Best Balance Bike For 3 Year Old Toddlers of 2018 & Buying Guide
Balance bikes are bicycles without pedals, chains, gears, or any other feature that makes a bike “go.” To get moving, kids use their feet against the ground to propel themselves forward. If you’ve never seen one before, it can be a very odd sight—why would anyone want a bike without pedals?
Surprisingly, the consensus from both experts and parents is that the lack of pedals now, when a child is first learning to ride a bike, will help them become better riders later—so much so, in fact, that they likely won’t need training wheels when they get their first “real” bike down the line.
Because the child doesn’t have to focus on pedaling, they can put all their attention on steering and balance. This is perfect for toddlers (children aged 2 to 3), since their coordination and motor skills are still developing. If you’re considering a balance bike for your toddler, our buyer’s guide will help by answering some common questions and showcasing a few of our favorite models.
What’s the difference between training bikes, trikes, and balance bikes? Is one better than the other?
A training bike is a two-wheeler bike equipped with training wheels, designed to be removed as a child improves their balance. Trikes or tricycles are three-wheeled “bikes,” and are usually more squat and low to the ground; their wheels cannot be removed. A balance bike is a bicycle without pedals or gears—just the frame, handlebars, and wheels—so kids can practice balance and steering without the confusion of pedals.
The type of bike you get depends on your child’s needs and abilities, and how long you need the bike to last. Trikes are seldom long-term bikes, and while they’re good for acquainting kids with pedaling and steering, they don’t encourage balance. Training bikes are useful if you want the bike to “grow with” your child as their abilities improve, but tend to cost more. Balance bikes are rarely used longer than a year, since they’re meant as “trainers” for kids before they move on to two-wheeled bikes. One advantage of balance bikes is that kids as young as three can transition to two-wheelers after using them, without requiring training wheels.
All have their advantages and disadvantages, and their usefulness depends largely on your child. Consider which factors—balance, pedaling, steering, or all three—they need the most help with, how much you can spend, how long you need the bike to last, and your preferences, as well as your child’s. These will help you determine the best type of bike for your toddler.
Are big-name brands better than small companies?
Nope! The same standards of quality must be met to make your purchase a wise and safe one, and brand has nothing to do with this. When searching for a quality bike, rely on customer reviews, materials and construction, and responsive customer service histories. Regardless of the company’s size, these are all marks of a fair and first-rate brand.
As for price, the same applies: cheap doesn’t necessarily mean bad, and expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better. That said, be aware that mass-produced bikes from big stores are often made with lower quality materials and less attention to detail than, say, bike shop models.
While it’s understandable that most parents don’t want to spend a lot on a bike their child will quickly outgrow, it’s worth investing in a higher quality model to ensure the bike won’t break or twist after just a few impacts. What’s more, a more solid bike will last longer, which will make it a viable option for a younger relative, or to resell later on.
How do I know if my child is ready for a balance bike?
Because most kids can’t pedal before age 2 or 3, experts recommend waiting until these ages for bikes—but balance bikes, which require no pedaling, don’t fall under this category. Kids as young as 12 months can operate most wheeled, self-propelled toys, from play vehicles to ride-on trains. Balance bikes take this a step further by encouraging balance and steering, as well as using one’s feet to move forward or back.
In short, if your child is at least a year old and seems eager to play with wheeled toys, they’re probably ready for a balance bike.
I see balance bikes made out of wood, and ones made out of metal. Which should I get?
Bike materials are not a decision to be taken lightly. Besides appearance and price, you also have to consider that material’s durability. Every option has its advantages and disadvantages, so factor these into your decision:
- Steel: durable and often inexpensive, but heavy. It can make some bikes too heavy for your child to lift off the ground by themselves. Rust is also a common issue with steel.
- Aluminum: lightweight and strong; rust-proof. However, aluminum does tend to be pricier, which some parents don’t want in a bike their child will only use for a year or two.
