You don't have to look very hard for reviews of any given product. Balance bikes are no exception. There is a huge groundswell of people seeking to profit from the popularity of balance bikes, and they want to do it with minimal work. We would recommend limiting judgment of balance bike reviews to the few people who are actively engaged in the trade, instead of those who are simply stealing content from other fake review sites and pretending to have actually seen, touched or test ridden a bike. The goal of such sites (which probably also review diapers, bluetooth headphones and car tires) is to earn an easy Amazon commission by sending you to a product that they believe you will buy based on trumped up praise.
That's not what this is. This is a list that required 13 years of selling only balance bikes and servicing customers who buy them, to create. We also caution against fake Amazon reviews. There is documented evidence that a large portion of 5 star reviews are placed by unscrupulous individuals who charge a fee for them. You can read all about it right here. But do come back to us for our recommendations.
Bottom line, if a balance bike has a suspiciously high number of 5 star reviews on Amazon, be on guard for a disappointing buying experience. A lot of our products have been selling for years on Amazon, but we have never solicited reviews from customers or paid people to post them like a lot of brands do.
The following features distinguish the 10 best balance bikes, separating them from the rest of the imitators.
1. Inflated rubber tires (Rubber grips, EVA foam slips- very dangerous)
2. Hand controlled brakes (dragging the feet to stop only works at very slow speeds and only on paved surfaces)
3. Twin bearing headsets (this is the component that connects the frame to the fork- it should not be a plastic bushing or connected with a quick release clamp)
4. Proper geometry (this includes cockpit size, handlebar position and fork rake- a highly neglected aspect of cheap balance bikes)
5. Spoked wheels (we're referring to metal spokes here, not the plastic mag wheels)
6. Weight (lightest does not equal the best, it means that essential safety features are missing)
7. Weight capacity (beware of bikes with ~60 lb weight limits, they're toy industry knock-offs)
8. Brand reputation (brands that profit from using the word "bike" while providing consumers with a toy- deceptive marketing should not be rewarded with your money)
Yedoo TooToo $199 and up for enhanced models
What we love: The TooToo is a tiny bike with a big heart and a strong back. Weighing only 8.2 lbs but capable of carrying a 110LB load, it fits kids age 2-4 with it's seat height range of 12" to 18". Some of the features that parents appreciate include premium all-terrain Kenda brand tires, angled valve stems for easy inflation, steering limiter and high end V-brakes by Tektro (the biggest producer of bicycle brakes in the cycling industry). The saddle has a distinctive scoop shape to hold tiny bottoms in place. We also love the unitized stem/handlebars with a proper amount of reach. This means the handlebars are positioned forward of the steerer tube, unlike inferior bikes which have cheap T-shaped handlebars and position the handlebars way too close to the rider's chest. (with the TooToo, arms are properly fully extended while riding, elbows are not bent as with inferior brands) The TooToo also comes in the widest range of designs of any brand (Carrot Juice, Ambulance, Happy Monster are cool examples). There is also an upgraded aluminum model (called the YooToo) that weighs only 7.5 lbs, with dual rear drop-outs for an extended seat range that drops as low as 11". One feature of TooToo balance bikes is the reflective dots printed on the sidewalls of the tires. Enhanced visibility in low-light conditions is always a plus.
Ridgeback Scoot $200 and Scoot XL $299
What we love: This bike is a workhorse. The Scoot is a bike developed and engineered in the UK by the innovative folks at Ridgeback, a company that has been producing bikes since 1983. UK's first mountain bike was produced by Ridgeback and the Scoot was originally launched in 2007, so it's immensely popular in the UK and the EU. Some really cool attributes: It has no weight limit, it is safety tested BOTH for toy industry and bicycle industry protocol, and it comes in two sizes to fit kids age 3+ and 4+. The frame is built using 6061 aluminum alloy, paired with a hi-tensile steel fork. A twin bearing headset endures the trauma of riding on any surface. Scoot comes with two seatposts, a short one for age 3-4 and a longer one for age 4-6. For kids under age 3, the seat can be lowered an extra inch to 13" using the optional WeeDropper attachment. Angled valve stems make inflating the tires easy. Beautiful decals are protected under a clear topcoat, so no stickers to get dog eared and peel off. (Another big giveaway when it comes to cheap knock-offs) To top things off, the Scoot balance bike was used to achieve the World Balance Bike Speed Record of 38 mph. This is the bike brand that originally coined the term "Real Bikes Not Toys". It does cost a little bit more than some of the others, but its the kind of bike that will endure consecutive use by many siblings and it's industry standard bike components are all easily sourced and replaced. In the United States, we remove and discard the stock all-plastic brake lever that comes with Scoot (same as found on the Woom balance bike) and substitute an all alloy premium brake lever by Tektro.
