Balance bikes are sparse in appearance, there are minimal moving parts which keep the maintenance down while there’s less to wear out or break, which is a good thing since they take a beating, but you might have noticed some come with brakes and some don’t, should I look for a balance bike with a handbrake fitted? is it worth the extra cost?
The brakes come fitted from the factory and on most bikes its unlikely you could retro-fit a brake to an existing bike due to frame constraints and spacings although there are exceptions, like the Strider foot brake, so it’s worth checking out the pros and cons of balance bike brakes and deciding if they are going to be a benefit to your child.
The Early Stages of Riding – 18 months – 2 Years
Kids as young as 18 months are riding Balance Bikes, and from then till around 2 years the bikes are kept simple to not overwhelm and confuse them. The learning stage is longer to get the hang the bike and once they are scooting around, naturally kids use their feet to stop and steady themselves, while their hand strength is still developing, they are holding on to the bars learning to control the bike as things can still be wobbly in the early stages. Having a handbrake would just be an extra distraction at this stage and most kids wouldn’t have the strength to pull the lever hard enough to get the most out of the brake.
Your child’s feet do the stopping which is plenty at this stage and for young riders, most manufacturers (there are exceptions) leave the handbrake off, also it’s common to have plastic spoked wheels with foam tires to help cut weight and keep the bike affordable. Another reason you won’t find brakes on the smaller Balance Bikes is the plastic wheels don’t work very well with rim brakes, you will mainly see alloy rims and spoked wheels with rim brakes.
The Next Step – 3 – 4 Onward
Closer to 3 years of age, kids start to build the hand strength and they are now likely to be traveling at higher speeds on their bikes, and with the all-terrain capability of these bikes, the possibility of not having enough stopping power in their feet might be a problem, plus they will really start chewing through shoes!
Bikes aimed at children of this age will usually have a rear brake, some might even have a front, and since your child coasts along seated or perched on the frame even just a rear brake work great with enough weight on the back in combination with their feet.
The Different Types Of Brakes on a Balance Bike
When looking at the types of brakes that come on different bikes, there are a few different types but the one to look for is the Vee-Brake or Linear-Pull.
They are an original Shimano design and were the preferred cable operated brake before disc brakes took over. They offer good power and modulation as long as they are kept in good working order. I would recommend sticking to these over the traditional caliper brake or drum style brake since both these designs require more lever force to get more power from them, which isn’t ideal for kids.
If you have a Strider Balance Bike, there is an aftermarket kit made by them which bolts straight onto your bike, it sits down by the rear tire and works as a foot brake so there’s no levers or cables at all, it fits all their 12” bikes and is an inexpensive way of adding safety to your child bikes when they become more confident.
Finding the right lever is important, cheaper, low-end bikes will have less ergonomic and usually larger levers while the better bikes will have a lever designed for small hands with an easy-to-reach lever blade. I have covered brake lever design in my coaster brake vs handbrake post which describes the different types of levers and how they will affect your child’s stopping power. A quick way to check yourself is to grab and pull the brake on with your ring or pinky finger, this is closer to the force your kiddy will pull them on with.
Which To Choose?
With or without brakes is fine but I recommend considering the long-term usage of the bike, are you going to get another balance bike down once they have learned on a lighter one? or you live in a hilly suburb or would like to take the bike off-road where a brake would be handy? If you’re buying for children above the ages of 2.5 or 3 I would recommend looking at a braked bike.
- Extra Safety
- Better For Hilly Areas
- Offers a Backup over just using feet
- Useful for more advanced riders
- Good for bigger kids
- Helps with the transition to a regular bike with brake levers
- A small amount of added weight
- Can be confusing for the youngest riders
- More moving parts
- Will require periodic maintenance
- Bikes are usually more expensive
So I hope this has given you some insight into the whole, balance bikes, and brakes thing, they really come in handy for older toddlers and understanding why they are being fitted to some and not others will help you make a more informed decision when you’re ready to buy.
Questions and Comments? Share your thoughts below.