Our Top Picks for Ride-On Toys as Pre-Balance Bikes
What’s the best toddler bike for a 1-year-old?
Forget the motorized toys and overly cute tricycles – the best bikes for 1-year-olds are ride-on toys that do two things: (1) teach a toddler to push with their feet (AKA, no pedals!), and (2) teach them to maintain their balance while sitting and moving. Basically, bikes that keep things simple and help prepare them for a balance bike! That’s why we call them “pre-balance” bikes!
We also consider important features like stability, steering ability, and seat height range to narrow down our list. Like any bike, size is key, but not every manufacturer provides seat height measurements! We purchased the bikes and did that for you, so no sad surprises when a delighted toddler opens a brand new bike and it doesn’t fit.
If your toddler is already 18 months and has an inseam of at least 11″, a balance bike may be a better option. Check out our list: 10 Best Balance Bikes.
7 Best Ride-on Toys: 2019
Best Balance Bike
Why We Love It
|Best for an Easy, Stable Ride||$75|
|Best for Very Confident Walkers|
|Best for the Youngest and Smallest Walkers||$60|
|Best for Timid Kids||$40|
|Best at Teaching Balance|
|Best Overall: 18 Months+||$120|
BEST FIT: Babies and toddlers in 12 months to 3T clothing
WEIGHT: 3.87 lbs.
FEATURES: 4 caster wheels, no steering (but multi-directional movement)
FULL REVIEW: YBIKE Pewi
After months of watching our toddler and her friends ride various ride-on toys, the Pewi has emerged as our surprise favorite. It’s sooooo easy for a toddler to maneuver and the pure joy on their faces as they scoot around the house is easy proof that young ones love it!
The most unique among the bunch, the Pewi features small, caster-style wheels that allow a little rider to easily move in any direction. No super wide turns from twisting handlebars, or picking the bike up to turn it around, the caster wheels move in any direction like an office chair!
The benefit of the wheels is that kids don’t get stuck in a tight spot with limited ability to find a way out, and they’re super smooth for a fast and seamless ride. Be aware though, that the wheels are really fast. Although the Pewi can be used outside, we wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re in a large, open area (like a school ground black top) where there is no chance that your toddler could get into the street.
The Pewi is also designed to be a “walking buddy” push-toy for kids as young as 9 months. While in theory this is a really cool idea, the caster wheels cause the bike to move so quickly in front of the walking child that they can’t keep up unless they’re already a very confident walker or using it on thick carpet. We do absolutely recommend it as a push-toy though. Our confident walkers and even older toddlers loved pushing it around the house and seeing it move so fast.
Another surprise benefit is that its unique shape makes it easy for older riders (we’re talking 8 and 10-year-olds!) to ride it. This was one baby toy the entire family has seemed to enjoy!
- Smooth caster-style wheels make maneuvering a breeze
- Super stable
- Confident riders love how fast they can go
- Adorable design looks like a tiny person
- Available in four colors
- Speed of bike could be dangerous outdoors if not used with caution
- Caster wheels move too fast for the “Walking Buddy” function with less-confident walkers
- Somewhat detailed assembly required
Best for an Easy, Stable Ride
BEST FIT: Babies and toddlers in 12 months to 2T clothing
WEIGHT: 5.7 lbs.
FEATURES: 4 plastic/foam wheels, steering
FULL REVIEW: Hape Scoot Around
The Hape Scoot Around is one of those “just right” bikes for little babes still gaining confidence. It’s cute, functional, super stable, and moves easily for little legs, but not too fast to make them (and you!) nervous. Its steering function is smooth and easy, but also limited in range to prevent tight-turn tip-overs.
With two wheels in front and two wide-set wheels in back, it’s one of the most stable bikes we tested. With higher handlebars than the XJD Mini Trike, although it has the same seat height, it feels like a much bigger bike and will allow your little one to ride it longer as they grow.
- Two wheels in front and two wide-set wheels in back for maximum stability
- Smooth and easy steering
- Wider back of seat helps toddlers feel steady
- Higher handlebars for a comfortable, upright body position and more room for growth
- Wheels roll with minimal effort and at just the right speed for little ones
- Detailed assembly required
- Only available in one color
Best for Very Confident Walkers
BEST FIT: Babies and toddlers in 12 – 24 month clothing
FEATURES: 3 rubber wheels, steering
FULL REVIEW: Chillafish Bunzi
With a single wheel in front and two close-set wheels in back, the Bunzi was the least stable of the bunch, but still popular with our testers 16-months+ who didn’t seem to mind and never actually fell over. Because it’s less stable than the others, we recommend that you don’t have your toddler ride it until they are a confident walker/runner.
