Chicco Red Bullet vs. Radio Flyer vs. “Vilano”: The Best Budget Balance Bike


What is the best balance bike for under $60?  Whether you are on a budget or simply don’t feel that balance bikes are worth investing in (if so please read Why Balance Bikes are Worth the Hype), any balance bike is better than no balance bike at all.  To determine the best budget bike, we purchased three popular budget bikes, the Chicco Red Bullet, the Radio Flyer Glide & Go and the “Vilano” balance bike.  Each bike has numerous 4 and 5-star reviews on Amazon, so we set out to determine which, if any, are worthy of their five stars.  To see how these bikes compare to the Trikke Bikee (link to review), another budget bike, a brief comparison is available at the bottom of this page.

budget balance bike

Size

Upon assembly, it came quite apparently how small the Chicco Red Bullet is.  Although it is clearly labeled 3+ on the box, the Radio Flyer is labeled 2.5 – 5 years and is much bigger than the Chicco.

budget bike comp

In addition to its small size, the geometry of the Chicco is also vastly different than the others.  The handlebars of the Chicco are highly centered on the front wheel, and it has a very short wheel base compared to the Vilano and Radio Flyer.   As expected, the poor geometry of the Chicco (notice how upright both testers are in the pictures below) did not bode well with our testers as they found the bike more difficult to handle and twitchy as compared to the others.

budget bikes testers

As a point of reference, the Radio Flyer seat range is 14.5″ to 18″, the Vilano is 15.5″ to 17.7″ and the Chicco is 13″ to 15″.

Wheels & Tires

Along with its small frame, the Chicco also has 10″ tires as compared to 12″ tires on the Radio Flyer and the Vilano (as shown in the pictures above).  While larger wheels are used on bikes to increase speed and for leverage over obstacles, on kids bikes larger tires allow for a greater clearance and proper geometry (increased vertical space to extend reach and decrease center of gravity).  The lack of space on the Chicco is quite clear when compared to the other budget bikes.

All three bikes had foam tires, and while their tread varied, they performed equally well on paved surfaces.  Like all foam tires (even those on the $100 Strider), they were more prone to losing traction on off-road surfaces as compared to air tires.

budget bike tire tread

Seat Post Adjust

The Radio Flyer comes standard with a desirable quick-release seat post clamp while the others do not.

budget bike seat adjust

Durability

While all three bikes had minor scratches and dings, after a few weeks of use the saddle of the Radio Flyer and Chicco began to tear.  Although cosmetic, it was a little disappointing to the bikes begin to show wear so quickly.  The bell of the Vilano also fell apart before we could even put it on.  The bell on the Radio Flyer, however, it quite durable, but is also REALLY loud.

budget bike seat durability

Final Impressions

For $50, there is simply no benefit to the Chicco Bullet over the others.  While is does have the lowest minimum seat height of 13″ (as compared to Radio Flyers’ 14″ and Vilano’s 15.5″) if your son or daughter has an inseam less than 15″, then I would recommend the ZUM-CX, which has a minimum seat height of 12″ and extends to 17″.  The ZUM-CX is available on Amazon for around $60.  Between the Radio Flyer and the Vilano, both are good bikes that will certainly provide hours of learning fun for your son or daughter.  Between the two, I prefer the Radio Flyer, but if your child is not a fan or red, the Vilano is a great second choice that comes in 7 different colors, including pink and purple. The Radio Flyer also now comes with air tires, which will provide much more traction and cushion than the foam model.  Due to the high risk of flats, we highly recommend using tire sealant (link to instructions on how to use it) on bikes with air tires.

Individual Bike Summaries of Bikes

The Chicco Red Bullet, $50

Wow, this little guy is SMALL!  With 10″ foam tires and a small frame to match, the Red Bullet is certainly the smallest bike we’ve tested.  Not only were the tires small, but the overall length of the bike was about four inches shorter than most 12″ balance bikes.   Ironically, although small, the Red Bullet was too big for our 18-month-old to stand over as it minimum seat height is 13″ with a max of 15″.

budget bike side shot

Side comparison of Chicco Red Bullet (in front), Vilano (center) and Radio Flyer Glide & Go (back).  All bikes have their seats set at their maximum seat height.

The box says it is designed for kids aged 3 and up, but it quickly became apparent that it was way too small for our four-year-old.

red bullet chris

In terms of quality, it was decent for $50, but after two days, the fabric on the seat had already ripped, and the rear bearing was making noise during use.

Bottom Line:  Way too small!  By the time your child is old enough to stand over the bike, the bike will almost be too small for them.

Where to Purchase: Available on Amazon with free shipping

Radio Flyer Glide & Go, $50

 First off, the prices on the Glide & Go vary widely, but I found it remained a consistent $50 at ToysR’Us and radioflyer.com.  I had mine shipped for free to my local store ToysR’Us, which took a little over a week and upon assembling it, found that the end of a nail was sticking out of the top of the saddle!  However, upon filling out a simple form on their website, I received a new seat free of charge in less than a week.

budget bike front

Front comparison shot, left to right: Radio Flyer, Vilano, Red Bullet

Between the three, the Radio Flyer was certainly the largest of the three and had the greatest range of adjustability, from a minimum seat height of 14.5″ to a max of 18″.  Besides the seat, the quality of the built is certainly worth $50 and in my opinion, much better than the Red Bullet.  Over time the headset did begin to squeak but was eliminated by added some basic bike grease.

