 best balance bikes to get your toddler started on two wheels

Build your child’s cycling confidence and make learning to ride as easy as can be

Sarah Dawson
Thursday 13 January 2022 17:39
<p>These machines enable kids to go straight to a pedal cycle, sans stabilisers</p>

These machines enable kids to go straight to a pedal cycle, sans stabilisers

Introducing your child to cycling is a rite of passage and by starting them off on a balance bike, you can help build confidence and skills at a young age. Built specifically for first-time riders, balance bikes are mini, “back to basics” bikes, with no chains, pedals or gears, so toddlers and pre-schoolers can just focus on balancing and steering, as safely as possible.

“Balance bikes develop a child’s sense of balance and coordination by encouraging them to use their feet to glide along the ground,” explains Alexandra Rico-Lloyd, co-founder of kids’ bike subscription service The Bike Club. “This helps to build their strength, fine-tune their motor skills, coordination and agility.”

There are a few things to consider when choosing a balance bike for your child. From adjustability, comfort, weight, and of course the height of your rider – all of which we’ve laid out in more detail later on.

When they start riding many young toddlers will start by holding onto the handles and walking with the bike, hovering over the saddle rather than sitting. As they slowly get used to the bike they should move on to “striding” – when they walk with the bike while sitting on the saddle – before eventually gaining the confidence to push with their feet and glide along the ground.

Once your child has mastered the art of the balance bike, the transition to a pedal bike is much easier – no need for stabilisers as they will have already honed their balance and coordination. One thing to be aware of, even though these balance bikes are small, kids can pick up quite a lot of speed when riding on them, so always make sure they are wearing a helmet.

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How we tested

Our two-year-old and five-year-old testers tried out a selection of balance bikes for over a month – indoors and outdoors – to find the best ones, taking everything from how easy they were to manoeuvre to how the tyres performed into consideration.

The best balance bikes for 2022 are:

  • Best overall– Raleigh propaganda mini balance bike: £120,
  • Best lightweight balance bike–Hornit AIRO balance bike: £139,
  • Best for trike to bike– Trybike steel balance trike: £144.95,
  • Best budget buy–Chicco bullet balance bike: £48.63,
  • Best looking balance bike– Little Dutch balance bike: £98,
  • Best wooden balance bike– Kinderkraft Uniq balance bike: £44.90,
  • Best for older kids–Janod bikloon balance bike: £87.49,
  • Best for a comfy ride–Huffy balance bike: £39.99,
  • Best over bumpy ground– Mamatoyz balance bike: £104.69,

Raleigh propaganda mini balance bike

Best: Overall

  • Wheel size: 12in
  • Suitable for ages: 18mths +
  • Score: 10/10

Raleigh is such an iconic cycling brand and the Propaganda balance bike wowed us with the same high quality you’d expect from a full-size bike. Complete with a brown leather-look saddle and a sturdy aluminium frame, this is one balance bike that is built to last – a perfect hand-me-down.

Coming in at 4.6kg, it’s a fairly lightweight model that appealed to both our two-year-old and five-year-old testers. With the seat and handlebars at the lowest setting, our toddler comfortably sat (or, as was most often the case, walked) holding onto the handlebars, whereas our older tester, despite being on the verge of being a little too tall for this model even on the highest setting, happily whizzed around with no problems.

The bike arrived almost fully assembled – you just need to fit the saddle in place and pump up the tyres – which certainly made life a little easier. Included in the box was an excellent, well-equipped mini toolkit with everything you’d ever need to assemble or fix the balance bike over time. The only thing extra we would have appreciated was a puncture repair kit, but that’s if we’re being picky!

It’s the ease of use that impressed us so much, with effortless steering thanks to the ergonomic handlebar and handle grips. The narrow, air-filled tyres helped our testers glide along all sorts of terrain – from the hallway carpet to a bumpy country path.

Looks-wise, it’s a stunner in electric blue, with the Raleigh crest adding an extra touch of class. Now, if only they did it in adult sizes…

Hornit AIRO balance bike

Best: Lightweight balance bike

  • Wheel size: 12.5in
  • Suitable for ages: 18mths – five years
  • Score: 10/10

A serious contender for Best Buy, the AIRO, from British brand Hornit, is streets ahead of any other balance bike this lightweight. Weighing just 2.95kg, it makes an ideal starter balance bike for toddlers who may struggle to manoeuvre and keep upright on heavier models.

Despite it being so featherlight in weight, it’s incredibly durable – the magnesium alloy frame is seriously hard-wearing, so much so AIRO offers a lifetime warranty on the frame and forks.

