Tricycles can be the first step to a two-wheeled bike. For kids between the ages of 2 and 5, we found the best reviews for the Schwinn Roadster Trike (*Est. $70). This tricycle has a classic, retro look with its red steel frame (blue and pink are also available), chrome fenders, bell and wooden standing deck. The bike includes 12-inch Schwinn air tires, rubber-grip pedals and an adjustable-height handlebar.
Hundreds of parents praise the Schwinn Roadster Trike at online retailers like Amazon.com and Walmart.com, saying it's a rugged tricycle with a durable steel frame that can be adjusted as a child grows. "Not only is this Roadster super cool to look at when your little guy/girl is riding it but it is so functional, easy to pedal and grows with your child," says one owner at Amazon.com. The tricycle also receives a Readers' Choice award from Babble.com.
Assembly is easy, according to reviews, and kids love to ring the attached bell. Parents also say the tricycle is small enough for a very young child to handle. It has a bucket seat and a low center of gravity that prevents the bike from tipping over, and air-filled tires provide a smooth, comfortable ride. Some parents complain that the Schwinn Roadster is too heavy for their small child, especially compared to plastic tricycles, but others counter that the steel frame enhances durability and stability. However, the tricycle will rust easily if left outside, and many parents complain that components were damaged during shipping. We also saw a few reports that replacement inner tubes can be hard to find.
Babble.com -- the best reviewer of kids' bikes -- gives the Radio Flyer Classic Tricycle (*Est. $60) a Babble Best award, saying it's slightly lighter than the Schwinn Roadster trike. Like the Schwinn Roadster, the Radio Flyer Classic has a snazzy retro design, a 12-inch front wheel and a red steel frame. However, the seating position is more upright, and the trike doesn't have a low center of gravity like the Schwinn Roadster tricycle, and it can tip over more easily, according to reviews.
Editors at Babble.com say their kid testers love riding the Radio Flyer Classic tricycle, and they like that the trike is made of quality components instead of plastic. The adjustable seat also makes it easy for kids of different ages to ride comfortably. "Our 2 1/2-year-old tester had no problem trying out the pedals, but it was really our older testers who gravitated toward the bike. (And it was the adults who "oohed" and "aahed" over the nostalgic look.)," says Michelle Horton. User reviews are also positive, although not quite as enthusiastic as those for the Schwinn Roadster tricycle. Most parents say the tricycle is very durable and can be passed down to future children. Although a few parents say it tips over easily, others say the Radio Flyer Classic helps their child learn how to balance (which will come in handy when they transition to a two-wheeled bike) better than most tricycles.
Even though the tricycle is recommended for ages 2 to 5, many parents say their 2- or 3-year-old is too short to reach the pedals. We also saw a number of complaints that the tricycle has a strong chemical odor; although the smell dissipates over time, it is disconcerting, parents say.
The Kettler Kettrike Air Navigator (*Est. $225) also gets very good reviews, but it's more expensive than other tricycles. The Air Navigator is designed for 1- to 5-year-old children, and the frame adjusts easily to grow with them. Unlike the tricycles discussed above, the Kettrike Air Navigator has more plastic components to complement its steel frame. It includes an adjustable seat, pneumatic tubeless air tires and a removable rear bucket. A pushbar also comes standard, so parents can push the tricycle.
While it's not difficult to find less expensive tricycles, parents say the German-made Kettler Kettrike Air Navigator is rugged and durable. "If you want a quality product that will last through the years (I am sure my next child will be using this as well) definitely pick a Kettler," says one owner at Amazon.com. The trike gets high marks for its comfy bucket seat, which keeps kids from sliding off (it even comes with a seatbelt). Wide air-filled tires and a low-to-the-ground frame help provide a stable ride.
The Air Navigator also earns a Readers' Choice award from Babble.com. Michelle Horton says the tricycle is popular because of its many accessories -- kids love putting items in the rear bucket, while the pushbar is helpful for kids who can't reach the pedals. However, parents say the tires can be hard to inflate if you get a flat, and some say the owner's manual is less than helpful.
