One tough and rugged balance bike that will last for generations. Great for any rider, but the Specialized Hotwalk is best for off-roading preschoolers. Read the review below for more reasons the Hotwalk might be a good fit for your child.
Specialized Hotwalk Overview
RATING: Highly Recommended
BEST FOR: Adventurous riders ready to tackle the neighborhood without worrying about flat tires, in size 2T to 4T pants
SEAT HEIGHT: 13.5″ – 17″
WEIGHT: ~10 lb.
TIRES: Rubber coated foam
- Rubber-skin puncture proof tires with great traction
- Padded saddle
- Durable build
- True headset and stem
- Large footrest problematic for small-framed kids
Specialized Hotwalk Review: Results of our Test Rides
Updated for 2019, the Specialized Hotwalk has the same durable build and design, but they’ve swapped out the air tires for the new Rhythm Lite Airless puncture-proof tires. While we’re typically not fans of puncture-proof tires, we were able to see the new tires in action at the Sea Otter Classic biking event and were pleasantly surprised by the tires and the Hotwalk in general.
Hotwalk in Action at the Sea Otter (updated 2019 version on the right)
Performance and Tires
The Hotwalk has always performed like a champ, but how does it perform with its new tires? For several hours, we watched kids of various ages and skill levels test out the new Hotwalk on a dirt pump track and saw no signs of the tires losing traction or limiting the kids in anyway.
In fact, because the Rhythm Lite Tires looked and seemed to perform like traditional air tires, we had to double check that they were, in fact, puncture-proof! Upon a closer look, we learned that the Hotwalk’s new tires are made of a soft, yet durable solid rubber – a type of tire we’ve never seen on a balance bike!
Unlike traditional puncture-proof tires that are made of solid foam, the Hotwalk’s are solid rubber. The tire itself feels much like traditional air tires and is much more tacky and flexible than standard foam puncture-proof tires. These Rhythm Lite Airless tires are similar to other puncture-proof tires that Specialized offers on a few of their adult bikes.
For extra traction, the tires are wider at 2.3″ wide (versus about 1.5″ on a Strider foam tire) and the tread continues up the side of the tire to help maintain grip during turns.
While the traction on the Hotwalk tires is comparable to air tires, we next wanted to investigate how well they cushion the rider. Besides lack of traction, our other complaint with puncture-proof foam tires is their lack of cushioning. Foam tires basically provide no cushioning!
The Rhythm Lite tires don’t provide nearly as much cushioning as an air tire, but they do provide some. As shown in the picture below, the tires do have some give when pressure is applied.
Aggressive street or off-road riders are still better off with traditional air tires, especially when going down jumps, stairs, or a rocky trail. However, the Hotwalk’s Rhythm Lite tires are hands down the best puncture-proof tires we’ve seen and are a exceptional buy for neighborhood balance bike riders who don’t want to worry about the possibility of flats.
Balance Bike Tires Comparison
Is the Hotwalk worth buying just for the tires? While we love the Hotwalk’s new tires, they do have some limitations. As compared to air tires found on most balance bikes in the $150+ price range, the Hotwalk’s tires provide much less cushioning over bumps and hills, but much more so as compared to traditional foam puncture-proof tires.
Where the Hotwalk’s tires really stand out is their puncture-proof construction in combination with a higher level of traction than foam tires. Hotwalk’s tires provide plenty of traction for mild to intermediate off-road use, while foam tires are best for paved surfaces. For more aggressive riders on or off the pavement, the traction and cushioning air tires provide will always be your best choice.
To provide for optimal maneuverability, the Hotwalk comes with a stem and threadless headset. Working together, the headset and stem keep the handlebars aligned with the front fork of the bike. A large percentage of balance bikes do not have headsets, but rather a simple clamp to keep everything in alignment. These clamps are typically not strong enough to hold the handlebars firmly in alignment and adjustments are frequently required.
To protect young bodies from potential impact with the headset and stem, the Hotwalk comes with a lightly padded sleeve. The sleeve easily Velcros on and can easily be removed if desired.
Seat Height and Weight
Upon returning home from the Sea Otter Classic, we were expecting to be able to measure the exact weight and seat height of the Hotwalk at our local bike shop, but we were disappointed to find out that none of our local shops had one in stock. As a result, we don’t have the exact measurements for the bike yet, but our local shop did confirm that the bike is based on the same frame as the previous years, so the 13.5″ to 17″ seat height of the previous model is likely still correct.
In terms of weight, the previous model weighed 9.5 lb. and with the only major change being the tires, we anticipate the weight possibly being slightly heavier due to the solid rubber tires, so closer to 10 lb.
Our one major concern with the Hotwalk is still its footrest design. As shown in on the red bike below, the footrest consists of a platform built into the frame at the base of the bike. Because the foot rest sticks out past the seat, younger kids who are still in the walking stage of learning to ride a balance bike will likely hit the back of their legs on the footrest as they walk.
At the show, we saw this happen to a young girl, who was likely around 3, as she walked the bike around the pump track. While not a deterrent for her, many stubborn and timid toddlers may resist learning to ride a balance bike if the process is challenging or uncomfortable.
Additionally, we also saw many proficient balance bike riders who simply weren’t using the footrest. In fact, in all our years of testing, we’ve never had a child ask what to do with their feet while riding a balance bike. They naturally pick their feet up as they glide. The presence of footrests on a balance bike is typically due to an adult assuming a child needs one.
Based on the seat height, the Hotwalk offers the best fit for kids in 2T to 4T clothes. For those who think they can skip the balance bike stage and go straight to a 12″ bike with training wheels, keep in mind that the minimum seat height of the Hotwalk is 3.5″ less than the minimum seat height of the Specialized Riprock 12″. As a result, kids can start off on a balance bike years before they can fit onto a 12″ bike.
As a size reference of the Specialized Hotwalk to the Specialized 12″ and 16″ pedal bikes, our four-year-old boy tester (in 4T clothes with a 17″ inseam) was able to ride all three bikes but fit best on the 16″ Riprock.
The Hotwalk does not come with a handbrake. While most kids don’t have the hand/eye coordination to use a handbrake until they are around 3, we’ve found handbrakes to greatly increase the safety of older preschoolers who tend to ride faster and more aggressively. It also teaches a child to use a handbrake, making their transition to a pedal bike that much easier.
While many balance bikes, such as Strider and Trek, also do not offer a handbrake, many bikes in the Hotwalk’s price range do. With puncture-proof tires, however, the Hotwalk is likely not a great choice for really aggressive riders anyway.
Compared to similarly priced balance bikes, the Hotwalk is mid-range in size. It’s larger than the woom 1, but smaller than the Ridgeback Scoot. The Hotwalk is also the only balance bike in its price range to have puncture proof tires rather than air.
Specialized Hotwalk: The best balance bike for anyone who wants hassle-free, puncture-proof tires. Due to its seat height range and its footrest, the Hotwalk isn’t ideal for toddlers in clothes smaller than 2T.
Specialized Hotwalk Bottom Line
Well-built and with the best puncture proof tires we’ve ever seen, the Hotwalk is a great choice for preschoolers riding on paved and compact dirt trails (and parents who want the peace of mind of never having to fix a flat!). Without a handbrake, the Hotwalk is best for everyday riders versus aggressive balance bike riders or those who live and ride around hills. The extended footrest of the Hotwalk also limits its use for toddlers as well as small-framed preschoolers.