If your child is ready to start learning to pedal and ride a bike, then it is time for you to start researching your wheeled toy options.
You want to make sure that you get your child something that they will find easy enough to get lots of use out of, but also something that builds their muscles and skills to build up towards riding a full-size pedal bike when they are older.
Two of the most popular options for young children ready to gain their wheeling independence are balance bikes and tricycles.
But what are the differences? Which one is better? And why? If you find yourself asking these questions then you have come to the right place.
We have put together this useful comparison of balance bikes and tricycles to make your decision easier when it comes to your child’s wheeled toy needs.
What Is A Balance Bike?
A balance bike is basically a bike without pedals. It has the same shape frame, it has handlebars, and it has free-turning wheels. Instead of pedaling, the child uses their feet to push themselves along.
This means that they get used to sitting on the bike, feeling the weight of it, and getting their balance.
A lot of people find that the transition from a balanced bike to riding a bike is easier than the transition from stabilizers to no stabilizers (training wheels).
This is because the child doesn’t come to rely on the stabilizers for balance – they are better able to develop the coordination and confidence required for riding a bike without stabilizers attached.
- We have a complete comparison between learning to ride with a balance bike vs training wheels over here.
You might be concerned that without the pedaling motion your child isn’t gaining strength in their legs, but this is not the case. As the child uses their feet to propel the bike forward, they are still engaging their leg muscles to control the balance bike.
What Is A Tricycle?
A tricycle (also called a trike) is similar to a bike except it has three wheels. There are two wheels at the back and one at the front. This provides stability, unlike a two-wheeled bike which requires you to find your own balance to support your body.
The front wheel is controlled by a set of pedals, and this is where the momentum comes from. The rear wheels are free rolling- as the front wheel moves the trike forward the rear wheels roll to keep it moving smoothly.
Trikes are often considered easier to ride than bikes because they are well-balanced. However, it takes quite a lot of power to pedal and move them forward, as the front wheel has to have enough momentum to keep the rear moving even though the back of the bike is heavier.
The transition from tricycle to bicycle can be quite difficult. Whilst your child will get used to the pedaling motion, they won’t have any experience with finding balance and learning to support their body on two wheels.
When they begin to ride a bicycle, they will likely need stabilizers initially. The position of the body is also quite different on a tricycle compared to a bicycle- it is more like sitting in a chair rather than the perched position, slightly leaning forwards.
Which One Is Better? Balance Bike or Tricycle?
Whether a balance bike or a tricycle is better often depends on the individual child.
Some children prefer the seated position and balance of a tricycle. Others find the tricycles quite heavy and difficult to build up any speed on.
In recent years, balance bikes have become the more popular choice with parents and children. They look like larger bikes, so your child can feel like they are on a grown-up bike. If you are trying to prepare your child for riding a bike then a balance bike is probably a better choice.
|2 wheels||3 wheels|
|Ridden by leg push power||Ridden by pedal power, the front wheel gices momentum to the back wheels|
|Requires a degree of balance||Very stable|
|Able to adapt to uneven terrain||Can tip on uneven surfaces|
|Easy to transition to a pedal bike without stabilizers||More upright seated position than a pedal bike, will likely need stabilizers|
Are Balance Bikes Safe?
Balance bikes are safe for toddlers and older children. Your child is in complete control of the bike and can stop at any time by placing their feet on the floor. They cannot build as much speed as they would with a pedal bike (unless they are going downhill).
Whilst balance bikes are safe, accidents can always happen whilst your child is still learning coordination and how to control the bike. It is a good idea to get them a helmet, and possibly some shin or elbow pads if they are quite prone to accidents. This will also get them into the good habit of wearing a helmet in preparation for when they start riding a pedal bike.
- We have a detailed guide here how to fit a child’s bike helmet correctly
Do Balance Bikes Have Brakes?
Whether a balance bike has brakes will depend on the model of the bike and what age child it is designed for. Children younger than two years old do not tend to build up enough speed to require a brake, and they might struggle with learning to operate a brake safely.
Once your child is older than two years old they might benefit from a brake so that they can always stop safely. The brake tends to go on the rear wheel of the balance bike. It is important that you teach your child to use the brake correctly, as incorrect use of the brake can cause accidents.
How High Should The Seat Be On A Balance Bike?
Most balance bikes have adjustable seats so that you can make sure it is the right height for your child.
Your child should be able to plant their feet flat on the ground, whilst being able to reach the handlebars comfortably with only a slight bend at the waist.
Their legs should not be overly bent, but their knees should not be locked straight either. Once they have their feet flat on the ground, their knees softly bent, and their hands on the handlebars with a gentle lean forward, you know the seat is in the correct position.
Most balance bikes come in either 10 inch or 12 inch wheel sizes. It’s important you get the right size bike for their size so they can comfortably learn to ride and get their balance on the balance bike
So, Balance Bike or Tricycle?
Both balance bikes and tricycles are suitable for children and can give them hours of fun. Balance bikes are often preferable if you are trying to prepare your child for riding on a pedal bike as they get older, however, children lacking coordination skills may find the stability of a trike easier to begin with.
There’s no harm in trying your child on both and seeing which one they enjoy best; either way fear not, they will one day ride a “big bike” independently no matter which beginner set of wheels you buy them (for the record, our kids equally enjoyed playing with both!)
Jump back over here for all our kids’ bike-buying guides and advice
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