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11 best balance bikes for kids and toddlers to build their confidence

Make learning to ride as easy as can be with these balance bikes

Sarah Dawson
Monday 08 April 2024 18:08 BST
We looked at everything from how easy they were to manoeuvre to how the tyres performed
We looked at everything from how easy they were to manoeuvre to how the tyres performed (The Independent)
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Introducing your child to cycling is a rite of passage. 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 kids. From adjustability, comfort, weight, and, of course, the height of your ride – all of which we’ve laid out in more detail later on.

When they start riding, many young toddlers will begin by holding on to 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. While some balance bikes come with brakes, others rely on your child to use their feet to slow down and stop.

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. Some models in our round-up even have the option to transform into a first bike, with pedals and chain. 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.

How we tested the best balance bikes

Our little tester had a great time taking these bikes for a spin (Sarah Dawson)

Our two-year-old, three-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 2024 are:

Hornit airo balance bike

best balance bikes
  • Best: Balance bike overall
  • Wheel size: 12.5in
  • Suitable for ages: 18 months to five years
  • Why we love it
    • Lightweight
    • Hardwearing frame
    • Tackles bumpy ground with ease

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.

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Chicco bullet balance bike

Chicco bullet balance bike.png
  • Best: Budget balance bike
  • Wheel size: 11in
  • Suitable for ages: Two to five years
  • Why we love it
    • Light
    • Handlebar and saddle are easy to adjust

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 at less than £50, 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 for 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.

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Woom 1 plus balance bike

best balance bikes
  • Best: For brakes
  • Wheel size: 14in
  • Suitable for ages: Three to five years
  • Why we love it
    • Colour-coded brakes
    • Smooth ride
    • Built-in footrest

We are big fans of Austrian brand Woom, which took the top spot in our round-up of the best kids’ bikes, with the Woom 3. This incredible quality balance bike ticked every single box for us and was quickly declared the “best bike ever” by our three-year-old tester, whose balance, handling and riding confidence improved massively while using it.

Made from lightweight aluminium – it weighs just under 4.2kg – it comes with front and rear brakes (a rarity for a balance bike), which are colour-coded, like the brand’s main range of kids’ bikes, to make it easy for little ones to get to grips with. The 14in tyres look skinny in comparison with some of the other balance bikes we tested but are very durable and absorbed lots of bumps in the road, giving a smooth ride.

The saddle is – we have been reliably informed by our testers – very comfortable, and we liked the addition of a steering limiter, to prevent any over-steering or jack-knifing once your child has picked up speed.

What impressed us and our little testers the most was the large built-in footrest. With its anti-slip coating, it was the perfect spot for our three-year-old tester to place their feet once they were whizzing along – something that really helped with balance and gross motor skills, as well as being lots of fun.

While this is designed for children with an inside leg of at least 36cm, the Woom 1 is suited to much smaller kids, with an inside leg of 26cm – although it only comes with a rear brake and no footrest.

Yes, it’s pricey, but the Woom 1 plus has been specifically designed to make it as easy as possible for children to pick up all the skills they need to make a smooth transition to a pedal bike. It’s built to last, so a great model to pass down through siblings or to friends, and the resale market for Woom is huge, if you decide to sell it once it’s been outgrown. We think it’s hard to fault and totally worth it if budget allows.

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LittleBig convertible balance bike

best balance bikes
  • Best: Balance to pedal bike
  • Wheel size: 14in
  • Suitable for ages: Two to six years
  • Why we love it
    • Easily converts from a balance bike to pedal bike
    • High quality build

Instead of forking out for a small balance bike, then a larger model and finally a first pedal bike, this genius three-in-one design covers it all. Starting out as a low-rider balance bike – suitable for kids with an inside-leg measurement of 37cm – you can then convert it to a large balance bike by removing and flipping the back part of the bike frame. If it sounds confusing, we promise it really isn’t – with minimal assembly skills we had no problem flipping between the modes, and there are some excellent how-to videos on the brand’s website, to help you through.

Our tall-for-their-age three-year-old tester was more comfortable when the bike was on the higher setting, and they found the kid-specific, short-reach brake levers really easy to operate. The quality of every component here is so high – designed and hand-assembled in Ireland, LittleBig Bikes was invented by round-the-world cyclist, mountain biker and dad, Simon Evans, and everything is as you’d find on an adult’s bike, just in mini size.

There’s the option to upgrade to chunky Vee tyres for £30, which we did, and were so impressed with how well they coped over bumpy paths and fields. The bike comes in a choice of five colours, and it’s fair to say it was love at first sight for our three-year-old tester when they laid eyes on their bike in the sparkle pink colourway.

One of our little testers is just starting to get to grips with pedalling, so we tested out the pedal kit too. While this was a little more time-intensive and tricker to add on, it wasn’t hugely complicated and, again, the video really helped us through. In bike mode, the LittleBig was so easy to ride, with our three-year-old getting the hang of it really quickly. It felt like the perfect first pedal bike.

This bike is a real game-changer and, while the initial cost may seem a lot, the quality, versatility and longevity of the LittleBig more than justifies every penny.

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Bobbin gingersnap balance bike

best balance bikes
  • Best: Balance bike for a two-year-old
  • Wheels: 12in
  • Suitable for ages: Two to four years
  • Why we love it
    • Looks great
    • Quick and easy assembly
    • Comes with a basket

This bike is a thing of beauty. From the gleaming gloss paintwork and cream tyres to the wicker basket and shiny silver bell (which provides an excellent ding), this little balance bike is something special. Fans of Bobbin’s signature vintage style will not be disappointed.

