The Best Bikes For Three Year Olds (and What to Know Before Purchasing)

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Ryan the authorResearch by Aaron
Updated: August 2, 2019

Learning how to ride a bike is one of the most exciting parts about childhood. Your son or daughter will be learning a new skill that requires practice and patience, but the payoff is their first true taste of freedom. The biggest factor in how quickly they'll learn is the bike itself.  Age three is a great time to learn. But how do you find the best bike for three year olds? 

Many kid's bikes are heavy, have poor design and make it really tough to learn on. Unfortunately, the bikes you'll find at most stores fall into this category. However, in recent years a handful of brands have stepped up and put the same engineering effort into kid's bikes that we see with adult bikes on the market. The result is a safer, more comfortable bike to learn on. Plus, no training wheels like we learned on as kids (more on that later).

We have tested different techniques and bikes with our kids, consulted with other parents, talked to manufacturers and bike shops and done an exhausting amount of research on the topic. The below article can save you time and effort in navigating the decision of which bike is best for your three year old son or daughter.



Finding the Right Size Bike For Your Child

Understanding how to fit your child with the proper size bike is the most important part about the bike selection process. Quality is important, but sizing is still the most important thing to consider. A bike that's the improper size can discourage your child from learning how to ride or cause injury.

Kid's bikes range from 12-inch wheels all the way to 24-inch wheels for older kids. Most three year olds will need either a 12-inch or 14-inch bike, but as you'll read below, it's more important to consider the height (particularly inseam length) than the age of your child.

Consider the below tips when thinking about the size bike that your child needs:

  • Remember kid's bikes aren't sized like adult bikes - Adult bikes are sized based mostly on frame size. You can find small, medium and large frames, and measurments to go with each of those frame sizes. Most adult bikes have wheels that range from 26 inches to 29 inches. Children's bikes are measured based on wheel size and there are a lot more wheel sizes available.
  • Consider the size of your child, not their age - You'll see many stores, and even some manufacturers, advertise a bike for a certain aged child. This may be helpful as a general guide, but it's really your child's size that determines the right bike for them, not their age. Even bikes with the same wheel size can vary greatly in seat height, which is why the real important measurment here is your child's inseam.
  • Don't buy a bike that they'll grow into - This is an important one, because it can be tempting for many parents. We all know how quickly our kids grow, and they grow out of the things we buy for them quickly as well. It can be tempting to buy a bike that is bigger in size so it lasts and they can get comfortable with it over time. Do not do that with your children's bike - it can cause serious injury, and will make learning much more difficult. It will also discourage them from learning how to ride a bike.
  • Helmet sizing is just as important as bike sizing - As you're thinking about the right bike for your child, remember to also put thought into proper helmet and size. First thing's first - make sure you choose a helmet your child likes. Especially at age three, it needs to be something they'll enjoy and look forward to wearing. From a sizing perspective, the helmet needs to fit snugly over their head without too much slip. There should be no more than an inch of space on their forehead that's uncovered. Also make sure the helmet can't slip back on the head to leave their forehead exposed once you have the chinstrap adjusted.

How to Determine Your Child's Inseam

We talked above about how it's your child's inseam, not age, that determines which size bike they need. The inseam is really just their floor to crotch height. Now you need to get their measurment. But how do you do it? There's a trick that will quickly get you there. 

Grab a book and have your child stand with their back and heels against a wall. Slowly slide the book up between their legs until you gently reach the top. Then take a tape measure and determine the length from the floor to the top of the book. That measurment is your child's inseam length! 


Using Your Child's Inseam to Choose a Bike Size

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Once you've measured your child's inseam you're ready to start considering what size bike they'll need. If your three-year-old is just starting to learn how to ride a bike and this is their very first bike, you should make sure the bike you choose has a seatpost height available that is the exact same as your child's inseam. This will ensure they're comfortable putting both feet on the ground and controlling the bike that way. We also think you should start your child with a balance bike to get used to a bike with both feet on the ground. We'll talk more about that in the next section. 

