The benefits of balance bikes
Over the last two decades balance bikes made an appearance on the markets in Europe and slowly took over the global market. Based on many customers’ comments, balance bikes are still an unknown territory for many parents in Australia.
We get asked often why the bikes have no pedals and what the purpose of a no-pedal bike is. Often we also need to advise that training wheels on balance bikes are not a necessity at all, as the legs are the stabilisers.
I spotted the first balance bike in London about ten years ago and I could not believe what I saw. A tiny two year old boy was flying through Marylebone on the footpath and he had both his legs in the air, scooting at a high speed in front of his mother. This child was in full control and had so much fun, and from that moment I was committed to get my future children onto a balance bike as well. Little did I know that I will actually have a business and import and distribute them in Australia :-).
Since this moment in London I have witnessed children in our network and my own as well on balance bikes and with no exception, I have been convinced of its benefits.
In this particular post I want to go into detail about the visible and obvious benefits that all consumers can observe and experience. In a future post I would also like to elaborate on the “hidden” not so obvious benefits, especially from a health perspective.
First and foremost, as its name suggest, the children learn to balance on a balance bike. The most common question we get asked, where the pedals would be as many perceive pedalling the most challenging part of cycling. Pedalling is the easy part out of all skills required to cycle. The biggest challenge is balance.
As the children stand on the ground with both their feet, they feel a sense of safety. They intuitively start walking when sitting on the balance bike and start leaning in when they want to change direction. When seeing children on a balance bike the first time it is hard to believe that they will learn to balance by themselves in a very short time. But as they keep going back on and develop more confidence and familiarity with the bike, they also start walking faster, running and eventually scooting. They do this at their own pace, just like they learn standing, walking and running and they do not need our help. Once they reach the scooting phase they automatically balance and master stirring the bike. At this stage they might be ready to transition to a traditional pedal bike, without training wheels.
The other advantage of learning to balance first as opposed to pedalling is that children also learn to deal with unexpected loss of balance. With both feet close to the ground their reflexes kick in immediately to correct the imbalance and they are less likely to fall or injure themselves in a challenging situation.
Most children who start riding on a balance bike also transition to a traditional pedal bike at a much younger age than those who start to ride with training wheels (in general 3-4 years versus 5-6 years, respectively). As balance and stirring skills have been fully developed, they only need to familiarise themselves with pedalling. My son moved onto a 16” pedal bike shortly after his third birthday. He initially had to get his head around pedalling, which took him about 45 minutes to an hour. As soon as he mastered the pedals he was off and rode the bike by himself with no stabilisers. His friend who transitioned a year later, at the age of 4, mastered his 18” bike within ten minutes (note, a balance bike has 12″ wheels). I have also met children on our trial tracks, who started riding immediately and surprised their astound parents who wanted to get them bikes with training wheels.
A more economical and ecological advantage of a balance bike is that it replaces a trike and a 12” pedal bike. As some balance bikes (see here) are suitable from about 18months or a height of 80cm, children can start to ride as soon as they are steady on their feet. With an adjustable seat, the balance bike can be used up until 4 years, the age when most children easily can fit a 16” pedal bike.
I also find that the balance bike is still a solid companion in our everyday life. Both my children use them every day and ride them everywhere. Even though my son can ride 24” bikes, he regularly sits on his balance bike as it gives him a different type of freedom and mobility than a traditional bike. He can jump and ride up and down on obstacles, it is easy to carry, because it’s light and he can master challenges where his legs would fail him with the other bikes at this stage. When we ride distances, he definitely rides our 20” troX elite or 20” raX flat, but on an everyday outing in our neighbourhood or to the skate park, I find him always choosing the balance bike, even though his knees are nearly touching the ground. We certainly got our money’s worth, but most importantly, he has a lot of fun and that is probably the most important benefit of all! Life is too short to not have fun and if you look through the images at the Melrose Fat Tyre Festival below from this year, the big kids could not agree more
Before wrapping up, I would like to add my personal reasons as to why I as a parent love the idea of a balance bike. Personally, I never liked having a pram. They are big, heavy and bulky and too much hassle to manoeuvre and store. As soon as my daughter mastered her balance bike, I could retire the pram. I could feel free and more mobile again and my daughter loved her independence and always got a good workout in the great outdoors. I call that a win-win
Thank you for visiting the Scoolbikes Scoolbook