Bottom Line:  Besides the seat issue, the Radio Flyer is solidly built and is certainly worth $50, but not $75+ that many vendors are attempting to sell it for.  Being a taller bike, it is also appropriately sized for kids aged 3 and up, but is most likely too big for 1.5 and 2-year-olds. The Radio Flyer also now comes with air tires, which will provide much more traction and cushion than the foam model.  Due to the high risk of flats, we highly recommend using tire sealant (link to instructions on how to use it) on bikes with air tires.

Where to Purchase: Widely available online, but consistently available for $50 at Amazon.

Vilano Balance Bike, $60

The only “no-name” bike in the bunch, the Vilano (as it was named at one point) caught my eye when it showed up on the top sellers list on Amazon.  With seven different colors to choose from, the Vilano certainly has many options, including a pink and purple bikes with flowers.  Regarding quality, the bike is solid and is built better than the Chicco but not as well as the Radio Flyer.  The instructions in the box were also for the wrong bike, but it once I found the correct size wrench (unlike the Radio Flyer, the Vilano and Red Bullet did not come with tools), it was easy to assemble.

vilano bike

Vilano rode by Four-year-old boy, with the seat adjusted to the maximum height

Taller than the Red Bullet but smaller than the Radio Flyer, the Vilano seat adjusts from 15.5″ to 17.5″.

Bottom Line:  Not as adjustable as the Radio Flyer, but more so than the Red Bullet, the Vilano is the decent quality bike for kids aged 3 and up.  While I liked the Radio Flyer better, if your child is not so keen on red, don’t hesitate to go for one of the several colors offered by Vilano instead.

Where to Purchase: Available on Amazon

Trikke Bikee

The Trikke Bikee is another budget balance bike that has several 5-star reviews on Amazon.  Upon testing it ourselves, we found the entire bike to be unbalanced and difficult to use.  Regarding sizing, the Trikke is very similar in size to the Radio Flyer Glide & Go.

budget bike compare

 

  • Tara

    We own the Chicco, only because it was on clearance for $15 at Costco, making it a no brainer. We’ve had it for two and a half years, and while the handlebars are scratched up from my kids throwing it to the ground instead of putting it in the bike stand, it has held up really well. My kids have not found it unstable at all. My daughter is small for her age, so it’s a great fit for her at 3…..she’s been on it for 1.5 years. She’s totally ready for a bike with pedals and no training wheels, but is too in love with her balance bike.

    My son outgrew it at 3.5 and we went on to a bigger balance bike for him. The Chicco is definitely small, but we have not found it to be unstable as a previous commenter suggested.

    • Thanks for adding your opinion to the mix. You’re right in that at $15 that is pretty much a no brainer. Like yourself many parents had found a lot of success with Chicco, however the “instability” of the Chicco would be hard to notice unless you watched your kids ride a different balance bike back-to-back with the Chicco. The slight wobbles and hesitations our testers experienced on the Chicco were not apparent on the Vilano or Radio Flyer. Point being, the Chicco will teach a child to balance and kids will find it fun to ride, however we found that kids experience a better quality of ride on bikes with better geometry. Finally, I also do not recommend the Chicco because it is so small. Essentially everyone I’ve known who has bought the Chicco has ended up having to buy a second balance bike, thereby making their total investment in a balance bikes much higher then they would have liked.

  • Sidney

    Hello! We are thinking about getting the radioflyer glide bike. We need a budget bike that will work for a soon to be 2 yo and 5% 4 yo. Do you think this would be a good purchase? And would you get the new model with air tires vs foam tires? Walmart has the foam for $39.99 and the air for $59.99. Thanks!

    • I didn’t even know about the new model with air tires, thanks for bringing it to my attention. The Radio Flyer is still my top pick for budget bikes, so yes, as long as your 2yo has an inseam of at least 15″, it would be a great choice.

      • Sidney

        That’s perfect! But would you opt for air tires? I know you have tested it yet…but would you usually take air over foam?

        • Sidney

          Haven’t tested it yet 😉

          • Yes! Always air over foam, but I would be sure to add tire sealant (Green Slime – you can get it at Walmart and Target) to prevent flats.

          • Sidney

            Thank you!!!

  • Amy Armstrong

    I am trying to decide whether to buy the Radio Flyer Glide & Go OR the Stider Classic. We bought our soon to be 4 yr old a pedal bike which he’s interested in but can’t pedal. So we’re hoping a balance bike will help out. Should we spend the extra money & get the strider or would the Radio Flyer get the job done? He also has a little brother who’s 21 months old. So he’ll be using it too. The little one is pretty tall.

