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