Bikes: My top picks

Read This Before Buying a Bike For Your 3 Year Old – Best Advice

Our top pick:

  • Surprisingly, for a 3 year old. The classic 12” bike with training wheels is not the best way to help them learn to ride. They will learn much faster, easier and with less painful falls with a balance bike. Of all the balance bikes I researched, the Strider Sport Balance Bike was my favorite. Because it is tough, specially designed for young kids and the best value.

My dad had just finished screwing on the training wheels. This was going to be my first time riding a bike. He helped me onto the seat and I put my feet eagerly onto the pedals. As I started off, slowly at first. I felt the rush of riding a bike for the first time. I can’t remember much of what happened next, but my dad said I made an unexpected turn to my right, my front wheel dropped off the curb and I soon followed it. I vividly remember the nasty scrape across the right side of my face. I took a while until I tried to ride again.

Most of us learned to ride using training wheels. But as I found out recently, using a balance bike as your child’s first bike is a safer method and it allows them to learn faster.

Balance bikes are a different way of learning the skills needed to ride a pedal bike. Probably like me, you started with training wheels and then one day took them off. The story I told in the first paragraph was the first time I rode a bike without training wheels. It didn’t go well. That is because it is a big jump to have to balance on your own. The training wheels didn’t allow me to develop my balance skills. I eventually learned to balance correctly, but with a few more falls. (Thankfully none as bad as my first).

I didn’t have to make that big leap in skill between training wheels one day and none the next. I could have learned all my balancing skills safely on a balance bike first. But that’s all hindsight now, at least I can help my kids.

Balance Bike
Balance Bike in action!

WHAT IS A BALANCE BIKE?

A balance bike is like a regular bike but without pedals. That means that a 3 year old can safely put their feet on the ground to push themselves around. When they feel comfortable, they can lift their feet and glide along happily. The best part is that when they feel like they are losing their balance they can just put their feet down to steady themselves without any pedals in the way.

It also introduces the freedom of cycling at a much earlier age than usual. They can now keep up with you as you walk without the need of strollers or kid leashes.

Training wheels
Get rid of those training wheels.

DITCH THE TRAINING WHEELS

Balance bikes are safer for a 3 year old and they are much more fun. They are also lighter and have fewer parts to go wrong. A good quality balance bike will last for a long while. There is a reason why I say not to use training wheels or I would suggest that you don’t buy a pedal bike for a 3 year old. Most cheap 12” bikes (the correct size for the majority of 3 year olds) are poorly made.

The high cost of making a good quality and easy to ride pedal bike means that most parents naturally opt for a cheaper version. The cheaper 12” pedal bikes cut corners on manufacturing, they have to, it keeps costs down. Unfortunately, this makes them uncomfortable, heavy and poorly made.

Training wheels help your 3 year old to stay upright on their new bike but they teach them absolutely nothing about balance. This is the most important skill they need to learn when riding a bike. A balance bike teaches them all about the balance needed to ride a regular pedal bike, but in a much safer way. It will allow them to have more fun and progress faster. Balance bikes are also better value for money and lighter than most regular cheap pedal bikes of the same size.

By taking away the training wheels and pedals you are actually giving their learning a boost.

Here are the best balance bikes you can buy for your 3 year old:

Read on in the slides below to check out my top picks.

THE BEST OVERALL BALANCE BIKE

Strider Sport
Strider Sport Balance Bike.

Why you will love it: The Strider Sport Balance Bike has a great design. It’s safe and easy to ride. The tough materials will make sure it lasts. It is everything you want in a balance bike for a 3 year old.

It is amazing to see your 3 year old happily zooming along the sidewalk or at the park. Getting lots of exercise and even more smiles? The Strider Sport is for you. It’s amazing just how much joy your first bike can bring. It is one of the first times that they can experience a sense of freedom for themselves. I guess that is why so many people grow up and continue to enjoy riding their bike for the rest of their lives.

Strider where the first company to develop the way of teaching kids to ride using a balance bike and they still make one of the best. They quite rightly say that they “Revolutionized the way kids learn to ride”.

