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Best Tricycle and Best Balance Bike

By: Saundra Latham on May 09, 2018

Tricycles offer stability for the youngest riders

Tricycles are a popular way to teach very young children the mechanics of pedaling and steering. The third wheel and lower center of gravity offer additional stability for kids (or parents) who want the gentlest introduction to bikes with little risk of scrapes and falls.

If you want a traditional tricycle, the Schwinn Roadster (Est. $85) scores big points for its classic styling and durable construction. The Roadster is recommended for kids 2 and up, though reviewers say some shorter 2-year-olds may not be able to reach the pedals for a while. The seat is adjustable and the handlebars come with streamers and a bell. The trike comes in red, black, yellow, three shades of blue and two shades of pink.

The Roadster has a low center of gravity, making it is less likely to tip over on sharp or fast turns. This makes for a safer tricycle than some other competitors, reviewers say. However, this can also make it harder for some kids to pedal. At over 20 pounds, the Roadster is also a bit on the heavy side when compared to other trikes. Assembly is fairly easy, reviewers say.

The Roadster and its steel frame are built to last, parents say, and we saw many comments about how durable this trike is. Unlike some other trikes, it has air-filled tires that allow better traction. On the flip side, this can mean owners will deal with flat tires, which is one of the more common complaints with the Roadster. Rust can also be an issue if the trike is left outside for long. The Roadster comes with a limited lifetime warranty on the frame; other parts are warranted as long as the original owner owns the trike. The exception is normal-wear parts such as tires or tubes, which are covered for 30 days.

Though markedly different than the company's classic flagship tricycle, the Radio Flyer 4-in-1 Stroll ‘n Trike (Est. $85) has earned a lot of fans because its versatility gives it a longer lifespan than the average tricycle. Radio Flyer recommends the 4-in-1 for children ages 9 months to 5 years and up to 49 pounds. The trike comes in red and pink.

At just shy of 16 pounds, the 4-in-1 is around the same weight as lighter kids' bikes or umbrella strollers, but not as light as most balance bikes. For the smallest children, a canopy, three-point harness, headrest and wraparound tray with a cup holder give the 4-in-1 most of the creature comforts of a stroller. As kids get older, these features can be removed and the seat adjusted to become a push trike, learning trike and classic trike. Several parents say the 4-in-1 is more enticing to their young toddlers than a stroller for walks around the neighborhood, and they say conversion to a trike is easy as their child grows. The newest model also includes a removable footrest for smaller children. Assembly takes some time, reviewers warn, with some complaining that there are simply too many pieces. It's backed by a one-year warranty that extends to two if you register the trike with Radio Flyer.

Parents like the 4-in-1's sturdy steel frame, but some express concern over the durability of other plastic parts. Others say the parts simply don't fit together well enough for the trike to last. The wheels are hard plastic foam and get mixed reviews; some say they're still durable, while others wish for rubber. Radio Flyer sells an All-Terrain Stroll ‘n Trike (Est. $80) with air-filled wheels for those who want that upgrade, but it lacks a dedicated footrest.

Parents who don't want to spend much on a tricycle that might not see much use will appreciate the Fisher-Price Tough Trike (Est. $35), which reviewers say can take a beating despite its low price. Recommended for 2- to 5-year-olds, the Tough Trike has a weight capacity of 55 pounds. It has a pretend key, under-seat storage, and comes in a variety of branded styles, including Barbie and Thomas the Train. 

Like the Schwinn Roadster, the Tough Trike is low to the ground with a wide wheelbase that reduces the risk of tipping. It's lightweight enough to easily carry or toss in a trunk. Though the trike is recommended for 2-year-olds, many parents caution that their children weren't able to reach the pedals until age 3. Still, younger children enjoyed pushing themselves along with their feet, they say. Several reviewers caution that steering is a bit stiff, making it hard for kids to negotiate tight turns. Assembly, though mostly easy, requires a hammer and a Philips screwdriver. 

