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What is a Balance Bike? Answers to All Your Questions!

Balance bicycles, pedal-less bikes, running bikes… whatever you call them, balance bikes are everywhere! Maybe your neighbor’s kid rides one, or you saw some kids riding them at the park. And now you’re wondering… what exactly is a balance bike? How do they work? Does my kid need one?

We’ve been testing and reviewing balance bikes for the last 10 years. We’ve actually tested over 100 balance bikes! With a decade of experience under our belts, here are the most frequently asked questions about balance bikes, along with simple answers!

young girl in a pink shirt riding a yellow woom 1 plus balance bike

What is a balance bike and how does it work?

A balance bike is a pedal-less bike with two wheels that teaches toddlers as young as 18-months to balance.  Balance bikes ride like regular bikes, but are powered by a child’s running legs rather than pedals.

Balance bikes don’t get stuck on uneven surfaces, and easily glide over rocks, dirt, curbs, and even jumps. They are sometimes referred to as glider bikes, strider bikes, run bikes or pedal less bikes. The Strider balance bike is the most well-known balance bike in the US.

Strider is the Most Well-Known Balance Bike in the US

After a brief learning period, toddlers and kids learn to ride, jump and coast on their bikes with no assistance from their parents. Balance bikes are a replacement for tricycles and training wheels as they are designed to be used during the ages that a child would typically ride a tricycle or use training wheels.

With the skills learned from a balance bike, riders as young a 3 years old transition straight to a regular kids bike without the assistance of training wheels. 

What is the best age for a balance bike?

Typically, toddlers and kids enjoy balance bikes from ages 18 months to 5 years old. While the ideal age to start is between 18 months and 2.5 years old, there are balance bikes made for all sizes of toddlers and kids so it’s basically never too late to start!

Balance Bike Age Guide

18 moStrider Sport, WOOM 1
2 Years OldSwagtron K3, Strider Sport
3 Years OldGOMO, Radio Flyer Glide & Go Air
4 Years OldRidgeback Scoot, WOOM 1 PLUS
5 Years OldStrider 14X, Ridgeback Scoot XL
6 Years OldBixe 16, Strider Sport 16

The younger you start a child on a balance bike, the shorter their attention span, and the longer the learning period. This is not a bad thing, however. It’s a total blast to watch your toddler progress on a balance bike!

An 18-month-old may take several months to sit and run confidently on their balance bike, while your average 2 year old or 2.5 year old will grasp the process more quickly.

Two brothers on the same Strider balance bike. One is 18 months, the other is 5.

Unlike tricycles and training wheels, toddlers can hop on a balance bike and start walking and scooting around from day one. Balance bikes never come with push bars for adults to assist the child, as there is no use for them; one of the greatest advantages of balance bikes is that kids ride them all on their own.

Whatever the age of your child, remember that balance bikes are not one-size-fits-all. Kids can fit on a balance bike that has a minimum seat height that matches their inseam (measured crotch to floor).

If your child is still too young to ride a balance bike, there are a few great ride-on toys that help prepare a child to ride a balance bike. You can see a quick list of our 8 favorite toddler bikes here.

How many years do kids ride balance bikes?

Kids generally ride balance bikes for 1.5 to 3 years, depending on the age they start. The younger they start, the longer they will ride their balance bike.

Most toddlers and kids who master a balance bike are ready to transition to a regular bike between 3.5 and 4 years old. While a balance bike certainly prepares a child for a pedal bike, that’s not their only purpose. Balance bikes are a ton of fun. There should be no rush to “graduate” from a balance bike.

What are the main benefits of a balance bike?

In a nutshell, balance bikes:

  1. Fit kids much better than tricycles or training wheels
  2. Move easily and safely over uneven surfaces
  3. Are light and easy to ride – kids can ride much farther
  4. Provide years of fun and independent riding before they transition to a pedal bike
  5. Eliminate the need for training wheels – balance bike graduates usually learn to ride a pedal bike in about 5 to 10 minutes, DRAMA FREE.

CLICK HERE FOR the full version of our 5 Reasons Why a Balance Bike is Better Than Tricycles or Training Wheels infographic!

Are balance bikes better than training wheels?

Training wheels significantly delay a child’s ability and desire to ride a bike. Balance bikes teach toddlers and kids how to ride while balanced, whereas training wheels teach how to ride while unbalanced.  

Bikes with training wheels tilt to one side, creating a false sense of balance.  In order to ride without the training wheels, a child must “unlearn” how to ride unbalanced and learn how to ride while balanced.

Toddler riding a balance bike that fits great. Same toddler riding a 12" bike with training wheels that is very tall and fits awkwardly.

On a balance bike, proper balancing techniques are learned from day one.  One other thing to consider is that balance bikes are just more fun and much easier to ride than a bike with training wheels.  Take a look at this VIDEO to watch just how differently kids ride a balance bike vs. training wheels.

You can learn more about the pitfalls of training wheels on our page: Training Wheels: 10 Common Questions Parents Ask.

Is a balance bike better than a tricycle?

Balance bikes are much safer and more practical than tricycles.  With three wheels, tricycles are slow, awkward to maneuver, and easily tip on uneven or angled surfaces.  On a balance bike, children are focused on balancing, rather than pedaling.  As a result, they are more prepared for an unexpected loss in balance and are much less likely to fall.

Toddler riding a balance bike, different toddler riding a tricycle with his mom's help

Toddlers can also walk or run for several miles on a balance bike, but can rarely make it to the end of a block on a tricycle.  Tricycles are simply too inefficient for kids to ride long distances, which is why they often come with handles for parents to push, like the Radio Flyer Deluxe Steer and Stroll Trike.  Check out our video of a 22-month-old’s experience on a tricycle and a balance bike.

