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