If you’re looking for a toddler bike, but aren’t even sure where to start, this article is for you. We know that it can be a bit confusing–especially if this is your first child–to know what bikes are best and how to get your little one started. That’s why we’ve created this guide.
We share the different types of toddler bikes, our top picks, why biking is important for toddler development, and what you should consider when choosing a bike for your little one.
Why You Should Get Your Toddler A Bike
The earlier you get a child started on a bike, the easier bike riding will be for them — for the rest of their lives. Kids who learn to ride a bike as a toddler have a much easier time learning to balance, pedal, brake, and cruise.
We started our son on a balance bike when he was just over a year old and had him pedaling (sans training wheels) by 2.5 years old. He’s eight and is better at biking than many kids twice his age, thanks to the early start.
Even if you don’t care that much about biking, there are plenty of other reasons your toddler should have a bike. Bicycles provide exercise, get your kids outdoors, and help build confidence. Balance bikes, in particular, can also develop and improve your child’s gross motor skills
Types of Toddler Bikes
If someone in passing were to ask me what kind of bike to get a toddler, I would automatically respond with “a balance bike!”
The truth is though, there are several types of bicycles that might be appropriate for a toddler depending on their age and skill level. Here, I’ll go over a couple of different options including ride-on-toys, tricycles, balance bikes, and pedal bikes.
Best For: Toddlers Between 12 and 18 Months
The very youngest toddlers (starting around 12 months old), can have fun on a ride-on toy. These are usually three- or four-wheeled bikes that help toddlers start to get the hang of scooting around on a bike, but are appropriate for little ones that aren’t quite big enough yet for a balance bike.
We bought a ride-on toy for my son’s first birthday and it was one of the best purchases we’ve ever made. It helped to get him excited about biking and provided years of entertainment — even once he had moved on to a pedal bike.
Top Pick: The Hape Scoot Around*
The Hape Scoot Around is perfect for little ones to get their first taste of biking. We appreciate that it has rubberized wheels that won’t mark up your indoor floors, is made of wood, and has non-toxic fishes.
More Options: The Best Ride-On Toys and Pre-Bikes for Toddlers
Best For: Toddlers Starting At 18 Months Until They Are Ready To Transition To A Pedal Bike
Balance bikes, also known as push bikes or run bikes, are pedal-less bicycles designed for young kids. As soon as kids can walk and have decent motor skills (generally around 18 months), they can start on a balance bike.
Balance bikes are our favorite kind of bikes for toddlers because they provide kids with the tools they will need to be successful on a pedal bike later. Indeed, the majority of kids who learn to ride on a balance bike as a toddler will be able to skip training wheels altogether once they switch to a pedal bike. Balance bikes are also excellent for developing gross motor skills and boosting confidence.
Top Pick: Woom 1 Balance Bike*
The Woom 1 is a good fit for toddlers as young as 18 months old thanks to the low standover height. This balance bike is more than a toy, it’s a real bicycle. It has pneumatic (air) tires rather than plastic ones, a rear handbrake so kids can start to learn braking skills young, and high-quality components that will last for years.
More Options: The 5 Best Balance Bikes for Toddlers
Another popular option for toddlers is a tricycle. Tricycles or big-wheels can be great fun for use in the backyard, but they don’t teach real cycling skills. If you go this route, we recommend choosing a balance bike as well. One notable option is the Wishbone 3-in-1 that converts from a tricycle to a balance bike.
Top Pick: Wishbone 3-in-1*
The Wishbone 3-in-1 will last your child for years. Around 12 months, toddlers can start using the bike as a tricycle. Later, it converts to a small balance bike and then to a bigger balance bike. We also appreciate that it is made of environmentally-responsible materials like birch and post-consumer recycled plastic.
Similar to a tricycle, pedal bikes with training wheels hinder the development of skills at this age. They are heavier than a balance bike which makes them difficult for young ones to handle. They also keep toddlers from developing balance which is critical for success on a pedal bike.
If you do decide to buy a pedal bike, make sure to remove the cranks and/or pedals and teach your child to scoot and glide first — similar to what they would do on a balance bike.
Once a toddler has mastered a balance bike (or a pedal bike without training wheels), you can then switch them to a 12″ pedal bike without training wheels. This can be as young as 2.5 or 3 years old depending on your child’s interest and ability level. If your child is ready for their first real pedal bike, make sure to pick one that is lightweight. At this age, the biggest hindrance to success is a bike that weighs too much.
