8 Best Big Wheels | December 2016
- curved handlebars are easy to reach
- bright and shiny red finish
- tires don't have the best traction
|Rating||3.8 / 5.0|
- easy to clean and maintain
- low backrest offers good support
- pedals rotate smoothly
|Brand||The Original Big Wheel|
|Rating||4.0 / 5.0|
- sturdy high-quality plastic
- molded hand grips
- slightly annoying rattling noise
|Rating||4.3 / 5.0|
- beautiful decals
- easy to assemble
- poor quality washers
|Brand||The Original Big Wheel|
|Rating||3.9 / 5.0|
- double crown fork design
- sturdy base won't tip over
- flat-resistant wheels
|Rating||4.3 / 5.0|
- easy to reach pedals
- no tools required for assembly
- perfect for babies up to age 5
|Rating||4.7 / 5.0|
- works well on grass
- safe low center of gravity
- multiple color options
|Rating||5.0 / 5.0|
- very comfortable seat
- safely holds up to 160 pounds
- easy to find replacement tires
|Rating||4.8 / 5.0|
A Rolling Rite Of Passage
Just a couple of decades ago, it seemed like there was an endless supply of iconic toys for children, games and devices that had been passed down through the generations. Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, Lite Bright, Speak & Spell, and their ilk crossed all boundaries of social status and intelligence to bring kids together under uniform banners of fun. Now, they all just play on their phones.
There is one item, however, that cannot be replaced by fancy screens or battery operated flashing noisemakers, and that's the big wheel.
Iconic doesn't even begin to describe the classic, timeless appeal of speed and adventure that the big wheel offers children. It's a toy that knows no gender, that heaps hours of joy on top of one another, and that can help keep our kids fit at a time when childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions.
It's a simple enough device, as well. Modeled after the low-rider bicycles and ape-hanger motorcycles of the 60s, the big wheel boasts an enlarged front tire and a relaxed leaned-back sitting position. The seat itself universally has a back support to it, and the riding position actually encourages good posture.
That larger tire up front gives kids a great deal of control over the direction of the big wheel, and the two wheels in the back provide great balance to the tricycle. It takes a lot of mismanagement to topple on of these on its side.
Most big wheels are made from tough ABS plastic, but a few incorporate lighter-weight metals that you see on fancier BMX bikes. These tend to be pricier than their plastic cousins, but they ought to last a lot longer, as well.
Riding In Style
My first big wheel wasn't a particularly high-quality model. It was made of extremely cheap plastic (this was the 1980s, after all) and the spokes that held the seat-back in place quickly snapped. It was also a hand-me-down from my older sister, and very clearly meant for girls, as it was branded after the popular Cabbage Patch dolls, with a white body, purple hardware and a big, light green front wheel.
Needless to say, I was pretty embarrassed to ride that thing around the neighborhood, and by the time I was a little older and the male penchant for destruction made its way into my bones, I regularly and intentionally crashed her big wheel into a large wall of loose bricks until the front wheel chassis cracked. My big wheel days, from that moment on, were over.
The lesson here, in addition to a warning against ramming cheap plastic into brick walls, is that, ideally, a kid's big wheel should be his or her own.
You can spend all the time you want evaluating the safety of these toys. Some of them are clearly built to last longer than others, and a couple even come with more advanced braking systems than the classic skid (or my personal favorite: the jump-off-the-moving-bike method). Ultimately, though, it's your kid's eyes that will make or break this purchase.
More likely than not, this is going to be a present. At the very least, it's going to be a surprise, and you know that look in his or her eyes when the surprise you've planned fails miserably. There isn't much you can do to recover from that first moment of the reveal.
Luckily, if you've been paying even a little bit of attention, you know a thing or two about your tot, and that ought to be enough for you to narrow down our list to a few styles he or she will love. From there, you can dissect features and build quality for the perfect choice.
Back When Kids Could Be Cool
Few things scream cool among young kids like a good big wheel. Even today, as kids become more and more isolated in their digital worlds, there's an irresistible pull toward adventure among the youngest humans.
In 1969, back when the cool kids were the ones who were the most adventurous (and not the ones who had the latest iPhone), Louis Marx of Louis Marx and Company introduced the first Big Wheel to that market. It was a trademark name, but it didn't take long for imitations to crop up and use the term big wheel as a category for their own brands.
Popularity of the toys soared through the 70s and 80s, as parents viewed them as ways not only to save money compared to a traditional bicycle or tricycle, but also as a way to keep kids safer than the bigger bikes they might have otherwise wanted.
The 1990s saw a significant dip in big wheel sales, as the majority of manufacturers either stopped or slowed their production, or they filed for bankruptcy.
By 2003, however, some forward (and backward) thinking business people saw an opportunity in the fact that most of the kids who owned big wheels in the 70s and 80s were having kids of their own. It was a fresh, nostalgic demographic, and the renaissance of the big wheel continues today.