Tricycle or Balance Bike – What Does Your Toddler Need?

Planning on teaching your toddler how to ride but stuck between a tricycle or balance bike? There's nothing to worry about, here is everything that you need to know about both of these bikes. Let's start!
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A parent’s life is filled with countless moments, these memories are then treasured and cherished forever. One of these moments is when your toddler learns to walk or when they pedal for the first time. Being a parent, you have to master the craft of patience, you just cannot survive without it. Many parents out there believe that all they have to do is just sit their child down on a bike and they will start pedaling, it doesn’t work like that although I secretly wish that it did.

You have to start small and easy, there is no starting this journey with a bang. When it comes to a toddler, there are two options to go with: Balance Bike or Tricycle. What if I told you that you could go with both of these options, just be careful with your child at each age level. Let me tell you how!

The First Step Is Going To Start With You

Well, before either a trike or a balance bike, your toddler needs to come along with you often in a kid seat on your bike so they know what it’s like to feel the wind in their hair and face; how it feels to be propelled on a bumpy street or road; you’re handing them a snack as needed; you’re taking them to visit granny or to the zoo, though that’s often the same thing; or just on a spin up the road to fetch the mail. Riding is modeling good behavior, right, new daddy or momma? Make it so he’s happiest when they get on the bike with you; what is better than to instill a lifelong love of riding a bike? That’s being a parent and one day when you look back, you will be proud of yourself.

Biking with a child

Keep Your Toddler Close

No matter what happens, you need to keep your toddler close to you at all costs. That kiddie seat teaches them about balance, it also teaches them about biking which is just like breathing, a foundational physical experience – a lesson to all of us as parents, and teachers: learn by doing, lead by example, and just leap right in, put them on the seat and go. Most important – warm clothing, including gloves, even when you don’t wear them yourselves; their little hands get cold in the breeze. Also snacks, did I mention that? A warm-fed kid is a happy toddler who will associate being on a bike with pleasure. Don’t forget the snacks.

Get Both Balance Bikes and Tricycles

So now they need both a trike and a balance bike, which is good I would say. The trike is their first experience of self-propelled locomotion. Get an old-fashioned upright one, maybe a nice old rusted one from a neighbor. Wipe the rust off, and clean it up a bit. Tape up the torn seat. Show them how to use the pedals. No matter what happens, they are going to tip it over eventually. That’s ok. Make sure they are in a reasonably safe place. No stairs, no cars, no charging dogs. Once your toddler gets started with balance bikes, only then will you learn the real difference between a trike and a balance bike. The benefits of balance bikes can get addicting once you get used to them.

Learning to ride a bike

Learning How To Pedal Is The Key

Learning to use pedals can be hard; it’s NOT intuitive, we think of it as intuitive, and now it is for us; when you’re a toddler starting out, it’s not. For learning to pedal, a slight slope is helpful. Another trick that I would mention over here is patience, pedaling is something very unnatural for a kid, and it will take them a while to get used to. Give the little one some time to develop some amazing motor skills, they watch them rip and tear the trails with you in no time. Just take this into account: A toddler has to learn to balance and ride on three wheels, which one do you think is easier?

Where To Go For The First Ride? Here Are Some Tips

I like municipal tennis courts on an early Sunday morning in the fall; the tennis players don’t come around til 10:45, they’re hung over from the night before, or they’re those old wiry guys, tan from the sun who come late as well after the coffee shop and their morning paper.

So at 8:30 when you get there, you’re alone except for a dog walker in the distance. At the side of the courts, there’s a gentle slope to help drain water off. If your kid is having difficulty with the pedals, put them at the edge with their feet on the pedals, and give them a little push. If you’ve boughten a new trike, perhaps it’s one of the ones that has a stick attached for parents to use to help with locomotion and you can wheel them forth. Either way, let them feel the effect of the slope, let them feel their legs moving on the pedals as the wheel goes around, and then tell them to push. If that doesn’t work, see below.

Toddler with his balance bike

Balance Bikes Are The Key

Same thing with the balance bike – maybe even take them both with you to the park or tennis court. Balance bikes have come a long way since the first iteration of very costly ones made from wood by sincere authentic bearded men in plaid shirts. You can get some cheap plastic ones, or I’ve even seen some made with recycled cardboard; watch out for rain with the cardboard ones, I’d think. Put the seat low so your kid can sit with their legs bent at the knee maybe 30 degrees and feet on the ground. Let them push off and glide it around. They’ll put their feet down as needed. If you’ve been riding with them, they will know what the motion will feel like. Steering is the tricky part, usually.

Getting help cycling

Agility Is The Secret Technique For Success

So – not using pedals is hard, rolling along on the balance bike is hard. Pedaling is hard, using the trike. Here’s the secret to teaching both, learning both; and this is key to being a parent, to being a teacher; don’t make learning a chore for them or you. It’s magic, which we all know doesn’t exist; you’re an illusionist, a fabulist, a parent.

Like any good magician: use misdirection – teach them, let them learn how to use the pedals or balance as a secondary part of the GAME of CHASING their dad or mom – “chase me!” “try to catch me!” – or in the case of my son, an extreme case, just like….his mother! – “Try to run me down” was the best game to teach them without them being aware they were learning how to pedal, how to steer, how to balance, and how to be on their own, independently.

Let me tell you the story of what happened with my toddler. The sheer joy of the idea of potentially ramming me, and watching me roll out of the way, or lay down flat on the ground, pretending to take a bath in a puddle, got him to laugh so hard that he sped towards me, balancing, forgetting that this was a new physical experience. He had to get there quickly, to run me over or to see if indeed there were sharks in that puddle [there weren’t; they had swum off by the time he got there].

