Learning to ride a bike is a right of passage for just about every child. That moment when your child first rides by themselves is something that a parent will cherish forever.
But rather than using stabilisers, many are now finding balance bikes are a much better way to teach their children to ride. Find out why balance bikes are a great way to introduce your toddler to cycling.
What is a balance bike?
A balance bike is a small bike for younger children that has no pedals. The idea being that the child pushes along with their feet to move.
Why choose a balance bike?
There are lots of reasons to choose a balance bike instead of a bike with stabilisers as your child’s first bike. Most cycle instructors and organisations agree it’s best to learn to balance first, before moving on to pedalling unaided.
This is because when using a balance bike your child will learn to adjust their balance naturally while moving. They will become used to adjusting to go round corners, and be able to hold the bike steady - something that is actually hindered with training wheels.
Also on a balance bike, because the child is controlling the speed with their feet (and brakes if they have them) your child will have more control and will learn to slow down and stop properly right from the beginning.
On a standard bike, once the stabilisers are removed your child will have to learn to balance and steer, as well as pedalling - which is a lot to master all at once.
At what age can they get a balance bike?
Because they are smaller and easier to control, balance bikes can be used from a young age - from approx 18 months. At this age most children would find pedals tricky to master, but pushing along is second nature to them.
How do you ride a balance bike?
Getting on and off a bike
Firstly you'll need to teach your child how to get on and off the bike. Get them to stand next to it, and hold the handlebars. Then encourage them to left their leg over and get on the bike. Practice getting on and off the bike until they feel confident to do it by themselves. (Avoid just lifting your child onto the bike, as getting on and off is an important skill.)
Make sure both feet are flat on the ground and both hands are on the handlebars. (If they are bending their knees or the feet are pointed, you may need to adjust the seat height).
Make sure your child can reach the brake comfortably.
Balance bikes can take a little getting used to for a child, so ask the child to have a go at walking slowly with the bike. Explain that when they want to stop, they just stop walking.
Because they use their legs, most children will start by simply walking and pushing the bike at the same time. The trick is to get them to fully sit down on the seat. Put their weight on the seat and only use their legs to push them forward. It will take a few attempts to get used to this, but they will adjust quickly.
Encourage the child to look forward (not at their feet), as this will help them balance.
Start on flat ground and get them to gently push along. Keep trying for approx 30 mins each time and your child will start to feel more and more confident with balancing. As they get better, encourage them to lift their feet slightly to 'glide' along - a slight slope will help.
Once they have mastered lifting their feet, you can help them to steer the bike by getting them to lean and turning the handlebars gently.
Once they've got the hang of it, they'll be zooming around everywhere!
This video is great at showing how to ride a balance bike:
When does my child need to move to a pedal bike?
When your child gets to around 4 years and has been using a balance bike for a while, they will find moving to a pedal bike without stabilisers fairly straightforward - as they have already learned to balance, steer and brake.
Most parents find the transition to a pedal bike easy for children who can ride a balance bike. In our own experience it took our son less than an hour to ride his first pedal bike!