Balance Bike: Air vs Foam Tires – Which is better?
Balance bikes come with either solid foam or air tires. Most budget balance bikes come with foam tires while higher-end models come with air tires. There are pros and cons to each type. However we typically always recommend air tires over foam tires. Whichever one is best for you depends on your goals and priorities for your little rider. Let’s look at the benefits of air tires and compare them to foam tires. The main reason we recommend air tires is they act like shock absorbents on balance bikes to smooth out the bumps along the way riding off curbs and on altering surfaces is much more comfortable and enjoyable on a bike with air tires.
Foam tires are solid and so they cannot compress to allow for any cushioning with every bump on the sidewalk or jump down the curb. Your child is really going to feel it. As a result air tires are especially important for aggressive riders. Balance bikes with air tires consist of a rubber tire around a metal rim. This rubber provides great traction on a wide range of surfaces from sidewalks to mountain trails to hard packed sand beaches.
Air tires are naturally grippy to help keep the wheels planted the air inside the tire can also compress and flex to adapt to various surfaces. The flexing of the tires also helps balance bikes maintain traction during sharp turns. Foam tires lack adequate traction on certain surfaces solid in construction. They cannot flex to conform to various surfaces. The foam material itself is also much less tacky than rubber which limits their grip smooth gym floors. Loose gravel or loose dirt as well as tile floors are particularly problematic for foam tires. Foam tires also wear down with time and are actually more expensive to replace than air tires. Now let’s look at the benefits of a foam tire and compare those to an air tire.
Foam tires are essentially maintenance-free they will never go flat and they are always ready for action. No patching tire tubes or pumping up flats kids can get pretty disappointed when plans for a bike ride are derailed by an unexpected flat air tires. Lose air and susceptible to punctures changing the tubes on small tires is also a challenge but using tire sealant can prevent. Most flats foam tires are very lightweight. This is especially beneficial for smaller riders from picking up their bike after they fall or carrying it over a curb lighter is almost always better. When it comes to balance bikes your tires are heavier and add more weight to a bike. Air tires require a stronger and sturdier rim than foam tires do. While the rims on balance bikes with foam tires are typically plastic. The rims on air tires are usually metal. The metal rim and the air tire add to the overall weight of the balance bike. However there are many high end bikes on the market with air tires that are still incredibly light foam tires are inexpensive to manufacture.
So generally a balanced bike with foam tires is going to be easier on the pocketbook which makes it great for those on a budget metal and rubber typically cost more than plastic and foam. So balance bikes with air tires usually cost more than bikes with foam tires. If your child will be sticking mainly to sidewalks and paved trails foam tires will be just fine. But if your child is adventurous and will be doing any type of all-terrain or aggressive riding on their balance bike the added cost of air tires is well worth it. Throughout the years we’ve had a lot of different kids on a lot of different balance bikes while foam tires do have a lot of upsides. We generally prefer the versatility of an air tire and most importantly our little testers prefer them to you.