Balance Bike vs Tricycle

What’s the best tricycle for my child? Actually, a balance bike.

For my first child’s 2nd birthday, I dutifully did my research to find the BEST tricycle. I had never heard of a balance bike, so researching the benefits of a balance bike vs. tricycle wasn’t even on my radar.

When the time came for the big reveal at her party, it turned out to be a #momfail moment. She couldn’t even reach the pedals!  After she sat on the tricycle and realized it was hard to even scoot around on it, she wanted nothing to do with it!

Dad trying to help his daughter ride tricycle that is clearly too large for her.

At first, we just waited in hopes that she would grow into it. But then we heard about balance bikes and decided to give it a go!  Much to our surprise, she hopped on and within a couple of days, she was happily cruising around the neighborhood. Her 18-month-old brother also insisted on getting in on the action!

Learn from our mistakes!  Buy a balance bike, NOT a tricycle!

Over the next couple of years, our kids happily cruised around on their balance bikes. Whether on dirt trails or in the neighborhood, we took them everywhere! As an added bonus, around their fourth birthdays, both of our kids hopped on a 16″ bike without training wheels and simply rode away.

Our experience with balance bikes was so amazing, that it was actually the motivation to start Two Wheeling Tots!  We witnessed firsthand that kids should be on two wheels from day one, not three wheels on a tricycle or four wheels with training wheels.

Balance Bike vs. Tricycle

The Trouble with Tricycles – A More In Depth Discussion

Tricycles are cute. We admit that. But they are generally heavy and not very easy to ride. If you’re looking for a toy that will get a little use, a tricycle could be the way to go. But if you want your child to have the best riding experience, a balance bike wins hands down.

Here are the five main reasons that balance bikes are better than tricycles.

  1. Balance bikes fit toddlers much better than tricycles.
  2. Balance bikes safely and easily move over uneven surfaces, tricycles do not.
  3. Balance bikes are light and easy to ride – kids can ride balance bikes much farther than a tricycle.
  4. Balance bikes offer years of fun and independent riding.
  5. Balance bike graduates never need training wheels. The transition to a pedal bike is easy!
19-month-old girl riding pink Yedoo Too Too balance bike

(1) Balance bikes fit toddlers much better than tricycles.

While tricycles are marketed to toddlers, they’re usually a poor fit! Most toddlers can’t even reach the pedals on a tricycle, which is why Radio Flyer sells a platform for kids to rest their feet and to protect their legs from the pedals of tricycles!

On the Schwinn tricycle below (right), there’s actually a small bar to rest your feet for kids who can’t reach the pedals. Another common issue is that the top bar of the tricycle is too tall, making it difficult for a toddler to swing their short legs over it to get on and off.

Tricycle footrests from Radio Flyer and Schwinn tricycle with push bar for parent.

(2) Balance bikes safely and easily move over uneven surfaces, tricycles do not.

Tricycles tip over more often than you would expect.  With three wheels, they can easily become off-balance when one of the rear wheels is higher than the other when riding on uneven surfaces. While you may rarely notice that the end of your driveway or the sidewalk in front of your house isn’t completely even, it will become very obvious to a tricycle rider.

Sharp turns are also problematic.  There’s a reason why many three-wheeled vehicles aren’t allowed on city streets in the US – they’re too prone to tipping over! Balance bikes, on the other hand, can pretty much tackle any terrain your child chooses!

young boy exploring various terrain on a balance bike - dirt mound, pump track, and jumping off a curb.

(3) Balance bikes are light and easy to ride – kids can ride balance bikes much farther than a tricycle.

Kids who want to move their tricycle around have a difficult time because they’re heavy and just cumbersome. Tricycles can weigh as much as the child riding them and are even heavy on your arms while you have to carry them back home. This extra weight also plays into kids getting tired quickly.

Balance bikes typically weigh between 6 and 12 lbs., less than half the weight of a tricycle. They are easy for both the parent to carry and the child to ride.

Kids have to exert a lot of effort to go very far on a tricycle. The math is complicated, but trust us – the number of times a child has to complete a pedal stroke to move forward a few feet is impractical for long rides. That’s why many tricycles come with a push bar – they’re simply too inefficient for kids to ride them without help from parents.

Small boy happily running on a balance bike, and a boy struggling to ride a tricycle with his mom's help.

