Balance Bikes vs Training Wheels: Which is Better?

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Balance Bikes vs Training Wheels: Which is Better for Your Kids?

The balance bikes vs training wheels debate is hot right now. I’m sure that you’ve seen a balance bike around as they’re quickly becoming the most popular bikes for toddlers.

I was first introduced to balance bikes when my oldest son was 4-years-old. After 18 months of hard work and tears, he had FINALLY learned to ride his bike. We taught him to ride a bike with training wheels since that was how my husband and I both learned to ride a bike. With his younger sister, we decided that we’d try a different, and hopefully less painful, approach to learning how to ride a bike.

A balance bike is a great way for kids to learn how to ride a bike. They not only develop skills and strength, but they also look as cool as a big kid’s bike!

bike park with balance bike guardian

Balance is the most critical skill kids need to know in order to learn to ride a bike, so with balance bikes, they build on that concept and teach kids to balance FIRST.

Here is a complete overview of balance bikes vs training wheels.

You’ll learn what a kid’s balance bike is, its benefits, and how it compares to training wheels for kids. The goal is for you to make an informed decision that will help your child learn how to ride a bike and ease and joy!

What is a balance bike?

A balance bike looks like a regular bicycle, but with one key difference. Balance bikes don’t have any pedals! Instead of using gears and pedals to move forward, kids keep their feet on the ground to push themselves forward. If the Flinstones rode a bicycle, it would be a balance bike!

Another unique feature of this training bike is that it does’t have any stabilizers, or training wheels. Kids will also use their feet on the ground to help them keep balance as they bike around. This teaches them balancing first, before trying to pedal. It’s a great way to focus on developing one skill at a time, which is actually a faster way to learn!

what is balance bike?

What are training wheels?

Training wheels, or stabilizers, are the traditional approach to learning how to ride a bike. If you’re not familiar, it is essentially a regular kid’s bicycle, but with two small wheels that extend out from the back tire. These two wheels will “catch” the bike as it leans over to prevent it from tipping. The bike ride is still quite wobbly, but kids can practice pedaling forward.

When our son was learning to ride a bike, we tried over and over to get his training wheels balanced and to eliminate the wobble, but to no avail. Because of that problem with training wheels, he picked up some bad habits, especially since he was always out of balance to ride a bike with training wheels.

Since it’s a regular bike, the only way to move forward is by pedaling. This means that kids have to pedal and balance at the same time, which are two tricky skills to learn at once! Some pedals are also not an easy push, which can really weigh down their learning process. And compared to a balance bike, kids are also much higher off the ground. Their high center of gravity, combined with the small wheels poking out the sides, makes this a bit of a lug to bike around. You’ll be forced to stick to roads and sidewalks.

What makes balance bikes so good? 

Are balance bikes better than training wheels? There’s debate over whether a balance bike is better for teaching kids to ride a bike compared to traditional training wheels. More people, including both experts and parents, are watching kids learn how to ride a bike more quickly and with greater confidence using a balance bike. There are a few key differences between a balance bike vs a training wheel. 

balance bikes vs training wheels: how to find the best bike for your kids

Here’s why the ideal choice to teach kids to ride is a balance bike:

Balance Bikes Promotes Balance

The biggest claim to fame for kids balance bikes are the fact that they promote balancing over pedalling. This feature has been covered in the previous sections. The main idea is that, not only is balancing is a difficult skill, but falling is especially scary for kids. Using a balance bike, kids can work on their strength and coordination, while also getting over their worries of falling. If they are about to tip over, they only need to put their feet down to catch themselves. Kids are actually learning how to not fall!

Balance Bikes Teach Accurate Handling 

Turning and maneuvering a balance bike is a more accurate bike riding experience. When kids use training wheels, the physical mechanics of the bike force a child’s body to the outside of a turn. Because of this, kids don’t learn how to lean in on a turn. But if kids learn on balance bikes, they can naturally lean their body weight into a turn, having a more accurate experience of riding a bicycle. Kids can take their turns a little faster and with more confidence because they don’t need to worry about tipping over to the outside. 

Balance Bikes are Very Lightweight

Compared to traditional training wheel bikes, balance bikes are super lightweight. This makes it easy for kids to ride them for longer, which means more practice time. It’s also a bonus for parents because they are much easier to bring to the park. Teaching kids to ride a bike is a lot easier. The more often kids ride the balance bike, the better they get!

biek park with a balance bike by guardian bikes

Balance Bikes Are Suitable for Kids 1+ Years Old

Kids as young as one-year-old can easily start to develop their balancing skills. From only one, kids can gain the confidence and strength to maneuver a two-wheeler. And they can keep on practicing using larger versions of the balance bike! Kids as old as 6 can enjoy playing on their balance bikes. If consistency is the key to success, then balance bikes are the perfect tool for learning to ride a bike!

