Tested by: Rachel, mum of three
Balance bikes, designed to look like ordinary bikes but without pedals, allow your toddler to master steering and balancing at speed, increasing their confidence in the saddle before the transition to pedalling.
But would the AIRO win the yellow jersey in a race to the top, or crash out in the first stage? Our First Look reviewer, a mum of three, got to find out.
Who's it for?
The Hornit AIRO is for children from the age of 18 months up to around five years old (with an inside leg measurement of 30cm to 48cm). Our reviewer’s three-year-old falls in the middle of this age range and rode the bike comfortably with several seat positions still to go, so Hornit’s age estimate feels accurate.
At first glance
There’s no doubt that the AIRO has been designed with an eye for stylish detail and high performance. It’s beautiful to look at, and every aspect of the bike feels considered, from the lightweight, brightly coloured frame and bouncy air-filled tyres, to the neat neoprene cover padding the stem in case of a front fall, and moulded foot rests covered in grip tape. It all gives an immediate impression of highly-engineered durability. The designers are obviously keen cyclists themselves, who have put together something of professional quality.
The Hornit AIRO comes in an 87 × 60 × 14cm box which isn’t heavy to lift, and should fit in a car boot if needed. Inside, the bike is almost fully assembled: after removing the protective packaging, three bolts need to be tightened with the provided allen key, and the seat height changed if necessary. Hornit says that the tyres should already be inflated on arrival, but they may need topping up to the correct air pressure – this was the case with the model we received, which may be a downside for families who don’t own a lot of bike equipment.
The instruction booklet is tucked around the frame, and includes text and helpful diagrams. Our reviewer appreciated that the instructions were written assuming no prior knowledge about bike maintenance, as cycling jargon can be intimidating for a newbie.
Far and away the best feature of the AIRO is its weight. At 2.95kg, it’s lighter than almost all of the balance bikes we reviewed last year, making it easy for a toddler beginner to push it into motion with their feet, lift it over kerbs and manoeuvre around. It’s also not difficult for an adult to tuck it under one arm or lift it into a car, so won’t be a hassle when out and about with the family. Hornit has managed this by constructing the frame from a tough magnesium alloy, which stood up well to the couple of knocks our reviewer’s toddler managed to give it.
In motion, the wide front forks and large pneumatic rubber tyres allow for some impressive speed. Most balance bikes come with tyres that are 1.25 to 1.75 inches wide, which, when inflated, reach a height of around 35mm. The AIRO’s tyres are 2.25 inches and 44mm high when inflated, which is rare for this wheel size. All this means a larger volume of air in the tyre, absorbing bumps well, and a larger surface area of rubber in contact with the ground, making the bike much more stable than models with smaller wheels, especially in the wet.
The wheel rims are aluminium, which is more hardwearing than plastic over time. The tyres are slightly ridged, which works well on hard surfaces and grass, but less well on mud and gravel paths. Our reviewer thought tyres with more tread might have been more versatile overall.
Impressively, the AIRO has been designed with bearings in the steer tube, which all full-sized bikes come with, but many balance bikes do not. This makes the steering smoother and easier to control.
The padded foam seat and rubber hand grips make it comfortable to sit and hold on to the bike for longer periods, which is excellent news for the school run.
The only feature our tester missed was a handbrake. While not strictly needed, as the bike is controlled by feet, many balance bikes do include one for added safety, and for familiarity and practice. Hornit says the reason for not including one is that they feel it gives parents a false sense of security. They’d rather see parents supervising their children closely than relying on them correctly using a handbrake. There are moulded hoops on the underside of the frame for a brake cable, so the Hornit AIRO does allow for the fitting of a rear rim brake if you'd like to add one yourself in the future.
- Ultra lightweight magnesium alloy frame
- Extra-large pneumatic rubber tyres on aluminium rims
- Aerodynamic frame shape with high ground clearance
- Moulded foot rests covered in grip tape
- Neoprene-covered stem for safety
- Comes almost fully assembled with only screws to tighten (and possibly tyres to pump up)
- Safety-tested and fully compliant with relevant EU safety law EN-71
- Four striking colours
- Lifetime warranty on frame and forks
Let's talk money
The AIRO retails at £139, which sits squarely in the middle of the price range for balance bikes. While we can’t pretend £139 is an accessible price for all families, the quality and design of the AIRO far outstrip many of its more expensive competitors. It’s easily durable enough to pass onto siblings or friends, and Hornit offers a free lifetime warranty on the frame and forks for added peace of mind. If you’re able to afford it (or have a generous grandparent on hand), the AIRO amply rewards the investment.
Verdict (for now)
Altogether, the Hornit AIRO is that rare marvel: a balance bike clearly designed by cyclists to be a high-performance bike, not a toy. Every mechanism is perfectly engineered for speed, comfort and confidence in the saddle. Our reviewer’s toddler, new to bikes, was whizzing happily around the garden within a day or so. You’d be hard pressed to find a better introduction to cycling for little ones.
What is a First Look?
First Look pages are sponsored content. They provide an early glimpse of new products, showcasing releases from both exciting new startups and well-loved brands.
We give all new products a thorough once-over, checking that the features are as good as they say and that the product functions as it's supposed to. This isn't an exhaustive test of the product or how well it performs – look to our Best winners for extensive testing in real life situations – rather, our First Look features are informed previews, providing a basic overview and getting a feel for the products most exciting features.
All prices correct at time of publication