Spoiler Alert: You Can Skip the Tricycle and Training Wheels
What is a balance bike?
A balance bike is a two-wheeled pedal-less bike that teaches toddlers as young as 18-months to balance on two wheels. After a brief learning period, toddlers and kids learn to ride, jump and coast on their bikes with no assistance from their parents. Balance bikes are a replacement for tricycles and training wheels as they are designed to be used during the ages that a child would typically ride a tricycle or use training wheels.
Strider is the Most Well-Known Balance Bike in the US
With the skills learned from a balance bike, riders as young a 3 years old transition straight to a regular kids bike without the assistance of training wheels. Balance bikes ride like regular bikes and don’t get stuck on uneven surfaces, easily gliding over rocks, dirt, curbs and even jumps. They are sometimes referred to as glider bikes, strider bikes, run bikes or pedal less bikes. The Strider balance bike is the most well-known balance bike in the US.
How much does a balance bike cost?
Balance bikes come in all price ranges, from $50 to $200+. Essentially any balance bike can teach your child how to balance, but there are vast differences in quality, performance, and durability. The greatest advantages of higher-end bikes are their stability and safety features; they are much easier to learn to ride on and easier to control.
We’ve personally tried and tested over 50 balance bikes to help you determine the best and shop smarter. Here are a few of our standout favorites in different price ranges, or you can view a full lists of our favorites on the following pages: 10 Best Balance Bikes or 10 Best Balance Bikes Under $100
What’s wrong with a tricycle?
Balance bikes are much safer and more practical than tricycles and training wheels. With three wheels, tricycles are slow, awkward to maneuver, and easily tip on uneven or angled surfaces. On a balance bike, children are focused on balancing, rather than pedaling. As a result, they are more prepared for an unexpected loss in balance and are much less likely to fall.
Toddlers can also walk or run for several miles on a balance bike, but can rarely make it to the end of a block on a tricycle. Tricycles are simply too inefficient for kids to ride long distances, which is why they often come with handles for parents to push, like the Radio Flyer Deluxe Steer and Stroll Trike. Check out our VIDEO of a 22-month-old’s experience on a tricycle and a balance bike.
You can read more about the debate between balance bikes and tricyles on our page: The Trouble with Tricycles and Why Balance Bikes are Better.
I learned to ride with training wheels, are they really that bad?
Training wheels significantly delay a child’s ability and desire to ride a bike. Balance bikes teach toddlers and kids how to ride while balanced, whereas training wheels teach how to ride while unbalanced. Bikes with training wheels tilt to one side, creating a false sense of balance. In order to ride without the training wheels, a child must “unlearn” how to ride unbalanced and learn how to ride while balanced.
On a balance bike, proper balancing techniques are learned from day one. One other thing to consider is that balance bikes are just more fun and much easier to ride than a bike with training wheels. Take a look at this VIDEO to watch just how differently kids ride a balance bike vs. training wheels.
You can read more about the pitfalls of training wheels on our page: Training Wheels Don’t Train. Why You Need a Balance Bike Instead.
What is the best age for a child to ride a balance bike?
Balance bikes come in many sizes – the smallest bikes fit toddlers in 18-months clothes while the largest are actually designed for adults. Typically, toddlers and kids enjoy balance bikes from ages 18 months to 5 years old.
Unlike tricycles and training wheels, toddlers can hop on a balance bike and start walking and scooting around from day one. Balance bikes never come with push bars for adults to assist the child, as there is no use for them; one of the greatest advantages of balance bikes is that kids ride them all on their own. Whatever the age of your child, remember that balance bikes are not one-size-fits-all. Kids can fit on a balance bike whose minimum seat height is an inch less than their inseam (measured crotch to floor).
If your child is still too young to ride a balance bike, there are a few great ride-on toys that help prepare a child to ride a balance bike. You can see a quick list of our 5 favorite ride-on toys here.
Where do they put their feet?
Balance bikes do not require a footrest. Kids naturally pick up their feet as they are gliding. In all our years of testing, we have rarely had a child ask where to put their feet on the bike, but A LOT of parents ask that question :-).
How many years do kids ride balance bikes?
Kids generally ride balance bikes for 2 to 3 years, depending on the age they start. The younger they start, the longer they will ride their balance bike. Most toddlers and kids who master a balance bike move up to a regular bike around their 4th birthday. Purchasing a bike in which the maximum seat height extends at least two inches past a child’s current inseam generally provides sufficient room for growth.
Can’t I just take the pedals off a bike to teach my child how to balance a bike?
Balance bikes are more than simply the means to an end. While balance bikes DO prepare kids to ride a bike, they also offer years of fun and independence BEFORE they are tall enough to fit on the smallest pedal bike. Pedal bikes are also much heavier than balance bikes, making them more difficult to learn to balance. For kids aged 5 and up, removing the pedals is an option, but is unpractical for toddlers and preschoolers. We discuss how to use a pedal bike as a balance bike here.
My friend’s balance bike just collected dust and never got used!
Kids who have tricycles, scooters, or bikes with training wheels can be more resistant to ride a balance bike. Why? Balance bikes require a little more effort to learn but offer far greater rewards in return. Once mastered, toddlers love the independence and sense of accomplishment they get from riding a balance bike and rarely touch a tricycle or training wheels again. Whether it’s being stopped by strangers on a walk or bombarded by kids at the park, kids quickly realize that there is something cool about riding on two wheels and want to be part of the action. Instead of bugging your kids to get outside and play, they will be bugging you to take them for a ride!
Where can I learn more about balance bikes?
- LEARN: Features of balance bikes – What to Look for When Shopping for a Balance Bike
- COMPARE: View and filter balance bikes in all price ranges – Balance Bike Filter and Compare Tool
- RIDE: How does a child actually ride a balance bike – How to Teach a Child to Ride a Balance Bike
- 5 Best Ride-On Toys: Is your child still too young for a balance bike? Try out these ride-on toys instead!