This post has been updated with the benefit of several months of extra use.
When you or I learnt to ride a bike we very probably started off on a very small bike with stabilizers. The stabilizers let us get quite good but never fast enough to keep up with your friends. So then the stabilizers were taken off and we spent a long time falling over again and again which was quite disheartening as we thought we’d mastered cycling.
These days there is an alternative option called the balance bike. This is a small bike with no pedals or drivetrain and usually no brakes. The idea is that instead of peddling the rider can push along the floor and almost run on the bike. When the rider gets fast enough they can lift both feet and cruise along pushing off when they slow down. This trains balance and lets the rider get used to steering and leaning into curves whilst moving quite quickly without having to worry about pedals. The rider is also unlikely to fall much as their feet are near the ground and ready on both sides.
The balance bike method has the disadvantage that they do not learn how to pedal or brake and can get used to oversteering but it does work well. In the end the jury is out as to whether it is better than the traditional method – at worst it is no better.
The Chicco Bullet Balance Bike is a good example of a modern balance bike. It is built as if it was a ‘real’ bike with the drive system and brakes removed. It is made from welded metal tubing with hard plastic wheels and rubber tyres. The handle bars are BMX style to give encourage an upright posture and make it as maneuverable as possible. The saddle is black faux-leather and is height adjustable.
The whole bike is very light – it weighs less than 3kg which makes it very usable for the rider and means that it can be carried by parents when the rider gets too tired or decides not to use it. We also found that it was compact enough to be laid across the top of our pushchair when our rider got too tired to carry on.
The bike is very simple – this is a plus rather than minus. It means that after the initial assembly the 3 or 4 year old rider will be able to make use of it on their own without needing parental assistance, although supervision is still recommended.
It is also surprisingly hard-wearing and tough. We’ve had ours for around a year and a half and in that time it’s been crashed, stepped on , left out in the rain and sun and once dropped down a flight of steps. It has picked up some scratches but is still in perfect operational condition with no oiling or other types of maintenance.
Size: 60 x 26 x 16 cm
Colour: Metallic Red
Assembly required: Yes
Shipping weight: 3.7kg
Age: 36 months to 5 years
There are no requirements for the use of the Bullet apart from a minimum height on the part of the rider and an ability to walk and balance reasonably well.
Chicco’s advertisements and box also mandates adult supervision at all times. This does seem like a very good idea at the least until the rider has gotten very confident.
The Bullet has no audio component. The wheels do make a humming noise when the rider gets up to speed but the lack of a drive mechanism makes this the quietest bike I’ve ever heard.
It is possible to add a bell or ringer to the bike but the diameter of the tubing used for the handlebars is small enough that most bells would not attach properly to it. I was able to thicken the tubing slightly by putting tape around it and then attach a standard bell.
Input and Touch
The handle bars on the Bullet have a rubber grip with flanges on both sides. The area which the rider holds has a series of rubber dots and both feels nice to hold and is secure even if it gets wet. The flanges mean that the rider is unlikely to move their hands towards the centre of the handlebars and avoids the potential problem with that. The end of the handle bars have four quite large spaced rubber flanges. These act as a very basic shock absorber if the bike and rider falls over and make it very unlikely the rider would be able to slide their hand off the end of the handlebars and catch it in a painful position.
The balance bike gives a toddler their first taste of real mobility. This can be a big adjustment both for the rider and for the parents who suddenly find themselves having to run to keep up. The Bullet gave our rider an ability to get much further and faster than she was able to do in the past and she loves her bike for it.
The Bullet does very well on smooth surfaces and handles slight inclines and declines with no problems. If a hill starts to get steep either up or down it presents a problem either to keep moving or with the lack of brakes to stop. It handles mowed grass with no problems but unsurprisingly is not much good on gravel or mud – although our rider keeps trying.
Ease of Use
The balance bike comes in three parts. The main bike frame with wheels attached, the seat with attached stand and the handlebar. The handlebars and seat slide into the frame and a bolt with a nut is tightened on each to hold them in. The kit also comes with the correct size spanner to attach them. It is very obvious where the parts are supposed to fit and if you have even very basic DIY skills straightforward to do so.
The handlebars are of a fixed height and the seat can be height adjusted.
Once assembled our tester found it very intuitive to use – far more straightforward than a bike with pedals that she had tried.
The handlebars and front wheel can be completely reversed and we found our rider turning them around and trying to ride with backwards handlebars several times. This was less because she was unclear which way it should work and more because she wanted to see what would happen if she did it.
Price: RRP 34.99, Amazon £32.98
Included In The Box
- Balance Bike
- Assembly / Adjustment spanner
- Instruction book
The Chicco Bullet Balance Bike is a durable simple training bike that can be an excellent introduction to cycling and personal mobility. I asked our little rider for her opinion and she said “I like it. Its goes as fast as I want and I love it. So. I also like the red and the big bits and the red bits with the black bits. That’s what I like about my bike.” Highly recommended.
Chico Bullet Balance Bike was released in February 2011.