Just Like the Big Kids
Buying your young one’s first ride-on toy is an exciting moment for both parent and child. It marks an occasion where your child is ready to advance onto a stage where they’re no longer balancing on their own two feet.
Instead, their feet may be propelling them across the living room. Or they’re pedaling themselves down the driveway. Or pressing that pedal to the metal with their hair in the breeze.
For younger children, it’s a moment when they’re ready to transition from simply pushing toys to actually riding them around the house. For older kids, it can mean something a little more exciting: battery-powered, motor-driven ride-on toys.
So What’s a Ride-On Toy?
A ride-on toy is any car, truck, or vehicle where the child rides on its back. Yes, technically there are several where the kid sits in the vehicle, and we consider those ride-on toys just the same. There are a few basic types of ride-on toys, each aimed at either a specific age or body size.
The three main toys that we cover here are Push Ride-On Toys, Pedal-Powered Ride-On Toys, and Motor-Driven Ride-On Toys.
Push Ride-On Toys
Push style covers a wide gamut of toys. The most common are plastic vehicles with a rectangular push bar extending from the back. Almost any smaller plastic vehicle could be considered a push-style, however, we consider true push toys to be ones without any pedals.
Push cars come with a lot of bells and whistles that create fun for even the smallest of children. So fear not! You don’t have to constantly be moving your child around for them to have fun.
Most models have large pressable buttons, musical instruments and songs, a removable seat cover for secret storage, brightly colored themes, and a wide base for added security.
Toys in this ride-on style are typically built for 1-5 year olds up to 50 pounds.
Pedal-Powered Ride-On Toys
The next level of ride-on toys are of the pedal-powered variety. While some still bear a similar resemblance to push-style, their key difference is the addition of pedals.
Even though kids can still scoot themselves around the floor, the placement of the pedals can make it awkward–and often times painful–for some riders to get around.
Kids getting a little too excited may be prone to scraping up their shins. As such, this style is aimed at kids ranging in age from 2-6 years, whose height should be sufficient enough to reach the pedals.
There are two types of 4-wheel pedal-powered ride-on toys: those with interior pedals and those with exterior pedals.
Pedals located on the exterior are less common than their interior counterparts. This is mainly due to the fact that 4-wheel vehicles are typically cars or trucks.
The handful of 4-wheel vehicles with exterior pedals will be of the go-kart or tractor variety. Not much of a selection as far as style goes.
Pedals located inside the vehicle tend to be attached to gears with a lower range of motion. Not only that, but the inside lid limits children with longer legs to comfortably move the vehicle.
If you’re looking for a long-term 4-wheel pedal-powered solution, I’d recommend going with either the ERTL John Deere Pedal Tractor (if you can find it) or the pedal-powered bumblebee go-kart racer.
4-Wheelers with internal pedals can be outgrown quickly. While they’re a great stepping stone in the path of ride-on toys, you may want to jump in with our next style, 3-Wheelers.
Who hasn’t heard of a Big Wheel? Okay, perhaps that’s a broad assumption. But when I think of three-wheel ride-on toys, the first one to come to mind is the Big Wheel trike.
In fact, I had ridden mine so much that there was a worn out groove in the center from skidding to a stop. But I digress. That’s enough about my childhood and not what we’re here to talk about.
Over the past few decades–as I’ve grown further and further away from the target of the tricycle market–several more options have sprung onto the scene.
Radio Flyer now offers their own version of a big 3-wheeler they call the Deluxe Big Flyer. While very similar to the Original Big Wheel, Radio Flyer boasts a more subtle color scheme: the traditional deep red, gray, and white that Radio Flyer is known for.
If you’re not into a big front wheel, Fisher-Price has a few tricycle options for smaller riders: the Harley Davidson, DC Super Friends, and Grow With Me Trike.
In the realm of self-powered ride-on toys, the two-wheeler is the last stop–I’m looking at you, unicycle. While there is technically one further step we can take, single-wheel toys are reserved for young adults; not exactly who these toys are aimed at.
2-wheeled ride-on toys come in two varieties: scooters and bikes (with and without pedals). The former being of the standing variety; the latter a sitting.
Scooters cover a wide spectrum of sizes for riders of all heights. Radio Flyer offers a Ride 2 Glide model for toddlers that includes a sit-down version which converts into a riding scooter.
For older riders, Razor and Mongoose offer a more traditional scooter design. These models are built for ages 5 and up, since there is a lot more coordination involved in maintaining balance.
Motor-Driven Ride-On Toys
It’s just like being a grown-up but without all the responsibilities, like paying bills or preparing dinner! And with such a wide selection of makes and models, the hardest part is choosing which one you like most.
Motor-driven ride-on toys come in two varieties: battery-powered and gas-powered. The battery-powered variety are more common for younger riders, and are mainly produced by Fisher Price’s Power Wheels brand.
This style of ride-on toy can range from a power source of 6v all the way up to 36v. The most common being a 12v, which is sufficient as far as speed goes.
They top out around 5 mph, which is a little faster than walking speed. If your kid is looking for something significantly faster, then gas is the way to go.
What to Consider When Buying
When you’re in the market for a ride-on toy, there are several factors you’re going to want to consider. Above all, I hold safety to be at the top of the list.
Two other defining factors are the size & weight as well as the age of your child. Kids grow pretty fast. Before you know it, you’ll have a collection of ride-on toys that can no longer be ridden.
If you think ahead, and perhaps purchase a model that can convert, you’ll save yourself some money in the long run as well as some much-needed space in the garage.
When conducting your research, a strong history of quality and safety can say a lot about a product and, more importantly, your child’s well-being.
Do your due diligence when selecting a toy. If your child isn’t ready for the next step, don’t force them into it.
Size & Weight Limit
With each of our reviews, we have a breakdown of the height and weight recommendations for each product. You can always sort and find products that fit your child’s needs.
If possible, get a ride-on toy that fits at the bottom of your child’s size spectrum. Try and get as much use out of that toy as you can.
You would expect that size and age would go hand-in-hand. Then again, if you’ve ever been to the library for reading time or to a kid’s birthday party, you may have noticed that a 2-year old can be anywhere from 24 inches to 3 feet tall.
Use the age factor more as a reference to the maturity level your child should display. The size and weight ratings are there to keep your kid safe from rolling over or injuring themselves. That’s a tested fact.
If you have the biggest 3-year old on the block, I wouldn’t put them in a car that expects a 5 year old driver, even if your kid fits the weight limit. Use your best judgment. Factor safety and size first, then age.
So we’ve described almost all of the ride-on toy styles and types. What’s left to choose? We can’t have a buyer’s guide without remarking about looks!
This is one area where you should defer to your child’s opinion. After all, they’re the ones riding this around town, right?
Your kid has to look good when they’re cruisin’.
And there really is a lot to choose from. Have a look around. Start by choosing one of these ride-on toy styles and refine your search down to that perfect ride. Good luck and stay safe!