Balance bikes are an increasingly popular childhood must have, but the odds are good that you did not have one when you were growing up and you may wonder if getting one is even a good idea. The answer is more complicated than it seems.
To Training Wheel or Not to Training Wheel?
The old paradigm for learning how to ride a bicycle was training wheels. There are several problems with this way of teaching. For a start, training wheels do not teach balance. Quite the opposite, training wheels create the illusion that the rider can do almost anything without unbalancing the bicycle, and they do not adequately teach the art of leaning into a turn. Additionally, forcing a child to learn to ride a bicycle with or without training wheels means that the child in question has to learn balance, braking, and control over the cranks and gear shifters all at the same time.
The benefits of giving a younger child a balance bike come in a variety of areas. First, children can begin learning to ride a balance bike at a much younger age, meaning they can learn to ride a balance bike instead of a tricycle, and learn the most difficult skill in bicycling much earlier on. Second, by focusing on learning balance, children build up their coordination faster and without the stress of trying to do it while learning the technology of a bicycle’s gears or having to master the mechanics of peddling.
Perhaps most important to most young children, a balance bike allows them to learn to balance without the fear of falling over and hurting themselves. This is because children can ride balance bikes without their feet busied with turning the cranks of a bicycle, and because their legs are more extended, so they can always put them on the ground before taking a spill.
Of course, having made the decision to buy your child a balance bike, one is confronted with a dizzying array of options. Getting the right balance bike for your child means, ironically, balancing safety, expense, quality, and of course, fun!
Every parent wants their child to want to ride their balance bike, and no child will want to ride their balance bike if it doesn’t appeal to them in terms of look and feel. Furthermore, no parent wants their child on a balance bike that puts their safety at risk, and balance bikes that come from trusted brands really matter.
Finally, there’s the problem of buying anything at all for a young child. Since a balance bike is really only for a child within a certain age (and thus, size) bracket, a balance bike is something a child will eventually outgrow. Of course, even if a child were given a regular bicycle with training wheels, they would outgrow it at the same rate, and since a balance bike can be used earlier in life, children with balance bikes are likely to master the essential skill of balance sooner than their bicycle-riding counterparts. Yes, the balance bike will eventually have to go to the yard sale, but it will have served its purpose by then, and been worth the investment.
So having decided on a balance bike, you are now left deciding which one to buy. For the extraordinarily rich/silly, there are balance bikes selling for well over a thousand dollars. While these may be made by blind monks from the future, they aren’t meaningfully different than some very inexpensive options that will keep your child safe and motivated to get out there.
Some balance bikes are constructed more or less as mountain bikes but without the gearset, chain, or derailleurs. Given that those omitted bicycle components are often the most expensive parts of a bicycle, driving up the cost as a result, it’s insane that these “high end” balance bikes sell for as much as adult bicycles with those missing parts. For a child just learning to balance on two wheels, these sorts of balance bikes are an over the top example of over-engineering, and waste of money; your child isn’t going to do the Pikes Peak Hill Climb on a balance bike.
There are balance bikes with very fat tires that make them at least appear to be more stable. This isn’t a great way to go either. While some of these models are affordable, either they aren’t really teaching your toddler how to balance, or they are, but not adequately, and you’ll need to upgrade to a regular balance bike sooner or later, which means spending more money. Don’t buy one of these things twice!
There are wooden balance bikes, which may seem charming, old-timey, and even Eco-friendly, but they really aren’t. Cleaning wood is more difficult than cleaning metal and plastic. Wooden objects are more readily home to insects and other critters your child might pick up while they leave their bike on the ground, and wood will eventually have flaws like dry rot, or just regular rot from being exposed to the elements.
Three-wheeled balance bikes also exist, but these are also a bad idea. They don’t really teach the balance needed to ride a bicycle, and since the child will need to upgrade to a more traditional two-wheeled conveyance sooner or later, either they will have to jump straight to a bicycle (getting little benefit from the balance bike) or buy a regular balance bike (thus buying two balance bikes in total). These also aren’t a good idea.
For a couple of hundred dollars, one can buy what is essentially a BMX bike without gears or pedals, but this is massive overkill. These balance bikes are really geared at older children who, for some reason, have not mastered balance when they should be on to riding regular bikes. If you can find one in the right size, your toddler will quickly outgrow it, and you’ll have spent way too much money on something when you didn’t need to.
Which Balance Bike Should You Buy?
1. GOMO Balance Bike
Really the best bang for the buck can be had for around $69. The GOMO Balance Bike by Nextsport makes a balance bike for toddlers that really is the platonic ideal of balance bikes. It’s the right size for toddlers and has a look they will appreciate as it can be purchased in a variety of colors. These balance bicycles are made out of the same sort of reinforced steel as bicycles that demand punishment, but unlike many manufacturers, GOMO doesn’t charge you as though you purchased a full-on bicycle with a Shimano gear set.
GOMO’s Balance Bike also has a lot of nice little touches which make learning balance also a chance to learn what it’s like to ride a bicycle. The bike is built to withstand the impacts and vibrations of riding, but it’s also set up to transmit just enough of that to the rider without being overwhelming. This means the child will get a “feel for the surface”. It also has a special steering setup that gives children a better sense of control over the bike, and helps prevent extreme turns of the handlebars, and thus the front wheel.
2. GOMO Sprout Flip Baby Balance Bike
Your little sprout will eventually grow out of their 1st birthday balance bike, after all – you can many only go up to 18 months. But that was before the GOMO Sprout ‘Flip’! With its patent pending “Flip Frame” and just an allen key (*included), you can convert THIS balance bike from 12 months up to nearly 3 years old! And because the Sprout ‘Flip’ will become your baby’s pride and joy, it makes sense that they grow up with it too. It's the toddler bike that truly grows with them!
By 12 months, kids are dragging and pushing things, and balance bikes should be no greater than 30% of a child’s weight. If a bike is too heavy, our little ones struggle! But the GOMO Sprout Flip is 4.5 lbs, easy for kids to drag or for parents to throw in the car!
3. GOMO Trike
The GOMO Trike is great for kids and parents. This toddler tricycle has an adjustable push handle for mom or dad to control the cycle while your child learns! The GOMO Trike comes packed with the same core safety features that parents love most. The push handlebar with the free-wheel design prevents kids feet from getting tangled up when being pushed along. The securely-designed seat stops kids from sliding around when they’re pedaling fast and GOMO grips stop their hands from slipping.
The GOMO Trike's also equipped with a front basket that has enough space to fit their favorite toys and snacks. Kids love taking their toys wherever they go, but we parents don't always want to carry it for them, so the basket is super handy!