“As a kid I had a dream — I wanted to own my own bicycle. When I got the bike I must have been the happiest boy in Liverpool, maybe the world. I lived for that bike...” ~ John Lennon
Learning to ride a bike is not just about learning a new skill—it’s a rite of passage, a memorable milestone for kids and parents alike. It gives children their first taste of mobile independence and exposes them to the not-so-fun parts that come with it, such as cuts, scrapes, and bruises.
The time-honored tradition of parents teaching their kids to ride a bike, however, has evolved in recent years as more parents choose to bypass the tricycle training wheels altogether. No, parents are not diving straight into the “push and release” method. Instead, they’re turning to balance bikes as a first purchase.
Balance bikes aren’t new but may not be as widely known compared to that iconic symbol of childhood: the training wheels. Balance bikes are essentially child-sized bicycles without pedals. Some balance bikes have brakes installed, while others don’t have any. The seat height of most balance bikes can also be adjusted as the child grows a few inches in height.
Balance bikes are growing in popularity—and for very good reasons. Here’s why balance bikes are a great way to introduce your child to the joy of bike riding.
1. Balance bikes help kids focus on improving balance
So, you wonder, how can a child learn to ride a bike when it doesn’t have the parts needed to make it run? Well, as its name implies, balance bikes teach kids the vital art of balance without the distraction of pedaling. This makes the learning process a whole lot easier for them.
2. They’re good for kids as young as two
Balance bikes are suitable for kids aged 2 to 5 years old and are usually used for up to 3 years, depending on the age they start. Rob Reed, a member of The Bicycle Society, a UK-based organization for cyclists, however, says that it's best to start kids with a balance bike as young as possible.
"The manufacturers normally say from the age of two, but in my opinion, you can begin younger than this," said Reed. "Once your child can hold his or her own weight in standing, he or she is ready to explore cycling. You just need to help them balance and the seat will support their weight as they learn.
3. Balance bikes are safer
Compared to tricycles and bikes with training wheels, balance bikes are a lot safer for kids. The seats of balance bikes are much closer to the ground (or can be lowered to match a kid’s height) to allow kids to quickly put their feet on the ground and stay upright when the bike starts to wobble.
Plus, a balance bike can only go as fast as your child can push. This means you don’t have to worry about high-speed crashes and can expect fewer scrapes and bruises
4. They make transitioning to a pedal bike easier
Most of us have memories of learning to ride a bike as a kid--and they are not always good ones. Kids that start with a balance bike, on the other hand, may transition easily to a pedal bike with fewer tears and frustration. This is because balance bikes help kids to become more familiar with the concepts of balance and motion and provides a safe foundation for learning to ride a pedal bike.
Once a child learns how to balance on a bike and starts lifting his feet off the ground (an action called gliding), it is easier for him to transition to a regular bike or even balance on a skateboard, ice skate, and rollerblade. Parents also observe that kids love balance bikes because they’re easy to use and feel more like play instead of something that they’re consciously trying to learn.
5. Kids develop self-confidence
With balance bikes, children are also not hampered by the fear of falling nor develop any sense of failure for every unsuccessful attempt. Instead, they gain more confidence and have more fun because they can control the bike and break their fall with their feet.
On the other hand, tricycles or bikes with training wheels suspend the child’s feet off the ground once he is seated on the saddle. The child may zigzag as he tries to pedal and balance at the same time.
6. They make exercise fun
Childhood obesity is no laughing matter. In the United States alone, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the percentage of children and adolescents affected by obesity has more than tripled since the 1970s. Having a balance bike is a great way to help kids get moving without making it feel like work. It also helps burn the endless energy toddlers have!
7. Balance bikes help build kids’ strength
Aside from balance, kids also get to fine-tune their motor skills, strength, and coordination through the use of a balance bike. The latter lets kids to not only use their legs but also their arms as they steer the handlebars and move forward.
8. They encourage kids to explore the outdoors
Don’t want gadgets to suck the soul out of your kid? Then a balance bike is the answer! These two-wheeled toys in tow give toddlers a good reason to cruise sidewalks and bikes paths at moderate speeds, as well as explore the great outdoors with the family.
That iconic symbol of childhood--the training wheels--may soon lose its place as balance bikes gain popularity among parents (and kids!). They make learning more fun and faster and come with far fewer falls, tears, and frustration than with the traditional push and release method. So go and get your tiny tot a balance bike and get gliding!