Why is there no pedals on that bike?
A question I’ve been asked many times recently as though the pedals had somehow been forgotten and left on the shelf. As soon as I explain that they’re intentionally been left off so the child can learn to balance first, the commenter normally gives a knowing look, as though they’ve seen the light.
The origin of the balance bike
Invented by Karl Drais in 1818, the Dandy Horse was the first means of human transport to use two wheels and is the blueprint of the modern bicycle. While it had a heavy timber and wrought iron frame, huge wheels and was intended for adults rather than kids, it was in principle very similar to the balance bike as we now know it.
A balance bike is bicycle for kids with no pedals, cranks or chain. They’re normally intended as a child’s first bike for kids aged 18 months or more. With a nice low saddle and no pedals to get in the way, the child pushes off the ground with their feet, first walking then running and gradually increasing their stride until they can glide along with their feet up. Once they’ve mastered their balance bike, kids can get up to alarming speeds and can easily give the pedal bikes a run for their money, brakes are definitely recommended!
Update: Check out this more recent blog post which gives the full lowdown about Balance Bikes and the benefits they offer over a standard pedal bike.
What are the benefits of a balance bike over a standard pedal bike?
As balance bikes can freely tilt from side to side, they help develop the little rider’s balance, co-ordination and motor skills. By taking the task of pedalling out of the mix, kids are able to focus on the much more important and difficult tasks of starting off, balancing, steering and stopping. By learning these essential skills first, kids can easily progress to a pedal bike (or fit the pedals to the LittleBig) without the need for stabilisers (training wheels). Read more about balance bikes vs stabilisers here.
Having their feet close to the ground gives kids the confidence to whizz along independently. At the first sign of trouble or any wobbles, they will instinctively put their feet down to slow the bike.
The simplicity of a balance bike means they are durable and lightweight so can easily be pushed along, lifted and manoeuvred. With no oily chain, they can easily be carried or popped in the back of a car.
Why not use a tricycle or a bike with stabilisers?
A bicycle steers by leaning (as demonstrated in this video) and by keeping the bike upright, stabilisers give the child bad habits which they then have to un-learn once the stabilisers are removed. Yes, obviously most of us learned to ride on a normal bike with stabilisers but with the advent of the balance bike hopefully these will become a thing of the past.