According to their parents, kids also love the Fisher-Price Batman Lights and Sounds Tricycle (*Est. $40), which is suitable for ages 2 to 6. This blue tricycle has thick wheels, slip-resistant pedals, an adjustable seat and a number of sound and lighting effects, including flashing blinkers and Batman sounds and phrases (this feature requires 3 AA batteries). Although the Batman Lights and Sounds Trike is designed for boys, Fisher-Price makes a similar tricycle for girls, the Dora the Explorer Lights and Sounds Tricycle (*Est. $50).
Reviewers at Amazon.com and Walmart.com say their kids love the Fisher-Price Batman Lights and Sounds Tricycle. In particular, kids rave about the sound effects, which make them feel as if they are riding in their own "batmobile." "My twins LOVE their Batman 3-wheelers -- from the adjustable seat to all of the sound effects," says one parent. Reviewers also like the value, saying the Fisher-Price Batman Lights and Sounds tricycle is less expensive than some competing tricycles. A few critics question its quality and durability, saying it appears flimsy and has wobbly wheels. Some smaller children have trouble reaching the pedals, but parents say these kids scoot along with their feet until they're ready to start pedaling.
For children 5 years and up, the Razor Rip Rider 360 (*Est. $90) gets stellar reviews. Older kids love this tricycle because it has two caster wheels in the rear, so the trike can do 360-degree spins and move in more directions than a traditional tricycle. It's hard to overstate how much kids and parents love the Razor Rip Rider 360. Britain's The Sun newspaper enlists the help of an 8-year-old boy to test a variety of kids' bikes and scooters, and the Razor Rip Rider 360 comes out on top. "This is really, really fun," says The Sun's kid tester. "When you corner, the back swings out and you do a full circle. This is brilliant - my favourite."
The Razor Rip Rider 360 is also the recipient of a Babble Best award. "This might be the most fun your kids will ever have on a non-motorized bike," the editors write. This opinion is echoed in numerous user reviews at Amazon.com and Walmart.com, where parents can't say enough about how much their kids love doing spins and riding fast. It looks so fun that some parents wish Razor made a larger version for adults. "We are buying another one because they can hardly wait turns to play with it," says one owner at Amazon.com. "It is easy to put together, well made, and looks very fun." The wide bucket seat and low center of gravity keeps kids secure, and an easy assembly process is another plus.
The Razor Rip Rider 360 has a 160-pound weight limit, but parents note that older kids (around the ages of 10 or 12) may find their legs too long to fit behind the steering wheel. Girls also enjoy the Razor Rip Rider 360, and many parents say they wish it came in additional colors, like pink or red. In addition, the wheels can wear out easily, especially if the bike gets lots of use.
When your toddler is ready to graduate from a tricycle to a two-wheeler, 12-inch bikes are a good choice. These bikes come with removable training wheels and are designed for ages 2 to 5 (although some manufacturers have age recommendations that vary slightly).
There aren't many professional reviews of 12-inch kids' bikes, but the Kettler Violet and El Toro (*Est. $110) earn a Readers' Choice award from Babble.com. The Kettler Violet, the girls' model, comes in hot pink with white wheels, while the boys' El Toro is decked out in a red-and-black paint scheme. Both bikes have a steel frame, anti-slip pedals, an adjustable saddle, removable training wheels and a rear coaster brake. Kettler recommends them for ages 3 to 6 (up to 110 pounds).
Babble's readers are largely positive about the Kettler 12-inch kids' bikes. Parents say they're a good fit for kids who have outgrown their tricycle but aren't quite ready for a 16-inch bike. "The Kettler Violet (for girls) and El Toro (for boys) is perfect for the 3- to 5-year-old age range," the editors write. User reviews are scarce, but we saw several reports at Amazon.com that the adjustable seat and handlebars make it easy for smaller children to achieve a good fit. Users also say the Kettler Violet and El Toro live up to Kettler's reputation for making durable kids' bikes.
