The Best Balance Bike

Strider 12 Sport Balance Bike

Our Top Pick for 2016: Strider 12 Sport Balance Bike
Read our full review.

See it on Amazon for $119.99*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.
Too expensive? See our budget pick.

Balance bikes are great toys for kids because they introduce the idea of the bicycle early on. That makes them both fun and educational– you are teaching the children coordination and physical skills. Not all balance bikes are created equal, however, so I’ve set out to find the best ones on the market. I know that as parents, you want what’s best for your child as well as your wallet. I’ve picked four balance bikes that I think deliver the best value out there, so take a look at the following list and you should find something to fit your needs.

Table of contents

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Foot To Floor Frame Design
Strider’s Flagship Model
Step-in Patented Footrest Design
Air Tires And Tubes
Easy To Assemble And Adjust
Adjustable Seat And Handlebars
Adjustable Seat Height
Fits 18 Month-5 Year Olds
Puncture Resistant
Adjustable Handlebars
Includes Padded Seat
Maintenance Free Eva Tires
Easy Roll
Lightest Balance Bike
As Seen On Shark Tank

*Price at time of publishing and may not reflect current pricing.

#1 Gold pick (Winner): Strider 12 Sport Balance Bike

Strider 12 Sport Balance Bike Gold Pick

View it on Amazon for $119.99*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.

2016-gold-winnerThe 12 Sport Balance Bike from Strider is my pick for the best balance bike available as of now. It’s quite popular and has lots of good features. First of all, consider the basic attributes. The bike is, as the name suggests, built to fit children from as young as 18 months up to 5 years in age. It weighs just 6.7 pounds. That makes it easy to carry for almost all riders. The ability to give them something they can ride around and carry themselves is priceless, because the kids will feel empowered and independent.

The bike is very strong. It is made of an aluminum alloy that is both light and durable. The frame will stand up to prolonged rough use with no problems. The other parts, such as the clamp that attaches the seat to the frame, might need some attention, though. Try to tighten them up as much as you can for rough play. In general, though, this bike will last as long as you need it to last. That’s not always the case with balance bikes, especially models that use lots of plastic. The tires themselves are made of an industrial-grade foam that has better grip than plastic, along with more durability.

One of the best aspects of the 12 Sport is its versatility. The bike can fit a wider range of weights and heights than just about any of its competition. That alone should attract you to this model, especially if you have more than one child. The 2015 version of this product has two seats. The extra seat that comes with it is especially designed to fit older children. That is how it can have such a wide range of suitable ages.

There are no brakes or pedals, because the purpose of this bike is to help kids master balancing and turning. That skill translates directly into an improved ability to ride full-sized bikes as the children age. They can stop the bike at any time just by putting their feet on the ground. Make sure to keep it away from steep inclines, because without a true brake they should not be ridden downhill.

The Sport 12 has a lot going for it in terms of longevity. It is very common for a family to have children that are a year or two apart. The advantage of having a balance bike that is built to last and fit different sizes is that it can be a shared toy as well as a hand-me-down, whichever is more appropriate for the needs and ages of your kids. That flexibility comes in handy when you want your dollar to go as far as possible in terms of how long the toys last. This is an example of a product where it is more likely that your kids will grow out of it than it will break.
At a list price of about $120, it is not the cheapest bike on the market, but it is not the most expensive, either. In fact, that is relatively affordable considering the quality of the materials and how long the bike will last. You won’t need to invest in another bike for as long as you keep this one around. For that reason, along with how easy it is to let different kids of different sizes ride the bike, I chose the Sport 12 to be my Gold pick. It’s just so valuable that it’ll quickly become one of your mainstay toys.

#2 Silver pick (Runner-up): Schwinn Balance Bike

Schwinn Balance Bike

View it on Amazon for $75.00*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.

2016-silver-winnerSchwinn is one of the top names in bikes at all levels, and this is no exception. It’s a little cheaper than the Gold pick at $80 and has slightly different construction, so you might prefer this bike in some cases. On the downside, it is a little less flexible with regard to the size of the rider. It is perfect for teaching balance and will support your kids as they learn to balance themselves and ride on wheels.

Let’s start with the build. Like the Gold pick, the frame is made of aluminum tubing. The bike is slightly heavier than the 12 Sport, but not enough to make a big difference in terms of being able to carry it. The frame and the bearings are made of a high-quality alloy, so they’ll last a very long time. Moreover, the tires are made of rubber and air like regular bike tires, not foam. That makes them stronger and easier to control on rougher surfaces, like asphalt. That also increases the realism of the bike, so that the feel of riding it is more similar to that of a full bicycle. Because the eventual goal is a transition up to those larger bikes, this is a very good design choice. You do need to keep an eye on the tires and make sure no damage occurs. Broken glass, nails, and other things can make holes in the tire and cause it to lose air.