If your child has already mastered the art of the balance bike (including turning, balancing, braking and general steering) we recommend you choose a bike with an available seatpost height that is 2-3 inches higher than their inseam. This will allow your child to touch the ground with their toes and remain in control, but avoid being too jammed to ride comfortably. 

Quick summary: New riders should be able to put their feet flat on the ground (seatpost height must equal inseam height). As your child becomes more comfortable, you'll want them sitting on their seat with tippy toes touching the ground (seatpost heigh 2-3 inches higher than their inseam). 


Where to Start: Balance Bike vs. Training Wheels

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If this is your child's first bike, you'll want to think through whether you want to start them on a balance bike or a traditional bike with training wheels. Most of us grew up on training wheels; I know that's how I first started to learn how to ride a bike. However, balance bikes have risen in popularity in recent years - and for good reason.

Age three is a great age to start your child on a balance bike. While it may seem like it's a long way from riding a real bike with pedals, it will develop the right motor skills and avoid bad habits that training wheels build.

We strongly recommend you start your three-year-old on a balance bike instead of training wheels. Here's a few reasons why: 

  • A balance bike teaches just that - balance. It's an even better option than a tricycle for early experimentation with a bike. Children can safely start on a balance bike as early as age two.

  • Training wheels or a tricycle teaches children bad habits around balance. Your child will become accustomed to being able to lean heavily and rely on the training wheels to support them. This is not a movement that translates to a two-wheeled bike and will cause them frustration when making the transition. Bad habits will need to be unlearned, which can be difficult at any age. This leads to a longer overall learning process and more falls, which may discourage your child from riding their bike.

  • Balance bikes will naturally and safely progress your child to a two-wheeled bike. With a balance bike, children naturally learn at their own pace and progress from walking the bike to eventually running with it, using their feet for power. It's very easy to tell once your child is ready to start riding a two-wheeled bike instead of their balance bike. They will naturally start coasting on their balance bike with their feet raised, showing they've developed the proper balance. This skill will make learning how to ride a pedal bike much easier.

  • Balance bikes generally fit young children better. Especially if you're looking for a first bike for a two or three-year-old, balance bikes will be much more comfortable for them. Most come in either 12 inch or 14 inch sizes, and will be easier for your young child to maneuver than a lot of the heavy children's bikes out there. This will help them learn steering, braking and balance on a bike they can more easily handle.

  • Training wheels get stuck a lot. If you've ever taught a child how to ride a bike with training wheels, you know they get stuck a lot and need a push. Whether it's a crack in the driveway or sidewalk, or the weight of the wheels digging into soft dirt, the contact points of the training wheels find a way to get stuck all the time. Balance bikes teach your child how to navigate this terrain much better.

  • Balance bikes will create a fun experience for your child much earlier. You'll be absolutely surprised at how quickly your young child will pick up the balance bike. Before you know it, your child will be scooting along next to you on a walk or even a slow bike ride. The movement comes fairly naturally, and they have confidence with their feet comfortably on the ground. This gives them their first taste at the freedom of riding a bike, making the process of learning a two-wheeler much easier and exciting for them.

Our Process

Our team has tried a ton of balance bikes and regular two-wheelers with our kids. We're a group of natural testers and gearheads - we love great gear for ourselves and it's no different for our young children. While working on this article, we also asked other parents, friends and even local bike shops for their opinions. We asked how they recommend teaching a child to ride a bike and what bikes they liked for their kids.

We also scoured reviews, testimonials and information on everything reviewed here. Plus we reviewed at a whole lot of other bikes and info that didn't make the cut. The bikes in this article represent the most trusted brands on the market, and the best models they have in their lineup.

When looking at bikes to recommend, here's the criteria we consider:

  • Weight - If your child has a tough time maneuvering the bike, it can cause injury or just not be fun for them. And it's really all about having fun learning to ride a bike at the end of the day.

  • Manufacturer trust and reputation - We all want to put our young child on a bike that we trust, and oftentimes that comes down to a quality manufacturer that takes pride in their product. We also want to know that they'll back up their product if something goes wrong.