Assembly was so quick – mainly thanks to Bobbin’s photographed step-by-step introductions – and our three-year-old tester was soon ready to roll. Obviously, the basket was a huge pull – what preschooler doesn’t love the idea of carrying around their favourite toys on a bike ride? – but it was the quality of this bike that really shone through when we were out and about. The vegan leather saddle provided a comfy seat, while the beautiful tyres handled really well on bumpy ground. Having said that, we think the gingersnap is better suited to park trips and the school run, rather than off-roading through a muddy field. It’s also worth noting it doesn’t come with any brakes fitted.

We like how everything is included here; getting a gorgeous-looking, high-performing bike, basket and bell for less than £120 makes this feel like a great value-for-money package. With a height-adjustable seat and handlebars, it can also grow with your little rider. Honestly, it’s got perfect birthday present for a two-year-old written all over it.

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Ridgeback scoot XL balance bike

best balance bikes
  • Best: For taller children
  • Wheel size: 14in
  • Suitable for ages: Three to five years
  • Why we love it
    • Adjustable handlebars and seat
    • Robust frame

With adjustable handlebars and an adjustable seat suitable for a 100cm-110cm height range, this balance bike is such a great choice for taller kids or older children who are still working towards transitioning to a pedal bike. Our tall three-year-old tester found this the perfect height when on the lowest setting, but even their six-year-old brother found he could (just about) whizz around on this sturdy bike with the seat at its highest. If you’re buying for a shorter three-year-old, you may want to consider one of the smaller (and lighter – this comes in at 5.29kg) bikes in our round-up instead.

Straightforward to assemble out of the box, it’s clear this balance bike is designed to withstand plenty of adventures. From the robust frame – we can report zero scratches as yet, despite being put through its paces and being dropped/picked up more times than we can count – to the chunky Zee tyres, it feels like excellent quality for the price. If you’re after a balance bike that lasts, we think this would more than do the job.

We particularly liked the addition of a rear brake, which has been designed for little hands to operate with no problem. Our three-year-old tester got the hang of it straightaway and it really gave some extra peace of mind when they were reaching top speed while whizzing down country lanes. Also, for children of this age group who may be getting closer to moving to a pedal bike, it’s helpful for them to get used to a hand-operated braking system, rather than scraping their shoes against the path to stop.

Looks-wise, the Ridgeback scoot XL was a big hit with our older testers who felt that it looked “cooler” than some of the smaller models. The addition of a bell was pretty much the icing on the cake.

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Chillafish BMXie balance bike in moto blue

best balance bikes
  • Best: For interactive fun
  • Wheel size: 11in
  • Suitable for ages: Two to five years
  • Why we love it
    • Comes with interactive sound cards
    • Customisable number plate

If you’re after a balance bike that offers more than just a cool ride, the BMXie by Chillafish has some fun interactive details that will keep your child hooked. The feature all our testers loved was the sound cards, which, when inserted into the front fork, make an excellent “vroom, vroom” noise. There’s also a plastic “motor” which is fixed to the underside of the bike frame with kid-friendly screws – the idea being your child can while away some time tinkering with the motor using the mini screwdriver. While our testers weren’t particularly bothered about this (it really was all about the motorbike sounds) we can certainly see its appeal.

The balance bike itself is lightweight at 3.8kg, and it’s really easy to adjust the seat height by hand – no tools needed. The puncture-proof foam tyres require no pumping up and did a good job along country paths and on walks to the park, even gripping well on rainy days.

Our three-year-old tester loved the look of this BMX-style bike – especially the front numberplate, which you can customise with the stickers included in the pack. We particularly liked the grooved underside of the reinforced plastic frame, which made the balance bike comfortable and easy to carry when our littlest testers inevitably ditched it mid-ride.

We feel this is better suited to smaller children (two to three years old seems about right), as the handlebars can‘t be adjusted and the built-in footrest is very narrow, but the motorbike sounds are very likely to extend its appeal beyond this age range.

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Trybike steel balance trike

Trybike steel balance trike.jpg
  • Best: For trike to bike
  • Wheel size: 12in
  • Suitable for ages: 15 months to six years
  • Why we love it
    • Great option for toddlers
    • Incredible quality means it can be passed down to younger siblings

This clever two-in-one 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.

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Little Dutch balance bike

Little Dutch balance bike.png
  • Best: Looking balance bike
  • Wheel size: 12in
  • Suitable for ages: Two to five years
  • Why we love it
    • Stylish and functional
    • Comfortable saddle

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.

Straightforward to assemble, this balance bike is suitable for children aged two to 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 less than £150, we think this is great value for money for an excellent first set of wheels.

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Janod bikloon balance bike

  • Best: For older kids
  • Wheel size: 12.5in
  • Suitable for ages: Three to six years
  • Why we love it
    • Aesthetically pleasing
    • Large tyres make it great for all terrains

French brand Janod is 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 us.

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’ imagination. Just the right size for storing snacks, toy cars or random sticks discovered along the way, it was a big hit.

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Huffy balance bike

Huffy balance bike.jpg
  • Best: For a comfy ride
  • Wheel size: 12in
  • Suitable for ages: Three to five years
  • Why we love it
    • Affordable
    • Padded saddle

At less than £50, 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.

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Balance bike FAQs

What to consider when buying a balance bike

Adjustability – As many balance bikes are an investment, you want to pick one that 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 Hornit AIRO balance bike gets our vote for best buy for its standout, lightweight design and child-friendly features, while the Woom 1 PLUS and the LittleBig convertible balance bike are worthy of joint-second place. The former is 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. Meanwhile, the LittleBig’s clever three-in-one design makes it excellent value for money.

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