The bike comes in four different colors: red, pink, green, ad blue. That’s plenty of flexibility for you to find something that suits the taste of your child or children. The bike is also fully adjustable, so you can have kids of varying ages using it. As I mentioned above, there’s no larger backup seat, so that limits how big the rider can get. Don’t be surprised, though, if your five-year-old wants to keep playing with his or her Schwinn. It’s a very popular bike because it has a simple design that still works very well on just about any surface. Depending on when you look for this bike, you will get a savings of around $40 compared to the Gold pick. That is a real deal, especially if your kids are not large. The taller your children are, the more useful it will be to have the Gold pick and its extra seat.

If you don’t have a tall child then you probably can get away with the Schwinn and have it meet all of your needs. You should also keep an eye out for promotions, because these bikes sometimes go on sale and that can affect which one gives you the most value. In the end, it might just come down to design: the Schwinn has a cool, classic look and a limited range of colors, while the Strider has a more modern design and greater color choice.

#3 Bronze pick (3rd place): KaZAM v2e No Pedal Balance Bike

KaZAM v2e No Pedal Balance Bike

View it on Amazon for $59.29*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.

2016-bronze-awardThe KaZAM v2e is priced the lowest of the three, listing for $75 and often selling for notably less. It’s not as well-known a brand as Strider or Schwinn, but KaZAM actually got started on Shark Tank, so that is an interesting extra tidbit. In any case, the design of the v2e is some what different from the previous two bikes, and that makes it a bit polarizing. The design is fairly different from a regular bicycle. In between the seat and the handlebars, there is a rubber step where you can place your foot.

On the one hand, this provides an interesting way to learn how to balance: the kids are supposed to push off with their feet to get the bike going and then rest their feet on the footrest, mimicking the area where their feet would be on a bike with pedals. In practice, this footrest is a little awkward to use because it is not very wide. It’s also very different from actually using pedals, so I don’t think this is really much like a full bike.

On the other hand, the design choice is innovative and interesting. It opens up some new play possibilities because the bike can more or less be used like a scooter. That pretty fun for the kids and it is flexible with regards to their size, because you only need one foot on the footrest for it to work like a scooter. That increases the amount of ways that kids can play with the bike, which means it stays fun for a significantly longer time.

The v2e has foam tires. That might be good or bad depending on your viewpoint. You do not need to repair them as you would a rubber tire that got damaged, but on the other hand once it is damaged it severely affects how the bike functions and is hard to replace. You essentially need to get a new bike. Now, that doesn’t happen quickly. It takes a lot of wear and tear to hurt these wheels. That goes for the rest of the bike as well- while not the most durable on this list, it’s a tough bike made of good materials. Despite the fact that it does not come from an established brand, the bike should hold up under ordinary play.

Whether you like this bike or not depends on how you feel about that footrest. It’s really the signature element of the package. It is cheaper than the Gold and Silver picks, but not enormously so. The foam tires will be a turnoff to some. Think over how you feel about the footrest and then see how the current price lies in comparison to the other options on this list. The fact that this doubles as a scooter should make it a little more attractive as a multipurpose toy, and anytime you are getting more playtime out of a toy you are doing well.

#4 Budget pick (Best cheap): Prince Lionheart Balance Bike

Prince Lionheart Balance Bike

View it on Amazon for $85.00*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.

2016-cheap-budget-pickListing for $85 but always selling for around $50, the Prince Lionheart Balance Bike is not that much cheaper than my big three picks. However, it has a completely unique construction because it is made of wood. Specifically, the frame is made of birch. That’s a radical difference from the usual aluminum. The handgrips are also made of the same birch with a rubber coating for grip. The tires are ordinary rubber tires. There is some assembly required for the bike.

The choice of wood seems odd at first, but it actually makes a lot of sense. The wood is tough and strong, and it looks great. The bike weighs about ten pounds, which is still manageable. Aside from the aesthetic appeal, the structure of the frame is quite good. It will last for years barring any significant impacts.

The wood is a distraction from the real benefit of the bike, however, and that is the way its construction mimics that of a full bicycle. The proportions, the seat, and the handlebars are all so close to that of a bike that kids can make the jump directly from this balance bike up to a full bike with no need for training wheels. They learn how to balance the bike from a young age. Since the bike lasts for several years, the kids can get started learning to balance as soon as they can reach the floor while sitting in the seat. That will get them started very early.

