Review: Strider 12 Balance Bike

Pros

  • One of the most affordable quality balance bikes around
  • Low seat design fits most toddlers
  • Lightweight steel frame makes for a bike that is easy to control and lasts through multiple children
  • Foam flat-free tires are versatile enough for pavement and natural surface terrain parks

Cons

  • Foam tires provide less traction and are less shock absorbent
  • Seems to wobble slightly at high speeds
  • Lack of brake can be tough on shoes

Bottom line

For the average rider, Strider Bikes are one of the best values out there. While you can pickup cheap low-quality balance bikes for less than a Strider, high-quality balance bikes range from $100 – $150+. The Strider Classic at $90 is a great deal: it is versatile, long lasting, and maintenance-free. If price is less of a concern and you want your kid to have a higher performance balance bike, then look to with bikes with air tires and a hand brake.

Review

Back when I grew up, bicycles with training wheels were the popular choice in the U.S. for teaching children to ride. Today, balance bikes are far more prevalent here and manufacturers say kids on balance bikes learn to bike faster because “they learn to balance and countersteer first and then to pedal later, and that training wheels slow learning because kids become too dependent on them, acquiring bad habits.” There’s also a lot of discussion – and it is really intuitive when you see it in action – that kids who start on balance bikes pickup pedal bikes at a younger age, by as much as two or three years. One of the most popular balance bikes today is Strider Bikes.

Our children started riding Strider Bikes each when they reached the age of about two. The process for each child was remarkably similar. Since the seat on Strider Bikes is low, our children – even Silas who is shorter – was able to start “riding” as a toddler in a very similar way to walking or running. We began in our driveway, then moved onto our neighborhood sidewalks, and pretty soon I couldn’t keep up with them by bike and we moved onto the local terrain park. The terrain park is well-designed to supported riders of different ages and skills and so it was easy to find hard packed dirt tracks with minimal bumps, rocks, and logs. Amazingly, within the first visit both children graduated to the pump tracks with near vertical tracks and skills loops that present all sorts of natural obstacles that I would have never guess a Strider Bike could handle.

At age three, both children transitioned to a pedal bike. Once they had interest, which varied between children, it was such a smooth transition from balance bike to peddle bike for both children that there isn’t much to remark about it. For example, my son, Silas, had almost no interest in the peddle bike until he was almost four but then one day decided to teach himself in our driveway. On that first day, he was able to ride circles – literally – around us. Three days later he rode from school dropoff/pickup, around the lake, through a tunnel, returning to our house barely stopping. Less than a week later, we were at the terrain park.

The downsides of Strider Bikes are tradeoffs and worth considering. The foam tires are wonderful because not once in half a decade have I had to do any pumping or repairing of them. However, compared to rubber air-filled tires, foam tires are less shock absorbent and provide less traction… so less grip and less cushion on varied terrain. At high speeds, the lack of absorption and traction makes the bike less stable. These aspects limit the capabilities of the bikes and the skill growth of my children. It’s also caused some pretty tough over-the-handle-bar crashes that I think would have been avoided with air tires.

Lastly, the lack of the brake can be problematic. Since children first learn by running or walking, their instinct is to put their feet down in a similar way but that can cause them to crash when going too fast. This has happened to both my kids and it’s not a pleasant experience. If you have steep hills that you’ll be going down or just generally find you are reaching high speeds, you need to teach your child a way to slow down. The alternative we use is to drag the sole of shoes on the ground. This isn’t something children will see so I model it for them. This braking style works well (and I prefer it over introducing a hand-brake that they would need to learn in addition to balancing, which may not be feasible at too early an age) but it can eat shoes if you’re a frequent rider. I’ve also seen kids drag their toes, which has similar consequences for shoes but is effective and safer than trying to walk/run to stop.

Strider Bikes have made teaching our children how to ride a joy and incredibly easy. The transition from these balance bikes to peddle bikes has taken both of our children just a few days. Strider Bikes are surprisingly versatile, rugged (we’ve even driven over ours accidentally and the frame barely bent!), and affordable, and I continue to believe they are a terrific value. For those who are not price sensitive, I recommend looking into a balance bike with air tires.

Besides Strider Bikes, there are a number of other quality balance bikes available from a variety of manufacturers. The things to consider when looking a balance bike for your child include tires (foam or air filled), wheel size (which is a basic indication of the size of the bike), seat height, frame material, brake (keep in mind most kids don’t have hand-eye coordination until age 3 or 4 so the reliability of hand brakes at that age is questionable), weight, and price.

Following is a list of balance bikes that offer 12” wheels with organized by price and whether or not they have foam tires or air tires.

Balance bikes with foam tires

Balance bikes with air tires

What’s your kid’s favorite bike? How come?

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