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Parent's Guide To Balance Bikes
Discover why balance bikes are the best way for your child to start riding
What is a Balance Bike?
A balance bike is a bike without pedals. It has a frame, fork, handlebars and wheels but no drivetrain (pedals, chain, sprockets). To move forwards, kids push off the ground with their feet, like Fred Flintstone.
Balance bikes don’t have stabilisers (aka training wheels). Kids stabilise themselves by having their feet on the ground, so they can develop their balance and coordination without the need for stabilisers. When they’re confident and ready, they can then progress to pedals.
The tide has turned on stabilisers with all leading bike brands recognising balance bikes as the way forward and adding them to their ranges.
Why Choose a Balance Bike?
Starting early on a balance bike can have numerous benefits for your child’s development. Balance bikes are a type of bicycle that are designed to help children learn to balance and steer before they graduate to a traditional pedal bike. Here are some ways that starting early on a balance bike can benefit your child’s development:
Safe and fun
The low saddle height, feet on the ground and stable design make the balance bike a very safe introduction to cycling. And when it feels safe, it becomes fun!
Easy to use
Once a child is walking, stepping onto a balance bike is very intuitive. They still have their feet on the ground and simply push themselves along to get going!
Develops motor skills
Riding a balance bike requires children to use their motor skills to balance and steer. This can help improve their coordination and balance, which can be beneficial for other physical activities they may engage in later in life.
Learning to ride a balance bike can give children a sense of accomplishment and boost their confidence. As they master the skills required to ride the bike, they will become more confident in their abilities, which can carry over into other areas of their life.
Encourages outdoor play
Riding a balance bike is a fun activity that can encourage children to spend more time outdoors. This can help them develop a love of nature and a desire to be physically active, which can be beneficial for their overall health and well-being.
Early independent cycling
If you are wondering are balance bikes the best way to learn to cycle, studies have shown that children who learn to cycle on balance bikes develop better balance, strength and coordination. It is also now proven to lead to earlier independent cycling.
What's the Best Age to Start On a Balance Bike?
The best age to start on a balance bike is as soon as they can walk, and can fit your chosen bike. While starting early on a balance bike can have numerous benefits for your child’s development, the average balance bike age range when a child is physically and developmentally ready to start balancing a bike is between 18 months and 3 years old. While there are advantages to starting as early as possible, they’ll still enjoy the benefits even if they’re a little older starting out. Whatever your child’s age, a balance bike is great exercise. It will improve their balance, coordination and strength as well as help the transition to pedalling.
For any age child wanting to learn to cycle independently, a balance bike is the best way to start.
How To Choose The Right Balance Bike For Your Child
Unlike normal kids bikes, balance bike sizing is based on leg inseam length rather than wheel or frame size. Your child should be able to have their feet flat on the ground while sitting on the saddle. To check if the bike is a good size, measure your child’s inseam, with shoes on. This should be the same or slightly longer than the minimum saddle height of the bike. If your little one’s inseam is longer than the maximum saddle height of the bike, you need to choose a bigger bike! Your child should be able to reach the handlebars comfortably with their torso leaning slightly forwards. Balance bikes with a longer arm reach will allow your child to go faster and maintain a more aggressive, forward leaning stance on the bike. If the bike is more upright (like a Dutch Bike), it will be okay for shorter distances but more difficult to propel the bike forward.
In order for your child to push the bike easily, the bike should be as light as possible. The frames on kids balance bikes are usually made from aluminium alloy, steel, wood or plastic. The best material for balance bikes is aluminium alloy as it’s rust proof, and is much lighter than steel. Wood balance bikes can look cute, but don’t come with brakes. Look out for those using marine plywood as this will not warp and delaminate when wet, unlike the cheaper bikes made of standard plywood.
Cost is obviously a big factor for many parents and really what you choose depends on the bike’s intended use. A more expensive bike will usually be lighter and longer lasting, use better components, have better customer service, and will often have a better re-sale value. Most quality kids bikes will use genuine bike parts that can be serviced and replaced by a bike shop so can keep the bike running perfectly for longer. Cheaper bikes can often look like they're more expensive counterparts. There are numerous copycat brands out there, but they fall down on attention to detail and build quality. They are usually missing some important features such as brakes, air tyres, ball bearings as described below.