If you are drawn to the unusual material of this bike, then you should know that there is more to the Lionheart than just that. It’s really the overall shape and design that make it a good choice. Make note of the fact that the seat is somewhat tall: about 14 inches off the ground at the lowest setting. That is a fairly significant height for children. You might need to wait until they are three or even older before they can actually sit on the bike properly. That is probably the biggest downside to the Lionheart. The birch frame is strong and really stands out from the crowd. If possible, try out a bike of equivalent size in person to make sure that your child will be able to ride this one properly. They need to be able to plant their feet on the floor to slow the bike down. If the wood seems good to you, then this bike is likely to be your best option.


Pre-purchase considerations

Size and Shape

One of the most important considerations for selecting a balance bike is the size and design. As you’ve seen on my list, the height of the seat and range of the handlebars can vary quite a bit from bike to bike. That can be an issue both for when you buy the bike and over time as your child grows. Ideally, the bike should be adjustable enough that it can accommodate natural growth, but at the very least the bike should have a practical and reasonable ability to take on children so they can ride comfortably. This is a matter of safety as well. If the child cannot reach the floor, they cannot apply their feet as brakes. It also becomes harder to steer and control the bike when the handlebars are not of the appropriate distance from the rider. Whenever possible, try out bikes in person to see how they fit. Because you are likely to be ordering online, you might not get a chance to test out the exact bike you want. Try to get as close as you can.

Durability

Right after the fit, you need to know that you can count on your bike being available for a significant amount of time. They tend to be made of metal, usually aluminum, although if you read the Budget pick on my list you will see an alternative. The bike won’t be of any good to you if it just breaks right away. The bike should be able to last for so long that you get rid of it because your children have outgrown it, not because it doesn’t work anymore. There are a few different failure points on these bikes, such as the wheels and the joints. Keep an eye on any balance bikes you own to make sure they are in top shape. Your child could be injured if, for example, the handlebars separate from the frame. Do your research to make sure the balance bike you are buying will last. Not only is it safer, but you also get more for your money when you find a durable bike. That’s why it is worth it to pay a little extra to ensure that you get a quality bike.

Appearance

Appearance is not just a matter of your own vanity. Some children are very sensitive to the way a toy looks. If the frame looks odd or the color is not one that the child likes, then the bike you purchased could spend its days languishing in the basement. If, however, you pick a bike that comes in your child’s favorite color, then it could become one of their most-used items. This is not always easy to judge, particularly because the preferences of children are likely to change without warning or explanation. One idea is to make the process collaborative. Once you have settled on the model that you would like to buy, ask your child which color of it they would like. That makes them feel included because they have some input into the process. The more involved they feel, the more excited and interested they will be in the bike. Remember that these preferences change, so don’t get upset if you spent time with them choosing a color and then when the bike arrives, they have a new favorite color. The color is just to tempt them to start riding.

Longevity

Longevity does not refer to just the toughness of a bike, but how well the overall design lasts. For example, the position of the pedals on small children’s’ bikes makes them become quickly unsuitable for children as they grow. The balance bike is meant to be an introduction to the world of full-sized bikes with pedals. As the kids learn how to balance themselves on these bikes, they are building the skills they need to ride a pedal bike properly, without training wheels. That is why the more a balance bike’s design resembles that of a pedal bike, the better it is at preparing kids for advanced riding. That is longevity. This is not to say that riding a balance bike is not going to be fun in and of itself, but just keep in mind that there is a larger goal here. If your bike is so foreign to the way pedal bikes work that you need another “transitional” bike before the kids can make the jump to full-sized pedal bikes, then you are losing time and money.

Conclusion (Wrapping it up)

This might seem like a lot of thinking for a child’s toy. It’s true that there is a lot to consider, but that’s because this is ideally going to be in the household for years to come. Not only will it keep your child or children occupied for a long time, but it will also act as a stepping stone to biking. That’s perfect for you, because the earlier they learn to bike well, the safer they will be when they start to ride regularly. Biking is a great outdoor activity that gets the kids out of the house for a while. That means investing in a good balance bike can help spark their interest in sports or the outdoors from an early age. By reading through my list, you saw what makes a great balance bike. Now you have all the knowledge you need to buy one for yourself.

Discussion and comments

We want to know what you think. Do you own any of the products we discussed? Which did you buy and how did it work out for you?

Do you know of an even better product?

Comment below and help your fellow consumers make the right choice. Over to you!

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