Balance bikes are becoming more and more popular. They allow children to exercise and enjoy the freedom of taking off on two wheels without the coordination needed for a pedal bike.
Balance bikes are an innovative method of helping kids learn how to ride a bike. As the name might suggest, they teach your child how to maintain balance, get the right posture and steer before adding the important steps of pedals and brakes needed on push bikes.
Kids who use the balance bike method learn how to become more independent and get around safely on two wheels quicker than those that start on tricycles or stabilizers.
- You can find our comparison between balance bikes vs tricycles for toddlers here
Balance bikes are basically bicycles without pedals. Children push themselves along the ground using their feet to figure out how to balance. Once a child demonstrates that they can balance consistently, they graduate to riding a pedal bike.
If you have just introduced your child to a balance bike, then you might be wondering how they should ride it properly. It might look challenging at first but there are some simple steps to follow to get your tot off and riding their first balance bike with ease.
Step 1: Get Safely Set Up
Before your child starts to learn how to ride their balance bike, the first thing they need is the right safety gear. Every tot on a wheeled toy needs a safety helmet.
It can be difficult to find a great-fitting helmet for a toddler as many manufacturers simply don’t make helmets that small. Try something like a Jovvy Noodle Extra Small for a beginner – it comes in lots of bright appealing colors for tots and will be great for all their wheeled toys.
- You can find our complete guide here on how to find the right size bike helmet for your child – never be tempted to go a size up for them to “grow into it”!
You may also want to consider elbow and knee pads for a beginner on a balance bike. Although they shouldn’t be taking too many tumbles, it will certainly give you both peace of mind if they have the extra padding and protection.
- For kids new to balance bikes we recommend you try the Kuyou protective gear set if you want maximum protection
Closed-toed shoes are also recommended when using a balance bike, you’ll soon see why!
Step 2: Set the Balance Bike Up Properly & Your Riding Space
The most important thing when setting up a balance bike is making sure it is level. If your bike is not level, they will not be able to control it while riding.
Also, make sure that the seat is higher than the knee level. Children shouldn’t be hitting their knees with their chests while riding. Make sure they are using the right size balance bike for their height.
In terms of their riding space, you want an area that’s free of obstacles and as flat and even as possible.
If their balance bike is fitted with a brake you can acquaint them with where this is positioned and how it works, however, this won’t come into play until a little later in the learning process.
Step 3: Stand and Ride
When your child is first exploring their new balance bike, you don’t even need them sitting on the seat. Simply have them straddle the bike frame and walk the bike with their hands on the handlebars.
Depending on your child’s age and interest, they might be quite content with this stage for some time and only walk a few feet. Other children will start making bigger strides straight away.
Allow your child to take as long as they need at this stage to get comfortable with the bike. Short sessions at a time may be better than when you’re looking to cover any sort of distance like walking to the shop, it’s really about learning the basics of momentum and the position they need over the handlebars.
What can help at this stage is using either a line in the pavers or drawing a chalk line for them to try and follow.
Step 4: Sit and Walk
Next up, it’s time to pick up the pace! Get them sitting on the bike seat at the same time as walking their bike (They should be able to do this flat-footed).
Then ask them to walk a little faster. Sure there could be some wobbles at the start, but this is the beauty of the balance bike. Learning to control these wobbles now is the key to gaining good balance and learning to use their feet for stability when needed.
Many kids can move through the sit and walk stage quite quickly – the more confident children will want to move straight to stage 5!
If your child is frustrated or lacking confidence with this stage, it may be too early for them. There’s no harm in giving it a break and trying again in a few weeks or months, not all children will develop coordination skills and confidence at the same age and stage.
Step 5: Run, Balance & Glide
This is where it starts to get interesting! More than just small steps, your tot is ready to glide.
Make sure they have a long flat and even surface to work with, once, they’ve taken a few small steps they can work up into a jog, then that magical moment they can bravely take their feet off the ground.
Instruct your child once they have plenty of momentum going they can stop running and lift their feet off the ground, the bike will continue to move without them needing to do a thing. They’re riding independently!
Some bikes have a bar for them to rest their feet when in the glide position.
If they are struggling at this stage, a few things you can do to help include:
- Move them to a slight incline so they can gain more momentum
- Give them a little push as they’re striding to help them build up speed
- Give it a try on a grassy slope, they may feel more confident they won’t get hurt if they fall off
- Never stop with the words of encouragement!