  • Quality components - Unfortunately, kid's bikes oftentimes get the short end of the stick with components. Many bikes are built extremely cheap, which results in an overly heavy frame, poor gearing and brakes and a bad experience for the child.

  • Design - The look of the bike may be important to your child (and let's be honest, it's a bit important to us parents, too). However, we're more concerned with proper features and ergonomics that will support your child learning to ride a bike. We want to ensure they're riding at the right angle and the design helps them learn more quickly and safely.

  • Flexibility - These are young children's bikes, which means the size they need now will be different before you know it. Between seat adjustments and handlebar adjustments, many bikes offer great flexibility. For more info on this, check out the compare table below to see the seat height range for the bikes we reviewed.

What you'll find below is the absolute best of the best for teaching your three-year-old how to ride a bike. Whether you're looking for best value because your child moves on quickly, or you want the best quality so you can pass the bike down to other children - we have you covered.

The Best Bikes for Three Year Olds

Woom 1 Balance Bike – 12″

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best overall balance bike

The Woom 1 is a fantastic first bike for a child ages 2-4. It has high quality components, a simple yet functional design and the right specs to allow your child to have fun quickly. This balance bike will ensure your child gets comfortable with steering, braking and balancing on a bike before their first two-wheeler.

PROS 

The lightweight, aluminum frame allows your child more control of the bike than most others. The bike has great design features, including great kid-friendly ergonomics that make for easy on and off. Standout features include air-filled tires (many balance bikes use cheap foam), a hand brake for small hands and a steer limiter to help prevent swerving and crashes. 

CONS

The bike is high priced, considering your children may want to move on to a pedal bike fairly quickly once it's fully mastered.

BOTTOM LINE 

This balance bike is the best on the market in terms of quality, kid-friendly ergonomics and features. It's pricey, but comes with quality components that will ensure it's only your child's own pace that limits their learning speed. When your child graduates from this bike, they'll be comfortable steering, balancing, hand braking and more. 

Strider 12 Sport Balance Bike

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best value balance bike

At just over $100, the Strider 12 Sport is a fantastic compromise between quality and price. You'll notice some component downgrades from the Woom 1 above, but it's a great bike that your child could enjoy for years.

PROS

Strider is probably the most well-known balance bike ever made. It blows pretty much any balance bike out of the water at this price point for being lightweight, easy to adjust and well designed for children. The placement of seat, handlebars, and frame create a natural position for children. The seat height can adjust from 11-19 inches, providing a ton of flexibility for growing children, or multiple kids enjoying it.

CONS

Because it's relatively value-priced, you'll notice some features missing from the Strider 2. The bike opts for foam wheels instead of air-filled. This means you won't need to deal with filling tires but will miss out on the cushion and grip of rubber. It also doesn't include a hand brake for your child to start learning or a steering limiter like the Woom 1.

BOTTOM LINE

The Strider 2 lacks some of the features and components of the Woom 1. It's also a fraction of the price, which is why it takes home our best value category. If you're on a budget or think your child may move on from a balance bike relatively quickly, the Strider 2 is a no-brainer.

Schwinn Skip 4 Balance Bike

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best value balance bike (runner up)

Schwinn's Skip 4 is by far the best balance bike from the classic cycle company, with solid features at an unbeatable price point.

PROS

The Skip 4 improves upon the other Skip 2 and 3 models from Schwinn by adding a longer wheelbase that is critical for children balancing. It also includes air tires, while the more expensive Strider 12 Balance Bike does not.

CONS

The bike can be a bit heavy for smaller children to maneuver with its steel frame. Its design and ergonomics aren't on the same level as the more expensive balance bikes in this article. Schwinn's footrest can also cause more harm than good by getting in the way for some children rather than helping them out.

BOTTOM LINE 

For a bike that's priced under $100, the Skip 4 is a great value. It sneaks in a couple surprising features at this price point, like real air-filled tires that may be important to you if your child may use the bike longer or more aggressively.