However, Babble's editors say the training wheels are wobbly, and several parents say the assembly instructions are confusing or missing important steps. The Kettler Violet and El Toro bikes are heavy (weighing in at 21 pounds), and a few parents say that makes the bikes harder to pedal.
It doesn't earn any expert recommendations, but the 12-inch Huffy Sea Star bike (*Est. $50) earns high marks on Walmart.com. This bike is designed for 3- to 5-year-old girls, and it includes a coaster brake, padded handlebar, adjustable seat and removable training wheels. The 12-inch Huffy Toy Story 3 (*Est. $50) is a similar bike with identical specifications designed for boys, although it also includes a round handlebar bag.
Parents say the Huffy Sea Star is a hit with their daughters, and they praise the value and easy assembly. The training wheels are easy to adjust and the bike has a sturdy ride, reviewers say. However, some parents complain that the pedals aren't securely attached to the frame. The bike is also easily damaged during shipping, they say. The Huffy Toy Story 3 attracts fewer reviews, but comments echo those for the girls' Sea Star bike. Parents say it is a snap to assemble and fits their children well.
Among 16-inch bikes, which are recommended for kids between the ages of 4 to 8, we found the best reviews for the Schwinn Jasmine and Scorch. The Schwinn Jasmine (for girls) has a rear coaster brake plus hand brakes for additional braking power. Other features include a steel frame, chain guard, removable training wheels and handlebar streamers. The Schwinn Scorch bike (for boys) is identical except it lacks the streamers and has a red paint job.
The Schwinn Jasmine and Scorch earn a Babble Best award as the best big kids' bikes. High points include sturdy training wheels, good braking performance and a confidence-inspiring frame. "Since the frame is smaller than the average tween bicycle, your big kid will feel more secure and confident, able to put both feet firmly on the ground rather than teetering on tippy-toes," says Michelle Horton. Parents also give it high marks, saying the Schwinn kids' bikes are stable and have solid training wheels. "The training wheels are mounted on strong heavy-duty steel supports and there is a special locking bracket to make sure the training wheels don't slip/twist out of position," says one parent at Amazon.com. Kids appreciate the fun colors, and the padded seat is comfortable. Parents also say they like that kids can use the rear coaster brake until they become comfortable with hand brakes.
However, a number of parents complain that the fork was bent out of the box, so the front wheel would not fit and the bike was impossible to ride. These parents were forced to return the bike, but there are enough shipping complaints to suggest that the bike is not packed well enough to avoid damage. As a result, it may be best to buy this bike at a store that will assemble it for you. Some parents also complain that the bike is too heavy, which makes pedaling difficult.
Another option is the Dynacraft Hot Wheels (*Est. $70) bike for boys, which gets high ratings from customers at Walmart.com. The Hot Wheels boys' bike is outfitted with a neon green paint scheme, coaster and hand brakes, and training wheels. The bike also has handlebars with a twist grip that makes a motorcycle sound when twisted. Reviewers at Walmart.com say the Hot Wheels bike is a big hit, mainly because of the "rev grip" feature. "This is a great bike and the sounds make it even better," says one reviewer. Kids say it is fun to ride, and the upright position keeps them comfortable while riding. As with most big-box bikes, assembly instructions can be confusing, and the package can be missing necessary bolts or components, owners say. Parents recommend getting a store to assemble this one for you. Others say they wish the bike came with a kickstand.
The Hello Kitty Bicycle (*Est. $70) for girls, which is also sold at Wal-Mart, is another 16-inch bike with relatively high user ratings. It includes removable training wheels, coaster brakes, handlebar streamers and a removable purse. Most reviewers would recommend the Hello Kitty bike to a friend, saying it's relatively durable and has a cute design that girls love. "My daughter loves Hello Kitty, so she fell in love with this bike the moment she saw it," says one owner. However, like many mass-market bikes, we saw a number of complaints about missing or damaged components.