- Wood: can be more environmentally friendly, depending on the manufacturing process; attractive natural look and gender-neutral. Not adjustable like many metal bikes, so these might not grow with your child. There’s also a wider range of durability, since types of wood vary in strength, and some designs are better than others.
Another factor to consider: some bikes have brakes as an added bonus—your child can stop with their feet while they get used to riding, then use the brake as they become more skilled with their multitasking—and you’ll be hard-pressed to find brakes on wooden balance bikes.
Are there other advantages to balance bikes, besides lowering the likelihood they’ll need training wheels on their first “real” bike?
The advantages of balance bikes over traditional training ones are numerous, and the most noticeable one is coordination. Because a child isn’t overwhelmed by the additional process of pedaling, they can focus solely on balance and steering (and, in some models, using a handbrake as they get older).
What’s more, children can use balance bikes as young as one year of age, whereas traditional bikes aren’t suitable until age 2 or 3—although the average age is closer to 5. This means kids can start biking earlier in life, which will instill a love of the activity sooner.
Aside from the benefits of biking, kids who use balance bikes improve their coordination and motor skills across the map. They get fresh air, exercise, and an earlier start to safety rules than kids who don’t start biking until age 3+.
Best Balance Bike Reviews
1. KaZAM No Pedal Balance Bike Review
With a patented “step-in” footrest, this balance bike from KaZAM offers an impressive solution to a common problem in this industry: too-small or non-existent footrests that discourage kids from picking up their feet and coasting, and too-large ones that interfere with striding.
There’s little, if anything, to dislike about this model. The unique footrest design, maintenance-free tires, and variety of colors will make it popular with toddlers and parents alike.
2. Schwinn Balance Bike Review
As one of the most popular bike manufacturers in the market, Schwinn has created a balance bike that—aside from the fact it has no pedals and drivetrain—looks strikingly similar to a regular bicycle, which will appeal to kids who are jealous of older siblings’ “big kid” rides.
While it’s an ideal bike for most kids 3+, parents who want to start their young toddler on a balance bike should seek models with smaller “heel-only” footrests that won’t interfere with their child’s stride patterns. Other than that, Schwinn has designed a quality bike—with a fair price tag attached.
3. Red Bullet from Chicco Review
Chicco’s balance bike is another option with a “true bike” look, thanks to a standard fork design and ergonomic handlebars. Though it has an adjustable seat, this bike is probably not ideal for kids younger than 3 years.
While it’s got its faults, the Chicco Red Bullet is a decent balance bike for its very low price. We recommend this for parents on the tightest of budgets, whose child is at least 3 years old. Its lack of footrests might be a blessing to kids who need to master striding, or a curse to kids who won’t pick up their feet and coast now and then.
4. Strider 12 Classic Review
Strider is a huge name in balance bikes, with high customer satisfaction and quality designs. Their 12 Classic model focuses on simplicity and function, but doesn’t skimp on a sleek and gender-neutral design. The best part about it, though, is that it’s designed for kids as young as 18 months; when your child reaches 3 years of age, you can add the included seat post extension for use through 5 years of age.
For very young riders, the Strider 12 Classic is an excellent option. Its adjustable seat will make it suitable for children up to five years of age, but we imagine most kids—especially those starting at 18-24 months, as recommended by the manufacturer—won’t need to use a balance bike that long, anyway. Overall, we think this model can accommodate slightly older children (age 4-5), but is best for young ones.
Balance bikes are highly effective at teaching kids to ride traditional bikes, and a worthwhile investment for parents looking to skip the training wheel stage. We hope our buyer’s guide has been helpful to anyone considering one for their child. While it might seem silly to spend so much on a bike they’ll stop using within a year or two, consider the reason: most children learn to balance on these bikes so quickly and efficiently, they just can’t wait to tackle a real two-wheeler! Above all else, balance bikes promote confidence—and that’s something you can’t put a price on.