Balance bikes have many benefits and advantages for toddlers and really are one of the best toys they can have. They are easy to use, great for exercise, build confidence and independence alongside key motor skills, and are the perfect first step in learning to ride a bike.
Balance bikes are easy to use
Balance bikes are lightweight, they have no pedals to get in the way, and they roll easily over uneven surfaces meaning you can take them (pretty much) anywhere.
Toddlers can start to learn bike riding as early as 18 months meaning they’ve already got the confidence and most of the skills needed to ride a balancing bike when the time comes to move on.
Great motor skills and physical development
As well as learning to balance, balance bike riders are actively building strength, endurance and coordination when they ride a balance bike. They build strength in their legs of course but also in their core muscles.
The coordination required to master a balance bike improves children’s ability to engage in lots of different sports and physical activities as well as helping to develop their fine motor skills.
A safe way to learn to ride
Designed to be used at the age when children would traditionally have been given a tricycle and then training wheels, balance bikes offer a safer and more practical alternative.
They are much easier to manoeuvre than a tricycle and much less likely to topple over on any uneven ground. And because children have their feet on the floor unlike with pedal bikes, they are focusing on balance rather than trying to pedal they are much less likely to fall.
Balance bikes make exercise fun
Balance bikes are fun and children love the sense of freedom, accomplishment and excitement they get from riding them.
They offer a great reason for children to want to get outside and play, whether it’s making a family walk more fun (and quicker) or getting involved with other kids riding bikes at the park.
The lighter weight also means young kids can ride for longer compared with a regular bike without getting tired and even ride up hills rather than having to get off and push.
Convenient for us grownups
Lighter and more compact than a tricycle or training bike with pedals, balance bikes are easy to pop in the car or even carry with you when kids get tired.
They also make it easy for toddlers to cruise along the pavement on their own bike, much quicker than walking but still easier to keep up with than a bicycle.
Kids can start riding at a younger age
Toddlers can ride balance bikes before they have the strength in their legs to push the pedals unlike with regular kids bikes, they are better at helping develop gross motor skills in younger toddlers. And balance bikes are available in smaller sizes.
Confidence and independence
It’s amazing the confidence and pride a toddler can get from riding a bike. They’ll want you to watch again and again as they glide through puddles or do laps of the pump track.
Figuring out how their bodies work and what they can achieve is great for their sense of freedom and independence as well. Suddenly they can not only keep up with you, but even overtake you. And join in with both older and younger children at the pump track.
What is the best age to get your child a balance bike?
Generally balance bikes are designed for children aged around 2 to 5 years and our wooden balance bikes are perfect for this age range. Some smaller bikes are suitable from 18 months and there’s no reason your child shouldn’t start at this age. You can even get balance bikes for adults, so it’s never too late to learn to ride a bike and you could even do it at the same time as your toddler.
Therefore the best age to get a balance bike is really completely up to you.
Because balance bikes come without pedals and gears they are much lighter than a traditional first bike making them much better for younger children to learn to ride on. They teach a child to balance on two wheels which will make the transition to a pedal bike much easier when they are ready.
Balance bikes are a much better starting point than a tricycle or bike with training wheels for toddlers as despite the fact they may look less stable they are actually better at navigating uneven ground and as your child is using their feet and learning to balance they are less likely to tip over.
The fact that they are light and narrow means they are easy for toddlers to straddle and walk with which they will likely do for a while before they sit on the seat and eventually learn to run and cruise, especially if they start at 18 months.
An older child who may be big enough to ride a pedal bike with stabilisers is likely to progress to the running and cruising stage quite quickly and will love the freedom they get from a balance bike. If you are getting a first balance bike for an older child choose a bigger frame and you may even wish to think about investing in a bike with a brake.
A good balance bike is perfect for adventure and exercise. Despite the fact they don’t have pedals or gears children can still get up a good speed making them great for family walks and perfect for playing at the pump track.
Making sure you choose a balance bike that’s right for your child’s age
The key when choosing a balance bike is to make sure that the seat can be adjusted to the right height for your child. This means you need to measure their inside leg and check that they will be able to sit with both feet comfortably flat on the floor.
