Freedom is a set of wheels — and for most of us, that freedom first meant exploring the neighborhood by bike, before wheels involved gas and insurance and a summer job. Learning to ride a bike can be a rite of passage, but it’s also an invaluable skill- and confidence-builder for preschoolers. The best toddler bikes give kids the freedom to explore and to feel independent, while honing their motor skills. It also opens up a whole new world of adventures that you and your kids can pursue together.
For biking safety tips, we consulted with Dr. Benjamin D. Hoffman, the chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention. He advises parents to look closely at the manufacturers’ recommendations for age and weight limits to know “who can use it and how it’s supposed to be used.”
Striders and balance bikes take pedals, cranks and chains out of the equation, letting kids walk and coast on two wheels, as they refine their sense of balance. Trikes offer maximum stability, letting kids explore and gain physical confidence until they’re ready to transition to two wheels. And pedal bikes with training wheels gives toddlers the chance to feel at home on a geared bike before making the leap to the real thing. Whether you choose striders, trikes, or bikes, however, the objectives are the same: to get outside as a family, to give toddlers the confidence they need to explore, and to let them practice navigating the world on a set of wheels that are safe, balanced, and adaptable.
Little kids should also be supervised, and everyone — but everyone — should wear a helmet while biking. Seattle Children’s Hospital advises that a helmet should sit level on your child’s head and rest low on the forehead, with about one to two finger-widths’ above the eyebrows. The straps should be even, form a Y under each earlobe, and fit snugly but loose enough that your child can breathe.
The Best Bikes, Striders and Trikes for Toddlers
A beautiful bike, this one is about more than just good looks. It's fully loaded: The bike has 16 inch tires, back pedal brakes, a front adjustable caliper brake lever that kids can easily work themselves, and an adjustable handlebar and seat, of course. It's ideal for kids 4 and up, or kids who have outgrown balance bikes. The bike weighs just over 17 pounds.
The Speedster Ride-on Toy is made of heavy duty metal and rubber tires. The vintage inspired push car provides a stylish but fun avenue for your child's motor skill development.
Though the pedal-less bike hearkens back to the earliest days of the two-wheeled vehicle, there’s still something radical about these bikes. The hefty steel frame and rugged, puncture-proof tires let kids explore fearlessly, without getting tangled up in pedals. The adjustable seat means even little kids can walk and balance the bike, helping kids 18 months to 5 years old learn to ride at their own pace. The robust construction adds weight, but if you’re looking for five years’ worth of longevity in a bike, you may appreciate the extra heft.
Here's the cool thing about this bike: Your beginner rider starts out using the thick back wheel. When he or she feels more confident, you swap it out for a thinner wheel. The adjustable seat grows with your kid, meaning it's good for kids from 18 months until they're 4 years old. The wider rubber over-mold wheels provide stability, and won't puncture.
This is great learning bike for toddlers, with a genius for adaptability. Retrospec’s Cub balance bike lets kids practice walking and coasting, until they’re ready to graduate — someday — to a big kid’s pedal bike. Once they’re comfortable balancing the bike, they can gain some speed and tuck their feet up on the metal footrest positioned just in front of the back tire, refining their balance at higher speeds before making that crucial transition. With a steel frame and hard, foam tires that make flats obsolete, this is also one tough bike. Good for kids 20 months to 5 years old, with adjustable seat posts and handlebars.
An affordable bike that grows with your kid, this one goes from parental push mode to toddler pedal mode. The seat is adjustable and the sun canopy keeps the rays away. The weight limit is 50 pounds.
This easy-to-use starter bike has air-filled 12 inch wheels for a soft, smooth ride, and an adjustable seat and handlebars. At only 14 pounds, it's lightweight and very simple for smaller kids to maneuver. The steel frame is low enough to the ground that kids can easy push themselves forward and find their center of gravity.
Yes, this toddler bike is a design marvel. It's also smart. First off, at 10.5 pounds, it's lightweight. Second, it transitions from push-trike to three-wheeler to balance bike. It’s made from kiln-dried, preservative-free plantation birch. The seat adjusts from 11 to 18 inches, so it grows with your kid from ages 1 to 5.
Let's start with the best part of this bike: It comes fully assembled, and it seamlessly grows with your child through the toddler years. It goes from push mode to tricycle mode to ride-on bike mode. It's suitable for kids ages 10 months to 3 years old. And it collapses for easy storage.
Built in the traditional design, a lot of functionality will carry over when a kid transitions to a regular bike later. A bell, a water bottle, training wheels, and two types of brakes makes this the most complex bike on the list. But pedals are the biggest departure, as this unit can transform to a regular bike with the twist of a few bolts. If you’re looking far down the line and want something that has the greatest latitude, this is the bike. This bike is designed for kids ages 3 and older. This is a lot of bike, making it intimidating for some new riders — which is exactly why the balance-bike style has become so popular. But you likely learned to ride on a similar bike, and so did generations past. Your child can do it too.
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