Money well spent
The Strider Pro 12 is probably the lightest balance bike on the market. But does this mean it’s any good? We give it to our junior tester to find out.
Strider Pro 12 balance bike review
We all remember our first bike. Mine was red – well, everyone knows it’s the fastest colour – with white tyres, lofty high-rise bars with ample room to clamp a shiny silver horn, and a rear rack that helped me transport all my toys around the park. I was five, which is practically a pensioner compared to the toddlers now ripping around my local park. So, now that I’m a dad myself, I wanted to make sure that my son had a bike leaning up against his toy box as soon as he could walk.
Cue problem number one; standover height. Little legs need little frames or they won’t be able to stand over the bike at all. And while there are plenty of metal-framed models out there offering sufficient clearance, wooden ones are few and far between. Being a bike snob, I wanted a beautiful plywood frame to fit the vernacular of our Victorian terrace. Never mind the chocolate handprints, crayon tags and paintwork scars…
At 17 months he could straddle the wooden bike I found (the Wishbone 3-in-1), but it was long, heavy and unwieldy. He couldn’t pick the bike up again when he dropped it – which was often – he couldn’t turn it around in confined spaces, and it took up so much room in our tiny terraced house that it ended up in the cupboard, only to be brought out on random occasions. Which as you’ll well know, doesn’t work, because kids don’t want to run to your timetable; they want to play with things when the whim takes them.
That’s when I began the search for something smaller and lighter that could be left out to ride around the house. It didn’t take long to find the Strider 12 Pro. With 10 years in the business and one of the most recognised names in balance bikes, there are nearly 1.8m of the things being scooted around the world’s parks and living rooms.
With only two basic models on offer, choosing a Strider is simple. The 14in-wheel bike is for 3-7 year olds, and the 12in version suits 18 months and over. Once you’ve found the right wheel size, everything else is defined by the size of your wallet. The entry-level Classic costs £66, or you can buy the same model with Honda or Harley Davidson graphics for £100. Considering you can buy a Honda sticker kit online for buttons, the smart option is to spend an extra tenner and get the Pro version, as tested here.
Why? Well you get an alloy frame and handlebars, instead of steel, which saves 700g. That’s a big deal when the total weight is only 2.47kg. And 2.47kg is exceptionally minimal, even if a little more than the claimed weight, as it’s typically 1-2kg lighter than most of the balance bikes we weighed at the local Halfords. The only exception was the Indi Adopt at 3kg, although that has smaller 10in wheels.
Not all of the weight saving comes from the frame material. Strider uses lightweight plastic wheels with ‘solid’ foam EVA tyres instead of rubber tyres and inner tubes inflated with air. It’s saves weight and eliminates hassle, since you never have to top up the tyres with a pump. There’s still some cushioning to the material, but they don’t have the quite the same smooth-rolling comfort as a pneumatic system. That said, at two years old, when wooden floorboards and carpet are your tarmac, that doesn’t really matter.
What this means to a toddler tipping the scales at around 12kg is revelatory. Instantly he could pick the bike up when it was lying on its side. He could spin it around in the hallway while standing astride it, and no longer was there a risk of it overbalancing and toppling to one side with him on board. In fact, within a few days he was pulling back on the bars to do wheelies and tail-whipping the back end round while stood next to it. His verdict; “wheeeeeee!”
And it’s not only Junior that benefits from this minimal mass. When enthusiasm runs out at the furthest point from the car, mum and dad’s arm sockets will also be grateful.
Such is the pace of growth at this age that I’ve already raised the saddle twice. The seatpost offers 12cm or height adjustment, while the handlebar and stem can be raised by 8cm, so there’s still plenty of room for expansion. Both can be tweaked quickly and easily with the supplied quick-release collars – no tools required. Strider even supplies an extra-long seatpost in the box, although we reckon your son or daughter will be on a pedal bike by the time they’re tall enough to need it.
While the weight is the defining aspect of the Pro 12, it’s the details that reveal the depth of knowledge of the people designing the bike. Details such as the reduced diameter handlebar that accommodates a thinner grip – perfect for smaller hands – the well-padded, but narrow, saddle that allows for slim hips and unhindered striding, the number board that stops the bars from spinning all the way round (and will come in useful if you decide to accept the free invitation to a UK Strider ‘race’ event), and the plastic foot rest for more-accomplished kids to rest their legs on while coasting downhill. At which point you may also want to invest in Strider’s rear brake upgrade.
Of course all of this doesn’t come cheap; the Strider Pro costs £110. The beauty of good quality kids’ bikes is that you may be able to recoup some of that back upon resale, but I also happen to think, in a world where children seem to have ever-larger piles of unused plastic toys lying, investing in a bike that will give them years of joy, and hopefully set them up for a lifetime of cycling, that’s money well spent. Indeed, while they may end up owning dozens of bikes in their lifetime, they’ll only ever have one first bike. Better make sure it’s a good one then.