Balances bikes are not one-size-fits-all. Although they are often marketed at such, balance bikes come in a wide range of sizes and fit a wide range of ages. Purchasing the right size balance bike for your child is essential because it directly correlates to their success on a bike! A balance bike designed to fit a 2-year-old is not going to be a great fit for a 4-year-old.
After testing over 100 different balance bikes, we’ve learned a thing or two about how to properly size a child for a bike! In this guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about the ideal age range for a child to ride a balance bike, balance bike sizes, how to size your child for a bike, as well as what to look for when purchasing a balance bike.
Balance Bike Sizing and Buying Guide
Table of Contents – Click to jump down to your desired section
- BALANCE BIKE SIZE CHART
- SIZES: What determines the size of a balance bike?
- GETTING THE RIGHT FIT: How do you measure a child for the best balance bike fit?
- SETTING SEAT HEIGHT: What is the correct seat height for a balance bike?
- OTHER FEATURES: What features should you look for when shopping for a balance bike?
If you simply want help choosing a bike, check out our thoughtfully curated 10 Best Balance Bikes page.
Visual learner? Check out our balance bike sizing video below to learn how a balance bike should fit as well as how to quickly and easily see how to find the perfect size balance bike for your child.
Balance Bike Size Chart
We highly encourage you to read more below on how wheel size and seat height affect the sizing of a balance bike. But for a quick initial reference, this balance bike sizing chart will help you quickly narrow down some best-fit options for your child.
|Balance Bike||Child’s Age||~Child’s Inseam|
|woom 1||18 mo. – 3 yrs||10.5″ – 13″|
|Strider Sport||18 mo. – 4 yrs||11.5″ – 14″|
|Swagtron K3||2 – 3.5 yrs||12.75″ – 13.25″|
|Guardian Balance Bike||2 – 4 yrs||13″ – 17″|
|Ridgeback Scoot||3 – 5 yrs||14.5″ – 18″|
|woom 1 Plus||3.5 – 4 yrs||15.3″ – 16.7″|
|Strider 14x||4 – 6 yrs||16″ – 20″|
|Bixe 16||4 – 6 yrs||18.75″ – 20″|
What determines the size of a balance bike?
Wheel size and seat height are the two things that determine the size of a balance bike. Due to the vast height differences between toddlers and preschoolers, there are balance bikes of many different sizes .
Unlike regular bikes, there are no standard “sizes” for balance bikes. Every model and bike manufacturer is different, as you can see in the chart below.
Balance Bike Wheel Size vs. Seat Height
|Bike||Wheel Size||Seat Height|
|woom 1||12″||10″ – 14″|
|Strider Sport||12″||11″ – 19″|
|Ridgeback Scoot||12″||14″ – 20″|
|Strider 14x||14″||15″ – 22″|
|Bixe 16||16″||18″ – 22″|
Online listings for balance bikes often list a bike’s wheel size, such as 12″ or 14″. Like regular bikes, the wheel size of a balance bike is a measurement of the inside diameter of the bike’s wheel.
Unlike regular bikes, however, a balance bike’s wheel size is typically not a good indication of its size. Bikes with the same 12″ wheel size can be sized to either fit an 18-month old or a 4-year-old! As a result, the wheel size for a balance bike should only be used as a rough indication of the bike’s size.
🎯 Balance Bike Sizes : SEAT HEIGHT IS KING!🎯
- The ONLY way to determine a balance bike’s true size is by knowing its seat height range.
- As a result, when selecting the proper size balance bike for your child, you must first determine the seat height at which your child will ride the bike.
- This is accomplished by first measuring their inseam.
How do you measure a child’s inseam for a balance bike?
Measuring a child’s inseam can be tricky, but with a few tips, it shouldn’t take too much wrestling. The best way to measure their inseam is to use the “book and wall” method.
With shoes on, have the child stand against a wall, squeeze the book between their legs, and then slowly raise the book up until it hits their crotch. Level the book with the floor, then measure the distance between the top of the book to the ground.
With that inseam measurement, you are now ready to calculate the proper position at which the balance bike’s seat height should be set while riding. This seat height measurement is KEY to helping you find the perfect size balance bike for your child.
How do you determine the proper seat height for a balance bike?
When sitting on their balance bike, a child should be able to place their feet fully on the ground while having a slight bend in their knees. This bend allows a child to comfortably sit on the bike’s saddle while pushing off the ground with their feet to walk, run, and eventually glide.
This means balance bike’s seat should be set 0.5″ to 1″ less than the child’s inseam. So if their inseam is 13″, you want to look for a bike with a minimum seat height no taller than 12.5″.
In order to allow for room for your child to grow on the bike, you also need to pay attention to the bike’s maximum seat height. The maximum seat height of a balance bike should be at least 2″ above the child’s current inseam. So for a child with an inseam of 13″, look for a bike with a maximum seat height of at least 15″.
