So you want to get your toddler boy or girl their first bike. And now you are probably bombarded with choices. What is the best first bike for your child? Should you get a tricycle? Is a regular bike with training wheels safer? Should you just go to a local bike shop and pick out whatever is on sale or has the shiniest steering? Can your child choose their own bike? Well, what about those pedal-less balance bikes you see everywhere? Does it really matter?
Balance Bike vs. Tricycle
Provided they are capable of picking it up off the ground and standing over the frame with clearance, every child can learn to ride a bike with ease. Make no mistake about it though, your choice for their first bike will have a direct impact on when they actually learn to ride and how much they enjoy the process.
In our opinion, balance bikes are the safest and absolute best way to go. To read how to actually teach your child to ride a balance bike, please read this post.
What is a balance bike?
A balance bike is basically a bicycle that was built and designed for a starting rider to learn balance. They have two inline tires, no training wheels, and no pedals. A child rides them by gliding on the two wheels after pushing off with their feet. These bikes are sometimes referred to as running bikes, glider bikes, pedal-less bikes, or push bikes.
When are kids ready for their first bike?
I believe that even a 2-year-old toddler can learn to ride a balance bike with little to no trouble. Our own children were going on rides with us on their balance bikes before they turned 3. Our oldest child transitioned to his first pedal bike when he was still 4 years old.
In fact, our youngest learned to ride his balance bike at just 2 years of age and there are many days when he will bike with us for up to 4 miles (with some breaks) now at only 3 years old. He is likely going to stay on this balance bike that will grow with him for another year until he is ready to transition to his first pedal bike.
I expect this transition to be smooth. In short, balance bikes are great and so much more superior to a tricycle or a bike with training wheels.
Update: Only a couple of months later he is already pedaling! While his balance bike will definitely fit him for quite a while and he still grabs it half the time, he is loving his new Woom 2 pedal bike!!!
Here are a few reasons why balance bikes are the best way to teach a kid to ride a bike:
- Balance bikes are suitable for children as young as 18 months. So your little one can gain a lot of independence very early on and keep up with you and older kids on walks all on his or her own. No need to wait until they are older and can actually handle a traditional starting bike. A child on a balance bike will free up your hands as well which is a great point to keep in mind.
- They are light. Most people don’t understand that pedals and a chain train add quite a bit of weight to a bike. So do extra wheels. When you are giving it to a toddler who barely weighs over 20 lbs, every ounce can make a large difference in how well they can maneuver it and how much the ultimately like it. Because balance bikes are so incredibly light, your child can start riding them much earlier and ride much longer distances than any other bike.
- The transition to a pedal bike is easy. Most kids are pedaling within an hour or less. On the flip side, tricycles, ride-on toys, and bikes with training wheels do not at all prepare your child for a transition to a real bike because they never teach balance.
- More years of riding. A proper fitting balance bike will fit your child for 2 to 3 years to come, depending on when they start riding. To extend the life of your balance bike, buy one that has at least a couple more inches in the seat height to go up from the current inseam measurement.
- Balance bikes are much safer. Tricycles and bikes with training wheels have a known danger of tipping over. Due to their design and weight, they are tough to maneuver for toddlers. By default, a balance bike gives children complete control over their ride. The two in-line tires make it easy to clear obstacles. Because of this, kids are far less likely to fall, even on rough terrain.
- Glider bikes are self-limiting. The natural learning process will ensure your toddlers don’t go at a faster speed than they can handle. Bikes with training wheels can provide a false sense of security and get your child in trouble real quick.
- They are fun. This should not be the last point, but it really is important. Balance bikes are just way more fun. Young kids get to feel completely in control, they master a skill that can provide a ton of confidence, and they can keep up with you and older friends and siblings on slower rides. Once they master the balance bike, they can even outpace you easily on walks.
How much do balance bikes cost?
There is a wide variety of balance bikes on the market. The most popular one in the US is probably the Strider, but that is certainly not your only option. Balance bikes can cost anywhere from $50 – $200 on average. Every balance bike can teach your child how to balance. However, the higher retailing bikes do come with some extra bells and whistles and other safety features that make them a lot easier and more fun to ride.
