Whether you’re on your first or your fourth, finding the right bike for your toddler isn’t always easy. With so many options out there—what size? what style? training wheels or balance bike?—it's hard to know where to start. But here's the good news, parents. There isn't one right way or one perfect bike out there. Instead, there are lots of great choices that will help your tot learn to ride like a pro. Although we can't promise Kate Courtney or Lance Armstrong skills, these bikes should take your toddlers through the stages pretty painlessly.
18 Months & Up
When it comes to bikes for those just-walkers, ride-ons is the name of the game. Bikes that teach kids to balance, move and steer will get them pedaling in the right direction.
Bammax Balance Bike
The most beginner-est bike around, the Bammax balance bike is a great starting point. Once kiddos can walk, pull out this intriguing invention and they’ll take to it in no time. The wide stance and upturned seat mean your tot won’t fall off or tip over unless they’re working for a laugh. And at just-the-right height, kids can use it as a walker almost as easily as a ride-on. This ride-on is best for ages 1-2 years.
Find it on amazon.com, $55.99
When it comes to sleek design and well-made wood products, parents know Hape is the brand to look to. This ride-on uses water-based paint and non-toxic finishes, so even if your tot decides to take a bite (they’re like sharks that way, aren’t they?), there’s no need to worry. The rubberized wheels make it a great option for indoor riders (we’re looking at you, winter) and parents who don’t want scuffed floors. The four wide wheels make balancing simple, and the easy-grip handles guide toddlers toward the ins and outs of steering. This ride-on is best for kids ages 1-3 years.
Find it on amazon.com, $55.18
YBIKE Pewi Elite
It is a spider? A caped superhero? A smiley face reaching out for a hug? We’re not sure what it most resembles, but we do know is that tots go gaga for it. It’s set on casters, so kids get the hang of steering quickly, and the wider front wheelbase makes balance a breeze. Kids can ride it indoors or out to keep building the scoot skills needed to finally master a real bike. This ride-on is best for kids ages 1-3.
Find it on amazon.com, $84.99
Looking for a bike that grows with your tike? Check out the Chillafish Quadie. Kids will love the bright colors and stickers for fancy decoration. And don’t even get us started on the things they’ll carry in the hidden seat compartment; we bet you’ll find everything from crayons to snacks in there. Parents will love that it grows with kiddos (the seat’s adjustable) so you can get years of use. Plus, it’s lightweight and has a handgrip on the seat so you can pick it up and carry it when your tired rider peters out. This ride-on is best for kids ages 1-3.
Find it on amazon.com, ($55.99)
2- & 3-Year-Olds
Two- and three-year-olds span a developmental range that’s as wide as the Grand Canyon and as varied as your toddler’s ever-changing moods. But once your tot is ready to transition from the ride-on to the next stage, balance bikes are where it’s at. While many experts caution against training wheels, there are plenty of kids and parents who appreciate them. As for size, look for 12” and 14” bikes, although some three-year-olds are tall enough for a 16” bike.
GOMO Balance Bike
GOMO is an acronym for “Get out more often,” and with this bike, your kids will want to do just that. It’s light enough for them to carry themselves but durable enough that it will last a few years. The limited steering means your beginning rider won’t land in the bushes, and the footrest gives them a place to put up their feet and glide after a big push-off. It’s touches like these that help kids develop the balance they need to ultimately take on a pedal bike. This bike is best for kids ages 18 mos.-5 years.
Find it on amazon.com, $69.99
Strider Classic & Sport
When it comes to simplicity, Strider does a great job with its balance bikes. And whether you go with the Sport or the Classic (a bare-bones model of the super-popular Sport version), your cyclist-in-training will pick up the balance and coordination they need. Both bikes come with an adjustable seat so you can get years of use, and footrests so kids can practice gliding. You choose the model that’s right for your kiddo, but let them choose the color. The Classic is best for kids ages 18 mos.-3 years. The Sport is best for kids ages 18 mos.-5 years.
Find the Classic on amazon.com, $89.99
Find the Sport on amazon.com, $109
Co-op Cycles REV 12
If an ultra-light bike with training wheels is what you’re after, it’s hard to go wrong with the REV 12. Kids will get a kick out of stickers that let them customize their ride, while you’ll appreciate the thoughtfully designed seat that has a handgrip just for parents. The rear coaster brake makes slowing down easy, and the removable training wheels give families flexibility as kids learn the skills they need to finally get to the “Look, Ma! No hands” stage. This bike is best for kids ages 2-5.
Find it at rei.com, $199
4 & Up
Kids on the upper end of toddlerhood are ready to transition from balance bikes to pedal bikes. They’re usually good with wheels in the 14” to 16” range, and lighter frames and wider wheels are still important features. As for training wheels, we’ll leave that up to you.
Pro tip: If you’ve got an older kiddo who hasn’t mastered the balance thing yet, and you’re trying to avoid training wheels, simply remove the pedals from a larger bike. Voila! Now it’s a balance bike that’s the right size.
There’s a little more to learn on this BMX-style bike that doesn’t have gears, but does come with hand brakes. Have your older tot start with the coaster brakes on this Raleigh, and as they get comfortable, move them to the hand brake. It’s one step closer to gear bike riding. If your kiddo has mastered balance and coordination, they’ll hop on and be riding in no time because training wheels aren’t part of this system. It’s got soon-to-be-big-kid written all over it. This bike is best for kids ages 4-8.
Find it on amazon.com, $193.67
This bike looks as cool as it rides, and it’s got the features to prove it. While we think you’ll swoon over the 15-minute box-to-setup promise, we know your kids will appreciate the SureStop braking system that uses one lever to slow both wheels. So much for those flip-over worries. It’s lightweight with a seat that’s so easy to adjust, kids can do it themselves. And although it doesn’t come with training wheels, you can add them for extra support if it’s needed. This bike is best for kids ages 4-6.
Find it on amazon.com, $279
A Note about woom Bikes
Chances are, if you’re on the hunt for a bike for your tike, you’ve heard about woom. If you haven’t, you will. For in-the-know parents, these are hands-down the best bikes on the market, no matter what your kiddo’s age or ability level. In fact, they’re so popular, they’re on backorder. All of them. That’s why they’re not officially included in our roundup. But here’s the lowdown: The shortest balance bike—the woom 1, with 12” wheels ($199)—works well for kids as young as 18 months; sizes, pedal options and prices go up from there. So if you’ve got your heart set on a woom, you can check wait times and pre-order your bike here.
Accessories That Every Kid Needs
Back in our day, bike accessories were all the rage, from sweet banana seats and handlebar tassels to front baskets and spoke bling. As parents, we’re a little more practical when it comes to our kids’ bike add-ons. No wonder our favorite accessories have safety in mind. Here are a few bike helmets to consider: Schwinn makes helmets that fit even the smallest toddler heads. We’re partial to the teddy bear helmet, but there are lots of great designs to choose from. The Joovy Noodle and the Giro Scamp are two other solid choices, designed with toddlers in mind.