When your little one starts to walk, their desire to move faster takes off. They want to run, scoot, and ride on anything they can. It can be quite exhausting trying to entertain them and help them burn off all their energy.
Instead of wearing yourself out, why not introduce them to the great outdoors and get them their very first bike.
Spending time outside on their bike will not only burn energy, but the sunshine is healthy for them and running or pedaling (depending on the type of bike you choose) can help develop better balance and coordination.
It can be difficult to determine the type of bike would be best for your toddler, so we put together this guide to help you narrow down the best toddler bikes.
Bike Designs Suitable for Toddlers
Small Wheel Bikes with Training Wheels
As we will cover in just a bit, children’s bikes are sized by their wheel diameter. Toddler bikes will have much smaller wheels than those found on an older child’s bike.
The best size range for a toddler is between 12 and 16 inches depending on your child’s age and height.
The most distinct feature of these bikes is the fact that they are powered by pedaling. That being said, balance is essential since your child’s feet will be off the ground at all times while they are moving.
When starting your child on a bike, you will likely want to start them on training wheels as they are learning to balance on their own. Most small wheel bikes sized for toddlers include them, and they can be removed as your child grows and their balance improves
These bikes are quite unique. They allow your child to start on two wheels (without training wheels) since the bike is powered by your child’s feet.
It is simply a small wheel bike – sometimes starting at 10 inches, but usually 12 or 14 inches – without pedals.
Your child may be a bit slow and hesitant at first when riding this type of bike as they have to find their balance.
They may walk, or rather waddle, while sitting on their bike. Eventually, their confidence will grow and they will begin almost running with their bike, gliding along with both feet off the ground at times.
There are some great benefits to this type of bike compared to the traditional training wheels. We will go over them in more detail later.
A lot of parents may choose to start their toddler on a tricycle as their first bike. Not to be confused for a bike with training wheels, a tricycle only has three wheels – one in front and two in back – and the back wheels are fixed.
The bike cannot be converted later into a two wheeler.
Tricycles can vary in the way they are powered. Most will have pedals, which is a great way for your child to practice for a future bike. Some do not have pedals and are powered by your child’s feet instead.
There is nothing particularly wrong with tricycles; they can definitely be a great way to introduce the concept of a bike to your child. However, they can be rather impractical.
They do not teach your child to balance, an important concept of bike riding, and they can only be used for a short time before your child is too big.
Because of these reasons, we will not be covering any tricycles in this article.
Understanding What Size Bike Your Child Needs
Children’s bike sizes are determined by the wheel diameter (1). This is probably the biggest deciding factor when choosing the right bike for your child.
Most children’s bikes start with a 12-inch wheels size and go up to 24 inches, covering ages from 2 to 11 years old. Balance bikes, on the other hand, start slightly smaller at 10 inches and only go up to 12 or 14 inches.
When looking for a bike, you may start by looking for something that is age appropriate. There is an average age range associated with each bike size, which can be a decent guide to help you narrow down your choices.
Of course, you can’t solely go by your child’s age when determining the bike size they need. We all know that children can be smaller or bigger than average. After narrowing down the bike size based on your child’s age, you will want to take a couple of measurements on your child.
First, measure their overall height, from head to toe. Then you will want to measure their inseam, which is the length from their crotch to the floor.
This second measurement is particularly important so you know how to adjust the bike’s seat height just right to allow your child’s feet to still reach the ground.
Using the chart below, you can use your child’s age and measurements to determine the bike size they will need. Make sure when you are looking at bike models that you are aware of the seat height range, no matter which type of bike you end up choosing.
Please note this chart only covers average child ages and heights. Don’t let this chart be the sole determining factor when choosing a bike for your child.
If possible, it is best to take them to the store and have them try a couple out to see which they are most comfortable with.
Criteria for Choosing the Best Toddler Bike
As we covered in detail, wheel size is the biggest deciding factor when choosing a bike for your toddler. This is how the bike size is determined, and these sizes usually follow your child’s age and height.
The best wheel sizes to consider for the toddler age range (roughly 2 to 4 years old) are 12, 14, and 16 inches. Please review the chart outlines above to determine which is best for your child’s age and height.
Seat Height and Overall Frame Size
In addition to wheel size, you will need to consider the height range of the bike’s seat and the overall frame size. Your child should be able to reach the ground on flat feet comfortably while straddling the top tube of the frame.