The Strider bike is suitable from ages 18 months to 5 years old. It’s amazing to think that kids who are still in diapers can be happily riding around without any training wheels on!

The Strider bike also grows with your child. Both the seat and the handlebars are adjustable. This means as your child gets older you can just raise the seat and handlebars to keep the bike comfortable. The steel frame makes the bike lightweight at 6.7lbs (3 kg), making it easy for them to handle and for you to carry. It also has mini grips so their tiny hands can control the handlebars with ease. The tires are puncture proof, so there will be no messing around changing them.

Pros: Best selling, strong, lightweight, comfortable and easy to ride design

Cons: Aluminium frame would be even lighter

Check the price of the Strider Sport Balance Bike over at Amazon now.

BEST BALANCE BIKE FOR A BUDGET

Retrospec Cub
Retrospec Cub

Why you will love it: The Retrospec Cub Kids Balance Bike is a bargain for the quality of the bike. It comes in plenty of different colors and is very well designed with an easy “step through frame”.

The Retrospec Cub is a great little confidence builder. The step through design (which is an even lower than normal frame height) and foot rest make this bike easy and safe to ride. It is also maintenance free and needs minimal setup when bought. The bike also has air free tires so you won’t ever find them going flat.

Because their feet can reach the floor and the physical shape of the bike. It is hard for them to gain too much speed. This is important in stopping them getting out of control and falling off. This means less scraped knees!

A 3 year old can pick up using a balance bike like the Retrospec so easily as the riding style is so intuitive. The Retrospec Cub inspires confidence, it also teaches the important fundamentals of balance. Riding balance bikes help to strengthen a 3 year old’s muscles as they have to walk, steer, lean and push.

The company who makes the Retrospec Cub are Critical Cycles. They actually make adult bikes. They have used the same manufacturing methods and materials in their kids bikes as some of their adult bikes. So you know it will be well designed and durable.

Pros: Price, step through design, foot rests.

Cons: weight.

Check the price of the Retrospec Cub Kids Balance Bike over at Amazon now.

BEST PREMIUM BALANCE BIKE

Cruzee Ultralight
Cruzee Ultralight

Why you will love it: If you want the best then look no further than the Cruzee Ultralite Balance Bike. The Cruzee is the lightest balance bike in the world. You or your child will be able to carry it with ease. Making it more fun and less hassle.

The Cruzee is super lightweight for a children’s bike. It means that it is effortless to handle for your kid. They will have more fun for longer as they won’t be lugging around a big heavy bike. It uses an ultra light but strong aluminium frame. That also means it will stay rust free.

Its design has enough adjustment in the handlebars and seat to provide up to 3 years of use. I think that makes it a great investment for your kid. 3 years means plenty of fun filled days riding around the park or the neighborhood.

The Cruzee also has plenty of little premium touches like low profile bolts (so your little one won’t catch their leg and be left with a nasty scrape), a super comfy seat and foam tires so flats aren’t going to be a problem.

Pros: lightest balance bike in the world, excellent build quality, Aluminium frame, plenty of colors to choose from.

Cons: Price.

Check the price of the  Cruzee Ultralite Balance Bike over at Amazon now.

CHOOSING AND SIZING A BALANCE BIKE

The best way to size any bike for a 3 year old is by using the seat height. You want the seat height to be around 15” to start with for a 3 year old. You can then extend the height upwards as they grow.

Balance bikes compared to pedal bikes are easy to size correctly. The main thing to remember is that you want your 3 year old to be able to put their feet flat on the ground. Make sure that they are touching the ground with more than just their tiptoes. This allows them full control over their speed and balance. It also allows them to use their feet to push the wheels over any difficult little bumps in the road that they come across. On a pedal bike, this can sometimes be difficult with smaller wheels.

The weight of a bike is very important. Children lack the strength to ride cheap heavy bikes. You also have to remember that children of this age might not be riding their bike all the way to and from a destination. Maybe they might ride part of the way to school or just around the park when they get there. If that is the case then you will be the one carrying the bike back for them. That is another reason why a lighter bike is a much better investment.

