Balance Bike Vs Training Wheels: What’s The Best Way To Teach Kids To Ride A Bike?

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reviewed by Rory McAllister

When I first learned to ride a bike, I was lucky enough to live on a quiet street, and I will always remember being chased around by my parents while struggling to stay upright.

It was a fun but scary process at the time until I finally found my feet.

The balance bike vs training wheels debate is a hot topic amongst parents these days when discussing how to teach kids to ride a bike.

My parents taught me on training wheels, but many people currently recommend using a balance bike instead as it can teach the skills of cycling much better, giving the rider better ability sooner and building confidence quicker.

In this article, we will be answering a question we are asked all the time by our amazing readers: “What’s the best way to teach kids how to ride a bike, balance bike vs training wheels?”

We’ll be covering:

  • What Is A Balance Bike?
  • What Are Training Wheels?
  • 7 Factors To Consider When Weighing Up A Balance Bike Vs Training Wheels
  • Our Recommendation

Let’s dive into weighing up a balance bike vs training wheels!

Balance Bike Vs Training Wheels: Title Image

What Is A Balance Bike?

A balance bike, also referred to as a strider bike, is a unique type of bicycle commonly used to help kids learn how to ride a bike.

They are generally designed for children aged one to three and come in many shapes and sizes. 

A balance bike consists of a small frame bike with two wheels, handlebars, a saddle, and sometimes brakes. What makes the balance bike unique compared to other types of kids’ bikes is that it doesn’t have any pedals. 

A wooden balance bike leans against a small tree.

Instead of pedaling, when a child is on a balance bike, they run. They are designed for children to learn coordination and balance while still having their feet on the ground to reduce the risk of falling or losing balance.

By pushing themselves forward, they are able to get the feel of what it’s like to be on a bike without having to worry about pedaling. Balance bikes have been around for many years but recently have become very popular as many more are available.

What Are Training Wheels?

A child rides a red bike with training wheels.

Training wheels, often known as stabilizers, are used to help a child learn how to ride a bike while reducing the risk of losing balance and falling off.

They are typically designed for kids from three to five years old and are the most common training system for new cyclists. 

Training wheels are attached to the bike’s rear wheel axle and sit just slightly elevated off the floor. The purpose of them is to balance the rider so if they lean to either side, a wheel will catch them. This helps the child learn how to pedal efficiently and builds confidence. 

The idea is that when the child can ride with the training wheels on confidently, it’s time to remove them. At this point, they should be able to pedal properly and use the momentum to keep themselves upright.

Two children ride balance bikes through a forest in fall.

7 Factors To Consider When Weighing Up A Balance Bike Vs Training Wheels

#1. Bike Or Component

The first thing to mention is that a balance bike is an actual bike.

So, when you invest in a balance bike, you have the complete setup ready for the child to use out of the box. This makes it much more straightforward. 

Training wheels, on the other hand, are simply a part that you attach to a bike.

This isn’t a difficult task, but it does mean you have to have a bike already. However, the benefit of this is that when the child is ready to progress to a regular bike, you don’t need to buy them another one – you can simply remove the training wheels from the current one.

A child rides a wooden balance bike on a grassy path.

#2. Age Range

Balance bikes are designed for one to three-year-olds, while training wheels are roughly for three to five-year-olds.

This means when it comes to age, you might want a balance bike for younger children or training wheels for slightly older children.

#3. Ease Of Use

Next, we have ease of use, and there’s a big difference between a balance bike and training wheels.

A balance bike is much easier when it comes to being used in a smaller space and going up and down hills.

A bike with training wheels isn’t going to offer the same experience, you generally require more space, and going up and down hills can be more challenging due to the bike’s extra weight.

Two children ride balance bikes on a path through a park.

#4. Cycling Skills

Another very important factor when it comes to choosing between a balance bike or training wheels is the skills it teaches the child.

Balance bikes are very basic. They are essentially just a frame with wheels, and don’t often even come with brakes. They can teach coordination and balance, but not much else.

When using training wheels, there’s a lot more to learn with having the ability to pedal, brake, and possibly change gears. Training wheels teach the child more and equip them with the skills they need for a normal bike sooner.

A mother teaches her daughter to ride a balance bike outside an apartment block.

#5. Coordination

When it comes to using a balance bike, a child has to focus a lot on coordination.

It’s up to them to keep the bike upright, and if they lean too far to one side, they need the ability to recover.

Then we have training wheels that always support the rider, no matter if they lean side to side.

They are never required to put their foot down to stop them from falling, which can give the child a lot of confidence but a lack of coordination. 

When it comes to coordination, the balance bike teaches much more. It helps the child understand how the bike can lean side to side and the importance of countersteering when riding. Training wheels don’t offer that teaching, which is a vital skill.

A young girl learns to cycle in a playground on a pink bike with training wheels.

#6. Pedaling Technique 

Balance bikes, instead of using a pedaling action, use a running action.

Although they make a great bike for teaching coordination, they can’t teach the ability to pedal properly as a result.

Training wheels, meanwhile offer excellent pedaling training. With support from the extra wheels, the child is able to pedal continually with a reduced risk of falling over, helping prepare them for regular cycling.

#7. Confidence

When it comes to confidence, the balance bike helps to remove the fear of falling.

Not only is the child used to balancing already, but they also learn how to correct it quickly and support themselves if they start to lean too much. This is something training wheels struggle to do.

The training wheels also inspire confidence when it comes to cycling, however. It gets them used to the feeling of what it’s like to cycle without your feet on the floor, which the balance bike doesn’t offer.

It’s important to remember that neither a balance bike or training wheels are completely foolproof when it comes to stopping a child falling over, however.

Both reduce the risk when used properly and with adult supervision, but some risk will always remain. Helmets should always be worn, and knee and elbow pads may also help a child feel more confident and reduce their risk of being hurt in a fall.

Two kids with helmets on stop on their balance bikes in a forest.

Our Recommendation

It can be challenging when it comes to picking between a balance bike or training wheels.

From many people’s experiences, the best way to go is to use both, as they teach a child very different cycling skills.

Starting at one to two years old with a balance bike teaches a child coordination and gives them confidence. Then, moving on to training wheels later when they are ready to progress teaches them the pedaling ability and how to use gears and brakes properly. 

It also only pushes them to learn a little at a time so it doesn’t become overwhelming and unenjoyable. 

Here we have an article on How To Teach A Child To Ride A Bike and 9 Cycling Tips For Beginners if you require a little extra help for your child’s cycling journey!

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Robbie has traveled the globe as an endurance athlete and bikepacker, challenging world records and competing in international ultra-cycling events such as the BikingMan series and the Transcontinental Race. He's also worked as an ambassador for some of the industry's leading names, including Shimano and Ritchey. If Robbie is not on a bike, he's either fixing them or out walking with his dog.

1 thought on “Balance Bike Vs Training Wheels: What’s The Best Way To Teach Kids To Ride A Bike?”

  1. Our one balance bike has been loaned out over 20 times to teach kids how to ride a bike in <1 day. Training wheels are useless. They teach you how far you can lean over before your training wheel picks up. Pedaling a bike is simple. Balance is not. Teach balance first and then putting them on a bike with pedals is easy. Even the adults I've taught, just take the pedals off a regular bike, have them push it around until they can balance and roll for about 50 feet (20m) and then put the pedals back on. DONT WASTE MONEY OR TIME WITH TRAINING WHEELS!!


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