Balance bike vs tricycle for toddlers, which should I buy for my little one? That’s the question many parents ask before choosing either device for their kids. At this point, I unequivocally state that a balance bike trounces a tricycle on many levels. And I’m not aware of any argument persuasive enough to sway me in the opposite direction.
Why I’m Pro-Balance Bike and Not Pro-Tricycle
When our first son turned 2.5, hubby and I started reading around to learn which the best toddler tricycle was, and we picked one promising bet. It arrived all spanking-new and shiny, as such things almost always do. We took it out of the box, and hubby assembled it.
Good news! The tricycle was really simple to assemble. I’d say it came about 50 percent assembled and we quickly and easily handled the rest of the work. Bad news! Our son sat on the 3-wheeler and dropped his small legs down to reach pedals.
But it turned out the pedals were too far down, which means he simply couldn’t pedal the contraption around. She couldn’t even walk around on it for the life of her (the ground always sits lower than the pedals, right?), and we just had to return it, a story for another day.
A Friend Recommended a Balance Bike
“Are you for real? You mean you’ve never heard of balance bikes? Esther, you must have been living under some rock all these years! Get a balance bike for Ryan already!”
Those we the exact words one of my friends uttered when I described my kiddo’s endless frustration when he attempted to ride a tricycle.
So we started reading on the web, learning all we could about balance bikes. It turned out that a balance bike beat a tricycle hands down as far as fit and the actual value derived after weeks of practice.
He Mounted the Balance Bike and Off He Went!
When the balance bike finally came (it was a 12″ Strider Balance Bike), Ryan flung one leg over the thing and sat on it. We’d already calculated the right seat height and made the necessary adjustments.
Here’s what happened: the tyke didn’t need us at all. He sat on the balance bike and started walking on it without an once of support from us. In a few weeks, he could sit and run a bit on it, and a few more weeks, he was cruising all around the neighborhood, a satisfied grin on his face.
Don’t make the mistake we made. Spare your 2-year-old the agony of riding something they can’t access and get them a balance bike instead. BTW, our kid rode the 12″ balance we bought them until age 4 when we graduated them to a 16″ pedal bike without training wheels. Did we teach them how to ride a pedal bike without training wheels? No, we didn’t. The tyke sat on the saddle and simply rolled away!
I’m not saying a balance bike is the best thing you can buy as a birthday gift for a little one. I’m saying no parent should buy a lame tricycle where there’s so many able balance bikes that offers boatloads of amazing benefits and fun to kids.
Why Tricycles Aren’t a Great Idea for Toddlers
You’re probably wondering why I seem biased against tricycles. Like what did tricycles ever do to you? There’s a bunch of reasons that make many parents give tricycles a wide berth.
First off, tricycles are pretty heavy, heavier than most balance bikes. And last time I checked, kids hate heavy outdoor gear. Another downside of tricycles is that they’re not as easy to ride. The pedals in most cases are set too far down, and younger toddlers have trouble accessing them. And what’s the point of buying something that looks really cute but fails to serve the purpose for which you purchased it?
Tricycles are cute, and they have three wheels instead of 2 like balance bikes. And three wheels are better than two wheels, right? Not really.
While three wheels means more stability and better balance, it also means that steering isn’t easy. Plus, navigating sharp turns or turns in general on a tricycle can be a painful experience for kids.
Also, like three wheeled scooters and pedal bikes with training wheels, tricycles aren’t completely safe when rolling over sloping terrain or uneven surfaces. There’s always a decent chance that the little fancy thing will tip over, something no kid looks forward to.
6 Good Reasons to Buy a Balance Bike Instead of a Tricycle
Below is a list of at least 6 reasons why choosing a balance bike for a kid makes more sense than getting a tricycle for them.
Reason #1: A balance bike is safer than a tricycle when it comes to moving over uneven surfaces and sloping terrain.
