We all grew up on bicycles with training wheels, and some of us just hit the ground running and tried a bicycle without them. Either way, balance bikes weren’t around back in the day, but now they pose a convincing argument while teaching your kids how to ride: maybe we learned the wrong way. Parents need to compare using a balance bike vs. training wheels when teaching their kids how to ride a bike?
Either way, we know how to ride, but what if it was easier? More engaging, and more fun?
What if it led to a lifelong love of cycling instead of it just being a tool we used while we didn’t have a car? Balance bikes offer a unique way for kids to approach riding a bike with a developmental twist.
Now it’s time for the showdown: balance bike vs training wheels. We’ll talk about all the pros, the cons, and how you should approach your child’s development regarding balance bikes vs training wheels. Let’s roll.
Balance bikes introduce a new way for little ones to begin learning. It’s a step-up from their indoor ride-on toys that they use to nudge down the hallway during the day.
Kids can have a ton of fun on these while learning how to balance, and that experience can transfer to bicycle riding in the future.
Balance bikes don’t have chains, drivetrains, or pedals. They’re basically a ride-on two-wheeler without any training wheels, requiring balancing from the rider. They can be used indoors or outdoors depending on the preferences of the parent, although they’re typically preferred outdoors.
To teach your child to balance without the use of training wheels. The idea is that a balance bike has slightly wider tires and doesn’t have the same repercussions as a drivetrain-powered bicycle if they get injured.
It means they’ll learn to balance on their own without significant risk, or an accident that’s bad enough to discourage them from getting up and trying again (which we know a lot of toddlers are prone to).
- Motor Skill Accelerated Development: Balancing is a developmental skill. We’re born with some of it, but we have to hone it by testing out boundaries and limitations, and then finding out how to go beyond them. That’s what you should be doing all the time, and with kids, it’s no exception.
- Adjustable and Scalable: You can adjust the seat on most balance bikes to make room for older kids. If they’re just getting to cycling at an older age, or they’re growing but haven’t mastered balance, it can scale up with them as they age and grow.
- Fast Track to Unassisted Bicycle Riding: No training wheels means they’re not learning on a system that they’ll never use in the real world as older kids. Training wheels are something you learn to work with and then shed all at once, but with a balance bike, you’re actually making it easier to transition to using a bicycle completely unassisted. It makes the process faster, and more effective.
- Slightly More Dangerous Than Training Wheels: Because there’s no guardrail, your little ones are going to fall more often. Because it’s slower than a drivetrain bicycle for kids, the injuries won’t be that bad but expect them to fall over. Just hype them up and get them back in the saddle to try again.
- Child May Bore Easily: Because they don’t have a drivetrain, once they master the art of moving on their own while balancing, they’re going to want speed. That’s the next step. If they master it quickly, they’re going to be bored easily. It’s not like you could even have them ride downhills since they don’t have brakes on a balance bike.
We all know them, most of us had them—these mini wheels stick out from the side of your rear wheel to provide auto-balancing. If your bike tilts to the right by a degree or two, the training wheel kicks in and helps you glide without all the balance requirements coming from the rider.
These are removed at a later stage of development when children can ride on their own and balance properly.
Training wheels attach to the rear wheel on either side of the pegs. They aren’t powered by the drivetrain at all. These only “kick in” when the bike tilts to the side, which happens a lot while a child is learning how to ride for the first time.
To provide stability and safety for the toddler that’s learning how to ride their bike. If they’re using training wheels, they reduce their chance of making contact with the ground. That way they can focus on having fun and learning how to ride instead of becoming discouraged by injury.
- Reduces the Risk of Injury: Training wheels allow you to have more room for error. The rider will have a check and balance on either side, so if they lose balance and tilt to the left or right, they’ll still be okay. Nobody is going to tip over and get hurt except for extreme circumstances, but on flat terrain like asphalt, you’ll be okay.
- Helps Your Child Stay Interested: Some children get discouraged far easier than others. That’s okay, it happens, but training wheels can help maintain their interest because they’re not falling and feeling a failure. It’s hard to change a child’s perception when they see a neighbor kid or their older sibling doing what they want to do, so this can really help if you know that your child gets discouraged easily.
- Teaches Children to Handle Speed: Drivetrains on training wheel bikes are faster than foot power. Having a bicycle that actually moves based on the power you apply to it gives you major speed, and it’s hard to handle, but your children will learn how to.
- Doesn’t Actually Teach Balance: Because the balance is auto-corrected while they’re riding, they’re not actually learning how to balance their bike properly while riding. Overall, this is going to shell-shock them when they get on a bicycle without training wheels.
