If you’re shopping for your little one’s first runner bike, you can’t help but notice the emphasis that bike manufacturers, reviewers and retailers all place on balance bike weight.
And for good reason. Those first milestones of learning to stand, walk and balance on a runner bike are easier when the bike isn’t a tonne of bricks. In fact, the general rule of thumb is that a child’s first balance bike shouldn’t weigh more than 30% of their body weight – so you’ll find that many first balance bikes weigh in at only 2kg, which is perfect for your 1-2 year old.
But once your little one has the basic skills above covered, and they’re ready to leave the pavement, their balance bike requirements change. Yup, parents are no longer rushing to teach their kids to pedal, which is why trail-ready balance bikes have emerged as a legitimate sub-category of runner bikes, with many MTB brands downscaling their adult rigs to create mini-enduro machines. These new, more single-track ready bikes often weigh in at 4kg or more, and are better suited for 2-5 year olds.
With the above in mind, read on to discover the key features of off-road specific balance bikes, and learn why balance bike weight becomes less important once your little one hits the trails.
What to look for in a trail-ready balance bike.
Once your little one has the balance bike basics covered on their lightweight runner bike, look for the below to keep the good times rolling as you continue their progression off-road.
1. Wide, pneumatic tyres
Even the smallest bumps will have a large impact on little wheels, which means that comfort from the tyre is paramount as your little one becomes more adventurous. Yes, plastic or foam tyres are lightweight and perfect for getting started on your little one’s first balance bike, but they’re also super sketchy on anything other than concrete.
Having a big, wide, pneumatic tyre will allow for low tyre pressures, which will increase the contact area of your little-ones rubber, allowing their tyre to conform to trail imperfections, boosting grip on loose surfaces, and stopping them from sliding out when they leave the tarmac.
If you’re shopping for an off-road balance bike, you’ll want tyres that are at least 2” wide, as this will provide enough cushioning to make for a comfortable ride over most trail obstacles.
Expect a good set of 12 or 14 inch tyres to weigh around 800 grams for a pair, which is why lightweight balance bike manufacturers don’t supply them on their bikes, but that extra weight will bring huge benefits to your kids' enjoyment, comfort and safety – and increase the possibility of them falling deeply in love with the sport, hooray!
2. Kid friendly brakes
Whilst it’s relatively easy for your little one to stop themselves on the pavement, you’ll find it’s a whole different story when it comes to stopping on dirt. But fear not, thankfully many brands now offer child specific brakes on balance bikes – which are easy for little hands to operate.
Many of the off-road focused balance bikes offer brakes as standard, or if not, they give you the option to add them by featuring v-brake posts or disc brake ready frames. One advantage of disc brakes is that they have more stopping power than v-brakes, especially in the wet when rims become slippery, and little hands struggle for grip.
Bonus: Not only will adding a rear brake to a balance bike boost safety and control, it will also mean your little one can master braking ahead of learning to pedal, making their transition to their pedal bike far easier once the time comes. Awesome.
3. Build quality
Last but not least, if you’re hitting the dirt – you’ll want a balance bike that can stand up to the abuse that will come from being dropped, drifted and caked in mud, all in aid of your little one’s quest for adventure.
Look out for a bike that has an integrated, sealed headset like an adult bike, as this will be far more durable than lightweight plastic or open bearings over time. You’ll also notice that most of the off-road focused balance bikes have frames with a front and rear triangle which add stiff-ness, as well as a slacker, enduro-like head-angle – making them less twitchy to control as the pace picks up. In terms of other components to look out for; quality brakes, hubs, stems and bars (that are built for the trails) will add durability over the long term.
Having these scaled down ‘big bike’ features mentioned above will help your kids balance bike to withstand abuse, and a bonus – it will also aid resale value down the line, even after being caked in mud and washed down after every ride. Gotta fund their next bike somehow, right?
Myth-busting balance bike weight
Whilst off-road tyres and kid friendly brakes and a decent build quality make for heavier balance bikes that will tip the scales at around 4kg, that additional weight will add comfort, stability and control as you and your little one venture further off-road together.
A heavier (by comparison) 4kg bike will be far more stable than a 2kg bike over small roots and loose rocks, and nothing will put a kid off faster than feeling out of control with a bike that is bouncing all over the place. Heck, even adult bikes have become slightly heavier over recent years, with MTB brands acknowledging that weight isn’t worth chasing when it comes at the cost of rider comfort, or designing bikes built for purpose.
Oh yeah, and if you're worried about having to carry your little one’s bike once their legs give up, tow ropes and backpacks have taken the hassle out of this dilemma, allowing you to get further into the forest together. Oh to be a kid again!
From driveway to dirt.
While lightweight balance bikes have their place at the start of every kid's mountain bike journey, once it comes time to venture further from home, your balance bike kid will benefit from having a built-for-purpose bike to tackle any terrain.
If you've got a question about balance bikes or taking your little one off-road, let us know in the comments below. Enjoy the trails!