Soon after your toddler gets mobile, he'll be looking for his first set of wheels. Rides for tots come in a variety of shapes and sizes, so choosing the right-sized bike and teaching your little hot-rodder to ride properly can go a long way toward keeping him safe as he rockets around the neighborhood.
Most 2- to 4-year-olds need a 10- to 12-inch wheel on their two-wheeler. For safety, choose a bike that's the right size, rather than one your toddler will grow into. While it's a pain to have to buy several different bikes over the years, your kiddo needs a bike where he can put his feet down on the ground quickly if he needs to. The cross bar on the bike should be low enough that your toddler can straddle it without hitting it with his feet flat on the ground. A too-big bike invites accidents.
2. Training Wheels
Two-wheelers with training wheels allow toddlers to practice keeping their balance with the safety net of training wheels to stabilize them. Make sure the training wheels are uneven rather than having both firmly on the ground. If both hug the ground, the back wheel won't sit firmly on the ground and can spin without giving the traction needed for forward momentum. Don't set one wheel too high, though, or the bike will be more likely to tip in that direction.
The safest two-wheelers in a toddler's size range generally have coaster brakes, which your toddler applies by pushing backward on the pedal. Hand brakes are too hard to use at this age. Have your toddler practice applying the brakes before he flies off down the driveway so he gets a feel for how hard to push back. Jamming on the brakes can cause the bike to tip.
4. Balance Bikes
Balance bikes are a relative newcomer to the world of pint-size motoring and can be one of the safest choices for young kids. Balance bikes don't have pedals; your toddler moves them much like early riding toys, by pushing off with both feet to get the bike going. Your toddler has to balance to stay upright on this type of bike, but doesn't need to master the pedals at the same time. He can quickly stop himself simply by putting his feet down on the ground. Kids as young as 18 months can start using balance bikes, although your little rider might do better if you wait until age 2.
5. Safety Rules
Helmets for kids are a must with any type of locomotion. Even a spill off a trike can cause head trauma if your little guy's head--still his heaviest part--hits the ground first. Teach your child to ride on a sidewalk, if possible, rather than on the street, where he has to use his new-found biking skills and his traffic skills at the same time. Keep a supply of bandages on hand during the years of learning to ride a bike; it's a rare kid that doesn't take at least one spill when learning to ride.