IF YOU ARE SET ON USING TRAINING WHEELS

If all the information I have given you hasn’t convinced you to buy a balance bike to boost your child’s riding skills. Or if you truly feel like their riding skills are at the level where they deserve their first real pedal bike. I have researched and found the best 12” pedal bike.

My top pick for a pedal bike:

  • The Cleary Gecko takes the construction of adult bikes and brings it to the best 12” pedal bike I have ever seen. The riding position is comfortable, the height and adjustability of the seat are spot on. The handlebars are low and wide, which means easier and less twitchy steering. Overall it is an exceptional first pedal bike.

The Cleary Gecko is the smallest 12” pedal bike available. It is great for advanced 3 year olds if you think they have outgrown their balance bike. As I have previously mentioned, I would keep your 3 year old on a balance bike then move straight to something like the Gecko without the use of training wheels. If you use training wheels in their transition from a balance bike they might losing their newly developed balance skills.

As previously suggested above, the cost of a good quality 12” pedal bike is much higher than a good quality balance bike. The cost of construction for a child’s bike is surprisingly high for a manufacturer. That’s why you tend to find excellent quality but higher priced bikes or low quality, cheaply manufactured and heavy cheap bikes.

SAFETY EQUIPMENT

Riding a bike is a thrill for a 3 year old but it can also be dangerous. I’m sure everyone knows by now that a helmet is essential for anyone riding a bike no matter what age. But maybe less well known is a good pair of riding gloves.

I think that riding gloves are so important because it is only a matter of time until your 3 year old has a tumble. The first thing normally to hit the ground is their hands. I’ve seen some nasty cuts and grazes from children who weren’t wearing gloves. They are only cheap and it gives them good protection for their hands. Picking bits of asphalt from a sore palm after a fall isn’t fun at all.

You may also want to buy elbow and knee pads if you are especially cautious over your 3 year old. I personally haven’t because I think it is too restrictive for their movement. I also think it takes too long a time to get them all set up and in the right places. Seeing as sometimes they just want to ride around for 10 minutes. I understand why people would want to use them, in the end it is your choice.

Safety equipment for a 3 year old my top picks:

  • Helmet: We decided on this helmet (Amazon link). We thought it looked the best. When it arrived we found that it fit them well and I would definitely recommend it.
  • Gloves: This was an easy choice, there was a clear winner in terms of the best fit and quality I could find on Amazon. It was this pair (Amazon link) we ended up going for in the end. The designs that this company have are amazing! Love them!
  • Elbow pads and Knee pads: We didn’t end up using them as I explained, but I think for the value and great reviews If I decided they did need some I would go for these (Amazon link).

BEST BIKE FOR A 3 YEAR OLD BOY

Since writing this article I have had many requests to suggest the best bike for a 3 year old boy. I think at this age girls and boys are similar in size and strength so my recommendations would be the same as I have already given. Although, in terms of looks, a little boy may prefer different colors and style.

My top pick for a bike for a 3 year old boy:

The colors they do are Black, Blue, Green, Orange, Yellow and Red.

SUMMARY

It was a big surprise to me that most professionals recommend starting your 3 year old off on a balance bike like the Strider Sport Balance Bike. I had learned with training wheels and that was the plan for my girls, but I changed my mind. The evidence suggests that kids learn faster and easier using a balance bike and then graduating straight up to a small pedal bike.

It turns out they don’t need the help of training wheels. Training wheels can actually hinder how quickly a 3 year old can learn enough skill at balancing to ride a pedal bike.

Balance bikes are just brilliantly simple to ride and so intuitive for our little ones to get the hang of. They are much safer than trying to teach our 3 year olds by using training wheels. Once I knew, I couldn’t give them a regular bike. I didn’t want them to have a bad fall as I once did.

I really wanted my kids to learn to ride at an early age. I know the enjoyment I had when I was younger riding around on my bike. I think that learning to ride a bike is an adventure. It’s being able to explore the places around you. It helped boost my confidence when I was younger. It gives kids a feeling of self-reliance, which at that age is hard to get from anything else.