Here at the bike shop, we often have parents come in asking how to start their kids off bicycling. Since we’re the parents of a 4 year old and a 2 year old, it finally feels like we’re qualified to answer their questions from personal experience.
Our youngest started on a push bike (or balance bike) at 18 months. An awesome customer of ours donated the bike to us, and it was just his size! With no pedals or crank to propel the bicycle, kids get the hang of balancing pretty easily. Both kids can scoot down the sidewalk at a fast clip these days.
With our older son, we tried starting him out with a tricycle, and he was just too frustrated. The momentum needed to get the tricycle rolling was more than his little legs had the strength for, so rides would end up as us bending over in an uncomfortable way to get him started, and he wouldn’t be able to sustain pedaling very long. While he liked it at times, it wasn’t a very good way to ease him into cycling.
The balance bike was far more useful. Since he’s been on one for almost a year, he’s at the point of moving to a real kid bike – without training wheels. He has done a few short stints across parking lots by himself. I can’t imagine he would’ve been able to do that without the balance bike.
At this point, with two little kids on balance bikes, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend starting with one. There are many on the market across varied price points. You can’t really go wrong with whatever you prefer, but a moving front fork and handlebars is a real necessity for learning how to balance, push, and steer. Some have solid tires, some have regular inner tubes. We currently sell ones with solid heavy-foam tires – we’ve found that being on a trip with your tyke and getting a flat on a piece of glass or metal was really a big pain, and solid tires keep that from happening.
These in particular sell for $79.99, and are put together here at the bike shop just like a real bike – everything’s greased and double-checked for safety. You may be able to find a used one for cheaper on Craigslist, and usually they are such simple and child-friendly designs that they should last quite awhile.