One of our favorite brands, Saracen has been around since 1983, quietly making some of the worlds best downhill and cross-country mountain bikes in the world. (Three world champion titles were won on Saracen- see Mannon Carpenter and Matt Walker). With such high-end genetics, the Saracen designers did not disappoint when they designed one of the most stylish and durable balance bikes in the world. Sharing a few components with the Ridgeback Scoot/XL, it comes from the same producer in Thailand that has an output of 1 million bikes per year. (think bicycle factory, not toy factory). For 2018 the Freewheel balance bike has been updated and enhanced specifically for the US market. Look for premium Kenda contact tires, angled chrome valve stems, and an amazing scooped saddle with integrated carry handle. This is the only childs bike seat that has a plastic covering underneath, concealing all of the usual staples that protrude from other saddles. Clean, safe and washable. Sized for kids with an inseam of 13" to 20:, the Saracen Freewheel uses a single over-length seatpost to accommodate kids age 2 to 5. Comes with complimentary assembly tools, touch up paint, a spare set of axle nuts and a bell.
*In the world of Amazon Affiliates, there is only one that has been around the longest, that specializes in kids cycling products and which does a lot of hard work testing and reviewing every balance bike in existence (also pedal bikes, helmets and trailers) Two Wheeling Tots- they put every bike through the ringer and provide unbiased reviews and ranking, without regard for the Amazon volume numbers that every other reviewer uses to compile their list. If Two Wheeling Tots likes it, you can trust their professional opinion and make a proper buying decision.
In conclusion: There are dozens of bikes that did not make this list. We'd prefer not to mention them by name, but you can easily determine the reasons by referring to the 8 point list at the beginning of this article. If a balance bike has the following issues, it really does not deserve the distinction of "bike" and it's brand is profiting from a deceptive misuse of the word, a little bit like "almond milk".
-EVA foam tires
-No hand controlled brakes
-Very low weight limit (60 LBS or less)
-Poor geometry/small cockpit
-Zero fork rake (causes twitchy handling and jack knife accidents)
-Simple T-shaped handlebars with no forward reach
-Use of plastic bushings and quick release clamp connecting frame and fork
-Ultra-lightness being pushed as a top feature
Here's a great example of how any of the above recommended bikes stack up against the bargain priced knock-offs. We prepared this handy chart of features in our Authoritative Balance Bike Comparison Chart to highlight the safety features that you get when you spend a little bit more. The TooToo is used as an example, but any of the above can take it's place. Don't let the toy industry lead you into the weeds. It is not cool to represent a product as "safest and best" when we can clearly see that it is the farthest thing from it.
It's true that the best bikes cost more, but please consider that cycling is an inherently dangerous activity, and consider the excessive amounts of money spent previously on items like high chairs, strollers and car seats. These are all safe to the extreme, even though all the child is doing is sitting. We are talking about bikes here, controlled solely by a young toddler. If an extra $50 is all it takes to enhance the safety of their first cycling experience, it's money well spent. Keep in mind that resale value is going to return the excess amount paid for your bike, right back into your pocket. Be careful shopping for balance bikes, whether my recommendations are used or not. Since awareness of balance bikes is still so low, the tendency of parents is to buy the first product that they encounter. This is a recipe for buyers remorse. Do your research, compare features, and avoid the toys that are masquerading as bikes.
Ivan is a Category 2 USCF licensed competitor specializing in sprinting and criterium racing. As the owner of WeeBikeShop and TikesBikes, Ivan is a respected member of the cycling community and the cycling industry. With a large collection of wins and podiums over the past 30 years, he's an ideal source for no-nonsense information relative to bikes of all kinds. As of this date, Ivan is training to compete in the 6-12-24 Hour World Time Trial Championships in Borrego Springs CA in November 2019 (12 hour event, 40-49 age group). Follow his journey to the start line on Instagram via @ivan_murat