A good balance bike helps little kids develop the coordination and confidence they’ll need to ride a pedal bike—things they won’t get with training wheels. We spent about 40 hours researching and assembling 13 balance bikes, and subjected them to a cadre of highly energetic 2- to 8-year-olds. After all this—and after consulting with fellow parents and industry professionals—we’re judging the Strider 12 Sport as the best balance bike for most kids (and their parents).
The Strider 12 Sport Balance Bike hides prodigious design beneath a veneer of simplicity. It is the most popular balance bike on the market, and we understand why: easy assembly, a wide range of size adjustability, light weight (6.7 pounds), and a low, 8-inch stand-over height for easier balance. Of all of the bikes here, its design feels the most, well, mini-me-friendly with kid-narrow handlebars and toddler-size grips. Its seat post has the widest height adjustability range of any bike we tested (9 inches!). Its simple design includes an ultra-light, maintenance-free nylon bushing headset (the pivot point that lets the handlebar turn), very lightweight plastic wheels, pleasantly grippy foam rubber tires that never need inflating, and footrests, which is a nice feature when a kid starts to try tricks like bunny hops, or just want to rest their feet on a gradual downhill. We also liked the full-length handlebar pad, for when bunny hops go awry. The 12 Sport comes brake-free, but Strider offers an add-on foot brake for hilly terrain.
Our experts agreed: Spend less than $110 on a balance bike, and you’ll have to make some trade-offs. While the steel-framed Banana Bike LT V2 offers what we consider two of the most important features for beginning kids—low stand-over height and light weight—at a very affordable price, it took longer than 45 minutes to get it truly dialed out of the box. But, the frame is well-engineered, and the range of height adjustability for the handlebars is substantial and adequate for the seat (about 3 inches). The Banana’s foam tires work fine on paved and carpeted surfaces, but were quite slippy on kitchen linoleum and hardwood floors (unlike our top pick and runner-up). I needed to loosen its wheels with a pair of wrenches (which is a bummer, as the bike comes with only one wrench) because their spin was slow, while its bike-standard ball bearing headset arrived over-tightened, making turns of the handlebar notchy. The bike is nonetheless handsome and it performs well—once mom or dad (or a local bike shop) gets it good to roll.
The Strider 14x Sport represents a tiny segment of balance bikes that can be outfitted with a sprocket assembly that quickly converts them into solid, no-compromises pedal bikes. While we loved both the Strider 14x Sport and its nearest competition, the LittleBig 3-in-1, the Strider is lower in price and has a wider range of size adjustability. Geometry-wise, the 14x, which has 14-inch wheels (unlike the rest of the balance bikes we tested, which had 12-inch wheels), the Sport is meant for kids in their mid to high 3s up to age 7. It features an appropriately low step-in height of 10 inches; a long, stable 28½-inch wheelbase; and a remarkable seat-height range of 15 to 22 inches. Our favorite feature: the smart half-width pedals that let kids put their feet down to stop without the possibility of being whacked by the pedal, and won’t scrape during sharp cornering. Pair all that with a handlebar stem that can be raised nearly 4 inches, and you have an incredibly versatile bike, size-wise.
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