When starting out, your child should be able to reach the ground on nearly flat feet while sitting on the seat as well. They will likely be relying on their feet to brake as they are getting the hang of things.
Once they are able to brake and pedal efficiently, then you can raise the seat so that only their toes touch the ground while they are seated.
On average, a toddler bike ranges from about 20 to 24 pounds, which is surprisingly heavier than some adult road bikes (18 to 26 pounds on average).
There are three reasons bike weight matters when choosing a toddler bike. First, they go through quite a bit more wear and tear since kids are rough and the bike may be thrown around a bike more. Second, being more heavy duty means that it will last longer as your child grows.
Finally, and most importantly, additional weight means more stability for your child who is learning to balance.
If given a choice between a lightweight child’s bike and a heavier one, the latter may be more preferred.
Another point we covered previously was the fact that small wheel bikes with training wheels are ideal because you can use them for longer with your child.
You may want to consider your child’s bike an investment, choosing one that is convertible from training wheels to two wheels. This will essentially give you more bang for your buck.
There are two main types of brakes used on bikes: coaster brakes and hand brakes. The latter is pretty self-explanatory; you squeeze the lever(s) on the handle(s) to activate the front and/or rear brake.
Coaster brakes, on the other hand, are sometimes better known as pedal brakes. Instead of adjusting your grip on the handle to activate the brake, you simply pedal backwards to activate the brakes.
Toddler bikes – more specifically bikes with seat heights under 25 inches – are required to be fitted with coaster brakes (2).
They allow your child to maintain a tight grip on the handles and adjust how quickly they brake by the amount of pressure put into their back pedaling.
Bikes are typically made from steel, titanium, and aluminum, and few with carbon fiber. Each has its own benefits when used for an adult bike.
Aluminum is the lightest weight, carbon fiber is lightweight and durable, and titanium is the strongest and longest lasting. However, the majority of bikes, especially kids bikes, are made with steel (3).
It is a highly reliable metal, and easy to work with to mold into different shapes. It is also much more affordable than the other metal types, making it the best choice for a toddler bike. All of the bikes on our list are made with steel.
Best Toddler Bikes in 2020
If you’ve got a sporty little boy, he will love the motorsports style of this bike. It is suitable for beginners as well as boys who are almost ready for a two-wheeler but may just want the additional support of training wheels at first.
It is available in several colors, but each color is limited when it comes to wheel size. Be sure to look closely when choosing the color for your child to make sure it comes in the wheel size you need.
One of the other great things about this bike is the affordable price. It is one of the few pedal bikes you will find new for under $100.
- Available in wheels sizes from 12 to 18 inches
- Includes front hand brake and coaster brakes
- Fits rider height of 37 to 42 inches
- Affordable price
- Several colors available
- Not every color available in all sizes
- No chain guard included
- Training wheels bend easily
This little girls’ bike is great for any beginner. It comes in three different sizes (12, 14, and 16 inches) and several colors. There is even a little basket and doll seat in the back so your little girl can take all of her favorite things on her ride.
This bike is all about stability and safety. The chain guard protects little fingers and legs from scrapes and injuries, while the wide 2-inch tires provide extra grip and prevent tipping.
The bike is also fitted with both front and rear hand brakes as well as coaster brakes on the pedals.
- Fun girly design elements
- Available in 3 wheels sizes
- Chain guards included for safety
- Wide tires for stability
- Coaster and hand brakes included
- Basket is a bit flimsy
- Difficult for younger children to pedal
- A little more on the expensive side
When choosing a bike for your child, you may want to start with a trusted brand. This girls’ bike from Schwinn offers all of the quality and features expected from a brand that’s been around for years.
There are several options available with the Elm girls bike. They offer sizes from 12 to 20 inches, as well as a 12-inch balance bike if you want to start your toddler on two wheels right away.
There are also three different colors available in most of the sizes.
The Schwinn SmartStart Technology included features everything you may need for a beginning rider.
These features include a narrower pedal positions, smaller grips and seat, chain guard, and gearing designed for easier starting.
- Available in 3 different colors
- Comes in all child sizes (12-20 inches) and as a balance bike
- Seat adjusts without tools
- Includes coater brake and front hand brake
- Easy to assemble
- Basket is made with flimsy plastic
- Pedals are known to come loose and need reattaching
- A bit heavy for small children to maneuver
If you’re looking for something simple without a lot of extra and unnecessary graphics and features, this bike may be just what you are looking for.
