Training Wheels vs. Balance Bikes: Is One Better than the Other?
In a showdown between the classic “Training Wheels”, and the new kid on the block “Balance Bike”, which would be better at teaching your child to ride a bike? As balance bike experts, we know that balance bikes make learning to ride a bike super easy. But do training wheels offer the same benefit? Spoiler Alert. NO. THEY. DON’T.
We’re on a mission to eliminate the commonly held belief that kids NEED training wheels. Not only do they NOT need training wheels, their riding experience is much more enjoyable and a lot less frustrating and anxiety-ridden without them. Ironically, training wheels don’t train. Mind-blowing, right??
“But I learned to ride on training wheels and did just fine! What’s wrong with them?” We hear this all the time and understand your perspective. We learned to ride using training wheels as well! But just like streaming music and smart phones and online shopping, we embrace more efficient and time-saving means of accomplishing everyday tasks. Enter the BALANCE BIKE.
The Problem with Training Wheels
Here it is in a nutshell. Training wheels enable a child to pedal a bike but they don’t teach them how to independently ride a bike. A child can remain upright and get from point A to point B, but (1) they don’t actually learn how to ride a bike (because that requires them to balance!), (2) which means the child will have a very frustrating and often frightening time transitioning from training wheels to no training wheels, and (3) it’s a wobbly, uncomfortable ride the entire time they’re on training wheels. Hmmmm, that doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun..???
(1) Training wheels don’t actually train a child to ride a bike.
Training wheels keep a child upright (and only semi-balanced) while they learn to pedal. But the hardest part of learning to ride a bike is learning to BALANCE. Which training wheels don’t do. AT. ALL. Pedaling is a really easy skill to learn after balancing has been mastered.
(2) Not having done their job, taking the training wheels off is a wobbly and stressful experience.
Additionally, when 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.
(3) Kids are wobbly and awkward the entire time they’re riding with training wheels.
Riding with training wheels is a very limited 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 wheels can easily get caught on any uneven surface, training wheels pretty much limit a child to riding up and down the street.
What benefits does a balance bike have over a bike with training wheels?
A balance bike is the answer to the training wheels dilemma! Balance bikes are much better at mimicking the feel and experience of a real bike than a bike with training wheels.
To see a few of our favorite balance bikes, check out our 10 Best Balance Bikes: 2018 list.
(1) Balance bikes train kids to ride a bike.
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.
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.
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.
(2) Balance bikes make the transition to a pedal bike natural and stress-free, (completely eliminating the need for training wheels).
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. No 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!
**IMPORTANT NOTE: We recommend a 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!
(3) Balance bikes offer years of safe and independent fun and adventure before a child is ready for a pedal bike.
Start them young: Toddlers typically can’t ride a pedal bike comfortably until they are 3 years old, 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.
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.
Maximum fun and adventure: Balance bikes can go anywhere and do anything! From skate parks and pump track, 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 (riding a balance bike is much less strenuous than walking which leads to less whining and less carrying a child by the parent), you will be amazed at what your child can accomplish on a balance bike. Ironically, parents are rarely impressed on the amazing things kids can do on a bike with training wheels. 🙂
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.
(4) BONUS: Balance bikes are made to fit kids. Ironically, most kid’s bikes 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 average 12” bike (the smallest pedal bikes available) has a minimum seat height of 17”! Toddlers typically can’t ride a pedal bike comfortably until they are 3 years old, but can start to explore a balance bike at 18 months old.
Lightweight: Balance bikes are so much lighter than bikes with training wheels – they’re typically HALF the weight of a pedal bike! The Huffy 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.
Ideal child fit: Balance bikes are very narrow and fit underneath a child’s small frame, which provides a much more natural fit that 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 Cruzee!
But Isn’t it 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 years old) you can buy a balance bike with a larger frame (like the Scoot XL) and your child can enjoy that bike for 2 years and then transition straight to a 16″ pedal bike when they are 5 or 6.
(4) Let me 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.
Balance Bikes are the Clear Winner!
So, my friends, training wheels DO NOT help a child learn to ride a bike. Please join us in our quest to spread the joy of balance bikes across the world! Your child will thank you, we promise. 🙂
Check out our article Best Balance Bikes: 2018 to get your child started on a balance bike!
Now, if your child already has a bike with training wheels and is unable to conquer their fear of riding without them, that’s a slightly different issue that we’ll be tackling in our next blog article!
Learn More: How to Choose a Balance Bike
Find a Balance Bike: 10 Best Balance Bikes of 2018