But as a parent, you need to know what a good starting point would be. You can't just sit your child on a mountain bike and expect them to pick it up quickly.
Many parents start with something small and simple, something that will teach them the fundamentals without a huge risk of injury. The standard choice would be the tricycle, but is this really the best choice?
In this article, we will be covering what would be best for your child to ride, between a tricycle and a balance bike.
What is a Balance Bike?
A balance bike - sometimes known as glider bikes, run bikes, or strider bikes - is far closer to a traditional bicycle than a tricycle is, with one key difference: it doesn't have any pedals. They are meant for toddlers from as young as 18 months old to use to learn to balance themselves on two wheels, teaching them the core techniques without needing them to divide their attention between peddling and balancing.
Because of this focused development of balancing skills, the transition between balancing bikes to standard children's bicycles will be much smoother, as they will already know how to balance their bodies and weight on only two wheels. Chances are, you've actually used one yourself when you were younger, you just don't remember it.
The main advantage these bikes have over tricycles for when your kids are learning and playing is that they won't be tiring out as quickly. They are essentially pushing themselves along without exerting a constant force to pedal along, leaving them free to enjoy the gliding sensation. They are built to easily move along uneven ground, from gravel to dirt and grass, and let your children learn how to push themselves up curbs and slopes without losing balance.
But how do balance bikes compare to tricycles?
The Role of Tricycles
While many would disagree, the balance bike isn't necessarily a replacement for learning how to ride a bike, but rather an advancement towards that goal. Every child is different, possessing different inherent talents and skills, and they will adapt to balance bikes, tricycles, and bicycles differently.
The role of the tricycle, or a bicycle with training wheels for that matter, is to teach your kids the proper motor skills in controlling their arms, hands, legs, and feet. They will train their muscles to get used to that cycling motion, and even when they get tired of it and end up with sore muscles, you can at least be sure the transition will be smoother knowing they can at least control a bicycle and make it go.
So, the tricycle's role can be considered akin to laying the foundation for the path to learning how to ride a bicycle. Many agree that you can skip the tricycle altogether and have your child hop onto a balance bike from the youngest age possible, teach them from there, and it can work. The tricycle's role is also to help those who would otherwise struggle with gaining those motor skills and learning how to pedal, but if you are confident your child can ride a bike, then, by all means, give them a balance bike from the get-go.
So Which is Better and Why?
Generally, the consensus is that a balance bike is better for teaching and training your kids to learn to ride a proper bicycle. Many believe that tricycles can be entirely skipped, and you can skip right to using a balance bike, as the balancing skills are considered more important than the legwork.
Starting them off young with either will always be a massive help, as the lessons will become ingrained early on. One of the significant benefits of balance bikes is that they can also help teach your child to walk early on. It is designed to help your child teach themselves the motor and balance skills for a bike without the need for an adult to intervene. These are just some of the benefits of the balance bike over a tricycle.
There's also the fact that balance bikes are simply easier to maneuver and ride as a child, as they are powered by pure leg power rather than pedaling, and runs smoother on what would generally be difficult to ride across with a tricycle. Kids can also enjoy the fun for much longer, as it's less strenuous and lighter than a tricycle.
If you still aren't entirely convinced of the many benefits that balance bikes have over tricycles, there are also the problems that tricycles pose to children. They are bulkier and more cumbersome and can be more difficult for a child to actually ride in comparison. They are also more likely to lead to injury, as, somewhat surprisingly, the three wheels are quite unstable and more likely to tip over.
What about Training Wheels? How do they Compare?
Training wheels may seem like a happy medium, as they give you that little bit extra stability while you learn as insurance against a fall, but they actually do more harm than good. They instead teach you to ride a bike while unstable, with assistance, rather than without. This makes balance bikes still the superior choice.
The definitive answer as to which one is better is undoubtedly the balance bike. It has many different benefits over the tricycle, and the tricycle has some downsides which tip the scales even more towards the balance bike. However, that doesn't mean the tricycle is entirely useless or bad. They can help your children build up their motor skills and learn to properly coordinate their moving body parts as a basis for learning to ride a bike.