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The Best Bikes, Trikes and Striders for Toddlers Learning to Ride

Get ready to hit the road with your kids.

Freedom is a set of wheels — and for most Americans, 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. A great toddler bike also opens up a whole new world of adventures for you and your kids to share. 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.  

See more: The Best Toys for 3-Year-Olds

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, in short: “who can use it and how it’s supposed to be used.” 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.

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.

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. 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 a low-risk investment. Designed for kids 18 months and up, this is a solid, affordable balance bike that does the job, with quality and materials to match those expectations.

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.

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. For kids who need an extra push uphill or run out of steam mid-adventure, this trike offers a handle in the back, allowing you to take the reins and lock the pedals in a stationary position so that your kid can rest their 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 your kid stops pedaling, the wheel will still move without forcing the pedals forward. This bike fits kids ages 2 to 5. 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.

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. While this plastic bike may seem basic, little engineered details like under-seat storage and easy-grip handlebars are a nice touch. It’s also a Harley, and if you’re a motorcycle guy, that says a lot. This bike fits kids ages 2 to 5. 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 2, you might want to find another option.

If you’re looking for an affordable starter bike for a toddler, the 12-inch Huffy is a great choice. It has front hand/rear coaster brakes, a durable steel frame and a chain guard dazzle. It also boasts a specially designed padded seat with a slot for a helping hand — so beginner riders can get a little assistance from mom or dad. While it’s recommended for kids 3 and up, the upper age limit is 5 — this is a small bike that your kid may outgrow more quickly.

Fatherly IQ
  1. When shopping for toys, what's the most important quality you look for?
    That it's fun.
    That it is educational.
    That it will keep my child's attention.
    That it won't drive me insane.
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The Schwinn Elm is a solid bike for beginners from a storied brand, with 12-inch wheels, steel frame, rear coaster brake and front caliper brake, as well as a full-coverage chain guard to minimize mishaps. It’s sized for kids between 2 and 4 years old, but comes with an adjustable saddle, saddle handle for towing, and training wheels, so it can grow with your kid. It also comes with a basket… though the baskets have been known to break off.

For those who believe that swimming is best learned in the deep end, the RoyalBaby kid's bike is the perfect place to start. 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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