In addition to being a cute and quality ride-on toy suitable for indoor or outdoor use, the Bunzi converts to a balance bike. As a ride-on toy, the seat height is set at 8.6″, while in balance bike mode, it’s set to 9.8″. There is no seat height “range” – there’s only one seat height for each mode.
While our little riders loved the Bunzi as a ride-on toy, we don’t love it as a balance bike because the seat height can’t be adjusted. Correct seat height is key for a child to be comfortable on a balance bike, so any balance bike with a fixed seat height has a very limited use. For our tester in 2T pants, the balance bike seat was already was too low for her to ride it like a true balance bike.
- Lightweight, high-quality ABS plastic frame
- Silent anti-skid TPE tires suitable for indoors or outdoors
- Grows with your toddler – converts from a ride-on toy to a balance bike
- Seat lifts up for under-seat storage
- Comes 100% assembled
- Available in four colors
- Least stable – not the best for young toddlers
- Balance bike has a set seat height – not adjustable
Best for the Youngest and Smallest Walkers
BEST FIT: Babies and toddlers in size 12 months to 24 months clothing
WEIGHT: 4.1 lbs.
FEATURES: 4 plastic wheels, steering
With a low seat height combined with low handlebars, the Mini Trike is the smallest bike of the bunch and is best suited for the youngest and smallest early walkers. While the manufacturer states that it fits 10 – 24 months, you’d need to have a pretty small kid for it to still be a good fit at 24 months. As a result, in order for your toddler to get the best use out of this bike, we recommend buying it as young as possible.
The Mini Trike was a great fit for our 10-month-old rider and our 15-month-old rider in size 12 month clothes, but our 10-month-old was still too young to ride it unassisted. Our 2.5-year-old in 2T clothes could ride it, but she was clearly too big to ride it comfortably.
In addition to being completely adorable, the Mini Trike features a lightweight, extremely low step-through frame that makes it easy for your little one to move around and get on and off. As an added bonus, the Mini Trike is available in 7 colors!
- Low center-of-gravity design for better stability
- Low step through frame makes it easy to get on and off
- Soft, cushioned seat
- Simple assembly takes just a few minutes
- Available in seven colors
- Stiff steering is actually a benefit for the very young riders this bike fits
- Very, very small – only a great fit for the smallest of riders
Best for Timid Kids
BEST FIT: Babies and toddlers in 12 month to 2T clothing (While it has the lowest seat height of the bikes on our list, it has a wide seat which requires kids to splay their legs quite a bit).
WEIGHT: 4.6 lbs.
FEATURES: 4 small wheels, NO steering
Radio Flyer excels at making adorable kid vehicles, and the Radio Flyer Retro Rocket is no exception. With a rocket nose that turns and clicks, to light-up launching buttons that also talk, the Retro Rocket will entertain your little one beyond a traditional ride. The Rocket also features a lift up seat with quite a large cargo area to carry dolls, blocks, sippy cups, and secret treasures. 🙂
While the quality on the Retro Rocket isn’t quite what we’d expect from Radio Flyer (pretty basic plastic and rub-on side stickers), it’s still a solid little ride-on toy and the most budget-friendly baby bike on our list.
- Super stable with four wide set wheels
- For timid riders, its lack of steering/turning keeps things simple
- Fun, light-up buttons with noises
- Comes 100% assembled
- Most budget-friendly
- Stickers on side aren’t the best quality and have bubbles in them
- Only moves forward and backwards, no ability to turn (can be a benefit for timid kids, but limits overall maneuverability)
Best at Teaching Balance
FITS KIDS: Toddlers ages 18-months to 3-years. Best for toddlers too timid to ride on a traditional balance bike.
FEATURES: Wide flat tires provide a good mix between true balancing and supported riding
FULL REVIEW: Toot Scoot
Is your toddler already a master walker and runner, but still too small for a true balance bike? If so, be sure to check out the TootScoot! As the largest pre-balance bike on our list, the TootScoot is a great option for true toddlers, rather than early walkers. We love that the TootScoot is shaped like and rides like a true balance bike, so the transition to a standard-sized balance bike is that much easier.
