As our kid approaches his second birthday, my wife and I have recently been debating whether to get our kid a tricycle or go with a balance bicycle.
More and more, we are seeing our friends get their kids on these new bicycles. Most kids seem to start out from 18 months to 2 years of age.
A lot of kids take to it. They skootch around like teenagers at a skate park, and — before you know it — they are coasting everywhere and ready for a pedal bicycle.
The thing folks like about tricycles is that they teach a kid how to pedal. Which, granted, is important. And we may get him a trike, too. But the real trick to learning how to ride a bicycle is mastering the balancing act it requires.
I mean, anybody can learn how to pedal.
The neat thing with a these is that it allows the kiddo to start “riding” immediately. Any kid can kick themselves around on a toy — in fact, most two-year-olds have some type of small car they ride around on anyhow.
These cool little bicycles take that innate knowledge our kids learn from their other ride-on toys and leverages it into a shorter learning curve for bicycle riding.
With these, it lets the kiddo get used to balancing around on a bike while giving them the reassurance of always being able to touch the ground. Their natural inclination is to see how far they can “coast” without touching the ground.
And, voila! you’ve taught them the most important think about riding a bicycle with no tears, bruises or scrapes.
Now you just put the kiddo on a normal bicycle and let them get used to pedaling. The transition is swift and easy. Most kids are no longer needing training wheels, and some are learning to ride 1-2 years younger than was previously typical.
The Most Important Buying Guide Criteria
Some of these are surprisingly heavy. For little tikes, this is the death knell to their riding career. Go for the lightest one you can afford. Think about it! A 25-pound bike is about right for a 200-pound human. An 8-pound cycle for your 40-pound toddler would be like that adult riding a 40-pound bicycle! (And your kids don’t have the skills, yet, of an adult!)
At this stage, too small is better than too large. You want your tot to be able confidently to touch the ground. We made the mistake of buying a Kazaam for our kid which was both too heavy and too tall (and too long). Go small. Don’t try to get one with “growing room”.
Many of these have solid tires made from soft foam. These are susceptible to wear, and I’ve seen a couple where tots wore the tires down to nubbins. However, these foam tires tend to be the lightest. Ideally, your child will be ready to pedal a “real bike” about the time their foam tires wear out.
Rubber tires are heavier typically require air to be added. Initially, I preferred these models for their repairability, but having had to work on a few of them, I’m ready to throw the old bike away and get a new one! These tiny tires are anything but repairable.
Please note that there are dozens of new models that are introduced each year and then go away immediately after as the business cannot make a go of it. For the most part, we try to limit our reviews to those sellers that seem to be more trustworthy (as best that I can determine)
Riding At A Local BMX Course
I just discovered this week that so many kids are riding these bicycles that special “tracks” devoted to youngsters are springing up all over the country. A lot of the BMX tracks are adding little pump tracks for these kiddos to ride their cycles on while a big brother or big sister are racing the “real thing”. Mountain bike trails are also starting to add them.
This is really neat because it validates the child. Now they are a part of the family fun. We are going somewhere just so they can ride their bike. It ingrains a healthy, fun lifestyle at a young age.
Our local community has started including toddler races
Dave’s Top Balance Bike Picks and Reviews
My #1 Choice – The Strider
The Stryder is typically near the top of any buying guide as the ultimate balance bike being sold online — and for good reason. It is budget-friendly, lightweight, and one of the first options on the market.
I appreciate how light and maneuverable it is. I haven’t yet met a toddler who won’t fight for a chance to ride this one. And they are so proud of themselves as they kick around the yard and driveway.
This cycle has the foam tires that I spoke about earlier.Unlike some of the lesser-known brands, you can purchase replacement tires and pass this cycle on down to the next kid if the first child wears the tires out.
In addition to being lightweight, the fact the tires never go flat is a huge peace of mind.
The downside with these EVA tires is that they are slippery and not good for slick concrete. When riding outside, this doesn’t matter. But for indoor riding, it can be a big deal.
This bike doesn’t have footrests or a platform. And that is good because these “upgrades” add weight and get in the way of the child being able to kick themselves along down the road.
Update: I’ve probably seen more kids get started on this bicycle than on any other. Footrests, or no, it is small and light-weight enough that they can really get it going. It is also very close to the ground, making it especially ideal for short toddlers.
The downside is, the price is higher than many of the other kick cycles. I know that will give some readers hesitation. However, I can say that in my opinion, this is worth every penny. If you want to give your tot every advantage, start them out with the Strider.
Recommended for 18 months to 3 years old.
#2 – Critical Cycles Cub
We’ve met the Critical Cycles brand before with their Single Speed line of bicycles. We’ve sold a lot of their adult bicycles on our blog.
One of the neat things about running a review blog with easy to find contact information is that I get feedback on our reviews all of the time. If there is a brand that is developing a habit of creating “lemons”, I hear about it pretty quickly.
And I’ve had nothing but good reviews from our readers that have purchased the Critical Cycles brand.
This little cycle has a snazzy eye-catching style that is significantly different from all of the other brands.