The JOYSTAR Totem bike features a very simple design. You will get the bike with training wheels, solid colors, reflectors on the front and rear of the bike, and a little hand bell. It comes in 4 different colors and the choice of 12, 14, or 16 inch tires.
With wide tires, training wheels, sturdy frame, and chain guard, your child can enjoy a safe ride on their new bike.
- Simple design
- Available in 4 colors
- Choose between 12, 14 or 16 inch tires
- Chain guard included for additional safety
- Coaster brakes for beginners
- Assembly instructions are difficult to follow
- Training wheels aren’t the best quality
- A bit heavy for small children to maneuver
This Dynacraft bike is probably the best choice if you are looking for a toddler bike on a budget. It only comes in a 16-inch size, so it is recommended for ages 4 to 8 by the manufacturer, not for a younger toddler.
It does still come with training wheels, so it is a great bike for your child to gain confidence before they are ready for two wheels.
Other than the frame, this bike doesn’t come with any special features. You can just expect the essentials: adjustable training wheels, handlebar pad, and coaster brakes.
- Affordable price
- Training wheels are adjustable
- Handlebar pad protects against unwanted bumps and bruises
- Lifetime warranty on frame
- Coaster brakes suitable for beginners
- Only comes in one size and color
- Pre-assembled parts may need adjusting
- Training wheels are lower quality
This RoyalBaby kids bike is one of the highest rated out there right now. It comes in just about every color imaginable and you have 5 size options available, from 12 to 20 inches.
The 12 to 16 inch options come with training wheels while the 16 to 20 inch options include a kickstand.
It is very easy to assemble, with 95% of the bike already put together upon arrival (if you order it online). It also includes all of the safety features you would want for your child’s bike.
These include a hand bell, hand brake and coaster brakes, wide tires, chain guard, and reflectors. It even comes with a hand water bottle holder so your child stays hydrated on hot days.
- Available in 7 different colors
- Smaller sizes come with training wheels; larger sizes with a kickstand
- Both hand brake and coaster brakes installed
- Water bottle holder on back
- Comes almost completely pre-assembled
- Very heavy
- Brand is overly labeled on the bike frame
- A little overly expensive
Now, let’s move on to some great balance bike options. The first on our list is the GOMO balance bike.
It comes in four different colors suitable for both boys and girls. With an adjustable seat from 12 to 17.5 inches, your child can enjoy this bike starting as early as 18 months old and can grow with them until they are about 5.
You also don’t need to worry about tire punctures. Your child can drag and ride this bike over just about anything with the heavy duty foam tires.
- Tires made of foam that won’t puncture
- Adjustable seat height
- Available in 4 colors
- Comes with 2 year warranty
- Front wheel and handlebar can become misaligned
- Need to check pre-assembled parts to ensure secure connections
- Wheels don’t have much traction
Most balance bike models are pretty much the same. However, the KaZAM v2e is a little different with its footrest design. It has been placed right in front of the seat so that it feels more natural to your child.
This placement helps them to find their center of gravity since it is where their feet would be if they were coasting on a pedal bike.
Other than this slightly different feature, most of the other features are pretty standard when it comes to balance bikes. 12-inch EVA tires (to prevent punctures), adjustable seat and handlebar, and lightweight frame.
- Puncture resistant tires
- Adjustable seat and handlebar
- Natural footrest placement
- Accommodates up to age 5
- 3 colors available
- EVA tires don’t have much grip or traction
- Heavier than some other balance bikes
- Bigger frame not suitable for small toddlers
The Banana bike shape gives a lower center of gravity, making it one of the easier balance bikes for beginners. It is ideal for ages 2 to 5.
Just like with most other balance bikes, the Banana bike comes with EVA tires that won’t puncture like normal air-filled rubber inner tubes.
It also comes with an adjustable seat (12.2 to 15.7 inches) so the bike will grow with your child.
- Lower center of gravity
- Extremely lightweight
- Puncture resistant EVA tires
- Adjustable seat height
- Environmentally friendly powder coated paint
- No footrest on the bike
- Tires don’t have much traction
- Low seat position leaves a long pole sticking out of the bottom of the frame
Strider is by far one of the best balance bike brands out there, allowing children to start on two wheels as early as 18 months of age.