Its tires are much wider than a standard balance bike, allowing younger, but confident riders to learn balancing skills early. It has the added benefit of handlebar height adjustability and 3″ of seat height adjustability, so while more expensive than other ride-on toys, it will fit your child for a longer period of time.
- Wide, stable tires
- 3″ of seat height adjustability to grow with your rider
- Child will learn to balance more like a standard-sized balance bike
- Available in three colors
- Can be heavy for petite toddlers
- Too wide for really narrow frames
Best Overall for 18 mo+
FITS KIDS: Toddlers ages 12-months to 3-years (but best for 18-months+)
FEATURES: 3 easy-rolling wheels for gliding, 2 seat heights, converts to a scooter
With the Mini 3-in-1 Deluxe, our favorite scooter company converted their best selling scooter (the Micro Mini), into a smaller ride-on toy for toddlers. Essentially a scooter with a seat attached (that can later be removed), the Mini 3-in-1 rolls smooth and easy like a scooter, and offered the most “fun factor” for our toddler testers.
While the lean-to-turn maneuvering of the scooter is too complicated for toddlers in ride-on-toy mode, toddlers 18-months+ will quickly learn to pick up the Mini to turn, and then glide all over the house screaming “whee!!!!”. (Trust us, it’s adorable!) We love that the wheels allow kids to glide quickly, but are slower than the sometimes nerve-wracking Pewi.
The Mini’s narrow body allows kids to push off the ground and then lift their feet to glide. This feature is a great building block for toddlers who will then transition to a balance bike, where gliding is also the end goal.
- 3 easy-rolling wheels roll fast and smooth
- 2 seat heights to better accommodate toddlers as they grow
- Narrow body prevents toddlers from hitting their legs on the wheels as they stride
- Easily glides for more fun play as toddlers get older and more adventurous
- Higher, round handlebar is easy for little ones to grab
- Converts to a scooter
- Steeper learning curve (but more fun when toddlers finally “get it”)
- Difficult to maneuver for very young toddlers
Ride-On Toys Comparison Chart
|Weight||Seat Height||Steering||Frame Material|
|$65||3.87 lb.||10.13"||Multi-directional wheels||Aluminum|
|4.6 lb.||8" (but wide seat)||No||Plastic|
|Toot Scoot||7 lb.||11" - 14"||Yes||Steel|
|Micro Mini 3-in-1 Deluxe||4.8 lb.||8.5" and 11.25"||No||Aluminum|
How to Choose the Best Toddler Bike or Ride-on Toy for a 1-Year-Old
Ride-on toys are the perfect toddler bike for your 12-month, 18-month, or 24-month old toddler. By 2-years-old we recommend moving on to a balance bike, which is a better fit and would be much better developmentally for your growing child. In the meantime, what features of ride-on toys really matter? If you want the best experience for your 1-year-old, we recommend sticking to the ride-on toys that we consider to be “pre” balance bikes. Here’s our advice from our own experience.
Toddlers don’t have the coordination to pedal, so pedals simply aren’t needed! We’ve found the best ride-on toys to be those that allow the child to sit and push with their feet. It addition to being able to independently ride the bike from day one, it also teaches your toddler to push against the ground with their feet while sitting up straight – the perfect preparation for a balance bike!
Many ride-on toys have fixed front wheels that don’t turn left to right. Others have a front wheel that turns for steering. It really comes down to a matter of preference for your toddler.
For the lower end of the age group, these ride-on toys are designed to fit, steering is too complicated. Especially when manufacturers state that their bike is for a 12-month-old, it would take a highly advanced 12-month old to steer a bike. Once your toddler has developed more gross motor skills (for us, this was around 16 months), steering becomes more manageable and something your child may enjoy doing.
For those ride-on toys that don’t have steering, you might think if you’re paying so much, the wheels can at least turn, right?? Very likely, your young toddler will actually be able to manage better without the ability to steer.
For example, with the Hape Scoot Around, one of our favorite pre balance bikes, our youngest testers (12 months) would often get stuck it a situation with the front wheels turned and they didn’t know how to move forward. However, our slightly older toddlers (16 and 18 months), didn’t seem nearly as bothered by this and seemed to like the independence that turning the bike gave them.
