After checking out a range of steel framed balance bikes, this wooden offering from Smart Gear took me a while to get used to. Once you get over the fact that most of the bike is made out of wood there is actually a lot to like here and your child will certainly draw some envious glances from the neighbor’s kids when playing with it outside. While many balance bikes like just like ordinary bikes, nobody is going to mistake the Classic Balance Bike with a pedal bike.
If, like me, you were expecting a wooden balance bike to be a light product you are in for a surprise when you pick up the box. This bike has a bit of weight to it and is more than twice the weight of some of the lighter bikes like the ones from Fun Push. Opening the box I was delighted to find that the bike is shipped in only three pieces and assembly is as easy as can be. Just follow the assembly instructions and double check to make sure that all the bolts on the bike are fastened securely before handing it over to your little one. Regularly checking the bolts is also a good idea, as there is a small chance that some of them might work themselves loose. I have heard talk that some folks ended up with defective parts out of the box, but Smart Gear stands behind their products and have impeccable customer service, so don’t hesitate to contact them if you run into any issues.
The bike is constructed almost entirely from renewable birch wood, which will be a definite plus for all the eco conscious parents out there. The rest of the components are made from non-toxic materials, so even if your child decides to treat the bike as a chew toy there won’t be any bad consequences apart from perhaps puzzled stares from passers-by. The manufacturer recommends the bike for kids aged two years and up, but thanks to the adjustable seat which can lock into five different positions the bike will keep up with the growth of your child without becoming obsolete.
The thing that impressed me the most about the Smart Gear balance bike is that it was clearly manufactured with safety in mind. There is a distinct lack of protruding parts on the bike so it won’t get snagged on clothes or objects while your child is riding and even if she does take a tumble the bike won’t contribute to any injuries. One safety feature that I am undecided about is the limited steering radius. On the one hand it does prevent the bike from jackknifing, but on the other I prefer it if the steering on a balance bike matches that of a regular bike better as this eases the transition. If safety is your top priority then you will appreciate the limited steering although I have see children become frustrated with it. Another safety feature is the wheel discs which are completely spoke-less so you don’t have to worry about little fingers getting caught in them by accident. Once again I prefer teaching my child the proper way to handle a bike so I don’t have to redo everything when she transitions to a pedaled bike, but if your child is prone to poking things they shouldn’t you will appreciate this feature more.
The bike is pretty safe for indoor use as well as even if it does get knocked over only the wheels and rubber handlebar grip will hit the floor and not any of the harder wooden parts. This might not sound like much, but if you have laminate flooring and a child that loves riding her bike indoors you will appreciate this. While there are a lot of advantages to a wooden balance bike it also comes with the problem of the wood swelling and becoming moldy if left in the elements. If you want to preserve the lifespan of this balance bike you’ll definitely want to clean it and store it safely when not in use.
An important aspect of all balance bikes is the tires and this one ships with inflatable rubber tires. I really liked the extra long tub valves as it makes it much easier to inflate them even with a cheap hand pump. You don’t have to worry about the wheel discs either as there is a cut-out section where the valve is located for easy access. The leatherette seat is cushioned for extra comfort and like I mentioned earlier can be adjusted as your child grows. The wooden frame is obviously not quite as sturdy as some of the metal bikes, but unless your child has superhuman strength she is not going to break it from everyday use. Smart Gear has thoughtfully provided an integrated carrying handle in the bike frame which takes some of the effort out of lugging the bike around.
Pros & Cons
The fact that the bike is made mostly from wood and not metal is probably going to influence your purchasing decision the most. Some people love it while others don’t, so it is mostly a matter of personal taste. If your child is used to seeing other kids zip around on their metal framed bikes, he might also balk at having to ride a wooden one. Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons to see if this bike will match your needs.
Classic Balance Bike Pros
Most of the bike is made from replenish-able wood and held together with formaldehyde free glue and other non-toxic components
Handlebars feature rubberized grips for extra comfort and control
Pneumatic tires that provide better grip and last longer than foam
Carry handle integrated in the frame of the bike
Spoke-less wheel discs to safeguard against mishaps
Adjustable seat extends the longevity of the bike
Assembly is quick and easy
Excellent customer care from Smart Gear
Classic Balance Bike Cons
The wooden frame is unfortunately not as durable as a metal one
Rain and humidity will completely destroy the bike if care is not taken
The limited turning radius can be restrictive (although to some this will be a pro)
The bolts can work themselves loose so some maintenance is required
Pneumatic tires are prone to deflation and punctures if not handled with care
It took me a while to get used to the wooden construction, but once I did I liked this bike. If your child is creative you can even help them personalize their bike with some paint and stickers which is not as tricky as it would be with a traditional wooden bike. The price is about the same as some metal framed bikes, and so in the end it is really going to come down to personal choice and how much time you have for preventative maintenance.