Balance bikes are all the rage, and many experts recommend them as an alternative to training wheels or tricycles for kids who are learning to ride a bike. Also known as running or push bikes, these models don't have pedals and are lower to the ground than most kids' bicycles, so children use their feet to propel themselves forward. Once the bike gets going, kids can lift their feet to glide and put their feet back down when they feel unstable. This teaches them to balance on two wheels, and experts say many kids can transition from a balance bike to a regular two-wheeled bike with no problems.
Experts agree that the Strider PREbike (*Est. $100) is the best balance bike. It comes in a variety of colors, including pink, blue, green and red, and it is recommended for children between the ages of 1 and 5. The steel frame is outfitted with puncture-proof polymer tires, integrated footrests and an adjustable handlebar and seat. Thanks to this adjustability, the Strider PREbike can fit children 30 to 44 inches tall, although an optional extra-long seatpost is recommended for children who are older than 4.
The Strider PREbike earns excellent reviews from parents and experts alike. Reviewers say they love the lightweight design -- at 7 pounds, the Strider balance bike is significantly lighter than most kids' bikes or tricycles -- so it is easy for kids to propel themselves forward. "The bikes are SUPER light and easy for the kids to pick up, which also makes it easy for them to learn to ride," says one parent at Target.com. Owners say their children love riding the PREbike, and it really does help them learn how to balance on two wheels. Most parents say their children were able to transition to a big kids' bike in no time, and many kids never needed training wheels. "After a few years practicing on a Strider PREbike, we think your 4-year-old will have no problem transitioning right to pedals," says Babble.com, which gives the PREbike a Babble Best award for Best "Big Bike" Preparation.
Although the majority of parents praise the PREbike, some critics say the price tag is too high. "As great as this little bike has been for us, I keep wondering why it costs $100," says one parent at Amazon.com. "There really isn't that much to it and I can't help but feel that I am paying more than I should be."
The Skuut Balance Bike (*Est. $70) costs a little less and is also well reviewed by parents, as evidenced by its Readers' Choice Award from Babble.com. Unlike the Strider PREbike, the Skuut bike has a wooden frame. It weighs about 10 pounds and is recommended for children between the ages of 2 and 5 years old. Components include pneumatic rubber tires and an adjustable seat.
Parents love the concept and say their kids pick it up in no time at all. "I think it really shortened up the learning curve by teaching the most difficult part (balancing)," says one owner at Amazon.com. Disney Family picks it as one of the best kids' bikes, and its testers say the bike is a big hit with their kids. Easy assembly is another plus. However, a number of parents complain about the bike's durability. Skuut says the bike should not be stored outside or exposed to the elements, but even when stored indoors, parents say the wood can warp or crack. "The wood is cracking in two places, one of which is the handlebars," says one reviewer at Amazon.com. "With such poor durability, I just can't recommend this bike." Others report broken wheels and loose hardware, and a number of parents say they wish they had purchased a steel-framed balance bike.
YBike's Original Balance Bike (*Est. $70) is more rugged than most balance bikes with its large, thick tires. It's recommended for 2- to 4-year-olds and weighs nearly 8 pounds. Babble.com says it's the best balance bike for young toddlers, who likely will be drawn to the colorful design. "With a chunkier, lower-to-the-ground design than other balance bikes on the market, the YBike has enough stability to make toddlers feel secure but also enough instability to teach them balance and coordination skills needed for pedal bike riding," says Michelle Horton.
Parents at Amazon.com agree that the YBike is a good fit for younger children because it is very low to the ground and the wide tires assist with balancing, especially compared to other balance bikes. "I am so glad we went with the YBike for my younger son as the Skuut is too difficult for him to ride," says one owner. The bike is easy to assemble, and the plastic frame is surprisingly rigid and durable. However, a number of parents say they wish the YBike had an adjustable seat, which would allow the bike to grow with their children. "I would like an adjustable seat, because I think the life of this toy is severely shortened by the lack of it," says one owner. "I believe that as my child grows it will soon become uncomfortable for him to ride this toy as it is pretty low."
Another steel-framed balance bike with good feedback is the KaZam Balance Bike (*Est. $100). Available in pink, blue, red or green, the KaZam bike weighs 11 pounds and has 12-inch rubber tires. Both the seat and handlebars are adjustable, so the bike is suitable for kids ages 3 to 6. The KaZam bike doesn't have as many reviews at Amazon.com, but those available are very positive. Parents like that it fits both taller and shorter children, and the seat is easy to adjust without tools. "I don't normally write reviews, but my daughter got this for her 3rd birthday and absolutely LOVES it!," says one owner. "She's a bit too short for a traditional training wheel bike but the KaZam easily adjusts to her height (and shorter)." Reviewers say the KaZam balance bike is more durable than wooden balance bikes. Even though balance bikes don't usually have brakes, one parent thinks brakes would be a good addition for coasting down hills.