The Tough Trike has a thick plastic frame and wheels that are surprisingly durable for the price, many parents say. For outdoor use, some caution that the plastic wheels mean there isn't enough traction on hills, especially before the wheels are broken in; indoors, it can be hard for kids to get traction on smooth floors. Some parents say they've had issues with wheels falling off. In many cases, this may be due to parents using too little force to attach the wheels during assembly. Be sure to give it a good whack with a hammer for security. Parents say the trike stands up well to the elements even when left outdoors, but the decorative stickers will fade or peel if left for long in the sun or rain. It has a one-year limited warranty.

Balance bikes teach kids how to stay upright

Some experts say it's most important to teach young riders balance, which isn't as easily learned as pedaling. For that reason, they recommend pedal-free, brake-free balance bikes that let kids practice gliding on two wheels. Children who master their balance bikes may have an easier time transitioning to a pedal bike -- they may not even need training wheels when they move up.

Beloved by parents and experts, the Strider 12 Sport (Est. $110) is versatile enough to accommodate riders from 18 months up to 5 years and 60 pounds. Seat height ranges from 11 to 19 inches with two included seats and seat posts, while handlebars can go from 18 to 22 inches. It's available in seven solid colors.

At roughly 6½ pounds, the 12 Sport is light enough for a toddler to pick up and maneuver, but it's still sturdy enough to accommodate a beefier preschooler, reviewers say. The low 11-inch minimum seat height and narrow mini saddle allow younger children to ride safely, while a larger padded seat and longer seat post make the bike comfortable for larger kids. Parents are especially enthusiastic about the 12-Sport's no-tool, quick-release clamps for seat and handlebar adjustments, which they say make it easy to quickly find the proper fit when other children want a turn.

The 12 Sport has lightweight EVA foam tires that won't go flat. However, experts with Two Wheeling Tots note that the trade-off here is loss of traction, which is particularly important for older riders. While the vast majority of parents say they find the 12 Sport durable, a few say they received already-rusted models. Parents concerned about rust can upgrade to the lighter aluminum Strider Pro (Est. $150). Strider offers a two-year warranty.

Parents looking for a well-regarded but lower-cost balance bike for a slightly older child should look into the KaZAM v2e (Est. $65). KaZAM recommends the bike for children roughly 3 to 5 years and up to 60 pounds. Seat height ranges from 14 to 17 inches, while handlebars adjust from 18¾ inches to 20¾ inches. The bike is available in seven colors.

As the specs indicate, the v2e is meant for a narrower age range than the Strider 12 Sport. At 8 pounds, it's also slightly heavier. Parents confirm that the v2e is ideal for children roughly 3 and up, though some say their taller 2-year-olds use it just fine. Two Wheeling Tots notes that the frame is a bit wide, and for that reason it might not be the best choice for petite kids. Like the 12 Sport, the v2e has no-tool, quick-release clamps for seat and handlebar adjustments that parents say are easy to use. The v2e also has a step-in footrest, a feature absent on the 12 Sport that reviewers say gives their kids a natural place to set their feet between pushes.

Like the 12 Sport, the v2e has lightweight, puncture-proof EVA foam tires. Air-filled tires are available on the KaZAM v2s (Est. $90) but not separately for the v2e. The KaZAM Pro Alloy (Est. $100) also offers air-filled tires and additional protection against rust with its aluminum frame. Most parents say the v2e is stable and sturdy, though a few complain that the handlebar can shift out of alignment too easily, and a couple others say the seat is prone to rips. KaZAM backs the bike with a two-year warranty.

Wooden balance bikes have undeniable appeal, and reviewers say the Dutch-designed Kinderfeets Balance Bike (Est. $100) delivers an eco-friendly product with a couple of unique touches. Designed for children ages 2 to 5, the bike has a weight limit of 65 pounds. Seat height ranges from 12 to 16 inches, but the handlebars are not adjustable (as is the case for most wooden balance bikes). The bike is available in several solid colors, with a twist: The colored part of the frame is finished with chalkboard paint, so kids can not only ride their bike but draw on it, too. If that's not a draw, the Kinderfeets Retro Wooden Balance Bike (Est. $90) is available in natural wood and eye-catching patterns. 

