Early Rider Balance Bikes Price: $159-$199 Rating: Strongly Recommend* Balance Bikes for preschoolers are becoming far more widespead in 2012 than when they were first introduced in 1999. Depending on where you live geographically, they are either easily found in every bike shop in town, or you have to order online to find your options. The design choices range from Waldorf-inspired wooden models to more classically designed metal frames. The only thing similar? No pedals.
One company that has stood out since their introduction into the bike world in 2006 is a British-based company, Early Rider. Their attention to design, quality in materials, and innovative attitude has elevated them above the standard metal frame designs we typically associate with bicycles for children. You can read previous spotlights on Apartment Therapy from 2009 and 2011. Recently, they added several more sizes and design variations to their line so that toddlers as young as 20 months to preschoolers up to 5.5 years old have the option of choosing a balance bike that specifically fits their height and leg length requirements. Curious to see how the different sizes and styles translate into usability, I brought my 2.5-year-old and a 4-year-old friend with us to our local bike shop, Clever Cycles, in Portland, OR.
For those unfamiliar, a balance bike is a smaller framed two-wheeled bicycle, typically with 12" wheels, and has no pedals. Children power the bike by walking or running their feet back and forth (think, Flintstones), while simultaneously counter-steering the handlebars to keep both wheels aligned and balanced upright as they glide along. These two main skills are the key to riding a two-wheeler; pedals add additional power, but at the fundamental level are not necessary. By learning how to balance and steer first, children can easily learn to ride a pedal bike without training wheels at a much earlier age, with most children bypassing the need for training wheels altogether. The argument against training wheels is that they actually change the balance skills needed to successfully ride a two-wheel bike correctly. While they can build confidence and teach how to pedal, once off, the child must still re-learn how to properly balance by counter-steering. Learning how to ride a balance bike first is recommended because the skill-set becomes a natural progression. Easy Rider has taken into account the fact that children are introduced into biking at all different sizes and ages, but most balance bikes on the market are fit towards the average 3-year-old size. By offering three different size options, any young child can find a model that fits for whatever size they are when they begin to ride.
We found that there was some cross-over between sizes and that each model has a range of adjustments to grow with your child. The 2.5-year-old fit both the Lite-12 and the Classic-12, but the Evo-14 was still a bit too large for his feet to comfortably reach the ground without stretching. The 4-year-old fit the larger model perfectly. The key to finding which bike fits best for your child is going to be based on two factors - purchase one of the smaller versions if the child is starting young, 20 mos - 3.5=years-old (and might be passing it on to a younger sibling once graduated to a pedal bike), or purchase the larger model if your child is starting around 3.5-5.5-year-old range. Both boys had a blast trying out the bikes, and the older one responded that his was super fast and that's why he liked it best.
I surprisingly learned that the balance bike easily fit in the back of my extended paniers, which makes family cycling with a toddler that much more inclusive. To find a dealer near you or to learn more, visit the Early Rider product website.
Pros:Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. (Images: Jena Murray)
• Quality wood construction
• 12-14" spoke wheels with inflatable tires (replaceable at any bike store)
• child-size foam hand grips and padded seat
• different sized models available to fit variety of child sizes
• excellent design proportions for appropriate balance technique
• gender-neutral color Cons: • Need to store indoors or under cover • more expensive than many traditional bikes • no additional color options. Our Rating: Strong Recommend* Recommend Weak Recommend Don't Recommend