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When your toddler is comfortable walking about by themselves at a steady pace, it’s time to think about some wheels! You’ve likely seen little kids on scooters and bikes near your home and in the park, but what is the best option for you? In this article, we’ll compare the pros and cons of balance bikes, scooters and tricycles.
What is a balance bike?
A balance bike is a special bike for toddlers, which helps them balance properly, before they transition onto a normal bike. Balance bikes don’t have pedals or stabilizers, and most don’t have a brake. The idea is to get youngsters to purely focus on their coordination, without the distraction of pedals and brakes which they can learn later.
How does your child use a balance bike?
When your child uses it the first few times, they will likely just walk with the bike with their legs either side of the frame. However, over time they will gain more confidence with the steering and pick up more speed using their legs and sitting on the seat. Once you see your child picking up some speed and lifting their legs and balancing, then you know they are using correctly and it won’t be long before they can upgrade to a pedal bike.
Should you get a balance bike or a scooter?
My daughter had both and I’ll probably do the same for my son when he’s older. A scooter is faster and more practical if you want to go to the park, and it takes up lesson space if you put it in the trunk of your car, where as a balance bike is better for shorter distances. My daughter actually enjoyed using the balance bike more, but she quickly realised she could pick up quite a bit of speed on the scooter. You’re also developing different skills by letting your child use both. Although both help with balance and coordination, the steering is very different. With a scooter you lean and shift your weight, whereas on a balance bike you use the handlebars.
What age is best for a balance bike?
Children can start riding a balance bike when they’re between 18 months and 2 years old. Although balance bikes are fine until a child is about 5, most transition to pedal bikes when they are about 4.
Are balance bikes a waste of money?
No, in fact it’s quite the opposite. Balance bikes are one of the most effective steps to help your child learn how to move on successfully to a pedal bike. My daughter used a balance bike for quite a while, but when she moved to her pedal bike, it only took about three trips to the park before she was quite happily riding along by herself. You might think balance bikes are a short-term option, but the benefits far outweigh the costs. You can always keep it in the garage if you’re planning on using it for a second child, and you can always pick up one second-hand quite easily.
Do you have to wear a helmet?
It’s always advisable to weight a helmet when riding a bike, whether this is for toddlers or adults. Once your toddler has adapted to their balance bike, they can pick up quite a bit of speed and you don’t want a trip to hospital if they fall and crack their head open!
Do they come in different sizes?
The most common size are balance bikes with 12” wheels, but you should always check your toddler fits properly on it. Their feet should be flat on the floor when they are on the seat. Although most balance bikes are lightweight, you can get ones with steel frames which you probably want to avoid. Such a heavy frame will be hard for toddlers to push and you’ll have to carry it home when they are tired. You can also get 14” and 16” wheels for older children.
Can you get balance bikes for adults?
Although most balance bikes are for younger riders, you can get them for adults too. These are suitable for adults who never learnt to ride when they were children, or those who might have some difficulty with coordination and balance.
How do you stop on a balance bike?
Balance bikes usually don’t come with brakes so toddlers are encouraged to use their feet to stop. This article contains more info on this topic.
Pros and cons of balance bikes
Here are the advantages and disadvantages of balance bikes.
- Lightweight and easy to manoeuvre.
- An excellent choice for transitioning on to a pedal bike.
- Teaches your toddler how to steer.
- Easy to jump off.
- Fun to use. Most children love the feeling of whizzing round on a balance bike.
- A bit more bulky (compare to a scooter) if you need to carry one by hand or put one in the car.
- Most balance bikes don’t have brakes.
- Children can wear out the soles of their shoes using a balance bike. You might want to use some older footwear when they are riding one.
- Some children won’t need a balance bike for very long.
What is a scooter?
A child’s scooter features a long steering handle, a footboard, and wheels at the front and back. To use it, you keep one foot on the footboard and push off with the other on the ground.
Is a scooter easier than a bike?
