Once your toddler outgrows their ride-on toy, you may be thinking about what comes next in the wheels department. In our opinion, the best investment you can make is a balance bike.

What is a balance bike?

Also known as glider bikes or strider bikes, balance bikes are designed without pedals so that little ones can learn to balance on their own as they power themselves with just their feet. Eventually, when they have more coordination and trust, they can glide with their feet up.

Related: 10 best bike helmets for kids and toddlers (that they’ll actually want to wear!)

And you don't even have wait! Kids as young as 12 months (or even younger depending on the style), can develop the skills that eventually allow them to ride a regular bike, often without ever depending on training wheels. Best of all, there's really no "teaching" required. Because the design is so intuitive, most kids can hop on and figure it out all on their own. And unlike tricycles which are exhausting to pedal and get ditched after a block or two–leaving you to carry both kid and bike home while getting bashed in the shin–a confident balance bike rider can go for miles!

Most balance bikes are designed for ages 2-5, but just like regular two-wheelers, they're not one size fits all. Wheel sizes vary from 10-12" along with seat height which offers different ranges between models. The first step to figuring out which models to consider would be to measure your child's inseam. (The easiest way to think about it is that the minimum seat height should be equal to or slightly shorter than that.) When on the bike, their feet should lay flat on the ground, with a slight bend to the knees and a proper seat height.

Related: 10 of the best scooters for toddlers

Next, think about what kind of kiddo you've got. Are they a dare-devil in training? Opt for air-filled tires that provide more cushioning for those jumps and trail rides. It's also a good idea to choose a model that has a hand brake. Assuming they'll get the hang of riding fairly quickly, they'll need something other than their feet to help them stop.

From the ever-popular Strider balance bike to our best budget picks, these are the best balance bikes for toddlers. (And be sure to scroll all the way down to discover the shoes that won't wear out as they learn to ride!)

Best balance bikes for toddlers

Retrospec Cricket Baby Walker Balance Bike

Retrospec

$49.99

Cricket Baby Walker Balance Bike

From as early as 10 months, little ones can start to work their bike riding skills–even before they can stand or walk on their own! The sturdy Retrospec Cricket is a great style to start them on given its super compact size and double front and back wheel design. A limited steering radius keeps them from tipping too easily while the low-riding padded seat makes it easy to get the hang of pushing forward. It’s also equipped with slip-resistant, no-scratch wheels that make it suitable for indoor and outdoor riding.

Ages: 10 months-2 years

Strider 12 Sport Balance Bike

Strider

$109.99

12 Sport

A name that’s synonymous with balance bikes, Strider bikes get top marks from parents, kids and experts alike. And while you really can’t go wrong with any style, the 12 Sport eeks out a win for our brand favorite. Not only does it fit an impressively wide range of sizes (kids from 30-44 inches tall!), it’s also lightweight (6.7 pounds), easy to assemble and adjustable without tools. (I mean, they really do grow overnight, right?) No-flat tires are always ready to ride and toddler-sized grips make it easy for them to take control. Yes, it’s a bit more expensive than the Strider Classic, but with a post that can extend 3 inches longer and the addition of the handlebar pad, we think it’s worth the extra cost. And, since these high-quality rides can easily last through multiple kids, it’s really just pennies on the dollar.😉

Ages: 18 months-5 years

woom balance bike

Woom

$199

Woom 1

Called “perfection from top to bottom” by experts and beloved by Motherly editors, the Woom 1 is designed specifically for the needs of toddlers with features that make riding effortless and intuitive. For one thing, it’s got a low and long step through for easy mounting. Additionally, the long wheelbase helps keep little bodies upright with their weight centered–a position that makes finding (and keeping!) their balance much easier. Another helpful feature? Longer than average handlebars. This helps little ones maintain better control without tiring their arms out too fast.

Compared to other balance bikes, the Woom is definitely spendy, which means it makes a great ask for a collective big birthday or holiday gift. The good news is that Woom has a great resale value on Facebook marketplace or Craigslist so if you do decide to invest, chances are you’ll recoup a lot of what you spent initially. (It’s also made to be passed down, so it’s great for families with multiple kiddos.)  Other perks include: handle breaks which start the idea of breaking with your hands early and air tires that provide a better cushion compared to rubber or foam tires.

Ages: 3-5

Banana LT Balance Bike

Banana

$68.99

GT Balance Bike

For the budget-conscious parent, the Banana GT balance bike is unbeatable (plus it’s currently on sale!). The quality and design is far better than most other models in this price range with only minor concessions when compared to the more expensive options. (Most notably a lack of hand brake, a heavier frame and a bit more assembly.) It comes with air-filled tires that make for a smooth ride on every surface (indoor, pavement and even trails) and has a decent seat height range of 12.2″ – 17.3.″ We also love the super low step through and long wheelbase which makes finding their center of gravity as easy a possible.

Ages: 2-4

 

Gomo balance bike

GOMO

$69.99

Balance Bike

The only style comparable to the Banana within the price range is the GOMO. GOMO (which stands for “get out more often”) originally hit our radar for their awesome scooters, but earns top marks for balance bikes as well! It’s similarly affordable, super sturdy and made from high-quality materials. (It’s also a smidge lighter.) The intuitive design features an extended wheel base with lots of room to maneuver and grow, while a turn-limiter allows them to keep control as they learn to steer. Though it has a seat height range of 12-17.5″ which makes it friendly to the youngest riders, it’s worth noting that the handles are a bit higher than other styles–a detail which make make it tricky to steer properly if they’re too small but great for extended use.

And even though it’s a budget-friendly style, it’s still made to last through multiple kiddos.

Bonus suggestion! Learning to ride a balance bike can be a real beast on little kid shoes. After all, their feet provide the power to move and the power to stop. Holes and worn down soles abound. That's why we're thrilled about the cool new style from Keen that's specifically designed to stand up to the job. The Speed Hound features a toe bumper and tread that's inspired by bike and car tires which expertly grips the ground and won't wear out even as they drag their toes halfway down the street. And like every Keen style, they're built to last through multiple kiddos!

Keen Speed Hound

Keen

$48

Speed Hound

Available in five great colorways and both little and big kid sizes. Best of all, they’re on sale for 20% off until 5/31!

A version of this story was published March 25, 2021. It has been updated.