Reason #2: In terms of fit, a balance bike works way better than a tricycle or a bicycle with training wheels. Balance bikes come smaller and slimmer, and they fit perfectly under young kids provided you fit them correctly. And fitting a kid for a balance bike is a pretty straightforward process: simply measure the child’s inseam length and choose a balance bike whose saddle easily adjusts to that measurement.
Reason #3: Since balance bikes are lighter/not as bulky as tricycles, kids enjoy riding them and tend to travel farther than they’d ever do on most 3-wheeled human-powered vehicles.
Reason #4: A balance bike allows kids to ride independently right from day one. Even a 1-year-old can ride a balance bike without assistance from anyone as long as it’s fitted correctly size-wise. Not only that, kids can ride a balance bike until they’re old enough to graduate to a real pedal bike at age around age 4.
Reason #5: A kid who’s been riding/practicing on a balance bike transitions smoothly and effortlessly to a pedal bike, and I’m talking about a pedal bike without training wheels here. It’s hard to believe, but a kid who’s ridden a balance bike all his/her life doesn’t need a teacher to learn to ride a pedal bike, and they don’t need stabilizers since they’re already masters at balance and coordination skills. They simply get on the pedal bike and ride away into inexplicable delight.
Reason #6: When executing turns, a three wheeled cycle rider finds it harder than anything they’ve ever tried before. In the end, they avoid turning at all and just stick to riding the tricycle down straight paths.
Have you ever wondered why many cities across the US decided to ban all kinds of 3-wheeled vehicles from their streets? It’s because three wheelers are tough to ride and timely steer away from pedestrians, cars, and other objects. Accidents can happen in the span of a Thanos snap.
Let’s now do an in-depth comparison between a balance bike and a tricycle to help you decide which is the better bet for your little one. This discussion focuses on several aspects including price, fit, lifespan, ease of use, stability, safety, product weight, riding age, fun factor, and the skills learned in relation to transitioning to a pedal bicycle down the road.
I’m pretty sure that after this discussion, you’ll be at an advantaged position as far as deciding which device to choose.
Product Price: Both Live in the Same Price Range
Excluding the most expensive models, both balance bikes and tricycles are found in the same neighborhood as far as the price. You can get decent-to-good balance bike or tricycle in the $60-$200 range. I’m tempted to say buy both if money isn’t a challenge for you, but I won’t succumb.
Because there’s no need spending money on something that offers more problems than benefits. Neither is too expensive, and there’s a wide variety to choose from so that you’re spoiled for choice. I encourage to spend some time diving into detailed toddler tricycle reviews and kids balance bike reviews before picking any model.
Fit: Balance Bikes Win BIG in the Fit Department
One thing tricycles and bikes with training wheels don’t do well is fitting toddlers properly. In many cases, parents find that the pedals are nearer to the ground than the little rider’s soles. The child is disappointed when they find they can’t even scoot on the thing leave alone pedal it.
If you must buy a tricycle for your kid, make sure to choose an option with a footrest or one that’s compatible with a footrest. The footrest mounts higher than the pedals, and it provides a flat, comfortable platform where they can rest their tiny feet.
But what’s the point of a footrest if the child hasn’t done riding/pedaling of any kind? The top bar of most tricycles sits pretty high, and few kids can reach the pedals from that height. It’s also challenging for most toddlers to fling a leg over the tall top bar and pedal away.
Balance bikes seem to have been designed with the sizing needs of toddlers in mind. A bike size 12″ will work well for kids from age 18 months all the way to age 48 months. These are small bikes with an equally slim frame. If you get the sizing right and set the saddle at a comfortable height, your little one will take to riding the thing in no time.
Lifespan: Kids Use Balance Bikes for Longer vs Tricycles
I mentioned that balance bikes and tricycles for young children cost more or less the same. But here’s what I didn’t say: most kids get to ride and enjoy a balance until they hit an age mature enough to ride a pedal bike without training wheels. Most options grow with the little rider. An 18-month-old will often ride the same bicycle until they hit age 4.