Tricycles are also slow – other kids can easily run past a child riding a tricycle because their running legs are more efficient than the small crank arms on a tricycle.  Balance bikes are much easier to ride because they allow kids to utilize their very efficient legs to create motion versus forcing them to use inefficient pedals.

Because balance bikes are so light and easy to ride, a toddler can ride for up to a mile, while older, more experienced balance bike riders can go for several miles! Can you imagine a child riding a tricycle farther than around the block?

Girl and boy toddlers easily carrying their light balance bikes.

(4) Balance bikes offer years of fun and independent riding.

Tricycles and balance bikes are both available in a wide range of prices, but both tend to be between $60 and $150.  While the investment for either bike is the same, most balance bikes can be adjusted to fit kids ages 18 months to 4 years old, while a tricycle usually only properly fits a child for about a year and a half.  The bikes cost the same, but a balance bike’s life span is twice as long.

Two brothers - ages 1.5 and 4.5 - both riding a Strider balance bike.

Additionally, once mastered, a balance bike provides years of independent fun and adventure on any terrain you choose, while a kid on a tricycle is stuck to slowly cruising up and down the sidewalk. Balance bikes teach kids to independently ride from day one. Tricycles teach kids to be dependent on their parents to go longer distances, or just to give up because it’s too difficult to get very far.

toddler riding Radio Flyer balance bike down the ramp at a skatepark

(5) Balance bike graduates never need training wheels. The transition to a pedal bike is easy!

Tricycles are a short-term solution to a long-term issue. To ride a bike, you must balance it.  Tricycles were built on the premise that young kids don’t have the ability to balance a bike, but balance bikes prove otherwise.

Kids as young as one have successfully learned to balance a balance bike!  Tricycles simply teach kids how to pedal, which is actually a really easy skill to learn.  Balance bike graduates never need to use training wheels because they’ve already mastered the hardest part of learning to ride a bike – balancing!

Same child on the balance bike and a pedal bike

On the other hand, tricycle graduates, not knowing how to balance, still need to learn how to balance a bike before they can ride. As a result, most kids who used a tricycle end up on a bike with training wheels.

So what is a good balance bike?

Unlike tricycles, which tend to be ill-fitting, balance bikes are not one-size-fits-all. Because there are so many different sizes to choose from, it’s important to know your child’s pant size – or better yet their inseam (distance between their crotch to floor) – before you purchase a balance bike.  Out of the 100’s of balance bikes on the market, here are some of our favorites:

18 mo10.5″ – 12″WOOM1Strider30.5″ – 32.5″
24 mo11.5″ – 13″Strider Sport32.5″ – 34″
2T13″ – 14.5″Guardian34.5″ – 36.5″
3T14.5″ – 16″GOMO36.5″ – 38.5″
4T16″ – 18″Strider 14X38.5″- 41.5″

But what if the grandparents (or Mom and Dad) are set on buying a tricycle?

I admit, there’s a certain cuteness factor as well as a right of passage in buying a toddler a tricycle.  They’re so cute, relatively affordable, and like I once believed, every toddler needs the chance to ride a tricycle!

For those who are hard to convince, we’ve found that having them buy a balance bike from an established kid brand can make the balance bike pill easier to swallow. Radio Flyer and Schwinn – both well-known, trusted brands in the child toy/bike world – make tricycles and balance bikes.

BikeRadio Flyer Deluxe TricycleRadio Flyer Glide N Go Bike
Age Range2 to 42 to 5
Seat Range1″3.5″

Helping kids ride on classic red wagons and tricycles for decades, Radio Flyer also offers several different balance bikes.  Well-designed with a budget-friendly price, Radio Flyer’s Glide N Go is a great option for kids in size 2T pants and up.  Unlike their tricycle, the balance bike does not come with a handle as kids as young as two can independently ride their balance bike.

Toddler riding Radio Flyer balance bike at skatepark, leaning in and running.

The Schwinn Roadster is a classic tricycle that is loved by many kids and has amazing ratings on Amazon, so what could possibly be wrong with it?  For a tricycle, there isn’t anything wrong with it! It’s a great tricycle, but it’s still a tricycle. 

Balance Bike vs. Training Wheels Infographic

Infographic showing 5 reasons why a balance bike is better than tricycles or training wheels

10 Best Balance Bikes – To see a quick list of our favorite balance bikes.

Balance Bike vs Training Wheels: 5 Reasons Why Balance Bikes are Better: Further proof of why Balance Bikes are taking over the kids’ biking world.

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