- May Inhibit Developmental Skills: Because they’re not learning how to balance, it could prolong the amount of time taken to get good at it. Balance is something we’re naturally born with (to an extent) and we progress our balancing skills while we age. It’s why a baby falls over when trying to walk, and learns as it goes. Training wheels take away the bumps and bruises, but they also take away the lesson.
Balance Bike vs. Training Wheels -Which One is Better for Development?
We would argue that they both have their pros and cons in this regard. If your child is completely brand new to the idea of riding a bicycle, as many are, then a balance bike will let them learn how the bike feels with more accuracy.
They’re actually feeling the sway of the bike as it moves and understand how to counterbalance it.
With training wheels on a regular bicycle, they have to push and power the drivetrain. That’s good for leg muscle development and is arguably how your child will develop their joint strength and muscles as well.
So which one do you go with? Why not both? Start off with a balance bike for all the reasons we’ve listed, and then continue their bicycle development with a training wheel-enabled bicycle to put all that balance to good use.
You can get both of them, but if saving money is a concern, you could go with a bicycle with training wheels right from the start and just spend more time getting them ready to ride.
The learning process might be a little more difficult than anticipated and their balance might take longer to come through, but it’s how most of us learned to ride bicycles back in the day, and we’re all doing alright.
Which One is Safer?
Bicycles with training wheels are arguably a bit safer than balance bikes. You’ll notice that balance bikes will have slightly wider wheels, but that’s not enough to make up for a lack of balance in an early beginner.
Because of the stability that training wheels offer, they tend to be safer. The thing to keep in mind here is that a child needs to learn how to fall, and their natural curiosity at a young age means that a few falls won’t be enough to discourage them from trying again.
Bicycles with training wheels will be considered safer in the beginning. Later on, because they’re powered by a drivetrain, they can achieve higher speeds than balance bikes can, so in that regard their safety may taper off as time goes on.
Which One is More Fun?
For your child, balance bikes will be more fun early on. It’s hard to master the rhythm of pedaling while also being restricted by the training wheels. Let’s take a look at some of the main factors that play into the fun aspect.
- Time to Master: Let’s be honest here: kids aren’t able to properly process that challenge equates to fun, not in the capacity that we can as adults. They want to endure some level of fun while learning, and training wheels require leg muscle movements that they may not be able to perform just yet. Balance bikes are definitely more fun in the beginning.
- Boredom: Because balance bikes don’t have the same speed capabilities as a traditional bicycle with training wheels, your child may get bored of them faster. If that’s the case, you can always upgrade them when it’s time to. Balance bikes will be more fun in the beginning, but if they get bored because they can’t go as fast as they want, upgrade them.
- Less Spills: It’s likely that a balance bike will be easier to control for most children, even if they don’t have the best balance in the beginning. When you fall to the side with a balance bike, you can use your leg to stop you. When you fall to the side on a training wheel bicycle, it feels like the entire thing is going overboard and it’s harder to control.
It depends on what brand you go for, but a simple search on Amazon will show that balance bikes can be bought for around $45 from reputable brands, as opposed to $120+ for kid’s bikes with training wheels built in.
This heavily comes down to brand, but because balance bike manufacturers don’t have as many working parts to include, they’re much easier to build.
The downside is that your child is still going to upgrade to a bicycle at some point, and it’s much easier to discard a $15 of training wheels than it is to buy an entirely new bike.
Still, the benefits can’t be ignored, and you should honestly consider getting a balance bike first.
Bicycles can be discouraging to certain children if they spend too long failing to balance, so this could be a good way to encourage them to continue early on. They did it on a balance bike, so how hard can it be to go one level up? It’s all about baby steps.
Yes, in the long run you might save a few bucks by going with a bicycle and taking the training wheels off later, but it’s not the best way for your child to learn and build confidence.
In the End, It’s Up to You
Balance bikes take away the training wheels, the drivetrain, and the chain, and give your children a way to actually learn how to ride a bike instead of having the balancing done for them.
While a balance bike is powerful and useful, sometimes they can be expensive because they’re not as mainstream as training wheels just yet (depending on the brand). You have to decide what’s important to you.
Balance bikes are a better way to develop hand-eye coordination and, well, balancing! Adding the element of pedals and a chain, later on, won’t be as jarring when they finally upgrade to a bicycle. You’ll be surprised at the difference this can make.
Last Updated on July 18, 2022 by Matthew Carpenter