As for toddler tricycles, they’re little cute contraptions that don’t see much use beyond 1.5 years after introducing them to 2-year-olds. Do you really see yourself paying $200 for a three-wheeled toy your kiddo can’t ride anymore after just 18 months? And it’s not because the toy is broken, it’s because it no longer fits the kid.
There’s tons of anecdotal evidence suggesting that tricycles stay useful for half as long as balance bikes due to fit-related issues. So, your kiddo gets roughly 2 times as much as use and fun from a balance as they do from a tricycle.
Product Weight: Balance Bikes Are Lighter Than Tricycles
Do you know what kids hate? It’s gear that doesn’t fit them well. But do you know what they hate even more? It’s heavy gear that also doesn’t fit well.
Here’s the thing. Tricycles are heavier and bulkier compared to balance bikes. But how heavier are tricycles? Substantially heavier.
Consider this: while the weight of a balance bike ranges from 6-12 pounds, some of the most popular kids’ tricycles weight as heavy as 20+ pounds. The uber popular Schwinn Roadster Tricycle for Toddlers and Kids weighs 20 pounds, which is almost 10 pounds heavier than the heaviest balance bike.
But not all trikes weigh 20+ pounds. There are lighter tricycles for toddlers, 3-wheeled cycles that are as light as under 10 pounds. However, these lightweight tricycles are often notorious for not being sturdy enough.
If nothing else convinces you that a balance bike is better than a trike, let the massive weight difference do it. Many parents have observed at different times that kids ride heavy gear less and less and eventually ditch the product altogether.
Ease of Use: Tricycles Are Harder to Use
Tricycles have 3 wheels and don’t need much effort from the little rider to stay balanced. They therefore should be super easy to ride and control, right? Except they’re not.
For the most part, the pedals are placed too far out front and most kids have trouble reaching them to pedal. Aside from that, the seat on this 3-wheeled kids’ toy sits too tall for most tykes.
But that’s not all. It’s harder to steer a tricycle around a turn versus leaning into a turn on a balance bike. Adults don’t like things that take forever to figure out, and kids hate trikes whose propulsion mechanism is inaccessible.
As for balance bikes, they may be harder to learn compared to trikes (assuming the rider can even touch the pedals), but they’re easier to ride and control afterward. When a child is 18 months or 36 months, they should be able to walk on a balance bike in a few days.
Stability: Trikes Are More Stable Than Balance Bikes…On Even Surfaces
It’s a simple fact: a three-wheeled personal transportation device stands more stable than a two-wheeler. This means that any trike is more stable out of the box than a balance bike. But they demonstrate this better stability on even, non-sloping surfaces/terrain.
When ridden on a sloping/uneven surface, it’s pretty easy for a trike to fall over. But a kid can ride a balance bike on all kinds of terrain without worrying about tipping over.
This stability issue on sloping terrain is the main reason you don’t see many tricycles past the neighborhood streets. In comparison, kids can ride a balance bike farther way regardless of how the surface angles, up to 1 mile away or even farther from home.
Riding Age: Even Very Young Children Can Safely Ride a Balance Bike
Most kids under the age 3 have a really hard time fitting on a tricycle and riding it comfortably. For this reason, trikes aren’t for the youngest of kids. They’re mostly for kids aged 3 and above.
But kids as young as 12 months can ride a properly sized balance bike. Here’s a simple rule of thumb to follow: if a kid can walk with a straight gait, they most certainly can ride a balance bike. That said, it takes pretty long (almost a year with most toddlers) for an 18-month-old to master a balance bike. When I say master, I mean being able to glide around on it.
Balance: Kids Do Little to Balance on a Trike
Since a tricycle has 3 wheels, it balances itself and won’t tip over if left standing. And this is good, right? Not really. Because the thing does the little rider’s job, the 3-wheeled cycle becomes pretty much a comfort zone for them. They exert themselves less, quite naturally, as far as balancing the trike.
