I distinctly remember my first go at riding my (too big for me) bike after it’s training wheels were removed, I knew the general idea, how to steer, how to pedal that was down from cruising around for a few years with the stabilizers fitted.
Little did I know that that there was one crucial element that was missing, you guessed it, Balance!
Getting pushed off was easy, knowing what to do when I needed to steer to avoid that letterbox that was conveniently placed directly in my path not so much. Also since my bike was far too big, unable to reach the ground it was inevitable, the learning curve was going to be steep and abrupt.
Sound familiar? there wasn’t the range of bike sizes back then (the 80’s) like there is today, multiple sizes to fit all heights but it’s still the old, fit the trainer wheels to learn, what if there was a different way for children to get a handle on the whole balance thing right from the beginning without having to suddenly learn once those wheels are removed?
The Balance Bike
I wish I could have had one of these back in the day, it’s just like a regular kids bike but without all the distraction.
Almost like a cross between a scooter and bicycle, the drivetrain and brakes are removed completely and the bike is propelled by your child giving the bike a running type motion, no foot pegs are needed, your child can park on the seat and use their legs to steady themselves while they get the hang of it.
The wheels just free spin and the bike usually have a comfy seat and are a lot lighter than normal chain-driven size equivalent models.
The Balance Bike Concept
There are many different variations, sizes and even wooden balance bikes on the market but they all have a similar purpose which is to focus your child’s skills on learning the balance and behavior of being on two wheels.
Let face it, there’s a lot going on when you’re trying to ride a bike for the first time, trying to pedal, trying to stop yourself and of course trying to stay upright, all without crashing!
Trainer wheels can help with a few of these problems, but learning to balance from day one really makes sense, everything else will naturally fall into place when the time comes to transition to pedals and brakes.
The hard part (Balance) is already a honed skill.
Whats wrong with training wheels?
Training wheels have pretty much been the go-to solution for kids learning, it does get them up and riding quickly but really they are only learning to ride a bike with training wheels.
The issue of balance only gets put aside, to re-appear at a later date when you’re moving up to that next size of bike that doesn’t take stabilizers.
Kids learn to rely on the wheels and quite often favor one side. The initial learning phase to master a balance bike is longer but the payoff in confidence and fun is huge.
I have seen many kids riding 20″ bikes with training wheels, some with only one fitted since it’s the side they favored when learning, it’s likely trying a balance bike from day one instead of a regular 12″ pedal bike would have eliminated this
My Child has difficulty with balance, will a Balance Bike help?
Absolutely. Sometimes the best way to learn a new skill is to break it down into small chunks and focus on the area that’s giving you trouble. Balance is a skill that can be practiced and achieved by using the right tools.
All kids have their own way of learning, some take longer than others and if they are out there seeing their friends riding around while they are having trouble it can be discouraging for them.
Balance bikes build strength, your kids are moving while constantly adjusting their body weight to correct themselves.
Also, they help with coordination and with the pedaling and braking distraction removed they can really focus on the task at hand. Balance!
Being lighter, your child can also handle the weight of the bike better, there are no weird swings and they learn how to lean the bike around a corner vs sitting bolt upright and steering a vertical angled bike around a corner.
This can really help improve their balance in all things as well as transferring over to other sports and activity.
What age can my child start using a balance bike?
Children can commonly start on a Balance Bike from around 18 months to 2 years up till around 5, there are larger sizes available as well if your keen to start using one but have an older child.
I started my daughter on one just after she turned 2, being quite small I waited until she was comfortable touching the ground with both feet. As I said before the learning period of a balance bike is a little longer than a regular one and I’ve found bribery works really well.
A good example is “if you have a quick ride on your little bike you get to choose ANY candy from the container” I kept her sessions short to avoid frustration which helped keep her enthusiasm up.
Also since we ride regularly on her child bike seat, it’s part of her outdoor fun and letting her know she will be able to ride independently gives her that extra motivation. I would expect her to skip the 12″ and likely go straight to a 16″ or 18″ with no training wheels when the time comes.
Are they limited since they have no pedals?
Actually no. This is another benefit of the Balance Bike, having no complicated drivetrain adding extra weight and friction kids can really get up some pace on them and happily cover a mile or two, maybe even accompany you on a walk around the block.
The short cranks combined with a usually less-than-efficient drive system saps energy quick and limits a small pedal bikes range.
Up and down curbs and uneven surfaces are no problem since there are no trainer wheels. Even going to the skatepark can be a thing, try that with trainers.
Balance Bike vs Regular Bike
When comparing a regular bike side to side with a balance bike the difference is significant.
- Lower Standover – The seat’s minimum height is lower on a balance bike allowing the rider to comfortably touch the ground, even on a 12” bike with training wheels, kids still have to climb up onto the bike to give enough clearance for their legs to efficiently turn the pedals.
- Lighter Weight – Weight is drastically reduced by removing drivetrain components and brakes in some cases. This weight really adds up and some Balance Bikes weigh less than 5 pounds!
- No FootRests – There’s no need, the feet do all the pushing and are always busy, even when coasting is easy for the kiddie to raise their feet and coast.
- Minimal Frame Design – There’s a huge amount of variation in frame designs and tubing, from single downtubes to more traditional. With no need to adhere to a fixed layout due to drivetrain constraints, designers are free to allow maximum clearance while using smaller tube diameters and less material also saving more weight.
- Different Frame Materials – Aluminium, steel and even wood are a common sight, wood and aluminum are usually the lightest.
So that’s Balance Bikes, the pedal-less bike that you might have seen at the playground but maybe weren’t really sure what they’re all about.
Maybe instead of starting out with a small trainer wheel equipped bike to have a look at a balance bike as an alternative, it can really help give your child a jumpstart when learning to ride and you know the transition to a bigger bike will be easier to deal with when the time comes.
Have a look at Balance Bike Benefits as well for an interesting list of ways they help your children build new skills.
What are your thought’s? are you thinking about trying one or had experience with a balance Bike? let me know in the comments.