You can read more about the debate between balance bikes and tricycles on our page: Balance Bikes vs Tricycles.

How do you ride a balance bike?

There are four stages to learning how to ride a balance bike. While some kids need a little instruction, most kids intuitively move through these stage on their own. So you don’t really “teach” a child to ride a balance bike. These stages simply help parents to understand what “learning to ride a balance bike” should look like.

  1. Stand and walk
  2. Sit and walk
  3. Sit and run
  4. Run, glide, and explore!

Perhaps the most important take away is that kids move through these stages at very different rates. Depending on age, athletic ability, temperament, and desire, the amount of time a child takes to “master” a balance bike varies greatly. For a much more detailed look at these stages, check out our article How To Ride a Balance Bike.

Where do they put their feet?

Balance bikes do not require a footrest. Kids naturally pick up their feet as they are gliding. In all our years of testing, we have rarely had a child ask where to put their feet on the bike, but A LOT of parents ask that question :-).

How much does a balance bike cost?

Balance bikes come in all price ranges, from $50 to $200+.  Essentially any balance bike can teach your child how to balance, but there are vast differences in quality, performance, and durability. The greatest advantages of higher-end bikes are their stability and safety features; they are much easier to learn to ride on and easier to control.

We’ve personally tried and tested over 100 balance bikes to help you determine the best and shop smarter.  Here are a few of our standout favorites in different price ranges, or you can view a full lists of our favorites on the following pages: 10 Best Balance Bikes or 10 Best Balance Bikes Under $100

Banana BikeStriderwoom 1

Can I use a regular bike as a balance bike?

For kids ages 5 and up, removing the pedals of a regular bike is a good and affordable option, but is unpractical for toddlers and preschoolers. Pedal bikes are much heavier than balance bikes, making them more difficult to learn to balance.  

It’s important to remember that balance bikes are more than simply the means to an end.  While balance bikes DO prepare kids to ride a bike, they also offer toddlers years of fun and independence BEFORE they are tall enough to fit on the smallest pedal bike.  

If you are considering taking the pedals off of a bike to use it as a balance bike, it’s best to do on a 16″, 20″, or 24″ bike. When a child is still small enough to fit on a 12″ or 14″ bike, even investing in a cheap balance bike would be a much better option. We discuss how to use a pedal bike as a balance bike here.

Crank arm with pedal attached, then crank arm with pedal removed.

My child won’t ride his balance bike… what’s wrong?

Every child has a will of their own, and sometimes they just refuse to do what you want! It often takes younger toddlers several months to be consistently interested. For example, at 18 months, our toddler walked with her balance bike for about 2 weeks. And then for 5.5 months she wouldn’t touch it! Miraculously one day, she just picked it up and started going. We haven’t been able to stop her since!

If your child doesn’t seem interested, keep the balance bike around so they can see it and use it when they feel the time is right. Resist the temptation to pressure them. We’ve seen time and again that kids will be interested when they want to be interested.

It can also be helpful to take your child somewhere that they can see other kids riding balance bikes. When they see other kids doing it, they realize that it’s not that hard and they want to be in on the fun!

Kids who have tricycles, scooters, or bikes with training wheels can be more resistant to ride a balance bike. Why? Balance bikes require a little more effort to learn but offer far greater rewards in return.  If you think this might be the problem, remove these other distractions and only offer up the balance bike as a possibility.

Best case scenario, we encourage parents to not introduce a tricycle, training wheels, or scooter until after a child has mastered a balance bike.

Once mastered, toddlers love the independence and sense of accomplishment they get from riding a balance bike and rarely touch a tricycle or training wheels again.  Whether it’s being stopped by strangers on a walk or bombarded by kids at the park, kids quickly realize that there is something cool about riding on two wheels and want to be part of the action. 

Do balance bikes need brakes?

The primary way a child stops a balance bike is with their feet. Some kids use flat feet to stop, while other drag their toes behind them (which may lead to new shoes more often!).

When a child is 2.5 to 3 years old, they are generally developmentally ready to use a hand brake. However, most toddlers still rely mostly on their feet to stop.

So while not necessary, there are two advantages to buying a balance bike with a handbrake. First, as kids get older, more confident, and ride more aggressively, a handbrake really is a huge safety benefit.

Second, if your child can learn to use a handbrake before they transition to a pedal bike, that’s one less thing for them to worry about when they make that transition.

In a nutshell, even if you buy a balance bike before your child is ready for a handbrake, it will come in handy later!

How do I choose the best balance bike for my child?

While balance bikes seem simple, there are actually quite a few features you need to consider to find the perfect balance bike for your child.

For example, what size is the best fit? (Remember, they are not one-size-fits-all!!) Do you need air tires or foam tires? How much does weight matter? Is one brand better than another? We cover all these features and more in our Balance Bike Sizing and Buying Guide.

Balance Bikes 101 – Guide for Parents

Want to learn more about balance bikes? From how to ride a balance bike (Chapter 5) to how to know when to move them up to a kids bike (Chapter 7), we’ve got you covered! The links below will direct to additional articles on our page.

CHAPTER ONE: What is a Balance Bike? (Your are here)
CHAPTER TWO: Balance Bikes vs. Training Wheels
CHAPTER THREE: Balance Bike Size and Buying Guide
CHAPTER FOUR: 10 Best Balance Bikes
CHAPTER FIVE: How to Ride a Balance Bike
CHAPTER SIX: Fun Places to Ride Your Balance Bike
CHAPTER SEVEN: Balance Bike to Pedal Bike Transition

NEXT:  CHAPTER TWO: Balance Bikes vs. Training Wheels  

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