How to Choose the Best Balance Bike for Your Toddler
The average age a toddler is ready for their first glider bike is between 2 and 3 years old. But even at that age, toddlers vary widely in their height, inseam, and comfort level around a bike. After all, the best balance bike for a small 2-year-old will be vastly different than the one for a tall 4-year-old child. And even children of the same age can have very different needs. Here is what you need to know to find the best fitting first bike for your child:
- Measure your child’s inseam. Your toddler should be able to get at least 1-1.5 inches over the minimum seat height in order to ride the bike. Children under 3-4 years of age should start out on 12-inch tires. Children closer to 4 may be better off on 14-inch tires.
- Consider your budget. Figure out your budget and how much life you expect to have out of your balance bike. Perhaps you plan to pass it on to another sibling. In that case, spending a bit more for a quality bike that will be enjoyed for years may make the most sense. Some manufacturers have attractive trade-in programs as your riders grow.
- Rough trails or neighborhood streets? Think through what type of terrain you are more likely to encounter when your child rides. If you want your toddler to be comfortable on unpaved trails, wider air tires will be important.
- Consider your options. Find a bike that fits your child, budget and expectations. Consider some other additional features, like frame type, tire quality and size, and a hand brake. For instance, while a long wheelbase can provide extra stability, an upright position is more comfortable on long distances.
- Don’t forget safety. Make sure to buy a properly fitting helmet and teach your child important safety rules.
Our Favorite Balance Bikes by Tire Size
Balance bikes with 10-inch tires (or less):
These bikes are a good fit for your very young toddlers. If you want a balance bike for a one-year-old, this is probably a good category to consider. Keep in mind, you will likely want to switch out to a 12-inch bike fairly soon. While a 10-inch bike can last you until your child is about 2.5 years old, by about 18 months to 2 years, children can go up to a 12-inch tire balance bike.
Fits: 1-2.5 years with a minimum inseam of 9.5″.
In this category, our favorite bike is the Frog Tadpole Mini retailing at $210. This is a great bike for your youngest riders providing a low in-step hight. This bike comes in an all-aluminum frame, with pneumatic air Kenda tires, and an easy-reach hand brake. It also manages to look like a real bike, which is a plus in our book.
Fits: 1 to a 2.5-year-old rider with a minimum inseam of 11.5″.
Technically this is a good balance bike for toddlers who can walk but are still too small or too timid for a regular looking bike. These are not 10-inch tires, technically. They actually are 7-inch foam tires. The tires are also slightly wider than your typical tires to provide additional stability. This bike weighs only 7 lbs and should be a great starting bike for your youngest riders.
Balance bikes with 12-inch tires:
If your toddler is already at 18 months or you are willing to wait a few months to get them started, we highly recommend you focus in on the 12-inch tire category. These are all amazing bikes that will fit children from 18 months in some cases up to 5 years. The longevity of these bikes makes them a great choice to learn on.
Fits: Kids ages 2 to 6 years old with a minimum inseam of 14.5″.
This is our favorite if you can wait for your toddler to mature a bit. It can fit toddlers as early as 2 if they are tall enough. However, it might be slightly heavier than other bikes in this category, so you may want to go for a lighter bike if you are looking to fit your 18-month-old. The Ridgeback Scoot, however, is amazing because it is one of the few that will fit a child up to 6 years of age, as tested by our own son. It comes with an additional extended seat post, an easy-reach hand break, and our favorite Kenda tires. And I can’t leave out the convenient seat handle for easy carry. This bike will run you $199.
Fits: 1.5-year-old to 3-year-old toddlers with a minimum inseam of 11.5″.
We could never miss this bike as an overall standout in the category. WOOM bikes will easily fit a younger rider due to their incredibly low weight and a small in-step height. This bike has a wider grip to provide more control for your starting toddler. Also, comes with air tires and an easy-reach hand WOOM 1 Plus. This bike will add a few pounds to the weight, but will extend your seat hight up to 18.7″ and comes with a footrest. The WOOM 1 bike also includes a carry strap and WOOM has a great UpCycle program. This bike retails at $199.
Fits: Kids 18 months to 5 years old with a minimum inseam of 12″.
These bikes have always been a favorite. They are incredibly light due to their use of foam tires and a very light frame. They also do not come fitted with a hand brake, minimizing the weight even more. These bikes are easily available at your local specialty bike shops and retail at an affordable $110. If foam tires and the absence of a hand break are not an issue, these are a great choice.
Fits: Kids between the ages of 18 months and up to 5 years with a minimum inseam of 12″.
This bike retails at $149. Wonderful bike for the price with a wide seat range, a good hand brake, and air tires. All that and only weighs 8.2 lbs. The negatives reported include exposed bolts and a built-in steering limiter which you cannot disable.