In testing, the Kinderfeets comfortably accommodated 2-year-olds to smaller 4-year-olds, according to Two Wheeling Tots. That's an age range confirmed by parent reviewers, most of whom say their 2- and 3-year-olds love the bike. The Kinderfeets weighs about 8 pounds and is light enough for small children to hold up and maneuver. It also has a removable, washable seat pad and removable wooden pegs where kids can rest their feet. A couple of reviewers caution that the pegs can make it tricky for kids to walk with the bike, however. About 10 minutes of assembly with included tools is required, but parents say it's an easy process. Parents also must use an Allen wrench to adjust seat height.

The Kinderfeets has airless tires made of biodegradable rubber; like foam tires, they won't go flat. No air tires are available. The frame is made from sustainable birch, and Kinderfeets plants a tree for every bike it sells. The rubber tires and wood frame make the bike suitable for light indoor use as well as outdoor use, but testers caution that the frame scratches easily with normal outdoor use. Most parents are pleased with durability, though a few report cracked or splintered wood. The company recommends storing the bike inside to reduce wear and tear. The bike has a two-year warranty.

12-inch bikes introduce small children to pedaling

Sometime around age 3, you may feel your child is ready to move up to a 12-inch pedal bike with training wheels. While this is a common rite of passage for many kids, experts say most inexpensive 12-inch bikes are too heavy and poorly designed for small kids to maneuver easily. There are lighter, better-designed 12-inch bikes available at bike shops, but these can cost $200 to $300 or even more, a price point many parents balk at for a bike that may be outgrown in a year or two (although they can certainly be passed to a sibling or two or resold). A better option may be keeping your child on a balance bike until he or she can fit an easier-to-ride 16-inch bike.

Of course, some kids -- or parents -- are eager to introduce their small children to a "real" bike as soon as possible. One option that balances price and weight is the RoyalBaby Space No. 1 (Est. $127), which comes in a 12-inch version that's recommended for kids 3 to 4 years and 33 inches to 41 inches tall. Seat height ranges from 17.3 to 21.3 inches. The bike comes with training wheels, a bell, and a water bottle. It's available in black, orange, red and silver with red accents.

Because it has a slightly pricier aluminum frame, the Space No. 1 is just 17 pounds, lighter than cheaper steel-framed bikes of this size. Reviewers definitely appreciate this, and they say the frame seems sized properly for small children. There is one front handbrake – rare for a 12-inch bike – and rear coaster brakes, too. While parents appreciate this bonus, a few say it may not stay centered all the time. There is a quick-release post for easy seat adjustments, and most reviewers say assembly is easy.

Quality control on this RoyalBaby is an open question – some reviewers comment on issues such as overtightened chains and bearings. Expect to make some small adjustments once the bike is shipped. However, most say the frame seems sturdy, and one reviewer says the bike hasn't rusted despite being left out on many rainy days. The sturdy training wheels and wide tires also receive praise. The bike is backed by a limited lifetime warranty on the frame and fork as long as the original owner has it, plus one year on other parts except tires, tubes and cables.

The 12-inch Schwinn Grit (Est. $115), or the girls' version, the Schwinn Petunia (Est. $100) could be a good introduction to pedal bikes for more timid beginners. In addition to training wheels, the bike comes with a removable parent steering handle to help ease the learning process. Schwinn recommends its 12-inch bikes for riders 2 to 4, though some parents caution small 2-year-olds may not reach the pedals. The Grit has an adjustable seat and handlebar; the lowest seat setting is about 18 inches. The Grit is orange with black trim, while the Petunia is pink and white. Both bikes have water bottles and bells, and the Petunia also has a small storage bag and streamers.

Schwinn does not list the weight of this bike, but reviewers confirm that it is no lightweight. However, they like being able to steer the front wheel with the parent handle, which is easy to remove. Many say they only had to use the handle for a short time before their kids learned to steer and pedal on their own. The seat has a quick-release post that does not require tools to adjust, but adjusting the handlebar requires an Allen wrench. Initial assembly earns mixed reviews: Some reviewers say it was straightforward, while others say the instructions could be clearer.

The Grit has air-filled tires for increased stability on the road. Few reviewers report problems with flats. While parents say the steel frame is sturdy, it has the potential to rust if left outside for too long. Some reviewers complain of durability problems: Malfunctioning parent handles and pedals that fall off are the most common issues. Schwinn offers a limited lifetime warranty for the bike frame and all parts except for those subject to normal wear and tear, such as tires and cables, which have a 30-day warranty.

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