In a world of fake news, it's a good idea to question everything presented to us on the internet. This is especially true of websites that share their "reviews" of the 10 best fill-in-the-blanks. As a general rule of thumb, if the review is sending you to AMAZON to buy their recommendations, the site was most likely created [to make a fast buck] by clever marketing *experts. (There are exceptions, check out the end of this article.) Their goal is to earn an easy Affiliate commission from Amazon. Regrettably, the overwhelming majority of these "10 Best" sites never physically reviewed any bikes, never possessed one. There is no laboratory. There are no kids test-riding the bikes. This is the Go-To shortcut to making it big as an Amazon Affiliate: Take the top 10 best selling balance bikes on Amazon and copy them. Reaping rewards without any real work? Is there no shame? Is this the kind of advice worth betting your hard-earned money on?
Let's be clear: Amazon's depiction of the top 10 balance bikes is based upon volume, and not anything else. Choosing these items to populate a 10-Best list is akin to throwing mud on a wall, as much as possible, and hoping that a lot of it sticks. When a typical Amazon Affiliate's product knowledge is nil, they will say anything to get you to click. Here's the problem: It stands to reason that the most-selling bikes on Amazon are also the cheapest. You get what you pay for, right? How can the cheapest possibly be the best? They're not the best, they are simply picked by an enterprising person betting on the numbers game working in their favor.
The Ford Escort was also a best selling vehicle, back in the 80s. Take note, Ford never claimed it was "the best", but they were proud to say it was "best-selling". A cheap affordable car is going to be very popular among the majority of Americans that have a sensitivity to cost. "Best-selling" does not mean "the best". Fortunately, the cost difference between the real bikes and the toys is anywhere from zero to the cost of taking the family to Chipotle for burritos.
The following features distinguish the 10 best balance bikes, separating them from the rest of the imitators. There are a few brands below that we do not even sell, and the links provided will take you to their respective websites. It's not about the money, there are no links here to Amazon, this article is about helping you find what you're looking for. So let's get started with the enhanced features that we'll use to separate the men from the boys in the balance bike world:
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)
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, at these prices it indicates low quality)
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)
If you're not a "bicycle person", a lot of the above could be lost on you. Don't worry, if you have a question I'm happy to answer it and stand behind my words: Reach out to me anytime: Ivan@WeeBikeShop.com
Getting back to the credibility of other "Review Sites".. please check the source of the words you are reading. There is not likely to be a signature, and even if there is, it's 99% guaranteed to be a person who is not a cyclist (but a self appointed "expert") I'm a real person with a real name and a Facebook profile and a Linked In account, I'm not hiding behind a corporate veil with no way to contact me. I'm also a 30 year veteran of competitive cycling. I've been racing my bike on the road, on the trails and in cyclocross since I was fifteen. I own a fleet of high end racing machines and have performed every bike repair imaginable. I've been to dozens of bicycle trade shows and am acquainted personally with the owners of most balance bike brands. I know my way around a bike, and would not risk my professional reputation by leading you into the weeds on a subject that I'm passionate about: #realbikesnottoys
So lets get to it! In no particular order, here are our top recommendations:
Yedoo TooToo $160 and $200
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.
Muna $120 and $160
What we love: For the money, Muna is a great best value. For the price of a bike with foam tires, you get inflated rubber tires, a real twin bearing headset, and hand brakes. Yes it does weigh more, but that also means that it depicts real bike riding a lot more accurately. Let's keep in mind that kids don't like a huge increase in weight when they graduate to their first pedal bike. Adapting to a heavier balance bike makes the future transition much easier. Muna comes in two styles, one is steel (RGB and Zing), one is aluminum (Pro Alloy and Glo Alloy). There is a boys version and girls version of both price points. The Muna has a minimum seat height of 13" so it's ideal for kids celebrating their 3rd birthday. The safety features packed into this very affordable balance bike make it a no-brainer for parents on a tight budget. Inflated tires, a real twin bearing headset and hand brakes for successful stopping. Everything a bike should have is included, not to mention one-of-a-kind color schemes.
Woom 1 $200
What we love: The Woom 1 has taken the US by storm with it's top shelf quality, beautiful fit and finish, and European genetics. With one of the lowest seat settings around, it's fine for kids with an 11" inseam, even before their 2nd birthday. Among the lightest of the bunch, it checks in at a little over 7 lbs but is strong enough to carry an adult. Industry standard bicycle components of the Woom 1 are easily serviced or replaced. Air filled rubber tires keep the bike stable in the corners and the v-brake provides ample stopping power for leaving skid marks on the sidewalk. The swooped frame makes step-through a bit easier, though this feature is moot once kids learn to mount their bike like adults- by throwing a leg over the saddle from behind. A threadless headset connects the frame and fork and the stem is really a work of art. Kids age 2-4 can ride the Woom 1 with ease. Our only trepidation is that the max seat height is a bit lower than the TooToo, so the Woom 1 might be outgrown a bit earlier than other bikes. Investing in a replacement TooToo seat/post increases the max seat height a bit, they are interchangeable. Woom offers a range of pedal bikes to followup with, so brand loyalty is very common with Woom owners. A little bit pricier than others listed here, but you get what you pay for, a true heirloom quality bike. Take note standard bike bells will not fit due to proprietary handlebar diameter, you must use a Woom bell with the Woom.
Ridgeback Scoot $200 and Scoot XL $210
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 attibutes: 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. A free bell, assembly tools and touch up paint is included.