Nervous child on a bike

Make The Whole Experience Fun!

That is the key piece of teaching your child – your beautiful boy, your delightful girl – how to ride – just as with taking him on your bike to see his granny – even if you don’t get along with her, and she’s your spouse’s mother – he gets along with her and it’s good for the kid to know his granny, even though she’s the dictionary picture of ‘narcissist’ – it’s fun for him to see granny – it’s fun for him to pedal in circles with YOU in the park, in the courtyard, on the football pitch on the tennis court.

It’s fun, the most you could have together, a delight to try to catch you, to see what’s in the puddle. All they want when they are little is to be with their mama, with their dad, alternately close and running off, riding off for moments on their own.

You stand in front of them, they’re wobbling towards you on a balance bike, on a trike – really it doesn’t matter – they come towards you, they learn to ride, and moments later, they’ve been biking for the last 14 years, and they’re pedaling off to high school every day without a second thought. You did it.

Toddler repairing his balance bike

Other Important Notes

  • Training wheels? absolutely not – these teach you the opposite of how to balance a bike, as you counterweight against the outriding of the support wheels. When they get taken off, your child has to unlearn the leverage against the outriggers and learn how to balance in a new way. Don’t do it.
  • If your child is older, let’s say 5 or 6, you can skip the balance bike, and get him or her a regular small bike with a chain drive. Take the chain and crankset off, use it as a balance bike for a few weeks, put the chain and crankset back on, and they’ll be able to ride in no time. They’ve already spent their toddlerhood on their friend’s trikes. A 5-year-old is coordinated enough to quite rapidly get the hang of both balancing and pedaling.
  • The first few times riding a bike with pedals…how to do it? Make sure your child can put his or her feet down. Be in a park or again, tennis court, or wherever they’ve used either a balance bike or this bike as a balance bike. Give them a push from the seat, walk and run along behind them holding them up until they have some momentum from pedaling.
  • Pedaling, steering, and balancing together -usually the steering gets lost. Use the “chase me” or “run me over” technique to get them to steer. Make them laugh. And be careful – they’ll be going fast very soon – you DON’T really want them to run you over. It hurts.
  • Kettler makes excellent kids’ balance bikes, kids’ bikes, and tricycles.

How To Make The Right Choice For Your Child?

A parent has been given the divine duty to make the right choice for their child, it is a phenomenal undertaking and we have to execute it no matter what. May it be riding a balance bike or adjusting seat height, you need to be by your toddler’s side at every cost. So, as the decision falls down to balance bikes or trikes, here is how you can make the right choice. 

Consider these important factors when making the choice, should help you out.

Notice The Physical Development Of Your Child 

No one knows your child better than you, this also means that no one can make a better choice for them than you. You need to take into account your toddler’s physical development and the motor skills that they possess. Some kids are good at walking while some are really good at being stable. If your toddler can walk properly and also has good balancing skills then getting a balance bike would be the best choice to go with. 

Just like that, if they need more stability then get them a tricycle, it is simple as that. Also, if your child tires while using either of these bikes, stop immediately and make them rest.

Personality and Confidence 

Each child is unique, thus they will have varying personalities. If your child is boasting with confidence and is adventurous then the best option is to get a balance bike. Likewise, if your child is shy and timid, then your best bet is going to be a trike!

Where Will They Be Riding?

This is also something that you need to consider, you need to ask yourself where your kid will be riding their bikes. If you will be taking them to spacious areas like a park, or empty parking lots then getting a balance bike would be great. If you prefer teaching them at home then get them a trike.

Longevity and Transition Matters A Lot 

You need to consider how long your kid will be using that specific bike. Trikes have a shorter lifespan as compared to balance bikes, if you want your kid to develop some really amazing riding skills then get them a balance bike.

How Much Parental Involvement Are You Planning?

Prior to getting a balance bike or a tricycle, you need to ask yourself how much you want to be involved in your toddler’s riding experience. Now you could do two things here, either be involved with them for a long time or let your kid take the wheel, literally!

When it comes to balance bikes, they require the extra parental touch, you need to be fully involved with your child. Tricycles allow children to ride bikes by themselves, which reduces parental involvement. Choose whatever works out for you and your child.


Getting the first bicycle for your toddler is going to be a herculean task, after all, your choice will shape their motor and riding skills for the future. When it comes to balancing bikes and tricycles, both options work really well, there is no bad option here. We can’t actually label one type of bike as good and the other one as bad, both are equally good for your children. The right question would be: When to get a specific bike or which bike will suit my toddler better? Balance Bikes are great if your child has a lot of confidence and wants to be adventurous, and if your child is timid and shy, just get them a trike.

Try out both of these options and see where that takes you and your child, you won’t regret any choice that you make. Happy Riding!

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3 thoughts on “Tricycle or Balance Bike – What Does Your Toddler Need?”

  1. Thanks for the excellent page! Just one more step I’m missing: the unicycle, once the kids are reasonably comfortable on a bicycle. They’re fast learners, and if they learn early that unicycles are not just for fun, but for transportation (best again: have parents as models!), they’ll quickly master that skill as well. Great for their sense of balance, and fun for family outings…

  2. In an internet full of terrible writing, this is a wonderfully written piece. I ran across it looking for advice on balance bikes and ended up greatly enjoying the whole article. Thank you


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