The scooped saddle offers added stability for little riders and is adjustable to fit a child with an inside leg measurement of 30-54cm, so you can really get the most out of this balance bike they grow.

The tyres are chunky but super-lightweight, tackling bumpy ground with ease, and the in-built footrests, contoured into the frame, are perfect for kids to place their feet on when freewheeling along. We love the cool, matte yellow and black styling – our five-year-old tester thought it looked like a motorbike, which is, in all honesty, the greatest compliment they could ever give a balance bike!

Trybike steel balance trike

Best: For trike to bike

  • Wheel size: 12in
  • Suitable for ages: 15mths – six years
  • Score: 7/10

This clever 2-in-1 design converts from a tricycle into a balance bike, offering different riding options for your toddler from just 15 months, right up until six years old.

In tricycle mode, the steel Trybike is a sturdy and supportive option for little kids to build their confidence and get to grips with sitting on a saddle and moving themselves along with their feet. The balance bike mode is suitable for ages two and up, although due to the weight of the bike (a not-insignificant 6.3kg), our youngest tester struggled to begin with, so we’d suggest it’s better suited for those closer to three in age.

There is absolutely no disputing the quality and durability of this balance bike, making it a great buy for families who may want to pass it down among siblings. With an adjustable seat and handlebars, there’s plenty of scope for this to last for many years and once they’ve cracked balancing on this, moving onto a pedal bike should be a breeze.

The padded seat is comfy, and the thick tyres are robust – although we felt this balance bike performed better on flat ground at the playground, rather than along bumpy paths. We also really rate the retro style of the Trybike and our older tester enjoyed choosing which designs from the sticker sheet included to add to the bike for a customised look. But if a wonky sticker will drive you mad, might be best to stick them on yourself instead.

Chicco bullet balance bike

Best: budget buy

  • Wheel size: 11in
  • Suitable for ages: two–five years
  • Score: 6/10

If you’re after an affordable balance bike to get your child used to two-wheels, this popular model from kids’ brand Chicco is a great choice.

Coming in under £35, it’s a pretty basic design but still has plenty going for it. It’s the lightest model in our round-up – an ultra-light 1.75kg thanks to its aluminium frame – which made it really easy for both our testers to get to grips with and move around on. Both the handlebar and non-slip, padded saddle are easy to adjust, and the small frame size means you can stick it in the boot of your car to take with you when travelling.

The puncture-resistant tyres mean you’ll never be caught out; however, they are more suitable to riding on flat ground rather than grass or really uneven surfaces. The streamlined racer-style aesthetic appealed to our testers and, despite being one of the simpler models we tried out, it’s a bike they returned to again and again.

Little Dutch balance bike

Best: Looking balance bike

  • Wheel size: 12in
  • Suitable for ages: two–five years
  • Score: 8.5/10

With its classic, timeless design and chic matte paintwork, this Little Dutch balance bike won us over with its good looks. Everything from the streamlined steel frame to the cream tyres and pastel-coloured rims looks amazing – you’ll be the envy of the playground on this! But, as well as looking the part, this fantastic model ticks all the boxes for functionality and usability.

Straight forward to assemble, this balance bike is suitable for children age two-five with a comfy saddle that adjusts from 36-42cm. The handlebar – although non-adjustable – has easy-grip, rubber handles which our older tester found easy to steer. Our youngest tester wasn’t quite tall enough to ride this very well, and we’d suggest it’s probably more suited to ages closer to three and up.

At 4.5kg it’s a nice lightweight model and the cream, inflatable rubber tyres – as well as looking gorgeous – handled well on bumpy ground. With footrests for freewheeling and coming in at under £100, we think this is a great value for money for an excellent first set of wheels.

Kinderkraft Uniq balance bike

Best: Wooden balance bike

Wheel size: 12in

Suitable for ages: two–five years

Score: 7.5/10

Made using durable birch wood, from sustainably managed sources, this design from Kinderkraft offers something a bit different – and at a good price. Despite weighing just 2.7kg, this balance bike is very sturdy, while the smoothed, polished edges of the frame make it super kid-friendly.

The EVA foam wheels – similar to the kind of wheels you often find on pushchairs – are puncture resistant and incredibly durable, while the saddle (although not the comfiest in our round-up) can be adjusted to between 30-40cm, making it a good height for our two-year-old tester to start out on.

We loved the carry handles, cut out of the bike frame – a thoughtful touch that will be appreciated by parents who will inevitably end up having to carry the balance bike at some point. The handlebar also has a limited turn angle, which is a great safety feature to stop kids from over steering and accidentally falling.

Surprisingly, this is the only balance bike in our roundup that comes with a bell – something that immediately propelled this bike to firm favourite with our five-year-old tester.