Step 6: Stopping on a Balance Bike
Once your child has learned how to glide, it’s vital they then learn how to stop. This can depend as we mentioned above whether their balance bike has brakes.
Most junior balance bikes made for toddlers don’t have brakes, whilst some larger models are made for pre-schoolers and above DO.
Foot Braking on a Balance Bike
Whether or not the balance bike has brakes, all balance bike riders should learn to brake with their whole foot, using their heel first then planting the whole foot.
There may be a natural temptation for your child to try and stop toes first and drag their feet behind them. Not only will this ruin their shoes in no time (no matter how good the toe bumper!), but flat-footed is the safest method and will allow them to stop faster.
Back to our first step on safety though – it’s the stopping element that you’ll want to make sure your child is wearing closed-toed shoes on a balance bike!
Hand Brakes on a Balance Bike
Once the foot brake is mastered, those with hand brakes can give it a try – though remember as this involves a degree of hand-eye coordination your child could be at least 3 before this braking method is safe and appropriate.
A handbrake works the same as on a regular bike, it will be attached to either the front or rear wheel and as you apply pressure it will slow down or completely stop the wheels from spinning.
Some balance bikes to consider with brakes fitted include:
Other Balance Bike Riding Tips That Will Help
- Start them young! Even as young as 18 months many children have the coordination skills needed to try their first balance bike.
- Introducing them to the bike in small increments really helps, and model behavior too. If they see you riding a full-size bike, it’s bound to pique their curiosity too what it’s like to ride a real bike!
When Are Kids’ Ready For A Pedal Bike
Over time, they will begin to run with the balance bike, stride, and then glide. Once they are gliding independently, it means that they have mastered the art of balancing and are ready to move on to the next step: pedaling.
Even so, there is no rush for them to move onto a pedaled bike. They can still use the balance bike for as long as they want to, especially if they enjoy using it.
Height can often be a key factor in making the transition. If they’re growing too tall for a 10/12″ balance bike – particularly if they started young – you may want to skip the 14/16″ balance bike stage and go straight to a pedal bike.
- A Strider can be a good balance bike for a growing child as you can purchase an “Easy Ride Conversion Kit” to add pedals later.
Can A Balance Bike Work?
Balance bikes are great for kids who want to learn how to ride a bike without stabilizers or training wheels. Kids can easily grasp the concept of balance while riding a balance bike.
They can even go off-road with these bikes since they don’t require any specialized skills. However, they do need to be able to walk before attempting to ride a balance bike.
Benefits Of Riding A Balance Bike
Rides like this allow children to gain independence from their parents. When they are learning how to ride a bike, they will develop the coordination skills needed for a pedal bike.
Children who ride balance bikes tend to develop better motor skills too.
Balance bikes can also be used for indoor cycling. You can take advantage of the fact that your child has already learned how to walk by having them ride a balance bike indoors. This way, they won’t have to worry about falling down or getting injured.
What Age Can Your Child Start Using A Balance Bike?
Balance bikes are designed for children who are too young to ride a full-sized bicycle. They’re low to the ground and lightweight, making them easy for younger children to pedal and steer.
So, if your child is around 18 months to 7 years old, they are in the age bracket to use a balance bike. However, some manufacturers recommend that children start using a balance bike around age three.
Is A Balance Bike Safe?
Balance bikes are very safe for children. They are intuitive for children to use, giving them confidence. They are simple to maintain, so fewer things can go wrong. Though, as we have stated previously, they should still wear a helmet.
The main thing to remember is that kids should not be left unattended while riding a balance bike. Always supervise them closely.
How High Should You Position the Seat On A Balance Bike?
The saddle should be positioned so that the child has their feet flat on the ground, but have their torso slightly angled forward, rather than straight-up. If the torso is sitting directly upwards, then they will find it difficult to use their feet to push at the ground.
Most balance bikes have a quick-release clamp on the seat to make fast and easy adjustments.
A balance bike is ideal for children who are not quite old enough to use a full-pedaled bicycle yet but would like to learn how to balance properly. They are much safer as they are lower to the ground and your child is less likely to fall.
Having said that, they will need to still wear a helmet and anything else that is required to protect them. This also puts them in the habit of always making sure that they think about safety first when riding a bike.
A balance bike is a safe alternative to a regular bike. Children love to play on them. So, if you want to encourage your kids to exercise more often, then buy them a balance bike.