Strider 14x 2-in-1 Balance to Pedal Bike Kit

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best balance/pedal bike all-in-one

We already mentioned above that it's a bad idea to look for a bike your three-year-old can grow into. It can hurt their chances to learn how to ride a bike and also be unsafe for them. However, the Strider 14x 2-in-1 is the best of all worlds. It combines one of the best balance bikes on the market with everything you need to convert it to your child's first pedal bike as well.

PROS 

You know the quality you're getting wit a Strider balance bike, but this one is compatible with a large inseam range (16-23 inches), ensuring a proper fit for your child for a long time. Your child can make a perfect transition from balance bike to pedal bike without needing to adjust to a new bike. You also won't need to purchase a new one. When your child is ready to transition it to a pedal bike, the chain guard is a nice feature to keep your child safe.

CONS 

This bike is on the larger side for a three-year-old so make sure to check your child's inseam and don't rush them into a bike that isn't the right size for them. We wish Strider would have included hand brakes instead of coaster brakes.

BOTTOM LINE

The 14x is a great option for parents who want a high-quality bike for their child while getting some longevity on it. The bike is significantly bigger than Strider's 12 Balance Bike above, so just make sure it will fit your child before purchasing.

RoyalBaby Freestyle Bike

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best pedal bike for the experienced rider

If your child started on a balance bike early and has already mastered that art, it may be time to transition to their first pedal bike. RoyalBaby's 14" Freestyle is a great starter bike that also won't break the bank. Just remember, ignore those training wheels it comes with and make sure your child starts on a balance bike. 

PROS

The 14" Freestyle has hand brakes for your child to use, and is built sturdy on a steel frame. The tires are nice and wide with great tread that will help your child stay in control. The bike arrives 95% assembled, so that part is a breeze. It also has fun features your child will love, like a water bottle holder. 

CONS

The bike can be heavy for a three year old at 22 lbs. It's built sturdy, but that comes with the tradeoff in weight. 

BOTTOM LINE 

The RoyalBaby 14" Freestyle is a great first bike for a three-year-old who is ready to transition from a balance bike to a pedal bike. It's on the heavy side, but it's also built to last with strong welding and a steel frame. At this price point, you can't go wrong here for a bike your child will inevitably outgrow before you know it. 


Compare Table

Bike Wheel
Size
Weight Seat
Height
Tires Price
Woom 1 12" 7.5 lbs. 10-14" Air  $199
Strider 12 Sport 12" 6.7 lbs. 11-19" Foam $109
Schwinn Skip 4 12" 10.5 lbs. 14.5-17" Air $89
Strider 14x 2-in-1 14" 12 lbs. 15-22" Air  $189
RoyalBaby Freestyle 14" 22 lbs. 20-24" Air $119

Teaching Your Child How to Ride a Bike

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Once you've got a bike for your three-year-old you're ready for the fun part: teaching them how to ride. It's a big moment in a child's life and gives them their first taste of freedom and independence.

We mentioned above we think a balance bike is a far superior method over training wheels because it will teach your child balance in a safe way. Training wheels actually build really bad habits for balance that your child will have to unlearn.

Here's a few quick methods we recommend for teaching your child how to ride a bike. If you want to read more about these methods, check out our full article on how to teach your child how to ride a bike. 

  • The no pedals method - This is our recommended method to teach a child how to ride a bike. It's essentially the same as using a balance bike. By allowing your child to control their own movement with their feet and ease into coasting on the bike without their feet touching the ground, they'll transition to a regular bike with pedals before you know it.

  • Towel method - This involves wrapping a towel around your child so you can use it as a harness while they're trying to ride their bike. It is oftentimes the fastest method for teaching kids how to ride a bike, and it can be used after a balance bike has been mastered and the child first starts with pedals.

  • Grass hill method - The grass will help prevent your child from getting going to fast and out of control, plus it's a bit of a more padded landing than the pavement provides. Essentially find a low-grade grass slope, and let that help your child build momentum so the need for pedaling is minimum.