We used to learn cycling by removing the training wheels off our bikes. I remember how tough that was, pedaling and wobbling around the roof of our multi-storey car park, with my dad holding my bike steady. But oh, when we finally got the hang of it! I recall the sweet sense of victory, of being able to balance, without needing someone behind you to hold your seat steady.
Our kids have it easier these days though, with the introduction of balance bikes, which are essentially child-sized bicycles, without pedals. If you think about it, cycling requires you to attain two skills: the ability to work the pedals, as well as the skill of balancing the bike to keep it upright while in motion. The use of a balance bike basically trains a child to balance BEFORE he transitions to learning how to pedal. This is opposite to how we learnt to cycle, i.e. learning to pedal using training wheels, then learning how to balance. However, this method seems far more effective, and most parents I know say that their kids transition over to a regular bike quickly after learning how to balance on a balance bike.
We've tried a few different balance bikes thus far, with Junior J learning how to ride using a Strider, and then progressing on to a Puky when we were overseas (which is a popular brand in Germany but not sold here). We were recently given the opportunity to review the First Bike, which Junior J is now currently riding. Here are some of our tips and thoughts for choosing a balance bike for your child:
:: Consider the weight and material:
Children using a balance bike tend to be aged two to five. This means the bike should be lightweight, so that they are able to easily control it. This also makes it easy for the child to carry the bike over bumps that they can't ride over. That aside, I found that in the initial stages of learning, Junior J would get tired of riding after a short while, and we would end up having to carry the bike. For the sake of those aching arms, lightweight is definitely the way to go! As such, we liked both the Strider and the First Bike as both were pretty light (the Strider is 3.1 kg, while the First Bike is 3.8 kg).
Weight aside, I find that the materials used to make the bike matter too. Most bikes have metal frames (like the Puky and Strider), which tend to scratch easily, and can get dinged up during falls. Durability-wise, I think bikes with wooden frames wear better, however, wooden frames tend to add to the weight of the bike, and water exposure might be an issue. As such, we preferred the composite frame of the First Bike, which was scratch resistant, and does not rust. Durability is especially important when it comes to families with more than one kid, since your child will not be using the bike for more than a couple of years, and it would need to stand the test of time (and lots of falls and bangs and scrapes!) in order for it to be passed on to the next kid.
|Source: First Bike Singapore|
Falls are really common when your child is learning how to ride a bike, and safety features really help to minimize the extent of the injuries sustained, so always check for these when choosing a bike. While the safety features in the Strider are minimal, we really liked the safety features incorporated in the First Bike. There's the steering limiter, which limits the steering to prevent the front from turning 180 degrees and causing falls, as well as recessed bolts, which reduce the likelihood of injuries when your child falls.
If you can see in the photo of the First Bike above, there are no protruding parts, bolts or sharp edges. Considering that most children tend to fall on top of the bike if they do fall, this reduces the severity of any injury. You can compare the three bikes in the following photo (from left to right: First Bike, Puky and Strider):
You can see that while the bolts are recessed for the First Bike, they are not for the Puky and Strider. For a child riding fast and falling suddenly from the bike, recessed bolts do minimize injury.
:: Types of tires are not just important for cars, they matter for balance bikes too:
The tires of the bike affect aspects such as cushioning during bumps, as well as what kind of terrain that the bike would do well on. For the Strider, the tires are made of foam, which while being puncture-proof, provide little traction and cushioning. This means that the rider would have to bear most of the impact while riding on bumpy paths or going down kerbs or over pebbles. Such a bike isn't very suitable for rougher terrain and is suited more for pavement riding. For the other two bikes, both have air tires, which do need to be occasionally pumped, but provide a whole lot more traction and cushioning from impact. One advantage of the First Bike is that there are various models available with different tires suitable for different needs (you can view the options here).
:: Seat characteristics determine if the bike is usable or not:
One key thing you must check before buying a balance bike is the minimum and maximum seat height, because the former determines if your child is able to ride the bike from the start, and the latter determines how long your child can use the bike. We were intending to let Lil J test the First Bike initially, since Junior J already had a bike, but the poor kid found that he was too small to ride the bike (he's pretty small for his age)! In the end, we ended up letting Junior J test the bike as the maximum seat height for the bike was higher than for both the Puky and Strider. When buying a bike, it would be best for you to bring your child to test the bike, so that you can determine if the seat height is suitable. In terms of smaller-sized children, the Strider would probably be one of the better options, since its minimum seat height is lower than the rest, however, First Bike also sells a lowering kit, which allows you to lower the seat further. Since the maximum height for the First Bike is higher compared to the Strider, the former would allow for a longer period of usage.
|Seats from top down: Puky, First Bike and Strider.|
Do also look out for the method used for adjusting the seat height. For the Strider, height adjustment requires a wrench for loosening and tightening the bolt, whereas for the First Bike, the height can be adjusted with just turning the screw below the seat, with no extra tools needed. However, we found that it was hard to tighten the screw sufficiently. The seat needed to be adjusted occasionally, or it would slip down after some time. This wasn't such an issue with the Strider, since you can tighten the bolt a lot more with the wrench.
|Seats from top down: First Bike, Puky and Strider.|
Finally, the shape and size of the seat makes a difference too. I loved how the saddled-shaped seat of the First Bike helped the rider to sit securely without sliding off (but do note that the shape does make getting on the bike slightly harder for much younger children), unlike the narrower seat of the Strider.
:: Brakes, bells and baskets:
I find brakes are not essential for children below three, since they usually do not have sufficient hand strength or size to grip the brake properly. However, for older riders they might be a useful feature to have on a balance bike. While the Strider doesn't come with a brake, the First Bike does, and Junior J enjoys the control he has over the bike using the brake.
That aside, the boy loves the bike basket that you can buy separately, which is easily fastened onto the bike with zip ties (though we find the ties somewhat unsightly!). He also loved the bike bell which comes with a built in compass.
All in all, the First Bike may be pricier than some other bikes in the market, but for such durability (it comes with a lifetime-warranty on the frame and fork, with a five year warranty on all other parts) and great safety features, it's a pretty good investment if you're looking for a balance bike! In the end, we sold off our Strider cheap to a friend, and opted to keep the First Bike as we felt it was a better bike. (If you would like to read up more, this post is excellent, as it discusses all the features you need to know about balance bikes, as well as compares many models available in the market.)
We hope these tips on choosing a balance bike would come in handy when you go bike shopping. If you would like to purchase a First Bike, key "makingmum" at checkout to get 15% off your purchase. You can also like their FB page for more updates on their promotions!
Finally, First Bike is kindly sponsoring a giveaway of a Street model First Bike and basket to one reader of this blog! The winner would be able to choose the colors of their bike (pink, blue, red, green or violet) and basket (pink, black, blue or red). Follow the instructions in the Rafflecopter app below to enter the giveaway, and do note you need to complete ALL 4 steps to qualify. We've had issues loading the page needed for Step 4 on our mobile, so its best to do all the steps while on a desktop.
Disclaimer: We received a bike, basket and bell from First Bike for review purposes. No monetary compensation was received, and other bikes and opinions are our own.