The handlebar and seat heights are adjustable so your child can keep using their balance bike until they are about 5 years old.
The frame is sturdy yet lightweight, weighing only 6.4 pounds. Just like other balance bikes, the tires are puncture proof and durable, and there are footrests for when your child is cruising.
- Ideal for ages 18 months to 5 years
- Adjustable seat
- Puncture proof tires
- Lightweight and sturdy frame
- Small handle grips for tiny hands
- Not much traction on the tires
- More expensive than some other balance bikes
- Seat is hard and uncomfortable
As we have seen, most balance bikes come with hard plasticky foam tires. These are great for avoiding flats and punctures, but they aren’t the best for traction.
The Schwinn Skip balance bike takes care of this issue with regular rubber tires.
The rubber tires can keep your child a bit safer as they start going faster on their bike, and it can even make their ride a little more comfortable since the tires will absorb more shock.
Most of the other features on this bike match up with other balance bikes. The seat is adjustable, there is a small footrest on either side of the seat, and the handles are easy to grip by smaller hands.
- Rubber, air-filled tires for better traction
- Affordable price
- Simple, sturdy design
- Adjustable seat height
- Foot rest on either side of the seat pole
- Tires can be punctured
- No way for the bike to stay upright
- No padding on the handlebar
The overall design of this balance bike from Retrospec is very similar to the Schwinn we just looked at. The frame is shaped much the same and the placement of the footrest is very similar.
The main difference with this one is that we are back to the hard wheels rather than rubber.
Again, these tires are very nice so you don’t need to worry about punctures, but you also don’t get the smooth ride and traction that rubber tires offer.
Both the handlebar and seat are height adjustable, so your child should be able to ride this bike for quite a few years.
- Puncture free tires
- Footrest on either side of the seat pole
- 5 colors available
- Adjustable seat and handlebar height
- Low center of gravity
- Tires don’t have much traction
- Footrest bars stick may rub child’s legs while riding
- Heavier than other balance bikes
Benefits of a Balance Bike
With most balance bike models, you don’t have to wait until your child is two or three before starting them on a bike.
Popular balance bikes, like the Strider, can actually be used with children as young as 18 months when adjusted properly.
Because these bikes don’t require the coordination required for pedals, your child can start earlier. All they need is a basic sense of balance and the ability to walk with their bike. It will help to develop their gross motor skills while having fun outdoors.
One of the best things about a balance bike is that it will likely allow for an easier transition to a two wheeler pedal bike.
Your child won’t grow up relying on the fallback of training wheels. By the age they are ready to transition, they will likely have already mastered their balance and become familiar with the motion and feeling of riding on two wheels.
Depending on the brand you choose, you can typically get away with spending less money on a balance bike compared to a pedal bike.
Their design is much less complicated without the need for pedals, chains, and brakes, which can cut down on cost.
Most balance bikes can be used for many years as well. Your child can ride it up until they are about 7 years old, or if they decide that a pedal bike is better at that point, the balance bike will be able to pass down to a younger sibling or even maintain its resale value.
Don’t Forget the Helmet
It may seem like a no-brainer, but it is important that your child always wear a helmet when riding their bike.
However, not all states have helmet laws, and it can be very easy to consider foregoing a helmet with your toddler. You may feel like they are safe on their training wheels, unable to fall over and get hurt.
Don’t find yourself falling into a false sense of security.
Your child can still end up falling off the sidewalk, riding across uneven terrain, or simply losing their balance and end up with a bad injury if they are not wearing their helmet.
It’s always best that your child wear a helmet, no matter what type of bike they are riding. You don’t want to risk even a minor injury like a concussion, much less something more severe in the brain.
Teach by example, showing your child that you also wear a helmet when you ride. It’s also best to let them choose their own helmet; they are more likely to wear it if they are excited about the color, decorations, or characters on it.
Whether you go with a balance bike or traditional bike with training wheels, there are so many great choices for toddler bikes.
You can start them early, developing a love of the outdoors as early as 18 months (with a balance bike) and giving them a fun and fast means of transportation on your next family walk.
Just make sure you always practice safety first and foremost, fitting your little one with a helmet, checking tires, adjusting seats and handlebars to the right height, and making sure all connections are secure before you are ready to ride.