And you know what? Balancing is the most challenging aspect of learning to ride a pedal bike without pedals. When the time comes for your kid to transition to a normal pedal bike, they won’t need any kind of training to pedal it away if they’ll have mastered balancing. Which brings us to the next point…skills.
Skills: A Balance Bike Helps Kids Pick Up Valuable Riding-related Skills
Sure, kids ride a balance bike or a tricycle majorly for fun. But what’s wrong with them learning a few important skills along the way? Nothing. One of the skills they naturally learn on a balance bike is balance.
This bike type doesn’t balance itself at all. And the little rider has to do whatever it takes to keep the bicycle sitting straight up in motion and otherwise. A few falls out riding, and the tyke soon completely understands what they need to do to stay up and not fall off all the time.
Then there’s hand/eye coordination skills. As the child uses the brakes, steers the bike away from or around obstacles, puts the feet down to slow down or stop the bicycle, they have to make sure that their eyes and hands work in sync the whole time. This skill transfers over to pedal bike riding, helping them lean into turns and feather the brakes.
Fun Factor: Balance Bikes Beat Trikes in the Fun Department
Well, fun is hard to measure or quantify when it comes to stuff like enjoying a ride on a bike. But when was the last time you saw a kid on a tricycle and uttered, “that’s super cool?” Honestly there’s nothing impressive or amazing about rolling around on a device that requires little to no creativity to master.
But when a child zips down the street on a badass balance bike, how does that make you feel? If you’re like many parents, you’re like, “riding this things must be tons of fun. The little dude can’t even see me because…it’s all about he and the bike.”
Best Balance Bikes for Toddlers and Kids?
It’s always difficult to pinpoint one product and say it’s the best of its kind the world’s ever seen. Still, there’s always a bunch of options that stand out from the rest because they’re better in terms of overall performance, fit, construction quality, design, and other areas.
Once you’ve measured your kiddo’s inseam length and determined what size balance bike to get, head over to your local bike shop or online stores and pick any of the following:
12″ Strider Classic Balance Bike for Toddlers (18 months to 36 months)
12″ Strider Sport Balance Bike (24-36 months)
12″ Banana Bike GT for Toddlers and Older Kids (2-5 years)
12″ YEDOO TOOTOO for 2-4 year olds
You want to read actual reviews from parents online to learn how each option rides and whether it deserves your money or not.
Best Tricycles for Toddlers and Kids?
I’ve reviewed a bunch of toddler and kids tricycles, and these ones really stood out to me:
Joovy Tricycoo 4.1: this converts from a toddler’s tricycle to an older kid’s trike easily. It even comes with a UPF 50 sun/wind canopy. Plus there’s a handle that enables parents of very young kids to push them around on this bike. And it’s not too expensive.
Radio Flyer Deluxe Steer and Stroll
Schwinn Roadster Trike for older kids (36 months and above)
Final Thoughts On Balance Bikes vs Trikes
Both balance bikes and trikes are cute kid’s fun rides and aren’t obscenely expensive. But balance bikes have a longer lifespan, offer better balance, are safer on uneven ground, are more fun to ride, and easier to ride and steer.
I won’t ask you to buy both even if you have the money. I’m convinced (and so are many parents out there) that a balance bike is better than a tricycle as a toddler’s first cycle.
A child who starts out riding a tricycle struggles to execute turns and to ride over uneven terrain without falling over. The young rider learns little to nothing about fundamental bike handling skills such as balance and eye/hand coordination skills.
If you introduce a kid who’s been learning on a balance bike to a pedal bike without wheels, they’ll simply sit on it and wheel away. Not so with a kid who’s been rolling around on a self-balancing three-wheeled cycle. This child takes tons of time before they can get accustomed to balancing the bike themselves or before they can master leaning into turns. And no, they won’t be able to do any of this without you or someone else guiding them and supporting them.
So…stop thinking now and just get a proper balance bike for your toddler. Then come back here and thank me for the advice.