Kinderbike Laufrad $120
What we love: One of the original balance bike brands with a long history and great reputation. This is not a flash-in-the-pan company, they have been producing their fine balance bikes for over a decade. Like the Muna, this bike packs every important safety feature into a very affordable package. Inflated rubber tires, alloy rims, twin bearing headset, v-brakes, aluminum frame. Everything a discriminating parent is looking for is provided for short money. The Laufrad comes with two seatposts just like the Scoot, so it's seat height ranges from 13" to 19" (Scoot's seat range is 13" to 20") The cockpit of the Laufrad is a little bit tight, it would benefit from a longer stem but this is a super easy DIY upgrade for handy parents. We look forward to the day when the Laufrad uses decals instead of stickers, but apart from this the Laufrad has earned and deserves a place among the top 10 balance bikes on the market. This one is built like a real bike, not a toy, and comes with a very affordable price, like the Muna. Comes with complimentary reflectors, assembly tools and a bell.
Glide Bikes $110-$140
The Glide Bike comes in a few different sizes: The Mini Glider, The Ez-Glider and the Go-Glider, and they are all upgradable with an optional drivetrain. What this means is that you can attach cranks, chainring, pedals and chain and convert it into a pedal bike. We have reservations about this idea, mostly relative to geometry (The crank arms are very short, the gear inches are very small and the position of the pedals is a bit off- all due to compliance with certain CPSC regulations for pedal bikes) Misgivings aside, the Glide Bikes family of products has been around for a long time and has been a highly successful contributor to the balance bike market for many years (like Kinderbike). Spoked wheels, rubber air filled tires, hand brakes, twin bearing headsets- all of the things that a real bike should have are part of a very affordable package. The ability to add pedals is a desirable feature, but we would warn parents that when a bike tries to be two things, it tends to do one of those things half as well as the real thing. A Glide Bike would please any parent and child looking for a solid well-built balance bike. The add-on drivetrain is nice, but don't expect it to perform as well as a regular pedal bike. The different sized models are accommodate kids from as young as age two all the way up to age 8. Glide Bikes has been around long enough to know that discriminating prents are looking for more than foam tires and plastic bushings. This is a real bike, not a toy.
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.
The brand that started it all with their wooden models launched in 1997. Hand crafted in Germany, the Likeabike brand was the very first company to mass-produce balance bikes. An aluminum version was introduced that set the bar really high for every brand that followed. It features high end tires by Schwalbe Germany (the inimitable Big Apple). It has an elastomer installed in the frame that provides shock absorption- the first and only bike of it's kind. It has alloy components throughout, making it very manageable for kids as young as age two at only 7.5 LBS. The Jumper has a steel fork (as do all good balance bikes- aluminum does not make a good material for a bike's fork. When aluminum is stressed, it tends to crack and fail without warning, whereas steel can be bent repeatedly many times before failure) It's shipped in a suitcase style carton with all of the components neatly arranged and safely separated from one another. The Jumper is always a head turner that parents are proud to get for their kids. The only drawbacks of the Jumper are price and brakes. It's a little bit pricey at $300 and it does not come with brakes- they can be added as aftermarket components, but only to the front wheel. (Yes it's possible for a child with super human hands to lock the front wheel and flip over the handlebars, there is about 1/1,000,000 chance of this actually happening) This is the balance bike that parents keep for life, it's just too nice to sell after kiddo is done using it.
Another distinguished UK brand that specialized in child sized bicycles and of course balance bikes. Early Rider's signature finish is a lacquer finish over raw aluminum, similar to PreVelo, below. Apart from our one trepidation (a lack of brakes) this range of 14" balance bikes is rock solid in terms of quality components and performance. We're less concerned about 14" bikes missing brakes, because they are generally intended forbidders age 4 and up, who tend to use better judgment on tricky terrain and relative to fast speeds. A brake would be welcomed though.. The sealed cartridge bearings spin like butter and the treadless headset and stem in the cockpit are very close to professional race bike quality. Old school cyclist will appreciate the riveted saddle elements which give the bike a classic look and feel. The "Runner" Series is available in three styles: Road Runner, with classic English racer drop bars. The Alley Runner, which is identical to the Road Runner, except for flat mountain bike style bars. And finally the Trail Runner XL, which has both flat bars and extra large knobby tires (Crown Gem) by the Vee Tire Company. (This is a custom bike exclusive to Tikes Bikes and WeeBikeShop, which also has boomerang shaped flat bar instead of the usual 25.4mm pipe style of bar that Early Rider used to provide for it) One tip: If the steering limitation bolt is removed and drilled out to a larger diameter, it IS possible to fit the Early Rider with a front caliper brake. This is also an option on the Kokua Jumper. Parents usually assume that this means kids will flip over the handlebars all the time, but we are pretty sure that kids are smart enough to know better. As long as they avoid panic braking situations, a 4 year old's hand strength is probably not sufficient to lock the front wheel up.
Very similar to the Woom1 balance bike, Prevelo is a top shelf product that recently launched here in California. It has every desireable feature from our list of criteria, apart from being a very new brand with a short reputation. The owners are passionate about cycling and offer a follow up range of premium pedal bikes, just like Woom. (all similar, but styled a bit differently, with more off-road options to choose from) Prevelo bikes are primarily silver in color, similar to the Early Rider brand bikes. The similarities between Woom and Prevelo are pretty obvious, but make no mistake this is a balance bike for the kid who has everything. Prevelo scores big points in the US because it's an American brand, albeit imported like every bike listed here. Perfect for kids age 2-3. Buy with confidence.
*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. Almond milk producers were sued by the Dairy Industry for good reason. They were deceptively profiting from the word "milk". Here it's no different. Perhaps a class action lawsuit against these toy imposters is will happen sooner than we think. 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, TikesBikes and Balance Bike Land, 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 October 2018 (12 hour event, 40-49 age group). Follow his journey to the start line on Instagram via @ivan_murat