It’s also good to think about how long the bike will last. Your child might well be using a balance bike for 3 years or more. And although you may wish to upgrade during that time you don’t want to have to buy a new bike in six months time because they have already outgrown the first one.
Skip the training wheels
When it comes to balance bikes vs training wheels, simply getting kids started on a balance bike allows you to skip the training wheels altogether!
By mastering balancing first before pedalling children find the transition from a balance bike to a traditional bike much easier and will often make the switch at a younger age.
They already understand how to balance and what happens when they turn the handlebars so in most cases you can simply give them the bike and let them go, rather than spending hours running along behind them holding the seat.
With a pedal bike children learn the art of pedalling first while being supported by the stabilisers. Training wheels are great as they keep them upright but they stop children from understanding how moving their body and steering affects their balance.
When the training wheels come off kids then have to learn the more complex skill of balancing. Stabilisers can stop children from learning to counter-steer and lead them to learn bad habits that have to be unlearnt when they start to ride without them.
By contrast with a balance bike children learn to balance and steer first without their feet being on the pedals. Children start off by walking with their bums on the seats, then running and finally cruising along with their legs in the air. And you might be surprised how quickly some kids get to this stage.
Once children have got the hang of steering and cruising they are then ready to learn the easier skill of pedalling, although they will probably be more than happy scooting along on a balance bike for quite some time.
Reasons to choose a balance bike over a bike with stabilisers or training wheels
First off a child can generally start to use a balance bike before they would be able to ride a traditional pedal bike, even with training wheels. Balance bikes tend to be smaller and lighter (or smaller and lighter versions are available) so children can start to ride from around 18 months.
Balance bikes are better on rough terrain making them more fun to ride. They have a low centre of gravity, they are easy to steer and manoeuvre, and brilliant for pump tracks and off-roading where stabilisers would just get in the way.
Obviously a balance bike without brakes will be more difficult to control on a steep slope. Kids quickly become expert at using their feet to slow down but that does mean they can get through shoes pretty quickly.
Another benefit, especially for little kids, is that a balance bike can only go as fast as they can run unless they are going downhill, so provided you keep them on the flat there won’t be any high-speed crashes while they’re getting the hang of it.
But of course, once they’ve mastered the art they will want to go as fast as they can so a helmet is a must and little riding gloves can be handy to protect their palms.
How to Ride a Balance Bike
Before learning how to ride a balance bike, let’s take a look at how they work.
This is how balance bikes work
Balance bikes don’t work in the same way as a traditional bike as there are no pedals or gears. Instead, forward motion comes from your child’s feet on the ground, or gravity if they are going down a hill.
For a balance bike to work it needs to be light enough for your child to easily manoeuvre with the saddle adjusted so they can sit with their feet comfortably on the ground. Weight is particularly important when buying for a younger child as they will have difficulty pushing a heavy bike up hills and manoeuvring it. This becomes less of an issue as they get bigger and stronger.
Children then use their feet to walk, run or scoot and propel the bike along and slow their walking/running or place their feet on the ground to act as the brakes.
Because they are using already familiar motions to get the bike moving children learn to balance and instinctively figure out how their weight and body position affects the movement of the bike.
Balance bikes are much safer than a tricycle as they are much less likely to tip over on any uneven ground, despite the fact that children can travel further and at greater speeds.
Learning to ride a balance bike
Before you hand over the bike make sure the seat is low enough that your little one can have both feet comfortably flat on the ground.
Choose a flat, even surface to begin with and let your child have a go, they probably won’t get it straight away but that’s ok.
Most children will begin by straddling the bike and pushing it along without putting their bum on the seat. Encourage them to sit down or better still let them watch other kids doing it.
Once they have mastered sitting and moving at the same time running and scooting will come pretty quickly as they want to build up speed. This is a good time to introduce a few gentle slopes as it encourages gliding and this is where they really get the hang of balancing.
And that’s it. Once children have learnt to glide and balance they’ve learnt to ride a balance bike. Children can happily ride balance bikes for years and will find the transition to a pedal cycle easier as a result.