Balance bike or tricycle - What should a child start with?

Parents are often confused between balance bikes, tricycles and training wheels. Read on to find out the differences between the three and why balance bikes are a good choice.

Childhood is all about having fun and learning many different things. One such thing that every child learns to do at some point, is learning how to ride a bike. It's almost like a rite of passage. But while most people agree that children should learn to ride a bike, they have greatly polarising opinions when it comes to how children should learn to ride a bike. Should they learn to ride with a balance bike or tricycle? 

What's the difference?

We often hear people deliberating between a balance bike and tricycle but don't forget the other option - training wheels. In fact, many people don't quite know the difference between a tricycle and training wheels so let's sort the options out to get started.

1. Tricycle

A tricycle, as the name suggests, is quite simply a three-wheeled bicycle. People also call it a 'trike'. It comes in a wide range of shapes and sizes, and children as young as 18months of age can be seen riding one. 

For generations, the tricycle has been a child's first experience with cycling. In fact, in Singapore, you will often find grandparents taking a leisurely stroll around their neighbourhood with their grandchildren furiously pedalling alongside in a cute trike!

2. Training Wheels

This is for slightly older children. It's basically a small bicycle with training wheels added to help the child to stabilise. 

3. Balance Bike 

This is what started the whole debate if a balance bike or tricycle is the way to go. The balance bike is a two-wheeled pedal-less bike that children push along on their feet. Children learn to balance on two wheels and push along, from as young as 18 months old. 

The balance bike focuses on balancing, not pedalling. In comparison to the trike and tricycle, this is a newer trend and many parents from the older generation are neither familiar nor comfortable with it.

balance bike or tricycle Some parents prefer to stick to more conventional ways of learning to cycle.

Why tricycles and training wheels may not be the best idea

When it comes to the question of a balance bike or tricycle, the balance bike is becoming increasingly popular amongst the newer generation of parents. And it might just be a better option. Here's why.

When it comes to riding a bicycle, the challenge lies in learning balance and steering. It's not about pedalling, that's the easy part.

Tricycles and training wheels don't teach children how to balance. In fact, there's no balancing involved at all! Neither does it teach a child the correct technique to steer. So if you're thinking balance bike or tricycle, these are some important considerations. 

When learning to cycle, children need to experience the feeling of how steering affects the balance of the bike. When riding on a trike or training wheels, the child doesn't learn, so essentially, they aren't in any way learning how to ride a bike.

Furthermore, the centre of gravity for tricycles and training wheels are much higher than a balance bike. They are deceivingly stable, don't be fooled. They actually tip over really easily and your child has a greater fall than when on a balance bike. 

And precisely because of how stable these tricycles and training wheels feel, children don't see it coming that they can and will tip over. They have a higher chance of getting injured!

Training wheels and trikes are teaching children how to ride without balance, in other words, in an unbalanced manner. The training wheels tilt to one side and create a false sense of balance. 

When it comes to riding a real bike, children will have to unlearn how to ride unbalanced and learn how to ride when balanced. 

balance bike or tricycle The concept of an actual bicycle is all about balance and steering.

Additionally, tricycles and training wheels are slow, rather awkward to handle, and easily tip on uneven surfaces. So when it comes to a balance bike or tricycle, you should keep these in mind.

Having said that, it's not all that bad. I mean, most of us started with trikes and training wheels, and we eventually learnt to cycle as well. 

What's good about a balance bike?

If you ask me balance bike or tricycle, I'm likely to say balance bike. Although I come from the tricycle generation, and never actually learnt on a balance bike, I think there are a few pretty good reasons to consider it. 

1. They are so easy!

Balance bikes don't require children to use their energy and struggle with the pedals. So they can focus all their attention and energy on the most important thing - balancing. This makes it easier for them to learn.

It's also really easy for kids to just put their feet on the ground and stop, steer or turn. This gives them good control which in turn leads to greater confidence. 

2. They help children to coordinate 

You know how they say children these days aren't too good at coordinating? Well this is a good way to help them. The balance bike is designed such that kids need to use their arms and legs to move forward. This helps in building their strength, improves their motor skills, coordination and agility.

3. They are safer, yes they are!

When it comes to the balance bike or tricycle, many parents choose the trike because they think balance bikes are unsafe. Well, no! The seat is closer to the ground than when on a regular bike so if the kids falls, they won't fall far. And balance bikes don't go too fast so it won't be a high speed crash.

balance bike or tricycle Don't worry, even if they fall it won't be too bad!

4. Goodbye training wheels!

Once you get past the balance, the hardest part of the battle has been won. They can progress to a regular bike in no time. They don't have to unlearn all that they learnt with a trike or training wheels. 

So mums and dads, if you're wondering if it's going to be a balance bike or tricycle for your child, we hope you find this information useful. Do remember that at the end of the day, it's not only about getting them to learn fast. It's most important that they enjoy the process so ultimately, choose what they are comfortable with and they enjoy doing! 

Reference: Medibank