Balance Bike vs Training Wheels

Just because we all grew up using training wheels doesn’t mean that our kids don’t deserve better! Training wheels are old technology. Balance bikes are the future. In the battle of balance bike vs training wheels, balance bikes are the clear winner!

We know… but a little kid pedaling down the street with training wheels is so cute! But you know what is even cuter? Your little toddler happily cruising their balance bike down the sidewalk, over the grass, around the yard, over the curb, essentially anywhere they want to go!  As icing on the cake, most balance bike riders can already ride a pedal bike at age 3 or 4 (without ever having used training wheels)!

Want to see for yourself? Check out our video showing the same riders test out balance bikes and training wheels!

5 reasons why balance bikes are better than training wheels

Here it is in a nutshell. Training wheels enable a child to pedal a bike, remain upright, and get from point A to point B. But they don’t actually teach a child to ride a bike, and the whole experience is a bit awkward. Here are the 5 primary reasons why balance bikes are better than training wheels.

  1. Balance bikes fit young kids much better than 12″ bikes with training wheels.
  2. Uneven surfaces are a breeze on a balance bike.
  3. They are light and easy to ride – kids can ride them much farther.
  4. Balance bikes offer years of fun and independent riding.
  5. Graduates never need training wheels. The transition to a pedal bike is easy! 
young toddler riding balance bike in park

1. Balance bikes fit young kids much better than 12″ bikes with training wheels.

Ironically, most kids’ bikes with training wheels aren’t made to fit kids. Balance bikes are smaller, lighter, more narrow, and just fit small children much better. As a result, you can start kids on balance bikes much younger than a 12″ bike with training wheels.

Lower minimum seat height: Balance bike seats go as low down as 10” off the ground. (The very popular Strider balance bike has a minimum seat height of 11″, which is also incredibly low!)  The average 12” bike (the smallest pedal bike available) has a minimum seat height of 17”! Toddlers typically can’t ride a pedal bike comfortably until they are at least 3, but can start to explore a balance bike at 18 months old.  

young toddler on a balance bike that fits her very well. Same girl on a 12" pedal bike that sits her up very high off the grounding makes her lean over awkwardly.

Ideal child fit:  Balance bikes are very narrow and fit underneath a child’s small frame, which provides a much more natural fit than the vast majority of small pedal bikes. They are also generally not as cramped and have more room for growth. Basically, they’re much easier to ride and much more comfortable! Just look how natural our little rider looks on that balance bike!

2. Uneven surfaces are a breeze on a balance bike.

Riding with training wheels is a wobbly and awkward experience.  A child can only go so fast and can’t execute turns very well because training wheels keep them slightly off-balance. It’s just an awkward ride. And because the small, plastic training wheels can easily get caught on any uneven surface, training wheels pretty much limit a child to riding up and down the street. 

With a balance bike, a child can easily wander off the sidewalk and onto the grass. They can also tackle gravel and dirt trails with ease. A balance bike is much better suited for a child’s adventurous spirit because it can pretty much go anywhere they want to go!

young toddler riding woom 1 balance bike on red dirt pump track.

3. They are light and easy to ride – kids can ride them much farther

Balance bikes are so much lighter than bikes with training wheels – they’re typically HALF the weight of a pedal bike!  Huffy’s 12” pedal bike with training wheels weighs 15 lbs., while a Strider balance bike weighs just 6 lbs.  Considering most toddlers weigh around 25 lb., a 15 lb. bike is going to be much more challenging for them to maneuver than a 6 lb. balance bike.

Kids lifting and carrying their lightweight balance bikes with ease.

Being significantly lighter weight and more efficient than bikes with training wheels, kids can also ride a balance bike much farther than a bike with training wheels.  It is pretty common to see a child riding a bike with training wheels around the neighborhood, but not very far from home.  Kids on balance bikes can easily ride for miles with their family, whether it be on paved or compact dirt trails!

4. Balance bikes offer years of fun and independent riding

Start them young: Toddlers typically can’t ride a pedal bike comfortably until they are 3, but can start to explore a balance bike at 18-months.  By age 3, most balance bike riders are capable of riding their balance bikes essentially anywhere and often for distances greater than a mile.  Kids on training wheels generally don’t ride outside of their neighborhood. 

young toddler riding pink Yedoo Too Too balance bike

Give them independence: Even when starting at 18 months, kids can stand over a balance bike and walk it without any help. Learning to ride a balance bike is a very natural process for kids. They can walk, then run, and then glide their bike over rocks, down small dirt mounds, and over essentially any surface.  

Their first experience with a bike is independence.  With a tricycle or with training wheels, kids generally need help to get started and they also are very limited in where they can ride them.

two preschoolers lifting up their Strider balance bikes while talking to each other.

Maximum fun and adventure: Balance bikes can go anywhere and do anything! From skate parks and pump tracks, to up ski resort gondolas and “hiking” to waterfalls in the mountains, our toddlers have gone amazing places with their balance bikes.  