It’s best to look go for wheels with air (pneumatic) tyres, alloy rims and hubs with steel spokes. Air tyres will provide more cushioning and grip for your child, giving them more confidence. Tyres with a wide knobbly tread will give better grip on rough surfaces, while those with a narrower smooth tread will roll faster. Some brands use EVA foam tyres which are puncture proof, but do not provide much grip. Once they wear out they cannot be replaced, so you need to buy a whole new wheel.
Make sure your bike has ball bearings or cartridge bearings rather than nylon (plastic) bushings which can rattle and wear out easily.
Some tiny balance bikes have 10 inch wheels but most have 12 inch wheels. Though the LittleBig is a 14 inch balance bike, the unique low slung frame means it has a similar starting saddle height to many 12 inch wheeled bikes.
A balance bike with brakes can provide an extra level of safety for young riders, as it allows them to slow down and stop more quickly and easily. Brakes can also help children build their confidence and develop good habits for future riding on traditional bikes that are equipped with brakes. Kids specific short reach brake levers are a must, to ensure they can be used by little hands.
Look out for a padded saddle rather than hard plastic. Check the material is tough so it doesn’t rip easily. Wood balance bikes usually have wood “saddles” with foam padding on top, which don’t seem as comfortable as a fully padded saddle. Similarly with grips, look for soft rubber rather than plastic. Rubber grips are more comfortable and grippy than plastic one. The only reason brands use plastic is to keep the cost down. The best balance bikes come with a ball bearing or cartridge bearing headset, this allows the handlebars to rotate & steer freely. Some cheaper balance bikes come with plastic bushings which are rattly and cannot be serviced.
Most decent balance bikes are built like a real adult’s bike with genuine bike parts that can be serviced and replaced as parts wear, ensuring that the bike keeps running for many years. Other cheaper balance bikes are more like toys, with parts like plastic bushings and proprietary parts (handlebars, wheels etc) that cannot be sourced locally.
It's not top of the list, but if the bike looks good, your child is going to like it more and want to ride it more.
What About Value?
Are balance bikes actually worth the money?
The early years are a critical stage of your child's physical development and investing in a balance bike will gift your child skills that they will carry through life and be of benefit in a range of other activities.
The LittleBig convertible balance bike has been designed to grow with your child, turning into a pedal bike when they are ready, replacing the need to buy separate balance bikes and pedal bikes. This saves you money and offers excellent long term value. Buying one bike that can take the place of two is also kinder for our planet.
What is the best balance bike to buy?
Talk to friends, watch videos or read reviews online. Look for impartial reviews and try to avoid top ten lists from sellers like Amazon, they will only review bikes that they sell. Good reviews test the quality and function of the balance bike itself rather than just the concept of the balance bike. Consider the long term value of the bike too, looking at warranty and longevity. Having a growing convertible bike like the LittleBig means you won’t need to worry about buying a new one for a few years, giving peace of mind. Yes we are a bit biased here, but its because we know how amazing our bike is.
The LittleBig balance bike comes in different colours too, just in case your child has a favourite.
How much does a good balance bike cost?
Balance bikes vary in price from €30 to over €1,000, but the best quality ones are between €200 to €400.
LittleBig balance bikes retail at €250 but thanks to their ability to grow can last your child up to 5 years and replace at least two bikes.
How To Ride a Balance Bike
Riding an ill-fitting bike is awkward and frustrating. While sitting on the saddle, your child should be able to have their feet flat on the ground.
The handlebars should be within comfortable reach, without being cramped, so your child can steer easily. Handlebars on proper bikes can be rotated backwards or forwards and moved up or down to get the right fit.
Most kids will intuitively use their feet to stop while using the balance bike, at least while they’re getting started. Once your little one gets faster they’ll need to start using their brakes on their balance bike.
It’s best to teach them to use the rear brake first, then the front brake as they get more confident. You may wish to run alongside them with your hand on their back while they are learning in case they need to stop.
To ensure that a gentle fall doesn’t knock your child’s confidence, it’s best to be kitted up properly. A well-fitted helmet is strongly recommended, along with sturdy shoes and robust clothing, like jeans and a soft padded jacket. Avoid loose clothing or shoe laces that may get caught in the wheels.
An open area free from traffic and distraction will provide a safe learning environment, and ensure your child is focused on the task at hand.
Avoid parked cars, steps, open water and any other obvious obstacles. Tarmac or short dry grass will ensure your child can get enough momentum to balance safely.
