Turnertoys Home Page: favorite American Classic Toys Ideas, Essays, Reports on health, toy safety, psychology, and whatever else interests us    Reports on health, toy safety, psychology,  and whatever interests us.
Home Page

Outdoor Pages:
Hikes, Mountain Adventure, Nature, Fall Foliage in Vermont, New Hampshire, & Maine

Original Articles on Toy Safety, Health, Psychology
and whatever interests me

Natural Wood Infant Rattles

Wooden Growth Charts

Balance Bikes: History, Pros & Cons, and Product Review 
© Ed Loewenton October 30, 2008
To Print This Page (Windows) : <ctrl+p>, <enter> 
Update 7/2/2010 (see bottom of page)

These tiny toddler bikes without pedals are
really a great, once-in-a-century re-discovery.

According to Wikipedia:
     The original version was called a "dandy horse" in Europe, among other names, and was patented in January 1818 by Baron Karl von Drais in Mannheim, Germany. Drais's name for it was Laufmaschine (German for 'running machine'), and it also became known as a velocipede." They have been re-born in the past few years as a much more effective way to teach kids as young as 2 to ride bikes, younger than previously thought possible. The name "balance bike" seems to be emerging from the pile of attempts to figure out what to call them. 

     "Teaching" is really not the right word. Most kids require no adult help or instruction with balance bikes, beyond setting it up and getting the seat adjusted to exactly the right height, and perhaps a brief explanation about what it is for. Seeing another child ride a balance bike with some skill is probably the best guide for a youngster. "Teaching" will probably ruin the experience for the child, and turn a natural instinct to move and steer the balance bike into resistance or disinterest. 
     These things really do work with little kids! I have play-tested three different brands with local children, and they 1) love it and can't get enough of it and 2) are more or less able to ride a balance bike and coast on it almost from start, depending on their athletic talents (genetic) and physical fearlessness vs timidity (generally gotten from the parents, but that's another argument).
     One little fellow started riding one at age 28 months, at the age of 3 was building jump ramps, and graduated to a real bike at age 4. He tried a friend's bike with training wheels, and was unnerved and annoyed that he could not make it lean into turns, something he had gotten comfortable with from the first day or two on his own balance bike. Training wheels actually add to the likelihood of falls when a child is just starting out.

    In deciding which brands to sell, we assembled a number of brands, and play-tested 3 of them. We could be selling any of the many brands, or ALL of them. We are selling only two. As owner of a small toy-manufacturing business since 1979, I have experience evaluating  mechanical design and manufacturing quality, including such issues as suitability of design, choice of materials, usability and durability. I originally sold a wooden bike, which we called the Scootercycle (a Turnertoys "TM" trade mark!), which was better built than any of the cheaper wooden bikes (i.e., not the Like-a-Bike) on the market. It is still being sold by someone else under the name "Plim Woodie". 
     However, we decided to sell only metal balance bikes,  for 5 significant design reasons:
The metal frames are strong enough to allow a curve or s-shape, allowing a larger open area between the seat and front wheel/steering column. This makes it much easier to jump forward down off the seat without any risk of the child hitting a higher connecting bar, as in all the wood bikes. I.e., the metal bikes are built like "girl's bikes". This increases initial confidence and comfort for the new rider. 
2. The strength and formability of metal allows for tube-within-tube design and clamping, so handlebar and seat height are infinitely adjustable. Precisely adjusted seat height is especially critical in getting a child comfortable for his first ride. When we play-tested the Scootercycle, the only initial difficulty our athletically gifted 2 1/2 year old guinea pig had was in getting comfortable with seating position, because we could not get the seat height exactly right, and because of reason #1. 
3. Tube-within-tube design and clamping also allow the steering column to be completely enclosed, thereby excluding any chance of pinched fingers. 
4. Metal construction allows easier installation of extras such as handbrake and kickstand. We are not aware of any wood bike that has these.
5. The metal bikes are a great deal more durable, especially in the critical joint between handlebars and steering column. Our wooden Scootercycles were beautifully built, but under daily pounding the area of the steering column into which the handlebars are screwed disintegrated into splinters after 6 months. It might have lasted a little longer with a less athletic child. We reconstructed it with steel plates and epoxy. Other wood balance bike  brands such as Skuut have what I regard as structural design errors that I believe will shorten their useful lifetimes. 

     Finally, after taking a good look at several metal bikes, the Kettler, the Kinderbike, the Kazam, the Strider and the PV Glider, we ended up selling only two: the Kettler® Sprint balance bike and the Kinderbike® Laufrad.  
     We found the Strider to be cheaply made, in ways that would affect its suitability for kids. In assembling it, sliding the steering tube or seat into place scraped off paint. A "foot rest" was made of what appeared to be an industrial stair-tread material, abrasive enough to scrape a child's skin.
     I liked the PV Glider. It is made of light aluminum alloy, and has foot pegs for cruising, a good idea. The paint is attractive and somewhat more durable than the Strider's. However, it does not have a mechanical steering angle limiter, which increases the chance the bike will jacknife. Remember when you were first learning?. 
     This is not a problem once the child learns to scoot along at speed and cruise, since at speed a bike steers more by balance shifts than by turning the handlebars, but it can be a deal killer for the somewhat hesitant 2-year-old who is just learning to sit on the bike, or who is walking beside it holding the handlebars.
     The other thing I don't like about the PV Glider is the quick release seat adjustment.  In order to secure the seat safely, this device must be adjusted so it requires real force to close the lever. Otherwise the seat may collapse or rotate unexpectedly, and could be a hazard. For kids age 2-4 an adult should adjust the seat for height and straightness, and make sure it is tight enough not to move. The Glider also has synthetic foam solid tires. This avoids flat tires, but the foam material does not have as much traction on pavement as rubber. Foam materials are also usually not as resistant to ultra-violet light (sunlight), and so are liable not to last as long.
     The Kazam has an excellent, scooter-like steel frame with footrest, but no brake or steering limiter. The steel frame makes it heavier than the aluminum bikes.
     Finally, the Like-a-Bike seems to be well made, but I see no reason to spend so much money for a toddler toy.

     The Kettler Sprint has none of these problems. It is in a class by itself. Instead of paint, it has polyester powder coating, infinitely more durable and scrape resistant, and unlike paint, has never to my fairly expert and extensive knowledge been associated with lead or other toxic hazard. It is all steel and heavy polyethylene, and while it weighs more than other bikes, it will outlast any 10 of them, a good thing for larger families. 
    The seat is the most durable, comfortable, and adjustable of any balance bike. The steering column has a clever internal gadget that limits steering angle, it has a handbrake that a small toddler can work effectively, and a kickstand. The steering column is assembled with a locating pin so that it is exactly straight from the outset, and remains that way.  The Sprint also has inflatable tires of a good quality, sticky rubber, and big, fat, impact resistant plastic spokes.  It also has mud guards. These are not just decorative - kids do ride through puddles! 
   With all this, the Sprint is only a few dollars more expensive than most brands.  As I said, I could be selling any or all of these brands at Turnertoys.com, and making more money, too, but have settled on only one, the Kettler Sprint. We have no connection to the Kettler company other than buying and reselling their products.
Update 2012:
     We decided the Kinderbike was a choice equally as good as the Kettler - a very different approach to design, but an excellent product, and by far the most popular these days. We started carrying it in 2011. See it at http://turnertoys.com/Balance-Bikes/ 

Top of page














McAfee Secure sites help keep you safe from identity theft, credit card fraud, spyware, spam, viruses and online scams