Top Pick: Cleary Gecko 12″ Pedal Bike
The Cleary Gecko is our favorite pedal bike for young riders that are ready to graduate from a balance bike. It has a low minimum seatpost height, durable frame, and a lightweight build.
Read Review: Cleary Gecko
More Options: The Best 12″ Pedal Bikes
Things To Consider When Choosing a Bike For Your Toddler
Indoor Use Vs Outdoor Use
Is the bike going to be used primarily indoors or outdoors? For indoor use, we like ride-on-toys and balance bikes with rubberized or foam wheels.
You want to make sure that they aren’t going to mark up your floors. Avoid plastic wheels that don’t have rubber, as they are too slippery on indoor floors.
If your child is going to be biking outdoors, make sure to invest in a real bicycle (balance bike or pedal bike) that has pneumatic (air) tires rather than those with foam or plastic. Plastic is almost never a good choice; foam tires can be okay for very mild use in the driveway.
If your kiddo is going to be riding on mixed terrain including dirt, gravel, or uneven pavement, make sure to invest in a bike that has pneumatic (air) tires. They get superior traction when compared to plastic or foam tires.
Toy vs Bike
The next thing to consider is whether you want to buy a “toy” or a real bicycle. Many toddler bikes are toys–and that’s okay!!!
But, if you want your child to gain real bike skills or go on adventures outside of your backyard, you need to get them a real bicycle. A “real” bicycle is a balance bike or pedal bike with pneumatic (air) tires, an aluminum or high-grade steel frame, and (maybe) even brakes.
Size and Readiness
When should you start your toddler on a bike? As soon as they can walk!
As previously mentioned, the tiniest toddlers (around 12 months old) may have an interest in bicycles. They are well served by a ride-on-toy.
Around 18 months, I’d recommend trying out a balance bike. At this age, your biggest issue will be finding a balance bike small enough. (You can find our recommendations, in our post on the best toddler balance bikes).
The other thing to take into consideration, is how much the bike can grow with your child. Does the seatpost raise? Are the handlebars adjustable?
If you’re on a budget and don’t want to buy another bike a few months or a year down the road, look for a bike where your child is on the smaller end of the size spectrum so that they have some room to grow.
How To Measure For A Toddler Bike
Make sure to measure your child’s inseam and compare it to the minimum seatpost height of a bike, before making a purchase. Your toddler’s inseam should be AT LEAST as tall as the minimum seatpost height to fit on the bike.
Some toddlers will be rocking and rolling from Day 1 and some may take days, or weeks, or even months to take to a bicycle. That’s okay. Just keep offering it and eventually they will be ready.
- Learn More: Kids Bike Sizes
We generally look for different safety features when it comes to toddler bikes than we do from a bike for a bigger kid. This is because toddlers crash a lot–they just don’t have the same coordination and strength as preschoolers or grade school kids.
Some of the safety features we look for on a toddler bike are: rounded and/or recessed bolts, grips with flanges at the end, and a steering limiter (keeps little ones from over rotating their bars).
Toddlers are tiny! They don’t have the much size or muscle to handle a heavy bike.
For this reason, we emphasize light weight bikes for kids this age. It make the experience much more enjoyable and safer for them. A light bike is easier to handle and to learn on.
How light is light enough? We like to look for bikes that come in under 10 pounds.
How To Teach A Toddler To Ride A Bike
With very young kiddos on a pre-bike, just offer the bicycle as you would any other toy. The idea right now is just to introduce them to a bicycle. You might notice that you set them on the bike and they crawl right off and play with the wheels instead. This is totally normal.
With slightly older toddlers on a balance bike, you’ll want to help them actually learn to balance and scoot on a balance bike. Aim for 10 to 15 minutes a day.
For tips on techniques you can use to encourage your child to ride, check out this article:
Learn More About Biking With Toddlers
The Rascals are a family of three. Kristen (mom), Blair (dad), and Parker (kiddo). We started Rascal Rides when Parker was born and we didn’t want to give up our passion for biking. As we learned, we shared. Over the years, we’ve tested hundreds of kids bikes, helmets, bike trailers, and more.
Kristen is a USA Cycling certified coach and loves to share her passion for biking with other families. Blair is a bike geek, mechanic, and mountain bike junkie. Parker is our resident tester and inspiration.
If you see us out on the trail, make sure to say hi!