In order to get your child coasting along easily, it’s best to find a very gentle downhill which will help in picking up speed. Just make sure there’s a good run-off at the bottom. Parks can be great places to learn as you will find long gently sloped paths and trails without too many people around and no traffic.
Balance is normally mastered quite quickly. But the nuances of pedalling and braking can take longer.
If your child is reluctant to start riding it’s best to put the bike back in the shed for a few weeks until they’re ready.
Fitting some jazzy accessories like bells, stickers or a basket could help entice your child to get on their bike.
Your child will try and copy whatever you do, so try to let them see you riding a bike as much as possible.
If they have a brother or sister who rides a bike then all the better. You can then go out and ride as a family, and that’s what it’s all about!
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Balance Bike vs Pedal Bike Fitted With Stabilisers
A balance bike actively challenges children to maintain balance which quickly helps to develop the skills needed to cycle independently.
A bike with stabilisers is more likely to tip from side to side unpredictably as the child’s weight transfers from one stabiliser to the other.
This limits the variety of terrain the bike can be used on and slows the childs development of the core cycling skills.
For an in-depth comparison, read our post Balance Bike Vs Training Wheels, which is Best?
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Frequently asked questions about Balance Bikes
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(feet off the ground) 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, helped by the assurance of having their feet on the ground.
Balance bikes are proven to give kids independence much earlier than traditional pedal bikes with stabilisers/ training wheels.
Their inherent simplicity 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.
What's the best age to start riding a balance bike?
If your child can walk, chances are they can ride a balance bike.
Between 18 months and 2 years old is the ideal age for kids to start on a balance bike. This is the average age range when a child is physically and developmentally ready to start balancing a bike.
While kids should be encouraged to start ‘balance-biking’ as early as possible, they’ll still enjoy the benefits even if they’re a little older starting out.
Balance bikes are easy for kids to propel and steer because they don’t have a drivetrain (pedals, cranks etc.), plus they’re much lower to the ground and much lighter than traditional kids bikes.
If you're wondering what balance bike is right for your child's age, note that balance bikes come in a variety of sizes, so you should have no difficulty finding one to suit most children from 18 months to 7 years old.
To check if the LittleBig will fit your child, check out our sizing page.
Are balance bikes better than fitting stabilisers to a pedal bike?
Put simply, yes! A balance bike allows your child to master the fundamental skills of balance and coordination much better than a normal bike that’s been fitted with stabilisers (aka training wheels).
This is because a balance bike actively challenges postural control, teaches balance and promotes independent cycling as it requires the child to actively stay upright by leaning their body and steering.
Recent studies have found that children who had only ridden balance bikes were able to cycle independently at a younger age, compared with those who practiced on a bike with stabilisers/training wheels. We wrote lots more on the topic of Balance Bikes Vs Training Wheels (Stabilisers) and 10 reasons not to use stabilisers on your kids bike.
Are balance bikes bad for kids?
No, balance bikes aren't bad. In fact, studies have shown that they help improve coordination and balance in young children, so they transition to pedalling a lot quicker than other learning methods. Why not check out the successful stories on the reviews section of our shop, it shows balance bikes definitely aren't bad!
What size balance bike should I get for my child?
Your child should be able to have their feet flat on the ground while sitting in the saddle. To check if the bike is a good size, measure your child’s inseam, with shoes on. This should be the same or slightly longer than the minimum saddle height of the bike. If your child’s inseam is longer than the maximum saddle height of the bike, you need to choose a bigger bike! Your child should be able to reach the handlebars comfortably with their torso leaning slightly forwards. Balance bikes with a longer arm reach will allow your child to go faster and maintain a more aggressive, forward leaning stance on the bike. If the bike is more upright (like a Dutch Bike), it will be okay for shorter distances but more difficult to propel the bike forward. Check out our sizing page to see if the LittleBig bike will fit your child.
Does a balance bike need brakes?
Brakes aren’t really necessary on a starter balance bike for kids 18 months or so. However, as children grow older, they get more confident and glide along much quicker, so at least a rear brake is preferable to help them stop safely.
Balance bikes can come with no brakes, rear hand brake only, or both front and rear hand brakes. Balance bikes with no brakes assume the child can slow the bike by dragging their feet off the ground. This is okay at slower speeds, but not when the speed increases. You can read more on our article Balance bike with brakes? Do you need them?
Brakes are particularly important on inclines or rough surfaces where dragging your feet won’t slow the bike much. Having brakes on the balance bike also saves kids(and parents wallets) wearing out the toes and soles of their shoes.
