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 almost six now and is better at biking than many kids twice his age, thanks to the early start.
But 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 best bikes for toddlers, why biking is important for toddler development, and what you should consider when starting your child on a bicycle.
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.
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 one 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
A balance bike is the next logical step after a ride-on toy. Most kids are ready for a balance bike around 18 months old. 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.
- Read: 7 Reasons You Should Buy a Balance Bike for Your Toddler
- Read: The 5 Best Balance Bikes for Toddlers
Top Pick: Woom 1 Balance Bike
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
Similarly, 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.
- Read: The Best 12″ Pedal Bikes
Top Pick: Cleary Gecko 12″ Pedal Bike