A bike is not just a bike; for both you and your kid, it is freedom. It is adventure and exploration and independence. And for most Americans, it was wheels before wheels involved gas and insurance and a summer job. For your child, his or her bike is also a way to spend time with you, making it even more important to get your kid safe, balanced, and moving alongside.
While many companies make bikes for toddlers, the balance bike concept in the U.S. came from a father who wanted to share his love of two wheels with his son. Strider has been making toddler-friendly bikes for more than 12 years, but it’s no longer the only game in town. Beyond balance bikes, some parents may prefer the tricycle for added stability, while still others may choose the pedal bike with a good pair of training wheels.
See more: Best Toys for 3-Year-Olds
In terms of safety, we consulted expert Dr. Benjamin D. Hoffman, the chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention. His advice is common-sense and simple: “Look at the manufacturers’ recommendations for who can use it and how it’s supposed to be used. Supervise your kid while he or she is using it.”
And wear a helmet. Seattle Children’s Hospital advises that the should helmet sit above your child’s head and rest low on the forehead, about one to two finger widths’ above the eyebrows. The straps should be even, form a Y under each earlobe, and lay flat against the head, and the buckled chin strap should be loose enough so that your child can breathe.
Regardless of your bike preference, we’ve broken down your options and carefully weighed each’s pros and cons.
The Schwinn Elm with 12-inch wheels fits kids between two and four years of age. The bike has an adjustable saddle, comes with training wheels, and grows with your kid.
Pros: A solid bike made for beginners, the Schwinn Elm has a steel frame, a rear coaster brake and front caliper brake, and a full-coverage chain guard to minimize mishaps. The bike includes training wheels, saddle handle for towing and a front basket.
Cons: The training wheels can feel unbalanced, and in some cases, the basket broke off.
The concept of pedal-less bikes hearkens back to the history of the two-wheeled vehicle, but it wasn’t specifically geared toward children in the U.S. until one concerned parent designed one for his son. Strider’s Pro balance bike has helped children safely learn to ride for the last 12 years.
Pros: While its steel frame and puncture-proof tires are rugged and robust, the 12 aims at reducing children’s early fear of bike rather than pushing them toward a figurative cliff. The adjustable seat allows and adjusts to small legs, and balancing is as easy as your child walking. Thanks to the adaptable design, this is appropriate for 18 months to five years old.
Cons: The same robust construction that makes this bike so durable also weighs it down, and some parents preferred other, lighter models. Still, this is the patriarch of all kids balance bikes, and if longevity through age five is your concern, you might appreciate its increased heft.
Retrospec’s Cub balance bike allows your kid somewhere to go. Thanks to its ingenious design, once children feel comfortable balancing on it, they can then put feet up on its metal resting step, which is a crucial component to moving into a big-boy or –girl bike some day.
Pros: A steel frame is not unlike others in the category, but the puncture-proof, hard foam tires are different for traditional bike riders. But trust us, you’ll appreciate never having to search for the pump. What we really liked was a footrest positioned just in front of the back tire. When kids get comfortable, they can put their feet up at higher speeds, refining balance before that crucial transition to a geared bike. This bike fits children from 20 months to 5 years old with adjustable seat posts and handlebars.
Cons: That same footrest that eases the transition from a kids bike to a geared bike? It can get in the way of little legs. For that reason, this bike receives mixed reviews, though none of its critics said this feature was a deal-breaker.
For kids who want you nearby at all times or need a little more guidance, the Radio Flyer Deluxe Steer and Stroll Trike offers an easy way for you to be more hands-on. It’s no surprise that the company famous for its wagon would be able to get you involved.
Pros: For kids who tire easily or just want an extra push, the Trike offers a handle in the back, allowing you to take the reins and lock the pedals in a stationary position so that your son or daughter can rest his or her feet. Take the handle off and your child is independent, pedaling along on a solid three-wheeled base. We love its single-speed hub, which ensures that if he or she stops pedaling, the wheel will still move without forcing the pedals forward. This bike fits kids ages two to five.
Cons: For parents that need to travel to a greenway or other bike-safe location, you’d better have a strong back: At 49 pounds, this steel-framed machine is a beast, making it best for those who aren’t commuting to a different location.
For fans of another kind of bike, the Fisher-Price Harley-Davidson Tough Trike offers a fun way to introduce your child to one of your passions. This tricycle is a fun way to let them share your love of all things Harley.
Pros: While this plastic bike may seem basic, little engineered details like under-seat storage and easy-grip handlebars were a nice touch. It’s also a Harley, and if you’re a motorcycle guy, that says a lot. This bike fits kids ages two to five.
Cons: While it may carry a big name, this is a pretty basic tricycle, and as such, you shouldn’t expect the world. One consistent complaint from customers was its size, which is, well, sizable. If your child is on the small size of age two, you might want to find another option.
This is the most expensive bike on our list delivers, offering a feature-rich package that introduces children to some of the more complicated concepts of a regular bike. Whether those features are worth the extra dollars is up to you.
Pros: Lighter than other balance bikes, woom’s aluminum frame is made from the same material that high-end race bikes were once comprised. It also features air-inflated tires, which will handle better than the solid options of others on this list. Finally, it’s the only balance bike that features a rear-wheel hand brake, which, the company claims, helps prevent accidents down the line by introducing a component that is standard on pedal bikes. This bike is designed for ages 18 months to 3.5 years.
Cons: Air-filled tires require air—and patches and replacement tubes. Hand brakes must be maintained and adjusted. These are important considerations for any purchase. If you’re a hands-off kind of bike guy, this isn’t the machine for your child. But if you’ve got a work stand in the garage and “high-modulus carbon fiber” is a revered term, this is your child’s first bike.
The strength of the Banana Bike LT is its price: As the most affordable on this list, it’s the greatest value. If concept is king, then your choice is easy.
Pros: Solid foam tires, an easy step-through balance bike design, and an adjustable seat make this a middle-of-the-road performer. For those who are concerned that their child will use this only occasionally, it’s cheap enough so that you won’t feel like you’re out a ton of cash. This bike is designed for kids 18 months and older.
Cons: This bike has great reviews, but what’s missing is a head-to-head comparison with other, pricier models. The difference then is evident. While this unit isn’t a danger, for those to whom quality matters, this bike isn’t it.
For those who believe that swimming is best learned in the deep end, the RoyalBaby kid's bike is the perfect complement. Built in the traditional design, there’s a lot to like while transitioning to a regular bike later.
Pros: A bell, a water bottle, training wheels, and two types of brakes makes this the most complicated bike on the list. But pedals are the biggest departure, as this unit is ready to transition 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 three and older.
Cons: This is a lot of bike, making it intimidating for new riders and 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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