    • If your 4yr is eager to ride (and is on the athletic side), the I would probably go with the Strider Sport as his will probably use it for a short period of time, which would allow your younger son to ride it (which he is old enough to do already). You will want to get the Sport model to get the extended seat post, which your older son will probably need. It also comes with the shorter seat post for your younger son.

      If you believe your 4yo will need some time on the balance bike (at least six month or so, which is normal), then I would get the Radio Flyer with air tires. It will be a better fit for him and the air tires will make it more comfortable to ride. There is a chance, however, that it may be too big for your 2yo by the time your 4yr is done with it.

  • Kim

    Hi, do you think the Radio Flyer with the air tires is worth the extra $10? It’s going for about $59.99 right now, while we can find the RF with foam tires on sale for about $45. Thanks 🙂

    • For $10 yes, especially if you are riding on non-paved area or bumpy sidewalks etc. The downside of the air is the potential for flat tires, which is why I always suggest sealing the tires as explained here: http://www.twowheelingtots.com/how-to-apply-tire-sealant-to-bike-tires/, which will cost you another $9. If you plan on riding on only smooth, paved surfaces, then then foam tires should be fine.

      • Kim

        Thanks Natalie! I hope your family had a great Christmas, we live in Southern California so paved streets are usually where we are at; our son LOVED the radio flyer and the foam tires have been fine! Thank you for your advice! We will be back soon for bike ideas for our 7 yo!

        • Awesome, glad he loved it and yes, we will be here when you need any help!

  • Bernadette

    Thank you so very much all this wonderful information. We ordered the Radio Flyer Glide & Go with air tires for our 4yr for Christmas. It was the best choice for our budget plus I was able to order it via Walmart.com for $59.99 with free shipping to the store. Thanks 🙂

  • Karen

    We are looking at the Radio Flyer (with air tires) or the Schwinn balance bikes. I was wondering what you think of the two. The Schwinn is significantly more expensive. I would really love your advice. It’s a gift for a 2 1/2 year old boy who lives in Nevada.

    • I don’t think the Schwinn is worth that much more than the Radio Flyer. The Schwinn is slightly better built, but the footrest is problematic for younger kids, but for a 2.5 year old in at least 2T, it should be fine. I would probably still go with the Radio Flyer though.

      • Karen

        Thanks, Natalie. I just ordered the Radio Flyer.

  • Lisa

    We have a small almost three year old who wants a bike for his birthday. He is 35 inches tall with a 15 inch inseam. What are your thoughts on the Vilano two and one? It converts from strider to pedal bike? His older four year old brother was just so different! Hopped on a huffy 12 inch with training wheels at 20 months was riding a two wheeler no training wheels by 3.5. Our little guy just learned to pedal his tricycle but really wants to be like big bro.

    • Ahh, sorry for the delay in getting back to you. I actually really don’t like most convertible bikes, including the Vilano. My main issue with them is that by the time a child is ready to transition to a pedal bike, they are usually too small for the 12″ tires and frame of the bike. As a result, a larger pedal bike will more than likely need to be purchased, which negates the benefit of a convertible bike to begin with. I would instead put him on a regular balance bike now and then by a pedal bike you know will fit him when he is ready to move up.

  • Deb

    My boys have been on Smart gear wooden balance bikes since they were 2 (now 4.5). They have held up great (always stored in the garage). My husband ran over one bike accidentally. I’m trying to decide if I should get them both new Balance bikes or move to a pedal bike. I’m just not sure at their age which way less to go. They are pros on the balance bikes. They areally about 41-42 inches tall wearing 4T pants.

    • At 4.5, if they are confident on their balance bikes they are certainly old enough and ready for a pedal bike. Whether to switch them or not really depends on them. I would take them to a bike shop and let them try out a pedal bike to see how they like it. If they do (and they fit properly on one), then I would consider switching and would probably encourage them to do so. If however, they show no interest in a pedal bike, then I would stick to a balance bike until they express interest. Some kids love pedal bikes, while other enjoy the simplicity and familiarity of their balance bikes, so it’s really up to them.

  • Dieguito

    Hi.. do you know about those 2 in 1 balance bike as Henshin Bike or Rennrad 2 in 1 Learning Bike? My son in almost 3 and he mastered a wood balance bike but I don´t know if he is ready for a bike with pedals so I think that this 2 in 1 are a best option to avoid buy a bike that frustrate him? What do you think?

    • I generally don’t like 2-in-1 bikes as by the time a child is ready to put the pedals on the bike, they more than often ready for a larger wheel size. As a result, even if they do ride the bike in pedal bike mode, they outgrow it quickly. While I have yet to review it, the only 2-in-1 that I remotely like is the LittleBig (https://www.littlebigbikes.com/) as it has 14″ tires, rather than 12″, so it offers more room for growth.

  • Julia

    Do you have a review on the Yvolution Y Velo balance bikes?

    • No, not yet, but we are planning one for Spring. The seem like decent bikes, but the hard tires and lack of adjustability in the seat are problematic for some.