Example Child Inseam vs. Desired Seat Height Range
|Child’s Inseam||Desired Min. Seat Height (-0.5″)||Desired Max. Seat Height (+2″)|
|11.5″||no taller than 11″||at least 13.5″|
|13.5″||no taller than 13″||at least 15.5″|
|17″||no taller than 16.5″||at least 19″|
Armed with your child’s inseam and the ideal balance bike seat height, you can now confidently being searching for a balance bike that you know will fit your child. To see our top picks for balance bikes, head over to our 10 Best Balance Bike page.
Why is the balance bike seat position important?
If the seat height position is too low, and the child has too much bend in the knee, running and gliding becomes less natural and less efficient.
If the seat height position is too high, so that the child’s legs are almost straight or they are on their tip toes, it becomes very difficult to run to gain momentum so they can actually balance the bike. In addition, it can be a challenge for them to stop the bike safely!
Adjusting the seat of balance bike about 0.5″ – 1″ below a below a child’s inseam will result in the optimal knee bend.
Balance Bike Buying Guide
In addition to balance bike size covered above, there are 10 additional features worth considering before you click that buy button!
They are 1) weight, 2) geometry, 3) tire type, 4) brakes, 5) turning limiters, 6) footrests, 7) bearings, 8) frame materials, 9) hand grips, and 10) bolts.
How much should a balance bike weigh?
As a general rule, you don’t want a bike to weigh more than 30% of your child’s weight. A 10-pound bike can be difficult for a 25 lb. 2-year-old to maneuver, but much easier for a 35 lb. 3.5-year-old.
The frame and wheels on the bike have the greatest effect on the bike’s overall weight. Air tires are much heavier than foam tires, which is why essentially all balance bikes sub-$150 that market themselves as “lightweight” have foam tires.
High-quality lightweight bikes that come fully loaded (air tires, handbrake, true headset, etc.), require specialty parts to keep the weight down. This quickly raises the cost of a bike. These specialty components are what differentiate the cost, quality, and performance of a $75 bike versus a $200 bike.
Weight of a Bike vs. Child
Foam tires vs. air tires on a balance bike
Tires play a key role in the performance and comfort level of a bike. There are two primary types of balance bike tires: foam and air.
Foam tires are very common on balance bikes because they’re cheap to manufacture, lightweight, and are made of solid foam which can never go flat. For the average neighborhood rider who plans on sticking mainly to the pavement, foam tires are usually sufficient. For aggressive or adventurous riders riding on a variety of surfaces, air tires are essential. Strider bikes have foam tires.
Air tires provide superior traction and cushioning compared to foam tires. Foam tires have very little give and do not dampen any bumps while riding. If a child goes down a curb on a bike with foam tires, they’re really going to feel it!
Because air tires are rubber, they also provide much more traction than foam. This is evident on all surfaces, but particularly on all-terrain surfaces where foam tires are known to slide. For those riders who want a little more all-terrain traction, balance bikes are also available with a knobby air tire.
For aggressive riders, air tires are essential because they are able to flex during sharp turns in order to maintain traction. Foam tires cannot flex and do NOT perform well on leaning turns.
Air vs. Foam Balance Bike Tires
|Feature||Foam Tires||Air Tires|
Does a balance bike need brakes?
Kids will primarily use their feet to stop a balance bike, so hand brakes are optional. But when possible, we always recommend purchasing a bike with a hand brake. Why? Hand brakes can help prevent injury, save kids’ shoes, and better prepare a child to ride a pedal bike.
Usually between 2.5 and 3.5-years-old, most pre-schoolers have enough hand/eye coordination to use a hand brake. Once learned, kids tend to use their hand brake in conjunction with their feet for faster, safer stopping. Once mastered on a balance bike, they don’t need to relearn how to use a brake on a regular bike.
Braking with Feet vs. a Handbrake
Keep in mind that not all hand brakes are created equal. Higher-end bikes, such as the woom 1, have short-reach brakes which allow the small hands of pre-schoolers to reach the brake with greater ease. They are also very easy to squeeze with a tiny hand.
Standard-reach brake levers on lower-end bikes require kids to stretch their hand out to reach the brake lever, which can prevent them from braking properly. These brakes are also usually more difficult to squeeze which can cause a child to refuse to use it all together.
If you have a chance to test out a bike in person, try to activate the brake with your pinky finger, which simulates the strength of a child’s hand. If it’s easy for you to compress with your pinky, it will also be easy for them, and vice versa.
What is balance bike geometry?
The geometry of a balance bike makes a huge difference in how the bike performs. A bike with good geometry will work with the child to help them learn to balance and maneuver, while a bike with poor geometry will work against them. Determining whether a bike has “good geometry” is somewhat subjective, but by focusing on a few key elements of the bike you can get a good feel for its geometry.
Highlights of GOOD Geometry on a Balance Bike
So what exactly is geometry? Several factors work together to make up the geometry of a bike. (1) Frame design and wheelbase is paramount, followed by the (2) shape and size of the handlebars. The (3) position of the seat relative to the tires and the (4) angle of the front fork also play a role.
The wheelbase is the distance between where the two wheels of a bike touch the ground. Bikes with longer wheelbases are generally more stable and easier to balance. Like the Strider versus the Chicco Red Bullet in the collage above, the shorter wheelbase of the Red Bullet makes it look squished end to end compared to the Strider.