Janod bikloon balance bike

Best: for older kids

  • Wheel size: 12.5in
  • Suitable for ages: three–six years
  • Score: 7/10

French brand Janod are famous for aesthetically pleasing children’s toys, with this balance bike being no exception. Smooth lines, cute vintage styling and long-lasting quality come together to create a bike that really impressed.

The weight (6.2kg) and seat height (adjustable from 40-46cm) clearly marks this out as a model more suited to pre-schoolers and Early Years children, rather than toddlers – so if you’re coming around to the idea of a balance bike a little later on, it’s a brilliant stepping stone to a pedal bike, without heading down the bike-with-stabilisers route.

The large inflatable tyres are tough enough to handle all kinds of terrain, although we felt the bike itself performed much better on smooth paths and playgrounds. Silicone hand grips, a padded seat and in-built footrests all upped the comfort level, but it was the addition of a faux leather bag at the front of the bike that really captured our testers’ imaginations. Just the right size for storing snacks, toy cars or random sticks discovered along the way, it was a big hit!

Huffy balance bike

Best: For a comfy ride

  • Wheel size: 12in
  • Suitable for ages: three–five years
  • Score: 6.5/10

At under £40, this steel-frame model from US brand Huffy is another great affordable option. Suitable for children three years and over, it comes with an adjustable seat that goes from 36-42cm in height.

The padded saddle was rated by our five-year-old as the comfiest out of all the bikes we tested, and the thick tyres and rigid suspension gave a really smooth ride over paths, fields and playgrounds. As valve caps may pose a choking hazard for young children, we liked how Huffy use a safety valve, which needs to be pushed in and twisted to remove (similar to the caps you find on medicine bottles).

Weighing 5kg, it’s at the heavier end of our round-up, but as it’s more suited to pre-schoolers and up it shouldn’t pose any issues. Our five-year-old tester managed to pick up some serious speed on this, so be aware!

With a cool BMX look and a (detachable) shield at the front, this balance bike will definitely appeal to wannabe racers.

Mamatoyz balance bike

Best: Over bumpy ground

  • Wheel size: 12in
  • Suitable for ages: two–five years
  • Score: 7/10

It’s hard not to be charmed by this cute, motorbike-style wooden balance bike from MamaToyz. A great deal of thought has gone into the design and, although it does take a little time to assemble, the instructions are clear and there’s even a QR code that takes you straight to a how-to video if needed.

The quality of workmanship and wood used really shows, and the pieces fit together well to make a brilliant quality balance bike, suitable for ages two and up. Instead of adjusting the seat height, the back wheel can be adjusted to raise the bike higher from the ground, from 32-41cm.

Puncture-proof EVA foam wheels are an added bonus, while the handles are quite unique. Set close together, similar to the handles on a toddler’s ride-on toy rather than a traditional bike, they are easy to steer, however very small children may struggle to grip as they are quite thick.

The clever seat design is the star of the show here. Hovering over the back wheel, it has a built-in natural suspension, absorbing the impact on the rear wheel by springing over bumps. It’s a great idea and really did create a smooth ride for our older tester, however due to the width of the seat, our two-year-old struggled to sit comfortably and still touch the ground with their feet.

Balance bike FAQs

What to consider when buying a balance bike

Adjustability – As many balance bikes are an investment, you want to pick one which can grow with your child over a couple of years, so it’s a good idea to choose a model with an adjustable saddle and/or handlebar height.

Comfort – A decent saddle makes all the difference when it comes to encouraging your child to ride and, if you plan on passing the bike down through the family, it’s really worth spending a bit more to get the best quality balance bike you can afford.

Weight – You should consider the weight of the bike too: “Lighter weight balance bikes are easier for children to handle, meaning they’ll get to grips with the bike much faster,” adds Alexandra Rico-Lloyd – something we definitely noticed when our testers were putting these balance bikes through their paces.

Height – It’s important to set up your balance bike at the right height for your little rider. Children should be able to sit on the saddle, with both feet flat on the floor and with a slight bend at the knee. This creates the perfect position for pushing off with their legs while encouraging them to allow the saddle to take their weight.

The verdict: Balance bikes

It was a very close call, but the Raleigh propaganda gets our vote for Best Buy. Stylish, easy to ride and exceptional quality, it’s a balance bike that kids will love and one that can be passed down the family over the years. A worthy second place goes to the Hornit AIRO, for its standout, lightweight design and child-friendly features.

Voucher codes

For the latest discounts on kids’ toys and other essentials for your little one, try the links below:

If they prefer running rather than cycling, check out our round-up of the best kids’ running shoes that are comfy to wear on all terrains

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.

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