One of the neatest features is the small platform under the seat. Older kids can prop their heels on it while coasting downhill, but, unlike the ones with pegs, this one isn’t a shin basher.
The seat post and the handle will adjust as your child grows, creating a setup that is ideal for kids from 20 months on up to 5 years old. The seat from the lowest position to the ground is reported to be 12.5 inches, so I think most of my kids would have needed to be closer to 30 months before they would have fit on one.
The other fun feature is the huge variety of colors. They actually move away from a simple line of primary colors and offer a robust selection of pastels that stand out from the rest of the balance bikes on the market.
I also like the bulbous grips on the end of the handlebars. These act as shock absorbers and help protect your little one’s hand should they fall over while riding, by pushing their hands further into the middle of the handlebar.
As with the other bicycles, this one uses foam-filled tires so you don’t have to fight with trying to air up tires. These tires work well on any terrain.
Finally, their customer support is extremely responsive. In fact, if you have any questions, you can reach them at 213-744-1555 x1.
Between my past experiences with this brand, the adjustability, and the strong customer service, this little machine stands head and shoulders above most of the competition.
However, there is a major drawback with this brand: They are often on back order, requiring customers to wait eight weeks at a time. Were it not for this drawback, they would be much higher on the list. But the best cycle is of no use to my readers unless it is available for purchase.
#3 – Banana Cycle
Most of us have probably pedaled a Schwinn Banana cruiser before. So it is fun to see another brand try to bring a similar concept back to the brand.
Immediately, you notice the low-slung frame. This creates a low standover height that makes it easy for your child to mount and dismount. The seat height is also only 12″
The seat height is also only 12.2″ making it much easier for smaller children to be able to get on.
Just like the Strider, this one has the EVA foam tires so you aren’t going to be chasing an air pump every time your kid wants to ride.
Setup is quite simple, and you can have your child riding in well under 30 minutes.
The seat does adjust, but only up to the height appropriate for a tall 3-year-old or short 4-year-old. If your kid is quite tall, they might grow out of this one a little more quickly than some of the others.
Thanks to the design, this one is easy to carry and to put in the back of the car to take along to the pump track or Grandma’s house.
It also comes in three bright colors, making this the one your child cannot wait to ride.
#4 – Ace of Play
Say hello to my favorite new bike.
This one is a strong challenger to the Banana bike above. You’ll immediately notice some similarity in the frame design.
The seat and handlebars adjust without tools and the bike comes with the foam EVA tires I love.
Where this bike excels is in the multiple color options and the fact that it is under 4.5 pounds. Weight is so important, not only for helping your kid “win” at learning to ride but also in making the bike easy to carry home when they give up.
This little bike is so snazzy, I just wish they made it in an adult size range.
As this bike proves itself, I may move it up the list. The company appears to be based in the UK and I’m running some warranty simulations with them to test their responsiveness before we put them up any higher.
#5 – The Velocirider
The Velocirider is an excellent choice for those of you looking for an option for kids in the age range of 2-4 years old.
The assembly on this is pretty simple, but instructions are a little bit lacking. That said, there are only 5 parts to this machine, so it’s just a matter of getting the screws and washers on the wheels and then attaching the handlebar and seat.
This one also has the airless foam tires. They come out of the box pre-filled with a foam insert so your kid can ride just as soon as you get it assembled.
The weight on this cycle is about 6 pounds. This is heavier than some of the other ones we review on here but is not unreasonable.
And, just like the Model T Ford, this one comes in a variety of colors, as long as you like the color gray.
Between the heavier weight and the gray color, I think that buyers with slightly older kids (3 and up) and those with active boys tend to be the ones who leave the most positive reviews on this cycle.
It has a solid, well-built feel that many parents seem to appreciate.
Summary: Which One Would I Buy
Of course, I’d choose the Strider. It’s the one that I keep seeing people go back to.
But let’s say I wanted a cheap balance bike option. Well, then I’d probably go for the Critical Cycles or the Ace of Play — If they are in stock.
And, if they aren’t I’d then go with the Banana.
So those would be my personal top picks. Of course, if you think I got it wrong, I’d love to hear more.
Balance Bike Vs. Training Wheels
These are literally changing the way we learn how to ride. The newest generation of children is literally skipping the step of training wheels, thanks to these.
The problem with training wheels is that once parents take the time to put them on, they are loathed to take them off again. So children stay in the training wheel stage much longer than they probably should.
The children, also, grow dependent on them, and are often hesitant to have them removed — I know that I was quite hesitant as a child to go sans trainers.
There isn’t a lot of proof that says “your child will ride sooner by using a balance bicycle”, but there is a lot of anecdotal evidence pointing to the fact that once a child grows confident riding these bikes, they will not need training wheels to transition to a “regular” bike.
We’re entering a new era. Aren’t our kids just plumb lucky?
That said, there are still some kids that outgrow their kick bikes and are not ready to pedal without training wheels. There is nothing wrong with letting your child still go through a training wheel stage.
The only kids I have known who have skipped the training wheel stage are the ones who spend multiple days each week on their kick bicycles and are part of families with active outdoor lifestyles.