Fits: Tall 2.5-year-olds up to 5 years old with a minimum inseam of 14″.
This is a great bike in the budget category that retails at only $70. It has a wide range and can go up to 18″ in seat height. However, more suitable for your older toddlers or a tall 2.5-year-old, not only due to the minimum seat height, but also the higher weight at a bit over 10 lbs due to the steel frame. This bike does not come with a brake but does have air tires which we prefer over foam.
Balance bikes with 14-inch tires:
14-inch tire bikes are a great fit for preschoolers or very tall toddlers. These bikes can accommodate a slightly taller beginning rider. If you have a taller 3-year-old this is a great category to consider because bikes in this category often have a longer wheelbase and wider handlebars to provide better comfort and control to taller children.
Fits: Kids from 4 to 7 years old with a minimum seat height of 16″ (inseam 17″).
This is a new bike for Ridgeback meant specifically for kids from 4 – 7 years of age. It is built with the same attention to detail as their winning Ridgeback Scoot, including puncture-resistant air tires, easy to reach and internally routed hand brake, easily adjustable seat (no tools needed) and an aluminum frame. Also includes a handle on the seat for easy carrying. Built like a real bike for your beginning rider. This bike will run you $210.
Fits: 3 – 5-year-olds with a minimum inseam of 15.5″.
We would be amiss if we did not point out the WOOM bikes in this category as well. They really do set the standard for kids bikes. Recently WOOM came out with this toddler balance bike geared at slightly older toddlers. It retails at $270 and weighs a few pounds less than their WOOM 2 which is the entry pedal bike at 14″ tires. This bike obviously comes with air tires, an easy hand brake, and a light aluminum alloy frame. It is also equipped with a footrest which is removable.
Fits: 3-4.5-year-olds with a minimum inseam of 15.5″
This is a great bike for those taller or older toddlers. It retails at $260. This bike has the same quality aluminum frame resulting in a lighter weight. It has a wider handlebar and longer wheelbase for extended comfort. Comes with a turn-limiter. This is a safety feature to prevent a child from jack-knifing a bike. This could be either a positive or a negative, depending on your personal needs and view. It also comes with a rear brake adjustable for smaller hands and a quick-release seat post for on-the-road adjustments.
MOST RECOMMENDED STARTER BIKES OVERALL ARE:
- WOOM 1 – retailing for $199 can fit a child up to 3 years old or WOOM 1 Plus for slightly older or taller toddlers. WOOM have been leading this category for several years and have gotten many acclaims for their bikes. Due to the high-quality aluminum frame, they are some of the lightest bikes in the category and come with wide air tires and a hand brake. They also have a wonderful trade-in program as your child grows.
- Ridgeback Scoot and Ridgeback Scoot XL – retail at $199 and $210 respectively. These are our favorite balance bikes for our own kids. These bikes are made for performance. They handle any terrain due to oversized all-terrain Kenda air tires, weigh in at right around 10 lbs and are fitted with an upgraded hand break built for small hands.
- Frog Tadpole and Frog Tadpole Plus – $210 and $260 respectively. These little bikes are a great fit for a more adventurous rider who wants a bike that can handle all sorts of terrain and tricks. Pneumatic air Kenda tires, a well-designed hand brake, and a very lightweight frame. Every detail is thought of on this bike.
- Strider is the most widely available balance bike in the country. At $110 it is a great buy. They are incredibly light and can fit a smaller rider but will go up to a 5-year-old. They do come with foam-filled tires which are not as good at shock absorption and may provide for a rougher ride. Strider bikes do not come with a hand brake but are still an amazing deal for the first bike for a young toddler.
- GOMO is a newer bike to the market in the budget category. They come in at a great price point of $70. Due to a large adjustable seat range, they can fit kids from 18 months to 5 years of age easy. These glider bikes are incredibly light, come in fun colors, and have a built-in footrest for gliding. Just like a Strider bike, they are not fitted with a hand brake and do come with foam tires, however.
OUR RECOMMENDED TODDLER HELMETS:
- Nutcase Helmets – Coolest Kids Helmets and Dual-Certified for Safety – Retail at $70.
- WOOM Helmets – Great Design and Fit – Retail at $70.
- Gyro Scamp (MIPS) – Great All-Around Versatile Helmets – Retail at $35 ($45) respectively.
I have written another post that dives into how to teach your child to ride a balance bike. Zero tears required!