The stand-out bike in this category is the YBIKE Pewi. With multi-directional wheels, it allows a toddler to easily maneuver in any direction without ever getting stuck. Toddlers of all ages loved the Pewi because it moved around with such ease, moving in the direction that they pushed their feet without added the complexity of intentional steering. Check out the video!
Age and Gross Motor Skills
A baby needs to be able to walk before they can attempt any sort of toddler bike on their own. Many parents (myself included!) buy ride-on toys before their toddler is a steady walker because these bikes are so stinkin’ cute! Just be aware that you’ll likely need to help them on and off the bike and encourage them to use it at the youngest recommended ages. You may even be the one propelling them forward!
Putting the cuteness factor aside, the end-goal is for your toddler to independently use the ride-on toy and then carry that independence over to a balance bike. You don’t want to train your child to climb on a bike and expect someone to push them. Our advice is to allow your toddler as much independence as possible, while also being realistic about a 12-month-old’s abilities. Use this pre balance bike stage to your advantage!
If your toddler can’t easily stay on the bike by themselves or move themselves forward, there’s certainly nothing wrong with being a support. While every child is different, the point is that just because your toddler is already toddling confidently doesn’t mean they’re ready to ride a bike.
A note about age: If your child is already 18 months old, and definitely if they’re approaching 2, you may want to look at balance bikes instead. Not only are ride-on toys generally not the best fit for kids after age 2, but most 2-year-olds are developmentally ready for a balance bike!
Desire and Temperament
If you have a toddler, you know they’re going to do whatever they feel like, whenever they feel like it. And also refuse to do anything that doesn’t suit their fancy. While we 100% advocate for ride-on toys as pre-balance bikes, it’s important to set your expectations. Just like with any toy, some kids take to particular activities more than other kids. And usually, it’s pretty hard to predict! Some kids will love their ride-on toys and eagerly ride them every day, while others will only ride them on occasion.
Kids who are naturally more independent will likely pick up riding despite any help from mom and dad, while really timid kids are likely to become dependent on their parents helping them out.
The desire to ride may also come with age. From about 11 to 16 months, my daughter would ride for a few minutes only if I put her on the bike and stood there encouraging her to do it. What she preferred to do was pull and drag the bikes around the house instead. Nothing wrong with that! (Especially the YBIKE Pewi which is actually designed for that!)
Between 16 and 17 months she finally started to be interested in riding. Now she sees the bikes, gets on them, and rides around the house independently.
Ride-on toys are pretty small in size and are best suited for young toddlers, typically in 12-month to 2T pants. Balance bikes are a better fit for older toddlers and preschoolers for both their size as well as helping build gross-motor skills.
Finding the best balance of “fits-me-now” and longevity of use can be hard. As with any toy, it’s ideal to buy a ride-on toy at the earliest recommended stage to maximize its use. Especially because their seat heights are fixed (no adjusting up or down like a balance bike), as your toddler grows, ride-on toys become less of an optimal fit.
But even after a ride-on toy is no longer the perfect fit, our 2 and 3-year-old testers still had a blast scooting around the house. We even have 8 and 10-year-old kids that love racing around on the YBIKE Pewi!
The width of the ride-on toy is something else to consider as it can make a huge difference in two ways. (1) If the rear wheels are set wide, a child can hit their feet on them each time they take a full stride. (2) Wider bikes are more difficult for a toddler to get on and off of by themselves. For example, the body of the Radio Flyer Retro Rocket is quite wide. At 15.5 months, my very tall daughter would get frustrated trying to get on and off by herself. Now at almost 17 months, she’s able to manage on her own pretty well. See the video below!
Every toddler is unique and will do what they want. If you’re dying to get your 1-year-old an adorable toddler bike – do it! Just be prepared for them to possibly ignore it. Or perhaps they’ll take right to it and never want to get off!
We recommend buying your toddler a ride-on toy early to maximize the time they can use it. Ideally, if they’re using it as a “pre”-balance bike, you will transition your toddler to a balance bike somewhere between 18-months and 2-years old. Keep that ride-on toy around though… kids still love playing with them even after they’ve been outgrown!
Balance Bikes: How to Choose: Everything you need to know to choose the perfect bike for your child
Balance Bikes: Product Filter Tool: To view, filter, and read reviews on over 50 balance bikes
How to Teach a Child to Ride a Balance Bike: For help teaching your child to ride their new balance bike