What are the best toddler bikes?
As a Pediatric Occupational Therapist, I have walked so many parents through choosing the right bike for their toddler as well as spent hours testing out different bikes in the preschool schoolyard.
When it came to choosing the best toddler bikes for my own kids I also learned how children’s temperaments influence the type of bike that is going to work best for each child.
- 5 best toddler bike recommendations
- Why toddlers need to learn to ride bikes
- Choosing the best bike for your toddler
- Types of bikes for toddlers according to age
- When to get a balance bike
- Do balance bikes work?
- Balance bike or training wheels
- How to ride a balance bike
- Best Bike After Balance Bike
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My 5 favorite bikes for toddlers:
The Strider balance bike is one of my top recommendations because it is lightweight and height adjustable. It also comes with training wheels that you can use for the first day of learning to ride a balance bike.
I can’t remember a family bike ride that didn’t leave me carrying the bike at some point. Toddler bike riding is an on-again-off-again event. Much like toddler-led walks.
This bike was one of our most used because it clips up and can be carried in a tote or under a stroller.
If you are wanting your child to develop a love for bike riding, look no further. In all my years working in preschools, this was every child’s first choice of push bike. The bike is low to the ground giving hesitant kids much more confidence.
It also goes much faster than most push-bikes and even some balance bikes. This gives kids a “quick win” of excitement when they are learning to ride. I will say to be aware that it may ruin your kid’s shoes though. So test it out while wearing an old pair.
Learning to transition from standing to sitting on a bike is great for balance. It is also one of the first skills one year olds learn when it comes to bike skills. This push bike has a wide seat, and push walker bar and is stable making it a great bike for a 1 year old.
The radio flyer balance bike is a great option for preschoolers. It is lightweight and height adjustable just like the strider. However, the dimensions of this one make it, in my mind a great option for kids that are closer to 3 years old. This is because it can go a little faster.
Kids will also love the sleek look and bell on this one.
Why toddlers need to learn to ride bikes
Learning to ride a bike is both the “means and the ends” when it comes to early childhood development.
Today, being able to watch my now 6-year-old race with his friends on their bikes is a clear picture of the “ends”. Bikes open up opportunities for:
- Freedom and age-appropriate independence
- Social Play
- Endurance-building physical exertion
At the same time, as an OT I have so often used learning to ride a bike as the “means” or strategy for supporting many critical developmental skills in the toddler years. Namely:
- Balance skills (balance bikes are especially important for this)
- Bilateral coordination
- Brain-body connection and communication
Research also shows the benefits of bike riding programs for social, sensory, and motor skills.
Choosing the best bike for your toddler
When choosing a bike for your toddler we want to look at two important things
- The height of the bike vs. the height of your child
I find that if kids are having to stand on the tips of their toes while learning how to ride (before age 5), they will avoid riding. Meaning, the balance challenge is too great for most kids. It is important to look at the height of the bike according to your specific child. You can see some points on that here
- The amount of balance required by the child in order to ride the bike
When working with children I like to choose bikes according to their experience in riding and their balance skills first instead of age. This means that for a child who struggles with balance or has never ridden a bike before, we will start with a push bike.
It’s important to think about your child’s response to the bike when choosing a bicycle. Learning to ride is a developmental skill meaning, it’s hard work. We want to make sure that the motivation to ride matches the effort required.
In practical terms as a therapist, this has always meant
- Engaging kids around books and media with bicycles beforehand
- Starting on “quick win” surfaces like small downhills
- And possibly most important- choosing the right bike for your toddler’s skill and height.
- Riding with friends. There is nothing quite like the motivational force of doing things alongside friends and riding a bike is no different. Whether it’s siblings, cousins, or friends, try to start out riding together.
Types of bikes for toddlers according to age
With the risk of repeating myself, the type of bike you choose needs to be age and skill-level appropriate.
Generally, these are the types of bikes that I recommend according to age:
Best bikes for 1-year-olds:
- For children between 1 year old and 18 months old, a small pushbike like this with a wide seat is a good option.
- The wide seat and frame make it less risk of toppling over.
- The biggest skill that children are learning at this age is to seat themselves on the bike and push forward a few feet while sitting.
- These pushbikes can be used indoors as well as outdoors.
Bikes for 18-month-olds:
- For children between 18 months and 3 years, a bike like this that looks like a motorbike is a good option. I bet you had one of these growing up too! These bikes are higher off the ground and also go faster.
- Another good bike option for an 18-month-old is this. These bikes again are a little higher off the ground and require more balance skills. This was our go-to toddler bike because it folds up and can easily be stored.
- The three wheels can clip together, making it easier to pack under a stroller.
- Our favorite hack was tying an elastic band around the front bar of the bike and hanging it off of the stroller when on toddler-led walks.
Balance bikes for 2-year-olds and 3-year-olds:
- For children between 2 and 4 years, balance bikes are a great option.
- They help children develop their balance skills and coordination, and also prepare them for riding a traditional bike
When to get a balance bike
Both of our kids received balance bikes on their second birthdays. Both have ridden their balance bikes up until age five.
This means balance bikes get good use across the toddler and preschool years.
You might want to start thinking about getting a balance bike when you notice that your toddler is frustrated that the push bike isn’t going fast enough.
Do balance bikes work?
The point of a balance bike is to introduce bike riding and develop critical balance skills.
In this study of over 2000 children, it was seen that riding a balance bike was associated with children learning to ride a pedal bike at a significantly lower age.
In previous generations, tricycles were promoted instead of balance bikes. While the skill of pedaling is fantastic for brain-body connection, these don’t develop balance skills as well as a balance bike.
While riding a balance bike your child is
- Finding their center of gravity in movement.
- They are lifting their feet off the ground (relying on their proprioceptive sense)
- Using coordinated movements of all four limbs (developing bilateral coordination)
Each of these skills is not only important for future bike riding but also for academic learning.
Balance bike or training wheels
I always say balance bike first. This is also supported by the research (as noted above).
Many of the parents that reach out to me regarding bike riding have started with a pedal bike (like a BMX) with training wheels and now can’t progress with taking off the training wheels.
The reason for this is often because the actual balance skills (that are developed through using a balance bike in the toddler years ) aren’t developed enough for the traditional pedal bike.
Many balance bikes (like this) also come with detachable training wheels. This can be a great place to start when learning to ride a balance bike.
How to ride a balance bike
Unlike pushbikes, a balance bike is ridden with alternating strides. In other words, instead of stepping forward with both legs at the same time, kids need to step with one leg at a time when riding a balance bike.
This does have a learning curve. I recommend either starting (for only the first couple of days) with the training wheels on the balance bike or being right next to your child for support.
I like to make sure the seat is at its lowest setting when starting and instruct my child to “glue” themselves to the seat.
Often when kids are first learning, they will try to stand and walk with the bike. This is a very awkward movement and can quickly dissuade them from continuing to try to ride.
The simple act of pretending to bring out the magic glue stick and instructing them to sit while riding can be very helpful.
Best Bike After Balance Bike
Once your child is very comfortable with the balance bike (this could be anywhere between 4 to 6 years of age) you will want to move on to a traditional pedal bike.
A traditional pedal bike will need a transitional time with the training wheels. However, you can be confident that the skills that your child has learned through riding a balance bike will speed the process along.
It is also good to know, that you don’t need to throw out the balance bike just because your child is now riding a pedal bike. Balance bikes can still be used in parallel with pedal bikes.
Choosing the right bike for your child is important for their development. From push bikes, to balance bikes there are a lot of options to choose from.
I encourage you to enjoy the process of learning and know that this skill will serve your child well.