Compared to a pedal bike, a scooter is a lot easier to use. However, compared to a balance bike, it really depends on the child. Some will find a scooter easier to use, and some will find the opposite. The main difference is that children can go faster on a scooter than a balance bike, but as they are already in a standing position, it makes it a little safer to stop, compared to seated position on a bike.
Does your child need a helmet for a scooter?
Absolutely. Young children can pick up quite a bit of speed on the scooter and the small wheels mean little bumps on the sidewalk can cause it to topple over. Make sure your toddler has a helmet which fits properly. You might want to consider some elbow and knee pads too.
What age is appropriate for a scooter?
If your child can walk comfortably at a steady pace, then they are ready for a scooter. Most children should be ready by 18 months to 2 years old, and they can use them for a number of years.
What scooters are good for older children?
Although your toddler’s first scooter can last a number of years, you will need a bigger model eventually. Many older children like scooters to do tricks on, so you need to pick something appropriate.
Pros and cons of scooters
Here are the advantages and disadvantages of using a scooter.
- Light and compact. They don’t take up much space, which is ideal if you want to take a scooter with you in the car or on public transport. They are easy to carry if your toddler is struggling to go up a hill or if they are tired.
- Convenient. If you’re in a hurry, children can easily keep up with you when they are on a scooter.
- A great option for longer distances.
- They last a long time. You can just raise the handle bars as your child grows so you can get many years of use out of one scooter.
- Harder to control (initially). It takes a while for children to understand how to lean and steer with a scooter. Also, although most scooters come with a rear brake, it’s trickier for children to understand how to use them.
- Small wheels. As scooters have smaller wheels it means little bumps on the sidewalk can easily cause the scooter to fall to the side or flip forward (if your toddler is going quite fast)
What is a tricycle?
A tricycle (or ‘trike’ for short) is a three wheeled vehicle. They are very comfortable for children to use and quite stable on most flat surfaces. Trikes can be used indoors as well as outside and some models have storage at the back.
Is a balance bike easier than a tricycle?
Overall, I think a balance bike is easier. It’s easier to steer and your child just uses their legs to pick up some speed. A tricycle requires a lot more effort to move due to the pedals, and they tend to be heavier than balance bikes.
Why is it difficult to ride a tricycle?
The main reason children find it a bit harder to use a tricycle is because it requires a lot more effort to use the pedals and pick up any speed.
Do toddlers need helmets for tricycles?
Although tricycles are more stable than scooters and balance bikes, you should still put a helmet on your child just in case they tip over on some uneven land or a bump.
Pros and cons of tricycles
Here are the advantages and disadvantages of tricycles.
- They teach your child how to pedal.
- They are very secure, safe and stable. No need to worry about balance.
- Storage. With some tricycles, you can store some items in the back. This is fun for children as they can put some of their toys there.
- You can use them indoors.
- Although your child will learn how to pedal, it takes quite a bit of effort. This can discourage some toddlers from really trying as it’s hard to pick up any speed. This can be difficult for you if your child asks you to push them. An easy recipe for a bad back!
- Harder to steer.
- Big and bulky. For most models, you can’t really put them in the car or take them with you to the shops.
- Not good for long distances. Tricycles are best for the garden or near your home.
- Tricycles are good for developing stronger leg muscles and gross motor skills, but they don’t help with balance, which makes it harder for children to move to a pedal bike later on.
Are scooters, balance bikes and tricycles worth it?
If you have the storage space and the money, all three are good fun for children. Tricycles are great for the backyard as your child can play with their toys, which can give you a bit of a break if they are using it in a safe space. But scooters and balance bikes are great for developing coordination and balance, and you can take them with you for longer distances.
In my opinion, if I had to forgo one option, I’d probably skip the tricycle and opt for a balance bike and scooter. Most of our friends did the same. However, choose what is best for you and your family.
Graham is a father of two who founded Dadometer to share his parenting journey with other moms and dads.