Balance bikes

The benefits of balance bikes

Benefits of balance bikes

Skate Park

benefits

Part 1

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 :-)

Fat Tyre Festival

The Stig Melrose

melrose south australia

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How to encourage a child to start riding their balance bike

Riding a balance bike

This is a question, I get asked a lot by customers when they purchase a balance bike and I have to admit it is a fair question. However, the answer is most of the time not what the parents expect. Very often, they think they need to help and hold the child to develop confidence and expertise. Let’s not forget though, that we are not talking about a child sitting on a pedal bike without training wheels. A balance bike is designed for children so their feet touch the ground. Because both feet are flat on the ground there is no need to hold them, the feet are doing the job. There is also no need to show them how to ride the bike, all they need to do is walk, a movement they are familiar with.

So what can parents do to get the ball rolling? The only thing that is required is to make the balance bike available as often as possible.

If you live in an apartment or a small house, the answer is to get outside regularly with the bike and let the child ride. Initially, it will be slow and sometimes they won’t want to ride, but if you are persistent, you will see results. Just ensure that the ride is correlated with fun and not a must. If they don’t want to ride at the moment when you go outside, it’s not a problem, just try again another time. Persistence will pay off, I am positive.

Another option is to team up with another family where children already ride. Children learn from children much faster than from adults. Second children have this advantage and learn far earlier and faster to ride a balance bike whether you chose the above or the next method of approach.

Riding together

If you are lucky enough to live in a house with a lot of space or even better with a big garden, then you have the best conditions for a quick success. Ensure you leave the bike in a spot where your child can access it a hundred percent at their own discretion. This is the approach we did and it worked wonders. Initially, the bike was ignored. With time it became more interesting and it got pushed around in the house. Occasionally, it got turned around and the wheels were spinned. With time the courage and curiosity was big enough to hop on it and to slowly walk around with the bike. From this point the progress sped up rapidly. Within no time the motions became more comfortable and controlled, the arms were able to coordinate the steering and it started to look like riding a balance bike. As soon as riding was interesting and fun enough, we retired the pram and substituted the pram with the balance bike. We used it to go anywhere, like grocery shopping, walks, small rides, I went for a run and my boy was riding next to me, where possible we took it for bushwalks, there are no limits to your imagination. In short, the balance bike became part of our child’s life and made my personal life so much easier.

push my balance bike

The second option is obviously the more effective option to get started, but as mentioned, many families live in smaller houses and have no garden, where it is harder to provide the bike a hundred percent of the time. However, having said that, it does not mean that the children won’t learn to ride their balance bike, it might just take longer. But if you don’t throw in the towel and encourage them to ride you will never regret it. Riding a bike from such a young age is nothing else but beneficial. It trains the children’s motor skills, their balance, their spatial awareness, it makes them aware of traffic rules from an early age and they move, which is an essential to a healthy and balanced life. In a future post I will go more into detail about the benefits of letting children ride a balance bike / bike from an early age.

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When to start on a balance bike

Balance Bike

Skatebowl balance bike

Very often when we have the pleasure to meet customers in person, we get asked when the best time is to start a child on a balance bike and how the parents can help the child develop their skills.

This post is certainly not a piece of advice from an expert’s point of view. I am not a sports teacher or physio therapist, but I have personal experience through my own and friend’s children and of course through the stories of our customers. However, most people do appreciate our story and I thought it would be good to share it with you as well.

Most balance bikes on the market are labelled with a recommendation for children from the age of 2-3. This probably applies to many children, especially first borns, but as we experienced it with our second child, she was ready a lot earlier, i.e. at 16 months.

In general, I do not agree with any age labelling on children’s products anyway. Just as I experienced with clothes, my son fit most clothes labelled with the same age as he was at the time, but my daughter who is nearly three still fits into 12-18 months clothing. Each child is different and therefore relying on an age recommendation is certainly not the way to go. This also applies to when children are ready for a balance bike.

When to start also depends fully on how well the children can walk. A child that starts walking at 18 months, is certainly not ready for a balance bike even though we do have bikes that most 18 months old children fit. Same applies to children, who are not comfortable with ride on toys and are scared at the sight of it. However, a child who has been walking for at least three months and is confident and past the wobbly phase may try a balance bike and succeed quickly.

What I personally noticed as well with my own but also friend’s children, is that first born children are ready at a later stage. They have no other child to observe and copy from and face the challenge by themselves. My son got his first balance bike for his second birthday and it took him nearly three months to figure out the concept and to develop some confidence. My daughter on the other hand, saw her brother cruising along and became very interested at 16 months and tried it out. By 18 months she rode the bike slowly but independently and confidently.

Rather than focusing too much on the age of the child, it is probably the safest to take the child’s height into account. Our pedeX 01 (here and here as well) and pedeX pirate range is suitable for children from a height of 80cm, the pedeX 02 and pedeX bamboo from 85cm and the pedeX wood wave from 90cm. If your child reaches any of these heights and they is a confident walker it is time to give him/her a chance to ride.

In the next post, I will describe what we as parents did to assist our two children with the initial attempts to ride a balance bike.

© scoolbikes.com.au

Balance bikes

Seven or eight years ago, when I lived in London, I became first aware of balance bikes. I spotted one in Marylebone on New Cavendish Street. A little boy was riding it and he was so fast and so confident, I could not believe my eyes. What fascinated me the most, was that he was not older than two and he could balance and steer a bike without training wheels. I had to stop and watch. What I saw there was not only such a simple concept, but also such an effective one. This bike had no pedals, instead this kid used his feet to run. This put the bike into motion and off he went.

Soon these bikes also appeared in our network. Friends who had kids bought them and the same phenomenon happened. But most importantly, what I saw again, the kids had so much fun. They embraced their independence, they felt free and they loved it so much, it was impossible to leave somewhere without the balance bike.

A year ago we got my son a balance bike for his second birthday. I have never regretted the purchase and cannot recommend it enough. It took no longer than a week for him to figure out the concept by himself. Once he felt safe, he became more courageous and daring and this helped him improve even more. This was also motivating for him to keep on going. Wherever we went, shopping, playground, park, bushwalking, etc., the bike had to be with us.

On his third birthday we got him a 16 inch push bike. It took about an hour for him to figure out the pedalling and then he rode it. No training wheels and no broken backs.

I cannot recommend a balance bike enough based on this experience and having seen kids in our network doing the same, it just proves they are effective learning tools. Honestly, when we were kids, I didn’t know a three year old who could ride a normal push bike without training wheels. I was six when my Dad moved the training wheels higher so I would not fall in case the bike tipped. And most of my friends were the same age. And it took ages until they were off. Now I know plenty of kids who started on a balance bike and then moved onto a normal bike with ease at the age of three. Those who skipped the balance bike are still on trainers. I think that just shows that it’s worth getting one.

balance bikes in skate parks

Despite of my son having moved on to a push-bike, the balance bike is not dusting in a corner. My husband loves skateboarding and they go to skate parks together where he works on his BMX and mountain biking skills 😉 Recently, I took him to bushlands where he explored the off-road tracks. He had so much fun, it was impossible to get him and the bike into the car. Based on that, I can positively say, the balance bike has not retired yet. He might have to share it soon, though as our 17 month-old daughter is ready to hit challenging terrain as well.

©scoolbikes.com.au, 2014