Which balance bike will fit my little rider?
We answer this question with 2 questions:
- Inseam? Measure your child’s inseam from crotch to floor, barefoot and while standing. Use a hardcover book to simulate a bike seat- very gently press upward so that soft tissue is accounted for- while measuring. Check the bike’s specifications of minimum seat height. If your inseam measurement is equal or greater than the minimum seat height, the bike will be a good fit. If there is a large surplus of inseam relative to minimum seat height, consider a larger bike.
- Weight? A child aged 2-3 should outweigh their balance bike by a minimum factor of three. For example, if child weighs 33 lbs, then maximum bike weight should be 11 pounds. Conversely, a bike weighing 9 pounds is intended for a rider weighing at least 27 pounds. Some discretion can be used for kids who are very athletic and adventurous, and an extra pound of bike is easily managed. For timid, shy types a slightly lighter bike will be more successful.
Is a brake really necessary?
Yes and No. This is a common question because there are bikes with brakes and there are bikes without brakes. It’s a matter of personal preference, but we like to point out that a bike with brakes is safer, especially when children ride with bare feet (it happens) and when riding areas are steeply inclined.
Additionally, it’s preferred to use this experience as an opportunity to introduce children to the advanced motor skills necessary for successful bike riding in the future. In love with a bike that doesn’t have brakes? If other features or components of the bike are superior, buy it with confidence, but please avoid steep grades, always wear rubber shoes, and never leave children unsupervised, especially on sidewalks that are populated with driveways.
What about Steering Limiters? Do we need them?
No. Steering limitation is not considered to be a necessary safety feature. Rather, it is something that the very first balance bikes of the 1990s had by necessity- the construction of the bike required it.
This deficiency was marketed as a “safety feature” for obvious reasons and newer brands followed the emotional marketing gimmick of “jack-knife accident prevention”. If it was so much safer, all adult bikes would also have limited steering, but this is not the case. Limited steering poses other risks such as crashes caused by panic steering and an impalement hazard in the event of a fall (handlebar end is more likely to be pointing up when bike falls over, on a bike with steering limitation). That is why balance bikes have big round ends on the hand grips- to minimize the risk of chest impalement in the event of a fall.
Should I be looking for the lightest bike possible?
No. It’s more important to consider the weight of the first pedal bike which will be used after the balance bike is mastered.
A typical pedal bike with 16″ wheels will weigh anywhere from 15 to 20 pounds or more. For example, the transition from an 11 pound balance bike to an 18 pound pedal bike is reasonable, but transitioning from a 6 pound balance bike to an 18 pound pedal bike is tripling the bike weight and most children will find this weight difference too much for them to manage successfully. Also consider that a bike that is too light is most likely not safety tested per rigorous bicycle industry protocol. Rather, is is very lightly tested for toy industry protocol only.
How long will my child use their balance bike?
This varies for every child and depends on a few factors, primarily frequency and duration of riding practice time.
If engaged in riding only 1-2 times a week for 6-8 months out of the year, children will take a lot longer to become ready for a pedal bike, usually somewhere between 18-24 months. On the other hand, a child who is riding 4-5 times a week on a regular basis will only need 6-12 months to move on to a pedal bike. In any event, rest assured that a child’s balance bike will continue to be a frequent go-to favorite activity, long after the pedaling begins.
Does my child need a helmet?
Yes. However, please do not use helmets as a vaccination against falls, as a guaranteed preventer of injuries or as a catch-all means of enhanced safety.
True safety while cycling depends upon teaching children safe riding habits, developing advanced riding skills, and always being alert and aware of what is going on nearby. A skilled rider can more safely ride a poor quality bike without a helmet, than an unskilled rider on the very best bike with a helmet. Definitely buy that helmet and enforce it’s use, but please understand that safety features and helmets do not replace a parent’s obligation to actively teach and supervise their little rider at all times.