Kids today, hey? When I were a lad we were lucky to have a hoop and a stick... Nowadays there's a whole range of bikes for them to choose from before they're even as old as most of the opened jars in the average fridge. There are plenty of bog standard options out there, but what if that's not enough? What if they require something a little bit special? Ladies and gents, may I introduce the Early Rider Alley Runner...
For those who are unfamiliar with Early Rider, it's a British brand specialising in the design and manufacture of children's bikes. Its range of 12 different bike models caters for kids up to six years old and as young as six months (yes, six months!), and they're all constructed of either superlight aluminium or Grade A birch ply.
The selection is comprehensive compared with other brands in this sector of the market, where there are usually one or two bikes aimed at these ages of rider. Early Rider's choice of 12 really demonstrates the company's passion for the business of getting kids on two wheels.
The Alley Runner is Early Rider's do-it-all balance bike. It's a really sharp looking steed with a brushed aluminium frame trimmed with black finishing kit and a brown faux leather saddle. The frame has simple, clean lines and considered decals, perfect for the style conscious toddler in your life...
Out of the box, the Alley Runner comes semi-constructed. It just required the bar, front wheel and saddle to be fitted with the supplied Allen key. This could be viewed as a bit of a faff, but equally could serve as a bit of a learning experience for junior as they see how the bike is constructed and the start of a beautiful relationship with the humble Allen key.
The bike is aimed at riders from two to five years old, and the minimum saddle height is 35cm, which is a better gauge than age for knowing if your youngster is tall enough to use it. As the child grows with the bike the saddle can be adjusted to suit, and there's also the option of upgrading to a 14in wheelset to increase the lifespan of the bike. The larger wheels will set you back £30.
The frame is constructed with classic looking diamond shaped geometry, with a steeply sloping top tube making it fairly easy for kids to climb on and off. The frame, the curved and tapered fork, and the steerer are all constructed from lightweight aluminium, and along with a set of alloy rims this means the bike tips the scales at 3.4kg. That's super-light for a bike like this; more commonly they're made of cheaper and heavier components. It means that nippers can manhandle and control the bike with relative ease.
The simple flat bar measures a reasonably narrow 340mm wide. It's dead straight with no sweep back, and black rubber grips with end stoppers help stop small hands from sliding off. There's no brake, which isn't a deal breaker, but rear brakes on balance bikes are increasingly common. More alarmingly for a kid's bike, there's no bell! Though some parents might be glad about this.
If your young rider wants to get a little more aero then there's the option to buy a drop bar from the Early Rider online store. These cost £30 and come with comfy padded bar tape and wooden bar ends. A fairly niche upgrade, but it might be useful for some.
The bar also has a neat steering limiter consisting of a rubber O-ring bolted to the underside of the down tube. It can be looped around a bolt on the fork to create an elastic limit to how far the bar can be turned. This helps less experienced riders with their steering and keeps them on the straight and narrow. Once they become a bit more au fait with the concept of steering, the O-ring can be unhitched to give them the full freedom of the headset.
Talking of headsets, the Alley Runner has an integrated threadless one, which will keep things running smoothly for long after your little one has finished with the bike. The aluminium stem and steerer complete the cockpit components and keep the weight down to a minimum. The saddle is a Brooks-esque faux leather affair with brass-effect rivets; it looks pretty damn cool, but will probably impress parents more than the kids.
The 12in aluminium rims with sealed bearings continue the lightweight theme, topped off with some chunky pneumatic tyres that will tackle most terrain a toddler throws them at. The straight valves combined with a tight spoke pattern can be tricky to attach a pump to; angled valves might be a consideration on future models.
The Early Rider brand has other benefits other than the hardware itself. You can register your bike online with the Early Rider Explorers, which allows you to share pics and stories with other riders and allows access to special offers and discounts. There is also a range of spares and upgrades on the website.
The Alley Runner is available directly from Early Rider's online store or from a range of large and local retailers nationwide. The RRP is a pretty steep £129.99, right at the top of the price range for a balance bike. Many are going to find a price tag that high hard to swallow, despite the fact that it's a super-lightweight bike made with quality componentry. It's a real quality build that will last the test of time and allow it to be passed on to a younger sibling or sold on with a decent resale value, but there are cheaper options out there that meet this criteria too.
Also, there are a couple of common balance bike features missing: no rear brake and no footplate. Neither is essential but both would be good to see at this price point. The wheel and bar upgrades are nice optional extras, but it's hard to ignore the fact that they add another £30 to the price tag.
A slick looking and well built kid's steed that's ultimately let down by a hefty price tag
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Make and model: Early Rider Alley Runner 12in Balance Bike
Size tested: 2-5 years, silver
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
The Early Rider Alley Runner is a balance bike aimed at riders from 2-5 years old as an introduction to the world of cycling.
Early Rider says: "Can a first bike be too good? Never. Classic diamond frame with a geometry that has performance in mind. Beautiful curved and tapered aluminium fork blades and not a chromoly steerer in sight. Add lightweight aluminium wheels and you have an industry leading 3.25kgs. Killer integrated headset, aluminium stem, and an anatomically correct, custom made contemporary faux leather saddle finish it off in style."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
- 3.25 kgs
- Suggested age 2 - 5 yrs
- Minimum seat height 35cm
- Lightweight aluminium frame
- Lightweight aluminium fork and steerer
- 12" pneumatic wheels
- Sealed cartridge bearings
- Lightweight aluminium stem
- 14" wheel upgrade available
- Hand brushed and lacquered aluminium finish
- Integrated threadless headset
- Riveted faux leather seat
- Shipped with only the front wheel to put on
- 1 year warranty
Really good quality build with high quality components for a balance bike.
Light, easy to use and well designed.
Seems pretty hardwearing. There aren't really any parts that are easily breakable from general use and being lugged around by toddlers.
It's a great build and obviously uses high quality parts, but it's hard to justify the price tag when compared with other bikes in its category. It lacks the features of some cheaper bikes, and those features are more important than the build at this stage.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The steering limiter was really useful, simple to use and effective. It's also a really great looking bike; the design and finish have obviously been really considered.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
The price tag.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Not at this price.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Really does depend on the friend. It is a good bike but there are better value options out there.
Use this box to explain your score
It's a really good and well made bike but the price tag limits the score. At this price it would be good to see a rear brake. Despite that, it has some top quality features and it's one of the most stylish balance bikes on the market.
Age: 29 Height: 5'10" Weight: 76kg
I usually ride: KHS Flite 100 Singlespeed/Fixed, Genesis Equilibrium 20 My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 5-10 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed
Oli has been a road.cc staffer since day one. He's the graphic design and photography force behind the site, and has got a keen eye for good quality, well designed cycling kit. You'll find him on his bike everyday whatever the weather, he's got a penchant for a steel frame and has had 'fit mudguards' on his To Do list for nearly 6 years now. Likes: cold toast, gin, rugby. Dislikes: fitting mudguards.