balance bike riding

Balance bikes – teaching bike riding for toddlers?

As babies turn into toddlers, it’s hard to know when they’re ready for bigger, ‘older’ children’s toys, especially when it comes to exciting outdoor toys and bikes.

N had a scooter for his Christmas present as he turned 2.  I knew he’d love it as he’d tried to go on the bigger ones at Baby Bounce, and this one converts from a 4 to 3 and then 2 wheeler.  It is heavy (and the collapsible bit doesn’t seem to work anymore), but he loves scooting round the house and outside.

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We love microscooters* for all ages, he moved from a starter converter scooter to a standard 2 wheel microscooter, and didn’t look back

But bikes are a harder thing to decide on.

I was quite late to riding a bike…not for want of trying.  I think I’d been given a bike at around 5, but was too scared to get on it (stabilisers weren’t around much in those days, and my mum doesn’t believe in them really helping ride a bike, so I was going from a trike to two wheels).  Then we moved house when I was 7 and I found that all the other children were happy riding around the green outside our house, so had to get a move on…cue lots of falling off while I learnt to steer round corners!

Having a gravel drive isn’t the best surface for cycling on, but there’s plenty of grass so any outdoor toys need to be available and ready to go for good weather once the grass is dry.

Choosing a toddler bike

N has a little ride on push along wooden trike, and a smart trike (ebay bargain!) which he can only just reach the pedals on now.  He’s still not grasped the concept of pushing down on pedals to actually make something move so he’s got a long way to go to actually manoeuvre something by that means.

But I’d heard a lot about balance bikes and decided that one would be perfect for N for his 2nd birthday.

The idea behind balance bikes is that children need to learn to balance on the two wheels rather than having to learn to pedal and balance at the same time.  Stabilisers encourage poor balance as a bike with stabilisers never has all 4 wheels on the floor, they always seem to lean more on one stabiliser or the other.  So with that method, the child has to learn to pedal first, but then learn the harder part in balancing afterwards.  Then there’s frustration and tears as it’s harder that way round.

Similarly to the way he’s learning to swim (so learning kicking, arms and breathing separately, then putting them together), having a balance bike will be learning in a similar fashion.  Learn to balance (and steer – which he’s already doing with his scooter as well), and learn to pedal using another vehicle (trike or ride on tractor etc).  Once he gets to a proper bike, in theory he’ll only having to master the putting together of the two mechanics.

Advantages of balance bikes

  • Children learn to balance before worrying about pedalling
  • The leg action mimics pedalling
  • Children can start using them early
  • They give confidence to young children, and those ready to move up to normal bikes
  • Come in different styles
  • Get young children cycling earlier as there’s an easier transition
  • No need for stabilisers

Metal or wooden balance bike?

Many parents opt for a wooden balance bike because they’re more sustainable than metal. However, they are much heavier, and you might find yourself carrying it on the way home when little legs get tired. I found them more expensive than the metal options out there.

I much prefer a metal balance bike to wooden. Apart from the lightness, there are more size options, and they’re easier to steer and manouevre. But the biggest benefit is the fact that they’re just like normal bikes. Most toddlers and pre-schoolers want to be like their older brothers and sisters, so it’s a nobrainer. Manufacturers tend to be more innovative with metal bikes whether it’s frame or suspension. It’s about the ride rather than the aesthetics which wooden bikes are more about.

Strider balance bikes are some of the most popular because they’re readily available and very lightweight. Plus of course, there’s a great range of colours. Don’t forget a bike helmet for your child to wear while cycling (or on their scooter!). And if you don’t want to buy new, check out local second hand sites, reycling centres (our local tip always has lots of bikes available), or even look out for children’s bike rentals online which are now popping up.

Rather than the gorgeous wooden balance bikes, I decided on a normal looking metal balance bike*.  N’s got pretty short legs so a step through version was probably going to be easier.  Even though I measured him and ordered the size of bike that should have fit, even with shoes on he was a bit too short to use it on his own.  He’s been using in for almost a couple of months now as he’s had a growth spurt, and now it’s the perfect height for him.

Balance bike progression

I was thinking that he wasn’t quite ‘getting’ it a couple of months ago – he was walking along with it, left right stepping in turn, as I’d thought he should be scooting with both legs.  But after speaking to a friend, it seems he is doing it the correct way…thinking about it, alternating left and right almost mimics the pedal action so it makes sense now.

balance bike riding
And Peter Rabbit came too…

It’s amazing how quickly they pick it up.  He loves his bike.  Zooming round, on our gravel drive as well as on grass, he’s really getting confident with it, and he even free-wheels sometimes, with both feet off the ground.  That’s scary wondering how he’s going to stop, but the only time he’s ‘fallen’ is when he’s been trying to lift it from the ground to pick it up.

Looking for tips on helping your child learn to ride a bike, read my post Teach your kids to ride the no tumble way

Hopefully in a couple of years he’ll be ready to move straight to a two wheeler…he can pedal a trike, so I’m sure he’ll be able to combine the two actions with no problems.

How did your children learn? Are you a fan of balance bikes?

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  1. Mushroom got a balance bike for his second birthday and loves rising round the garden on it! he’s less confident outside but that will come. Hadn’t thought about him learning to pedal though! Hmmm… Maybe a trike for christmas then.. Thanks for getting me thinking about this! Found you through BritMums

    1. N had a trike first, but he couldn’t reach the pedals (and still on his ride on tractor is struggling to reach the furthest point). He’s pretty good on the one’s at nursery, just seems to be lazy at pedalling at home. He does ride like a nutter on it though – between the 2 barns on the farm is a long concrete run,and he freewheels down from one end to the other with his legs up- luckily he steers so doesn’t end up on the road, but I just have to pray none of the tractors or lodgers turns into the farm just as he’s getting to the end!

  2. My Wee Man got a balance bike when he was two, as well. He’s now about to turn four, and very very excited that if he’s lucky he will get a pedal bike for his birthday.

    Since getting the balance bike he has become really confident, whizzing along with both feet off the ground – so I’m hoping that the transition won’t be too difficult, although it will obviously be different with pedals involved…

    Watch this space! We’ll find out in a few weeks.

  3. I think they look great. Wish they’d been around when my kids were learning to ride a bike (my oldest is 16).

    1. It’s like they’ve returned to pre-stabliser years. Our parents just went straight to bikes, and this saves the stabiliser wobbles (I hope)

    2. It seemed to be reverting back to a pre-stabilisers time. It’s great seeing how quickly they pick it up, and it makes him feel like a big boy like his cousins.

  4. My daughter had a balance bike and she picked it up more quickly than a scooter. I found it great for going walks as she was able to travel quicker. She got a pedal bike with stabilisers for Christmas and was certainly had the confidence straight away, but I don’t know if the balance bike has helped her to progress more quickly; although that may be us not giving her the opportunity as I know one of her friends who had a balance bike has already taken off her stabilisers.

    1. N had a scooter first and had no problem with that, even able to do it both sides at 2 yo. The move from balance bike to normal bike is to miss out the stabilisers stage (presuming they’ve already known how to pedal on other trikes or the like, I guess), as they’re only learning to combine rather than learning to balance and pedal at the same time. I think a lot does have to do with parents – I know I’ll be worried, but if he tries when his older cousins are on their bikes, I’m sure there’ll be no stopping him.

    1. We love N’s, it’s definitely been good for him, although it confuses his 4yo cousin who’s got a normal bike with stabilisers. Will be interesting how they both convert to 2 wheels later

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