I was 22 when I first rode a mountain bike. Like many people, I had learned to ride at an earlier age, but never once on singletrack. Never with any intent other than finding the local Dairy Queen.
During my tenure of racing, I fell in love with a fellow racer. We went on to subsequently produce a tiny racer, a little girl with sparkling blue eyes and fiery red hair: Emma Patrice Olson. Or EPO, as we cleverly contrived. (We are still pretty proud of that one.)
The first time we left her for an overnight, it was so we could race the Chequamegon during her eighth week of life. We spent the entire weekend wondering if she was alright (of course she was) and if she was sleeping and eating enough (of course she was). We realized we had a new devotion in life. We were truly parents now.
Long before she was brought into the world, EPO received her first gift. It was a bright pink Sun balance bike from my husband’s employer and friends at the bike shop where he worked. I hadn’t seen many tiny bikes by that time, and was quite unaware of the variety on the market.
Fast forward four years: our EPO is on her third bike and has a few races under her 6T belt. She’s fearless, and her adoration of biking continually fuels us when our desire to ride wanes. She has since transitioned to a pedal bike, and we are proud to say she never needed training wheels.
It’s interesting that the above statement is the most prevalent battle cry of balance bike proponents. Many will tell you your child will never need training wheels. I genuinely feel instead that the best reasoning behind purchasing a balance bike is the coordination and stimulation your toddler will experience. Balance bikes may be all the rage these days, but their hype has been well-earned. Introducing a child to the world of cycling can be done at an inherently younger age, allowing them sooner opportunity to develop a passion for the sport.
So, perhaps you just received news you’re going to produce your own baby racer, or maybe you’re looking for the perfect gift for any parent-to-be… here is a great resource to start you on your research.
Top 10 Balance Bikes on the Market
Your childhood most likely included a Radio Flyer wagon. Now your child’s can include a Radio Flyer balance bike. It has the iconic paint scheme, sturdy steel construction, and a bell. It does feature an adjustable seat, but many users state the entire bike was difficult to assemble. However, there are many positive reviews online and it’s relatively low price makes this balance bike a great option for gifting.
[offer keyword=’radio flyer balance bike’]
This was the first balance bike I had ever seen with my own eyes. To this day, I have to correct myself because I repeatedly call most balance bikes “Strider Bikes.” Starting at about $90, your wee one could have one of the first bikes on the market for toddling tots. It even has fully adjustable seat and bars. If you get a chance, read Ryan McFarland’s story on striderbikes.com. His recounting about realizing pedals were merely ONE way of propulsion is just plain cool. Major plus–their customer service is touted as one of the best in the industry.
[offer keyword=’strider classic balance bike’]
I reached out through social media asking for help with this compilation. I only have personal experience with a handful of brands, but my social circle has had experience with nearly all of them. KaZaM was a brand I had never heard of before being told to check them out. KaZam has been featured nationally and has won numerous awards for their innovative bikes. They feature an easier step-in-frame (versus many balance bikes with a sloped downtube). They also feature real 12” inflatable tires. The KaZaM philosophy is based upon the idea that training wheels should be a thing of the past. For $60 and up, you can help them continue those ideals.
[offer keyword=’kazaam balance bike’]
This was EPO’s first bike: a Sun Lil Kittn Running Bike. It has a cartoon kitten on the saddle, so instantly it was her favorite thing in the world. Aside from that little feature, it has a sloped tube for easily stepping over and into the saddle. It also offers an adjustable seat and longer wheelbase than many of the other balance bikes out there. One negative we noticed in our ownership was that it did not hold up well after hours of trail use. Soon, there were a few clunks here and there, and the seat became crooked without an easy solution to fix it. However, if you are just looking for something to play on in the driveway or at the park, you’re not likely to have an issue.
[offer keyword=’sun balance bike’]
Many parents in my racing circle have purchased Specialized balance bikes. The Hotwalk seems to be the cycle of choice. It boasts real mountain bike-like geometry, quality materials, inflatable air tires, and a cushioned seat. The biggest complaint seemed to be focused on the seat height which, while adjustable, does not have a vast array of heights. MSRP sits at $170. True story: once you start looking into the commonly-known bike brands, you’ll see the price tag for balance bikes increase. Just as any bike enthusiast or troll on Twitter will tell you, you get what you pay for.