Are balance bikes suitable for a child with special needs?
Many children with physical & developmental special needs have difficulty trying to coordinate balance, pedalling and steering.
A balance bike is far easier to control than a pedal bike, so is a great way for kids with special needs to learn to glide along independently. The independence it provides is great for personal development and confidence building.
Gliding along on a balance bike is also great exercise and helps improve motor skills.
The LittleBig’s unique design allows it to be used as a balance bike for 5 years. If your child has slower growth (such as kids with Down syndrome), they may be able to use it for even longer. Kids with low muscle tone are fully supported by the saddle while they have their feet on the ground, making it even easier than walking.
The light weight of the LittleBig means it is much easier to push forwards and steer than a traditional kids bikes with stabiliser wheels.
How will I know my child is ready to move on from their balance bike?
However much your child enjoys gliding around on a balance bike, there will inevitably come a time when they want to start pedalling.
If your child has good hand/eye coordination and has mastered the skills needed to glide the balance bike confidently and safely, they’re probably ready to try pedalling.
But as pedalling adds a new skill to learn, it may still take them a little time to adjust before they can pedal away confidently. It’s important therefore that they practice pedalling in a safe place, away from obstacles and traffic, and that they keep wearing a helmet.
The LittleBig bike makes the transition from balance bike to pedal bike easier by having the option to attach a set of pedals. This means your child can learn to pedal on a bike they’re already familiar with which will give them extra confidence.
Can you add pedals to a balance bike?
Balance bikes are designed specifically for children to ‘glide’ rather than ride. So while your child is still in ‘balance’ mode, pedals would just get in the way.
You can not fit pedals to most balance bikes as they are not designed to take them. But unlike other balance bikes, the LittleBig has the option to transform into a pedal bike with very little adjustment needed.
When your child is ready to cycle independently, you just attach the specially designed pedals and it converts to a standard pedal bike without the cost or hassle of buying a new bike.
How popular are balance bikes?
Accurate figures for global sales of balance bikes are hard to come by. But we have seen a consistent increase in interest and demand over the years. One of the key indicators we see is that almost all major bicycle brands globally have added balance bikes to their range of bikes and the options available out there seem to be constantly increasing. Read more about the changing views on balance bikes vs stabilisers here.
Are balance bikes good for toddlers?
Balance bikes are great for toddlers as it will help develop their coordination and motor skills as well as give them independence and the freedom to explore. Balance bikes are really natural for toddlers to use and as they progress it will give them extra confidence. When choosing the best balance bike for a toddler (2/3 year old), you need to consider safety & stability, and don't forget about the all important aesthetic appeal. If your child doesn’t like how the bike looks, you’ll have a hard job getting them to try it out.
For parents, ensuring a safe ride on a well-built bike that won’t fall apart, are factors in the decision-making. LittleBig's unique design more than meets these requirements. Children love riding the balance bike, while parents have the assurance of knowing it’s making it easier and safer for them to learn to cycle.
Are balance bikes safe?
Balance bikes are very safe for your child. They are intuitive for kids to use, inspiring confidence in the bike. The more we understand something, the less we are scared of it.
Balance bikes are also very simple to maintain, so there is less to go wrong.
While balance bikes are probably safer than regular bikes, we still recommend wearing a helmet anytime you are on a bike!
How high should a balance bike seat be?
The saddle on a balance bike should be set so that the child can have their feet flat on the ground.
Most decent balance bikes (https://www.littlebigbikes.com/shop/convertible-balance-bike/) have a quick release seat clamp for easy adjustments. They should be able to reach the handlebars comfortably, with their torso angled slightly forwards.
Imagine pushing a broken down car, you naturally lean forward so you can brace against the ground. If the torso is too upright, it can be difficult to push forwards.
How do you measure a child's leg for a balance bike?
For your child to ride confidently, their balance bike size needs to be just right. To check if the bike fits, compare your child's leg with the saddle height range.
To do this, ask them to stand up straight, back to the wall, with shoes on. Then place a book against the wall, between their two legs, and slide it up along the wall until it meets their crotch.
Now measure the vertical distance from the top of the book to the floor. This is your child's inseam leg measurement. To fit the balance bike, this needs to be within the saddle height range.
If their inseam is smaller than the lowest saddle height, the bike is too big. If the inseam is longer than the maximum saddle height, the bike is too small.