The cockpit of a bike is the space between the seat and the handlebars. Having ample space in the cockpit is essential for balance bike riders because they need to have room to lean into the handlebars while running on their bikes.
On a bike with a short cockpit, the handlebars will prevent the child from properly leaning forward while running. Balance bikes with swept-back handlebars, like the Red Bullet, have limited space in the cockpit. Bikes with raised handlebars (like the Red Bullet) versus flat (like the Strider) can also affect the child’s overall position on the bike. In most cases, slightly raised bars are best.
The angle of the front fork plays a huge role in the maneuverability of a bike. A more upright fork decreases the wheelbase of the bike and also forces more of the child’s weight to be over the front wheel. With additional weight over the front wheel, the bike is harder to steer, less stable, and is more likely to get hung up on uneven surfaces.
A well-designed balance bike has only a small gap between the rear tire and the seat when it’s set to its lowest position. Positioning the seat low on the frame helps to lower the overall center-of-gravity of the bike and makes it easier to balance at low speeds. A poorly-designed bike has a large gap between the rear tire and the seat, creating a high center-of-gravity for the rider, making the bike more difficult to balance and control.
What is a turning limiter?
Turning limiters block the handlebar and front wheel from completing a full revolution. They are designed to prevent sharp turns and keep the brake cable from getting twisted. Proponents claim they help keep a child from jackknifing, while detractors claim they prevent kids from learning proper steering while they are young and still riding at slow speeds.
Elastic, Removable Limiter on the WOOM 1
While there are pros and cons to turning limiters, the overall effect most limiters have on riding is minor, and their presence shouldn’t be a determining factor in your purchase. Poorly designed limiters that greatly reduce the turning radius of the bike should be avoided, while the elastic limiter on the woom 1 is fantastic because it provides gentle correction and is removable.
Do you need a footrest?
The majority of balance bikes do not have footrests because they are not needed. When gliding on a balance bike, kids instinctively hold their feet up. In fact, in our nine years of testing bikes, we’ve never had a child ask where to put their feet! It’s always the parents that ask that question!
For some kids, footrests can be a crutch as they feel they have to use them and spend more time worrying about their feet than balancing and steering.
Unfortunately, poorly designed footrests are common and interfere with a child’s stride. These larger footrests can cause the rider to hit the back of their calf on the footrest when walking or running. An example of a poorly designed footrest is found on the blue Schwinn below. Typically, a properly designed footrest is tucked back under the seat and out of the way of a child’s stride.
How important are wheel bearings?
The bearings of a bike determine how fast and how smoothly a tire spins around the axle. Sealed bearings have a rubber seal around them that prevents water, dirt, and dust from entering the bearings.
As a result, a bike with sealed bearings experiences less friction when spinning. Less friction means that your child will enjoy a smoother ride while exerting less effort on their balance bike.
Sealed bearings are considered to be a higher-end feature and result in a higher price tag. When choosing the features for your ideal balance bike, sealed bearings are a “nice-to-have,” rather than required.
Metal or wood balance bike?
Balance bike frames are made from aluminum, steel, wood, or composite material, with metal frames being the most common.
Metal bikes come in steel or aluminum alloys which play a contributing factor in the total weight and weight capacity of the bike. Aluminum alloy 6061 is the cream-of-the-crop in bike frames. It’s lightweight, strong, rust-proof, and is used in higher-end bikes, such as WOOM, Prevelo and Scoot.
Steel frames are common on less expensive models, but create a heavier bike and are prone to rust. If bikes don’t specifically state they are made of aluminum, they will be made of steel.
Wood bikes can be more environmentally friendly but are less adjustable than metal bikes. Higher-end wood frames can last for years if properly taken care of, while cheap, lower-end wood bikes tend to fall apart fairly quickly.
Composite frames are a glass fiber reinforced nylon composite found mainly on FirstBIKE. They offer a lightweight frame with a high weight capacity, without the concerns of rust or chipping paint. Composite frames, however, can bend or flex when in use by an older or taller rider, but most kids transition to a pedal bike before the flexing becomes an issue.
Are bike grips important?
While seemingly minor, handlebar grips will most likely be one of the first safety features used on the balance bike. A rubber grip with a knobby end protects kids’ hands when the handlebars run into a wall, trees, etc., and also protects kids’ hands from hitting the ground during falls.
All balance bikes have grips and most have grips with protective bumpers. Because this is an easy and common way to keep your child safe, be cautious before buying any bike without protective bumpers.
WOOM’s Ergonomic and Protective Grips
Why are the type of axle bolts important?
The front and rear axle bolts on balance bikes come in a wide variety of styles. These bolts can range from large traditional bolts to low profile bolts recessed into the frame of the bike.
With time, larger bolts that protrude out from the bike become scratched and dented. This can, in turn, lead to small legs getting scratched by the bolts.
To prevent this, some bikes come with plastic caps to cover the bolts, but many budget bikes do not. Higher-end bikes, like the woom 1, have flat or low profile bolts that are actually recessed in the fork to prevent any possible contact with little legs.