Balance bikes are also suitable for older kids who are just learning how to bike or transitioning.

Downsides of Balance Bikes

The major downside of balance bikes is the cost. While you can often find a preschool bike at Walmart for around $50, a balance bike will likely cost closer to $75-$100. Keep in mind though that balance bikes promote better riding, and are often about 1/3 the weight of traditional bikes.

smiling kid with a backpack trail riding with a balance bike

Are training wheels bad for kids? 

No, training wheels aren’t bad for kids. Children have been learning to ride a bike using training wheels for decades. You probably learned on training wheels! They can work, but when it’s a balance bike vs training wheels debate, they are not as effective. Not only that, but training wheels are also not nearly as fun. 

Here’s why training wheels are less ideal:

Training Wheels Promote Poor Balance

Training wheels bring back memories of wobbly rides down driveways. The stabilizers are designed to catch the bike before it falls, which gives kids a chance to pull the bike back into balance. But this process of wobbling over and then fumbling to pulling back up does nothing to train balance. In fact, kids are often practicing poor balance techniques, which only makes the transition from training wheels to proper bicycles more difficult. 

Training Wheels Prolong the Learning Process

While every child will learn to progress from training wheels, the process can take much longer using training wheels. This is because the lessons kids practice are scrambled, when comparing a toddler balance bike vs training wheels. Kids have to simultaneous learn how to balance and pedal and steer. There is also the challenge of learning an unnatural balancing technique, as mentioned in the previous point. The training wheels aren’t as good at training the necessary skills, so kids can get stuck with them for longer.

Training Wheels Create An Unnatural Bike Riding Experience

On top of everything mentioned so far, training wheels also fall short on providing a realistic turning experience. Because of the training wheels preventing the bike from leaning in, children can’t practice the real sensation of making a turn. To turn on a bike, you need to lean slightly in and shift your body weight to balance. But on training wheels, kids will have the opposite experience. Their body weight is forced to the outside because of the inner wheels preventing a natural lean. 

Training Wheels Only Roll on Flat, Smooth Terrain 

Kids are quite limited on the type of terrain they can ride their bikes on. Basically, training wheels only really work on flat ground, like a paved road or driveway. If kids want to join the family on a trail bike ride, they will end up struggling and using up a lot more energy than necessary. The smaller training wheels are simply not as efficient over gravel or bumpy roads. So, biking can be a bit more of a frustrating experience. 

Downsides Of Training Wheels

Training wheels have many inherent flaws. The biggest problem with learning to bike with training wheels is that balance is often impaired, thus prolonging the process of learning to ride a bike for months or even years.

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The Verdict: Balance Bikes VS Training Wheels

In general, kids learn how to ride a bike sooner using a toddler balance bike vs training wheels. Kids are often riding proper bikes at 3 or 4 years old when they learned on balance bikes. Whereas, kids can be 4 to 6 years old before they ride a bike if they learned to ride a bike using training wheels.

The key: learning the right skills at the right time. And balance bikes do this better and faster than training wheels. You’ll find that balance bikes are the new and improved way of teaching kids how to ride a bike. 

Balance bikes are not only great training tools, but most kids also have more fun! Kids can play with their friends wherever they go. They can also ride their bikes for longer, since they’re lighter and easier to use. Compared to traditional trading wheels, balance bikes maneuver much more easily, they are far less scary, and they can ride across all types of terrain. All this means is more fun!

No matter which bike training tool you ultimately decide to use, your kids will learn and enjoy bike riding. But there is a good case to be made for balance bikes. If you’re in the market and considering a balance bike vs training wheels, then take time to consider buying a balance bike. Your kids will master bike riding in no time!

close up shot of a kid riding her balance bike
balance bikes vs training wheels-- which is the best way to learn bike riding?
balance bikes vs training wheels: how to decide which type of bike is best for your kids

Balance bikes vs Training wheels: Which is your pick and why? Share your thoughts with us in the comment below!

About Jessica Averett

Hi, I’m Jessica, a mom of 5 kids and married to my favorite adventure partner. I love to bike, ski, camp and hike. We've visited over 40 countries with our kids, but are equally happy on the road as we are exploring our home state of Utah.