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
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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.
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.
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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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.
Some quick feedback from our visit to the Santos Tour Down Under
Oh yes, it was a great day, that last Sunday of the Santos Tour Down Under on 24 January 2016. Early in the morning, when the sun hadn’t yet risen, we headed out with the children in tow to Elder Park in Adelaide to set up our balance bike trial track among the other great features the South Australian Government organised for this big Family Day and the Final stage of this UCI World event.
Our track was only a few meters away from the race track which made it extremely convenient to follow the day’s happenings while still overlooking our children and our balance bike and road bike range. As soon as the family day schedule hit off we could swing back and forth from our little event to the big one.
At 9:30am the BUPA Mini Tour for Kids started on the final stretch of the big race and I have to say, I was deeply impressed with many aspects of this event. The main reason for this was the participation rate of the children, something I have not witnessed in any other city in Australia. From an age group of 6 up to 12 years there were kids lining up to ride their loops on part of the Be Safe Be Seen MAC Stage 6 circuit. To keep it safe, the organisers categorised the races in age groups. The first race was for 6 year olds, then followed by 7 years etc.
Irrespective of age, what caught my eye was the pride and joy these kids showed while riding their bikes. Some were happy just to be part of it. Those would cruise along the stretch and cycle until finished. But then there were the competitive ones, who took their part very seriously and would overtake the entire group several times. Whatever type the riders were, they all had their place and fun in this race. It is great to see that such a big tournament offers the possibility for the growing generation to really feel and be part of it.
It was not only the children’s participation that deserves such praise. The whole City of Adelaide did a fantastic job and stuck to the principles of this event. It was a bike event, so anything that could be on a bike was on a bike; even the police.
After the Bupa Mini Tour for Kids finished the interest shifted into the direction where we were. All of a sudden our stand was flooded with little ones, who were too young to take part in the Bupa Mini Tour (ages 6+), but wanted to ride and give our balance bikes a go as well. We set up our balance bike track on a grassed area with a gentle slope and it turned into a huge success with children constantly being on the bikes and riding their laps. A few times throughout the day, the queue of kids seemed never ending!
These type of family days are always such a reward to us. Yes, we do these events to market our brand, I am not going to lie about it, but we also do it to contribute to society in our own little way. We want to encourage parents to get outside and get active with their kids. These trial tracks are set up by us at our own expense. We offer the bikes for free and don’t put time limits on how long the children can ride them. We believe most parents and children understand when it’s appropriate to hand over the bike to others waiting in line. We also believe, by letting the children ride as long as their parents allow it, they might discover something that is of great benefit to them … how to learn to balance in a playful and fun way. And it works. Parents not sure about the concept of balance bikes really do see the point after having some time on our demo fleet. Children who were not that confident to ride, all of the sudden discover a new dimension of movement and fun and sometimes cannot be taken off the bikes. They become confident and want to enjoy their liberty. Some parents are so intrigued by their child’s happiness, they decide to park at our stand and stay there until we close. This happened in Adelaide as well. Two families decided to stay at our stand and let their children ride. They would not stop going around and around. I truly enjoyed watching the happy little faces and at the end of the day, I received a huge thank you with the most beautiful smile. Knowing that these kids had a great time on our bikes is certainly a priceless accomplishment.
A year ago when we started our bike business, we took a big risk, by entering a very different market from what I personally knew from Germany, where I spent most of my life growing up. My view is that the Australian bicycling market appears to be happy to spend endless sums on high-end road and mountain bikes for adults, but when it comes to 20” or 24” children’s bikes, $300-$400 seems to be the absolute maximum. Bikes below the 20” size tend to be under the $100 price bracket.
Our bikes are above those price ranges and many people are at first in doubt about our pricing (as also discussed in Bicycling Trade). Yes, we agree, our bikes are not cheap, but in our opinion, the incremental price provides our junior riders with superior performance in developing and accelerating their riding skills. After all, isn’t the common saying: You get what you pay for?
When our eldest graduated from his balance bike, our priority for choosing a pedal bike was quality, how easy it was for him to ride and our budget. To make a bike easy to ride, it is necessary to invest into quality components. Low quality components are typically heavy and make the bike hard to manoeuvre, especially for a small child. Personally, I think low quality bikes are extremely dangerous. I constantly would question how responsive the brakes were, how the bike reacted if a major part broke and as a result what injury my child would get from it. Cycling alone is not risk free, but I want to reduce the risk of falls and accidents wherever I can and it is certainly possible by choosing a good quality bike.
And what a difference the bike makes! Lower quality bikes in my mind, pose a higher risk for injury as are very difficult to ride while learning and building their confidence on two wheels. Good quality bikes typically ride well and the rider can focus on balancing and riding rather than manoeuvring the bike.
Our boy moved from a balance bike to a normal push bike shortly after his 3rd birthday. He never used training wheels and he transitioned within less than an hour and off he was by himself. He initially needed help to get on and off the bike, but with time he mastered those challenges problem free. As he does have access to bikes through his parents’ business, he became extremely curious about the new bikes he saw us promoting. He wanted to ride them, even though they were too big for him. By the time he was 3 ½, we allowed him to try one of our troX elite 20” samples not thinking he would succeed (a mountain bike we recommend for kids 6 years and up). Well, we were wrong! He needed help to get on, but he mastered the rest with ease and soon went for his first proper bike ride with me.
Shortly after we visited friends, who had a 12” push bike with training wheels. He wanted to ride it too and we obviously let him. What happened next surprised me. My son sat on it and could not ride it. He had trouble moving the pedals. The same boy, who rode 20” bikes at 3 ½ simply couldn’t get the 12” with training wheels moving! This bike appeared to be a lower quality bike in my opinion, even before he sat on it. My first impressions by simply looking at it cemented my view. The welding was poorly done, the cranks were too long, the wheels and spokes were made out of steel and it was extremely heavy. S’COOL’s kids’ bikes are designed for children and for their abilities. They have light-weight aluminium frames, roll well and are easy to push. As a result the child can solely focus on balancing, riding and having fun. They look forward to getting on their bike, so much so, it’s sometimes impossible to leave the house without their bike (which is the way it should be when you’re growing up). I saw this with my son and with children in our circle whose parents got them S’COOL bikes when we launched. The kids are of different characters and abilities and some of them are more timid than the others, but they all love riding their bikes. The beauty of this is, they last. Our son’s bike will be passed on to our daughter and I have no doubt we will then be able to pass it on to another child as well.
Many factors speak to investing into quality kids’ bikes, just like we invest into other shorter-term items as our children grow such as prams, clothes (that kids sometimes wear only once or not at all), cots or the fit-out of their nurseries and bedrooms. It makes me wonder why people are happy to spend so much on these items, but when it gets to a bike they first shy back?
A bike is a tool to learn balance, i.e. their motor skills develop. It’s fun and gets the kids into exercise (a separate topic to address with childhood obesity and lack of movement becoming an increasing problem affecting kids nowadays). Quality means it lasts and can be re-sold or passed down to other children who are lucky enough to inherit it. As the saying goes, “I’m not rich enough to buy cheap things” so I’d rather save more and pay a little more and not have to replace and repair lower quality products so often (hence I save) and also contribute to protecting the environment, by reducing waste and landfill.
All S’COOL bikes are designed and engineered in Germany and come with a 2 year manufacturer’s warranty.
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.
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.