Balance bike or training wheels for toddlers? Any time a discussion about balance bikes vs. training wheels comes up, controversy almost always brews. As I put together this post, my main goal was to help parents sitting on the fence decide whether a balance bike is better than a pedal bike with training wheels.
Related: What is a Balance Bike for Kids?
I believe that a balance bike is the better bet as a child’s first-ever bike. Many of us learned to ride on a bike with training wheels. But this doesn’t necessarily mean our kids must train on a bicycle with stabilizers.
Balance Bike vs. Training Wheels, Which is Better?
A balance bike is better than a bicycle with training wheels and here’s why. A balance bike is lighter,tackles turns better, and is much safer to ride over uneven surfaces and sloping terrain such as pump tracks, sidewalks, on grass, bumpy dirt paths, and even trails.
Riding a balance bike allows children to learn precious skills such as balance, steering, and hand/eye coordination. And a child who’s trained on a balance bike needs very little time to transition to riding a pedal bike.
When you remove the pedals from a bicycle with training wheels, the kid feels uncomfortable and may even hate riding the new/modified bike. While a bike with stabilizers may give a kid the illusion of riding a real bike, the skills learned don’t significantly cut the time needed to master a normal pedal bike.
Admittedly, a balance bike is harder to learn compared to a bike with training wheels. But once the child figures out the various learning stages needed to master a balance bike, you’ll always see a big smile on their face as they glide around.
A balance Bike Travels Farther Than a Bike With Training Wheels
All adults frequently spot kids rolling down smooth neighborhood streets on bikes with training wheels. It’s beautiful. But you haven’t seen anything yet until a kid on a balance bike hurtles by and you’re like, that’s cool! And perhaps a little dangerous LOL.
A balance bike typically comes with foam tires and doesn’t have pedals and all the other components usually found on a drivetrain. Also, some don’t have brakes. Not surprisingly, a balance bike is lighter than a pedal bike with training wheels. And because it’s lighter, kids really enjoy learning on this bike type.
Since a balance bike lacks pedals, traveling long distances isn’t possible for most kids. However, this bicycle travels farther than one with training wheels. It’s hard to see training wheels riding anywhere beyond the neighborhood.
Balance Bikes Are Safer Than Pedal Bikes With Stabilizers
Another reason balance bikes are better for learning compared to training wheels is that it’s safer. A kid can ride a balance bike over curbs, through grassy patches, down sidewalks, driveways, dirt paths, around bike parks and skate parks, and even on forest trails. But this isn’t so with training wheels.
Training wheels normally mount a higher than the rear tire so that the bike when the little rider hops on it and starts pedaling, the thing becomes pretty much a seesaw. It tips to the right when the kid transfer their weight to that side and tips to the left when the weight shifts over to this side.
These awkward movements detract from the bike’s ability to stay up and balanced when rolling over sloping terrain and uneven surfaces. Also, the rider on a balance bike stays nearer to the ground than does the rider on a bicycle with stabilizers.
If both riders take a tumble, the one riding a balance bike has a shorter distance to travel before striking the ground. Besides, there’s no pedals to cause pedal strikes or to cause injury during a crash. A balance bike is therefore safer than a bicycle with training wheels.
Pedal Bikes With Stabilizers Are Easier to Learn Than Balance Bikes
Yea, this is true: a balance bike is tougher to learn on compared to a pedal bicycle with stabilizers. With training wheels, all the child has to do is mount the bike, grab the handles, and start pedaling forward. The propulsion seems awkward as the child rocks from side to side, but pretty much any child can hop on training wheels and ride.
On this bike type, the kid mainly learns pedaling. Even though balance does get some attention, the rider won’t develop as good balancing skills as they would on a balance bike. Because the stabilizers do the majority of the balancing work, the child doesn’t do much to stay up and stable.
There’s a steeper learning curve when it comes to mastering a balance bike. Even though the kiddo does zero pedaling, they’re 100% percent responsible for balancing the bike. There’s no small plastic wheels sitting on either side of the rear wheel to help with balancing.
But while balance bikes are tougher to learn compared to stabilizers, the rewards obtained by parent and child are worth every ounce of energy and patience poured in.
Balance Bikes Fit Younger Kids Better
One reason to introduce a younger kid (2 years or younger) to a balance bike as opposed to a pedal bicycle with stabilizers is that a balance bike fits younger/smaller-framed kids better.
Here’s an interesting truth: a 12″ inch pedal bike fits differently than a 12″ balance bike. How so? Here’s how. Balance bikes come with a smaller, slimmer, toddler-focused frame.
A 12″ pedal bike, which is the smallest size pedal bikes are available in, has a minimum saddle height of 17″ versus a minimum saddle height of as low as 10″ for balance bikes. Small wonder that toddlers below the age 3 have an extremely hard time learning on even the smallest pedal bike.
But with balance bikes, kids with an inseam length of 10.5″ can comfortably sit on a balance bike and start learning. There’s even balance bikes made specifically for 12-month-olds. But have you ever seen a pedal bike for that fits 1-year-olds? Me neither.
Another reason balance bikes are a great preference with parents is that they’re more comfortable for kids. Aside from that, these smaller bikes grow better with kids, that is, their design makes for a greater room for growth.
