Teaching your child how to ride a bike confidently and safely is a skill that doesn’t necessarily come naturally or easily.
Ok, there are kids who seem to be able to just pedal away at a very young age with very little parental help or advice, but these are the outliers. Most children go through a learning process, which may take days, weeks or even months. The fact is, every child is different and learns at a different pace.
Fundamentally, successfully learning to ride a bike is about good balance and coordination. Getting your child to develop these areas is key to learning how to cycle quickly and safely.
You’ve probably forgotten what methods your parents used to teach you how to cycle independently on two wheels. There’s a good chance you learnt to ride on a traditional pedal bike, possibly with the addition of stabilisers (aka training wheels). But many experts now believe that Balance Bikes are far more effective than stabilisers for developing good balance and coordination in young children.
So exactly what is a Balance Bike and what do you need to consider if you’re thinking of buying one? Below are some questions and answers that will help you.
What is a balance bike?
A balance bike is a bike without pedals. While it has a frame, fork, handlebars, wheels etc, it has no drivetrain. To move forwards, kids push off the ground with their feet, like Fred Flintstone.
Another thing balance bikes don’t have is stabilisers (A.K.A. training wheels). Since kids have their feet on the ground, they can develop their balance and coordination as they are not supported by stabilisers. This allows kids to develop their balance first, before progressing to pedals.
What age are balance bikes for?
Balance bikes are normally for kids from 18 months to 7 years old. If your child can walk, chances are they can use a balance bike.
As balance bikes don’t have a drivetrain (pedals, cranks etc.) they are much lower to the ground and are much lighter than traditional kids bikes. This makes it easier for small kids to propel and steer the bike.
Do balance bikes really work?
Balance bikes typically give kids independence much earlier than traditional pedal bikes with stabilisers/ training wheels. Their inherent simplicity makes means they weigh less than normal bikes and are easier for young kids to understand.
Balance bikes are very intuitive for kids and usually they just grab the bike and go, no instructions needed! By taking the task of pedalling out of the mix, kids are able to concentrate on the more tricky and nuanced skill of balancing the bike.
How does a balance bike work?
As balance bikes are low to the ground, kids reach the ground with their feet. To move forwards, they push off the ground and begin by walking the bike, then progress to running, striding and gliding. Once they are gliding along independently, they are mastering their balance and are ready to begin pedalling. But there’s no rush, kids can keep going on the balance bike for as long as they wish.
Balance bikes also teach kids how to steer properly by leaning the bike towards the corner, with the assurance of having their feet on the ground.
How to ride a balance bike?
Balance bikes are really simple for kids to ride and often they won’t even need any guidance on how to use it. To ride the balance bike, kids sit on the low saddle while holding the handlebars. Then to move forward they can walk, run, stride or glide, depending on their confidence and experience.
Even smaller more timid kids can start on a balance bike by standing over the frame, in front of the saddle, and just walk normally. By holding the handlebars and getting used to the weight and feel of the bike, their coordination will improve and they can progress to riding while seated.
How to teach your child to ride a balance bike?
Balance bikes don’t require much instruction. Kids usually hop on and ride without much fuss. But there’s a few things to check before you start:
- Find an open space free from obstacles and rough surfaces.
- Fit a decent helmet to ensure a gentle fall doesn’t knock your child’s confidence.
- Set the saddle height so your child’s feet are flat on the ground with their legs straight.
- If your bike has brakes, instruct your child how to use them.
- If needed, give your child a gentle push to get started.
- Watch your child ride…
Are balance bikes better than normal bikes?
The saddle on a balance bike is much lower than a normal bike, giving kids a more secure feeling as they’re closer to the ground. As normal bikes have a drivetrain, the saddle needs to be much higher off the ground to give the pedals adequate ground clearance. This results in the child being perched high up on the bike which can feel unsettling.
Are balance bikes better than stabilisers / training wheels?
A bike with stabilisers is being held upright by the two small outrigger wheels. These stabilisers are usually set up a little higher than the rear wheel. This results in a bike that tips from side to side unpredictably as the child’s weight transfers from one stabiliser to the other. Bikes with stabilisers cannot be used on sloped or rough surfaces as they will tip over.