The Trouble with Tricycles and Why Balance Bikes are Better

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

So you’re looking to buy a tricycle.  Like buying that first ride-on toy for your baby, there’s a certain sense of nostalgia attached to buying a child their first “bike”.  With my first child, I dutifully did my research to find the BEST tricycle for my daughter for her 2nd birthday.  At her party, I anxiously positioned myself with my camera to capture her perfect smile when she sat on the bike. But when that moment finally came, the smile did NOT come! She couldn’t even reach the pedals!  She loved the idea of a toy with wheels, but 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 2-year-old daughter ride tricycle that is clearly too large for her.

It took us a whole year, but luckily, we eventually gave that parent fail a happy ending.  Still not able to travel any significant distance on the tricycle (we had to push our daughter to even make it down the street!), we presented her with a balance bike instead.  She hopped on and within a couple days, she was happily cruising around the neighborhood.  Not wanting to miss out on the action, her younger 18-month-old brother quickly became envious of her cruising abilities. We of course, did NOT buy him a tricycle, but bought him a smaller balance bike – the Strider bike.

3-year-old girl and 2-year-old boy happily riding balance bikes

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

Fast forward through the next couple years and our kids happily cruised around on the balance bikes, while the tricycle mostly collected dust.  Eventually, both our kids were able to ride the tricycle but only did so in short bursts because it was so much slower and very cumbersome to ride compared to their balance bikes.

As an added bonus, around their fourth birthdays, both kids hopped on a 16″ bike without training wheels and simply rode away.  No need to run by their side and provide endless pep-talks – they simply rode away on their own.  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.

Which One Looks More Fun??

***To see more of our favorite balance bikes, check out our 10 Best Balance Bikes: 2018 list.***

Why are Tricycles a Bad Choice for Kids?

Over the past 10 years at Two Wheeling Tots, we’ve watched a lot of kids ride tricycles and balance bikes.  While some issues with tricycles are pretty obvious, as parents, we’ve also uncovered several issues  the hard way!

(1) Kids get tired quickly.

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.

2.5-year-olds Riding a Balance Bike vs. Tricycle

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.

(2) Tricycles aren’t the right size for most toddlers.

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, 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.

(3) Tricycles are heavy for kids and parents.

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, and are easy for both the parent to carry and the child to ride. Better yet, balance bikes can easily be stored on a wall with a simple bike hook.  Narrow and easy to handle, storing a balance bike is much easier than storing a tricycle.

Girl and boy toddlers easily carrying their light balance bikes.

(4) Tricycles are unsafe on uneven surfaces.

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!

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

(5) Tricycles cost a lot for how much use kids get out of them.

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.

(6) Tricycles teach kids how to pedal, not how to ride.

Tricycles are a short-term solution to a long-term issue. To ride a bike, you must balance it.  You can ride a bike without pedaling it, but you can’t ride a bike without balancing 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. On the other hand, tricycles graduates, not knowing how to balance, still need to learn how to balance a bike before they can ride.

So What are the Best Balance Bikes to Buy?

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:

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.

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.

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.  Kids won’t be able to travel very far on the Roadster and are usually limited to riding only on paved surfaces.  Kids can easily ride miles on a balance bike on various surfaces, from uphill dirt paths to paved skate parks.


Related Articles

10 Best Balance Bikes: 2018 – To see a quick list of our favorite balance bikes.

Training Wheels Don’t Train: Why You Need a Balance Bike Instead: Further proof of why Balance Bikes are taking over the kids’ biking world.


Disclosure: Links used are affiliate links.
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