Balance Bikes Usher in Independence Sooner
In a post I recently published right here on kiddofreedom.com, I said that pretty much all kids can learn to ride a balance bike without a trainer of any kind. And that all a parent needs to do is to provide a good balance bike that fits well, a safe riding area, and constant admiration and pep talks. Onward from there kids can figure out the rest of the learning process.
But the same can’t be said of a pedal bike (without training wheels in this case). With a normal pedal bike, you have to give the small rider tons of support and instructions before they can master riding the bicycle independently. This process can take a few days (if the rider has been riding a balance bike) or several months for younger kids.
With a balance bike, as long as you’ve fitted the kid on the bike properly, it’s simply a matter of hopping on the bike and pushing off the ground. They may not sit and run or glide right from the get-go, but they sure can sit and walk on the bike without any help from adults.
In other words, a balance bike starts teaching kids self-reliance right off the bat while with pedal bikes, it can take a bit of time before the child can ride fully independently. And while 3-year-olds who’ve mastered a balance bike can independently ride up to a whole mile, kids rolling around on training wheels often can’t go any further than the block.
Balance Bikes Can Be Ridden Off-road While Training Wheels Can’t
The beauty of balance bikes is that kids can go pretty much anywhere. They can hurtle through tranquil forest trails, fly down sidewalks and dusty streets, roll over grass, ride on asphalt, practice in bike parks, skate parks, or even pump tracks. With a balance bike, especially one with air-filled tires, there’s no terrain kids can’t conquer.
But there’s only so many places a kid can ride a bicycle with stabilizing wheels. It’s super hard to ride it anywhere other than over the smoothest and flattest of surfaces. As soon as hardship (read rough terrain and sloping surfaces) shows up, a bike with balance wheels starts struggling, and the risk of tipping over is ever present.
Riding a Balance Bike is More Fun Than Moving Around on Training Wheels
Riding a bike with stabilizers may be easier than riding a balance bike, but it’s not as fun. Do you ever see tots grinning ear-to-ear when riding a bike with training wheels? But I bet you saw an excited kid this morning flying down some street on a balance bike, legs sticking out front or placed somewhere in front of the rear tire.
The reason riding a balance bike results in greater enjoyment is that it’s more challenging than getting around on a bike with stabilizers. When kids (and adults) finally win after lots of training and endurance, they simply can’t help expressing their excitement.
How much fun is tipping from side to side on a bicycle with training wheels? It’s little fun, and sometimes frustration happens when the rider learns that turns are a pain. And that there’s lots of locations that’d be unsafe to ride due to the likelihood of tipping over.
Training Wheels Are OK, But They Don’t Teach Kids to Ride a Bike
Many parents today realize that introducing a child to training wheels could be counterproductive. What training wheels do is balance the bike by design, leaving little balancing work for the learner to do.
In fact, a balance bike encourages the rider to ride in a sort of tilt or off-balance. And this isn’t the natural position they need to sit in when riding a real pedal bike. A rider on training wheels feels like they’re actually learning to ride, but little happens as far as learning to ride.
Pedaling is way easier than mastering balance. And one thing a balance bike does supremely well, it’s teaching kids proper balancing and coordination skills. Once they master balance and coordination skills, pedaling feels extremely easy.
Kids who’re familiar with a balance bike face little difficulty when transitioning to a pedal bike without wheels. Hubby recently trained a neighbor’s kid who’d mastered a balance bike to ride a pedal bike, and it took less than 10 minutes to get them rolling around like a little champ!
Conclusion: a balance bike actually teaches children to ride a bicycle, but a bike with stabilizers does little to nothing in the teaching department.
Better Steering Skills on a Balance Bike
Another great skill a balance bike enables children to learn is steering. If the bike lacks a turning limiter, there’s a chance that the handlebar might turn too much in either direction, causing a crash. To avoid falling, the young rider realizes they must get a better handle on steering.
But when riding a bicycle with stabilizers, kids tend to avoid turning because it’s difficult. Also, there’s a chance they might tip over when doing a turn especially if the surface isn’t even. As a result, the rider finally resigns themselves to riding straight on and learns little to no steering in the end.
Are Balance Bikes Worth It Really?
Some parents feel that buying a balance bike is throwing money down the drain since you’ll have to get a pedal bike for your kiddo anyways.
A balance bike is worth it because it’s tons of fun, rides over all sorts of surfaces, and most importantly makes learning to ride a bicycle remarkably easier. It also fits younger kids better than a 12″ pedal bike with training wheels. Plus, falls off a balance bike tends to be softer than falls off a pedal bike since the lowest you can set a pedal bike’s seat is 17″.
If your kiddo is 2-3 years old and desires to get into cycling, it’s best to introduce them to a balance bike since a pedal bike would be overwhelming for them. But if your kid is older (7 years or older), you don’t really need to buy them a balance bike.
Should I Get My Child a Balance Bike If They Prefer Training Wheels?
No, that’s not a good idea. Some children don’t like balance bikes. They prefer a bicycle with training wheels maybe because it’s easier to learn on. Such kids tend to hate it when you finally remove the training wheels to introduce them to real biking. And they face many hurdles when learning on a pedal bike because training wheels foster bad riding habits.
In my experience, and based on what I’ve learned from other parents, a balance bike makes way more sense than a pedal bike with awkwardly mounted training wheels. If you have a different, I’d like for you to tell me about it in the comments box below.
And if you agree with my point of view, I’d love for you to share what you’ve learned with other parents asking the question: is a balance bike better than training wheels?