Fun for both the child and the parent, you’ll be amazed at what your child can accomplish on a balance bike.  Ironically, parents are rarely impressed with the amazing things kids can do on a bike with training wheels. 🙂

2 year old riding balance bike at a pump track

The easy fun of balance bikes is possible because balance bikes ride on two inline wheels that easily roll over various obstacles.  Training wheels require at least three of the four wheels to be touching the ground.  

This triangle not only teaches kids to ride leaned to one side, it also causes the bike to easily get stuck on any uneven surface. The small, inefficient pedals of the bike are also no match for a balance bike powered by little running legs.

Safety first: When riding a balance bike, kids are closer to the ground than on training wheels and have a shorter distance to fall.  Without pedals in the way on a balance bike, kids can often quickly stabilize themselves with their feet, which prevents most falls. When they do fall, there are no pedals to cause additional injury.

5. Graduates never need training wheels. The transition to a pedal bike is easy!

Balance bike graduates don’t need training wheels because a balance bike teaches a child to ride a bike. While many parents erroneously believe that training wheels train a child to ride a bike, the truth is that they don’t!

Two young kids riding training wheels at a tilt, showing them off balance

Balancing:  The primary purpose of a balance bike is to teach a child to balance while they are sitting and in motion, which is the hardest part of learning to ride a bike. Training wheels prevent a child from even attempting to balance and actually accustom kids to riding on a tilt, which is completely off balance. Pedaling is a really easy skill to learn after balancing has been mastered.

Toddler riding a balance bike at a pump track

Steering: A balance bike gets a child used to steering and also teaches them the limits of steering. Most kids at some point jerk the handlebars too far to the left or right as they are learning the art of steering, and end up falling over.

On a balance bike, when a child falls, it’s less traumatic because it’s closer to the ground and at lower speeds. Kids on training wheels don’t generally even try turning because their constant state of unbalance keeps them always slightly uncomfortable.

young girl riding her balance bike at a skate park

Overall Control: Learning to control their speed, stopping without falling over, and shifting their weight as they lean into turns and do tricks are just a few additional bike riding skills that balance bikers master before they transition to a pedal bike.

Young child jumping off curb on a Strider balance bike

For a child that supposedly learned to ride a bike with training wheels, when those training wheels are removed, the real drama begins! So much frustration, anxiety, and even fear (for kids and parents!) are often part of the transition from training wheels to no training wheels.

Toddler being helped by her sister to get started on a pedal bike.

But when you hand a balance bike graduate a pedal bike, within 5 or 10 minutes they’re usually pedaling the bike all on their own! You heard it right. 5 or 10 minutes. ALL. ON. THEIR. OWN. No tears or nasty falls. No weeks or months of frustration for child or parent! And certainly NO TRAINING WHEELS.

The only skill your child will need to learn at this point is pedaling, which comes very naturally because they don’t have to think about everything else involved in riding a bike.  They’ve already mastered everything else on their balance bike!

Young girl riding a 14 inch small pedal bike

**IMPORTANT NOTE: We recommend a pedal bike without a coaster brake (back pedal brake) because when kids are learning to pedal they naturally pedal backwards to regain balance. If they pedal backwards and engage the brake, they will not regain their balance, but will fall over instead!

Infographic Summary of Balance Bike vs. Training Wheels

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

Is a balance bike a waste of money if I eventually have to buy a pedal bike anyways?

No!!!!!!! This is a question we get a LOT and one we want to clear up for you. Here are a few things to remember about balance bikes:

(1) Because you can start a child on a balance bike (like the WOOM 1) as early as 18-months, kids generally get many more years out of a balance bike than they do a 12″ pedal bike. (Most kids won’t even fit on a 12″ pedal bike until they are 3.)

(2) Kids love the adventure and independence of balance bikes and often continue to ride them until they transition to a 16″ pedal bike, completely skipping the 12″ pedal bike stage. (And also skipping training wheels!!)

(3) Even if you start your child after the toddler stage (let’s say, at 3) you can buy a balance bike with a larger frame (like the woom 1 Plus)  and your child can enjoy that bike for 2 years and then transition straight to a 16″ or 20″ pedal bike when they are 5 or 6.

(4) Let us just reiterate that balance bikes are way more fun than 12″ bikes with training wheels!!!! So even if your child doesn’t get on a balance bike until they’re a little older, the time they do have on the balance bike will be exponentially more enjoyable than if you try to put them on a 12″ pedal bike with training wheels.

(5) Check out our article Best Balance Bikes to get your child started on a balance bike!

What if my child insists on a bike with training wheels?

We understand there are exceptions to everything, especially when it comes to kids. There are some kids who just refuse to ride a balance bike. Other kids see all their friends with training wheels and can’t be convinced that a balance bike is better!

If you’re in a situation where training wheels seem to be your only option, there are a few great bikes that either come with training wheels, or are training wheels compatible.

Check out our favorite 12″ bikes on our 10 Best 12 inch and 14 inch Bikes page, which lists several options with training wheels. The Guardian 14″ bike is our top pick for a small pedal bike with training wheels.

Wald training wheels on Guardian 14" kids bike.
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