What the best balance bike under $100? With the rise in popularity of balance bike, luckily there are a lot options for parents, but with those options comes a lot of confusion. In most cases, bikes are simply chosen based on style and price vs. performance and quality. The Smart Gear bikes are the perfect example of how a quick sale on a daily deal site or on Amazon can trick parents into thinking they are getting a great deal for an awesome bike with A LOT of five star reviews.
The problem is that like most things an Amazon, the Smart Gear bike are always on sale and the majority of the reviews about the bikes simply review the concept of balance bikes, not the actual balance bike itself. The problem lies in the fact that parents rarely have the opportunity to watch their kids ride more than one balance bike, so when their 3 year-old masters the bike, then it must be a 5 star product. For them, it very may be, but if given the chance to try out another bikes in the same price range, I am pretty sure the Smart Gear bikes would lose a couple of those stars. Why? Because the Smart Gear bikes are poorly designed.
**NOTE: Many commenters have mentioned that it is unfair to review a used bike and I for the most part, totally agree. This bike, however, was not found randomly on the street or purchased used from a stranger off of Craigslist. This bike was only used by my friend and her kids in Northern California for a little over one year. While it was exposed to water and sun, it was not exposed to freezing temps, ice, snow or excessive dessert temperatures. Having left many bikes (many older that theirs) out in the elements a mere mile from this bike, I can honestly say that the Smart Gear did not hold up as well as the others. While I agree, a review of their bike new would be best and is certainly warranted, I do feel that showing what my friend experienced with her Smart Gear is fair. If you had a different experience with Smart Gear, please feel free to share (and include pictures) in the comments below.**
First off, they are made of wood. Unless you are a super mom or dad, at some point a toddlers bike is going to be accidentally left outside overnight, get wet in the sprinklers, thrown in the blow up pool, etc. When that happens, the wood on the Smart Gear bikes can begin to warp and splinter and with time crack. Sure, not all wood bikes are going to get damaged and steel bikes run the risk of rusting, but there is a reason a wood adult bikes are certainly hard to come by while steel ones are piled up at every big-box store in town.
Water and Sun Damage to a Smart Gear Bike
Ironically, the logo was the only thing on the bike that didn’t begin to fall apart.
This particular bike belonged to a friend of mine whose daughter rode it almost daily. While she loved it and did master balancing on it, but the bike didn’t hold up and she ended up having to purchase another bike for her younger children.
The seat also failed the test of time, from the broken fender to the tearing vinyl, there’s not much to love here. This shot also show that the bike was manufactured in April of 2010. These shots were taken in September of 2012, leaving the bike with about a year-and-a-half worth of use.
Warping of the rims
Secondly, even if a wood bike is safety kept away from the elements, changing the seat height on a wood bike is a pain. While certainly not impossible, it can take up to 10 minutes as compared to 30 seconds with other styles of seat post clamps. In the eyes of a parent, that’s not huge deal, but for toddlers waiting ten minutes can mean the difference of happily riding versus loosing all interest in their bike. In addition, while I agree that changing the height of the seat is a rare occurrence, if you plan on having two kids share the bike, changing the seat on a wood bike will quickly become your arch nemesis.
Lastly, the Smart Gear bikes have a short wheelbase and weight over ten pounds. The whole point of a balance bike is to teach a child to balance. Like standing versus sitting in a boat, it is much easier to balance when you have a low center-of-gravity. A bike with a short wheelbase, causes the rider to sit more upright on the bike, which leads to a higher center-of-gravity, thereby making the bike more difficult to balance and to remain balancing. Bikes with a longer wheelbase and/or lighter frames are simply easier to balance and therefore allow kids to progress faster. This same principle can be found when comparing big-box store bikes to higher-end pedal bikes (Be sure to read Why You Should Never Buy a 12″ Bike). Cheaper bikes have a shorter wheelbase and as a result, are harder to ride.
So while many kids have learn to master balancing on a Smart Gear balance bike, I believe they would have been more successful if they had the opportunity to ride a better designed balance bike. Which one? To see how the Smart Gear bike ranks with over 20 different balance bike be sure to check out our Balance Bike Comparison Chart. If you are on a mission to find the best balance bike on a budget, head on over to The Best Budget Balance Bike.