How do you stop on a balance bike?
When you look at a balance bike there is one very obvious thing you will notice that makes it different from your traditional bike. No pedals! But there is also another difference on many balance bikes, no brakes. Which may lead you to ask the question how is my child meant to slow down and stop?
The simple fact is that the brakes come with the kid, not the bike.
Toddlers can start to use a balance bike as young as 18 months, and at this age, they instinctively understand that is their feet that they use to move, slow down and stop. Adding a brake can be confusing and dangerous for a child at this age.
It takes a while before braking really becomes an issue as children will start by walking their bike, then sitting and walking, then sitting and running before they really start to glide with their feet off the floor. And if you are walking or running you just need to slow down and stop much as if you were running without the bike.
Once they start cruising with their feet off the ground they need to know to put their feet down again to stop the bike, but as this is a gradual learning process, much more gradual than getting on a pedal bike with stabilisers kids will have figured out how to stop by this stage.
Putting your feet down is the quickest way to stop. And even on a pedal bike, it’s a good instinct for them to fall back on when they’re older should the brakes ever fail on their pushbike.
Of course sometimes hills will be steeper than they thought and they might end up building up more speed than they meant to, so shoes can take a battering and grass verges can come in handy.
Hand brakes are available on some balance bikes and may be useful for more experienced riders who are getting ready to transition to a pedal bike, but for young toddlers, they can be tricky to use. The levers can be difficult for little hands to reach and squeeze, meaning they fail to stop in time.
Most balance bikes even if they have brakes only have one on the back wheel, so you don’t need to teach your toddler which hand is for which brake and which brake to choose when, but even so for younger toddlers especially any brake is an added complication they don’t really need.
Most children will instinctively put their feet flat on the floor or use their heels to stop and this is the most effective way. Some children will like to use their toes though, especially if they like to cruise leaning forward with their feet out behind them. Dragging their toes will certainly slow them down but it’s not as effective as flat feet and much harder on the shoes.
For this reason, open-toed shoes are not recommended for balance biking, and it’s best to encourage children to use the bottom of their feet to stop.
Balance bikes with brakes
Once your little one has mastered the art you may decide you want to invest in a balance bike with brakes, especially if they are a particularly speedy rider or you live near a lot of hills. Having a hand brake can help children not build up too much speed if they are going downhill, stop them from rolling backwards, and stop them more quickly once they know how to use it.
Using a handbrake on a balance bike also means they will already have mastered the skill of stopping safely using the brakes when they transition to a pedal bike.
If you are wondering if your child is too old or too young for a balance bike we look at what age is a balance bike for here.