Balance bikes have been around since the 1800s, and have been made of both metal and wood.
The first balance bike was called the dandy horse, and was invented by Karl Drais. This type of bicycle was popular in other areas of the world such as Australia and Europe long before it took hold in the United States. But in the past decade or so, balance bikes have become very popular in the United States too.
When it comes to balance bikes, there are things you need to know before you buy your child one.
What Is A Balance Bike
Like the name implies, the most important purpose of a balance bike is to teach your child the concept of balancing on a bicycle before they are ready to ride a larger bike.
They first walk the bike along, then run and scoot, and eventually cruise along while balancing on two wheels for short distances.
Balance bikes replace the concept of training wheels, teaching kids instead to rely on their own sense of balance.
Then, once they have the balance and steering techniques down, it’s easier for them to graduate to a pedal bike, where they can master the art of pedaling so they can ride faster and longer distances.
Types Of Balance Bikes
There are numerous types of balance bikes available – bikes to fit children as young as 18 months and as old as 5 years.
Bikes for special needs children, and bikes that fit on rocking bases to be used inside. Some are built with brakes, while others are not.
In the USA, there are three primary manufacturers of balance bikes:
Strider offers children’s balance bikes in three models – the Classic, the Sport, and the Pro. Each is designed to be simple for your child to learn to ride on, and the variety allows you to choose the features that best fit your child and your budget.
There are also several balance bikes that are available with graphics featuring popular motorcycle brands.
Strider offer some of the best toddler balance bikes available today and also offer larger balance bikes for older children, bikes for adults who have never ridden a bike, and those with special needs.
Schwinn offers a wide variety of balance bikes that are similar to their larger bikes, and widely available. These bikes would work well if you have a child that wants a balance bike, but also wants to fit in with an older sibling.
KaZAM bikes feature puncture resistant tires that never need air, are suitable for children up to age five, and have easy, on the go seat adjustment. These bikes are designed to go anywhere you and your child want to take them.
Why A Balance Bike Is Better Than Training Wheels Or Tricycles
Training wheels and tricycles teach children to rely on outside forces for balance.
When a child rides a tricycle, they have an entire third wheel to depend on, which gives them added stability as they learn to navigate and steer.
With a bicycle and training wheels, kids often become very reliant on the training wheels for balance, instead of learning to balance the bike on their own.
When a child learns to ride a balance bike, they instead learn to balance by relying on their own inner sense of balance.
They fall back on their own feet on either side as they first walk the bike slowly, then learn to scoot with it and eventually balance for longer periods of time.
Once they can coast along with their balance bike comfortably, they can move up to a bike with pedals and add the concept of pedaling to bicycle outings.
At What Age Should My Child Start Riding a Balance Bike?
Children can start riding a balance bike around two or three.
Around the same age that they’d begin to ride a tricycle, they’re ready to begin balancing and riding along with the family on outings.
You should think of a balance bike as a replacement for a tricycle and a bike with training wheels, although you may need to size up as your child grows in height.
How Will Riding a Bike with No Pedals Benefit My Child?
Humans have an innate fear of losing their balance. If you’ve ever tipped slightly too far back in a rocking chair, you know precisely what that fear feels like.
Riding a bike, however, depends on learning to defeat this fear, and it’s best to defeat it at an early age.
A balance bike helps work around the idea of becoming reliant on training wheels, only to have them taken away.
Instead, the child learns the idea of balance first, while they are small and less afraid, and then learns the rest of the skills necessary to ride a bike as they grow.
This process has been around since the 1800s, and is experiencing a modern revival as people realize that it’s actually quite efficient, safe, and far less stressful for children.
In fact, balance bikes are one of the easiest and most scientifically efficient ways to teach children to ride.
The Cost Of Balance Bikes Vs Traditional Bikes
One might immediately think that because balance bikes are a specialty item, they’d be more expensive than a traditional bike.
However, prices range from $60-130, which is around the price that you would pay for a regular kid’s bike.
If you purchase a bike for a very small child, you’ll need to replace it as the child grows, but that’s no different than replacing a tricycle with a bicycle as the child grows.
Some brands even offer a rocking base for their balance bikes, so that they can be used indoors, as well, which is a nice feature for parents with especially active kids.
How Many Years Can My Child Ride a Balance Bike?
Balance bikes are safe for children as young as 18 months, up to 5 years old. This will depend on the height, weight, and ability of the individual child, of course.
In addition, some bikes are specifically designed for children with special needs, so they have larger platforms, are easier to mount and dismount, and have additional special features.
Each manufacturer offers a wide variety of individualized balance bikes to choose from.
Balance Bike Safety
Balance bike safety is much like traditional bike safety.
Your child will need a well-fitted helmet and to be closely supervised. You’ll need to teach them the rules of riding their balance bike on the street and basic bicycle safety laws if you’re riding in an urban area and will be crossing at crosswalks, etc.
You’ll need to watch them carefully for falls, especially as they first adapt to their new balance bike.
And you’ll need to keep a careful eye on their skills as they begin to master their balance bike, so that you know when they’re moving and coasting quickly and can watch them more closely.
At that point, it may be time to move them up to a traditional bicycle and begin to teach them about pedaling and steering.
What To Look For When Choosing A Balance Bike
As you shop for a balance bike, there are several things to take into consideration:
- Do you want a bike that has brakes, or do you want your child to only be able to stop with their feet?
- What material do you want the bike to be made of – wood or metal?
- Do you want the tires to be foam, or would you prefer tires that you can inflate?
- Is the bike the right height for your child?
Tips To Help Your Child Master A Balance Bike
As your child learns to ride a balance bike, there are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Focus on Your Child, Not the Bike: The goal is to encourage your child so that they’re comfortable on a bike, not to worry about any dings or scratches that might occur. If your child falls, encourage them to get back up and try again. Remind them that falls are a part of learning to balance.
- Work on the Skill of Balancing: Remember that the entire point of a balance bike is to practice the skill of balancing without fear. The child is supposed to walk the bike at first, with their toes on the ground, balancing first on one foot and then the other. Coasting will come gradually, as will riding a bigger bike. For now, the goal is to learn the skill of balancing.
- Don’t Focus on Speed: Don’t focus too much on speed, as this can lead to pressure, or even additional falls. Instead, do your best to keep pace with your child, even if that pace may resemble that of a very small snail.
Learning how to ride a traditional bike involves 3 main things:
- Learning how to pedal
- Learning how to steer
- Learning how to balance.
Because balance bikes have no pedals, it’s one less thing for your child to learn, leaving them to focus on balance and steering.
Eventually, there will come a day when pedaling and adding speed become part of the mix, and you can upgrade to a bigger bike for your child.
For now, though, focus on this stage of childhood, and all of the joy that this type of bike can bring to your child.
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