BALANCE BIKES & TWO WHEELING TOTS

Skip the tricycle and training wheels and choose a balance bike – the no-stress way to help your child learn to ride a bicycle. Balance bikes are the perfect first bike for tots (ages 2-4).

A Balance bike is essentially a tiny kids bike with no pedals, gears or chain. These bikes are specifically designed to support the development of a child’s natural sense of balance and provide a no-stress method of learning to ride a bike. Children as young as 2 can easily learn to balance on their own and at the age of 4 or 5, they can transfer smoothly to a pedal bike without ever needing training wheels! Riding a balance bike is fun and fosters love for cycling that can last a life-time.

FAQs ABOUT BALANCE BIKES

At what age can my child start riding a Balance Bike?

Ideally, your child can start riding a balance bike at the age of 2, i.e. as soon as he/she out-grows a three-wheel plastic bike. However, some kids even start younger, at the age of 22 months. The younger they start the faster they learn to balance. If your child has already been riding a tricycle or bike with training wheels it may take them a bit longer to unlearn that and find their natural balance.

Is a Balance Bike better than Training Wheels?

Typically children learn to cycle at a younger age, and faster, with balance bikes than with bikes with stabilisers, because they learn to balance before they learn to pedal. This creates confident, stable riders who very easily move on to pedal bikes. Training wheels actually hinder the child’s ability to learn to balance and give a false sense of security, encouraging over-leaning and sharp turns that can result in falls. Because there are no pedals on a balance bike, kids instinctively plant their feet to slow down and stabilize, reducing the risk of falling over. Balance bikes are also much lighter enabling toddlers to ride far without getting tired and easily run up hills with their bike.

Where can I buy a Balance Bike + what to look for?

When choosing a balance bike it is important to make sure it fits correctly. It should be small enough so your child can walk the bicycle while sitting comfortably in the saddle with their feet planted flat on the ground and knees slightly bent. It should be lightweight and have other features like rear, hand- controlled brakes; steering limiters and non-swivel seats designed to reduce the chance of falls.

There is a wide range of balance bikes available in SA from lightweight plastic ones to ones made out of wood. Our favorite brands are Y-Bike and First Bike.

Does my child need to wear a helmet or shoes?

Wearing a helmet on a balance bike—as on any other bike—is a must! The sooner your child gets used to it, the better. Go shopping for a helmet together, let your kid choose the color and pattern they like! Make sure the helmet is the correct size and is fitted properly (see our tips on buying and fitting a kids helmet).

Wearing bright colored clothes is also recommended, ideally with reflective elements so they are readily visible. Shoes should be closed to protect the feet while “running” on the balance bike.

TEACHING YOUR CHILD

How do I teach my child to ride a balance bike?

The great thing about balance bikes is that kids learn to balance in their own time and it is an easy transition from sit-on toys in the house to a balance bike. Children will instinctively throw a leg over the balance bike and want to go. All you need to do is to encourage them to do this and praise them for going on the bike.

At first your kid will walk the bike, then kick along while in the saddle. Eventually, as they begin to enjoy the fun, they’ll scoot along and lift both feet off the ground so they can balance on 2 wheels and roll freely. As coordination skills develop at different rates. Some kids will walk the bike while standing for weeks or longer – this is great and normal! Don’t rush these kids to sit and start riding like an older child. Keep riding fun!

What about braking?

Around the age of 2½ to 3 years, children are able to operate a hand brake provided it is gentle enough for their little fingers. Show them how it works and motivate practicing (e.g. draw a line on a street ask them to stop on it). Remember that kids will automatically use their feet to stop and ignore a handbrake until they’re ready. Don’t force them to use the brake before they’re ready as this may hinder their ability to stop immediately.

Where can I find safe places for my kids to ride?

The ideal place to learn to ride a balance bike is at a park or in a neighborhood (cul-de-sac) with little to no traffic. Choose flat terrain to begin with and gradually upgrade to small hills. Always guide your child and remind them to slow down if necessary. Once you kid has the hang of riding the balance bike they will be able to keep up with their parents or older siblings on longer walks or bike trips which makes finding new family adventures a while lot of fun. Explore our guide to kid-friendly places to ride and bike-friendly city parks.

What do I do if my kid is shy or uninterested?

This is normal. Many parents find it helpful for their children to watch online videos of other children riding the bikes so that they can see what biking is about. If there is an older sibling or neighbor’s child who can demonstrate the bike and show how fun it is, that may speed up their interest and excitement. You can make riding a balance bike lots of fun by playing games. What ever you do don’t sell the balance bike if your child doesn’t show interest in the first few months. Just wait a bit and show it to them again in two or three months – they can use this bike right up to the age of 5.

Do I support my child if they are wobbly?

Support the child – NOT the bike! Don’t hold onto the bicycle as this actually hinders the child’s ability to learn balance! The child must be allowed to feel the bike tip sideways to be able to learn how to keep if from tipping. Rather support the child’s body – either walk behind them or next to them and hang onto the sides of their chest under their arms or hang onto the back of their shirt so that they can feel safe. Using this approach, you will find that they will learn the basic concept of keeping the bike centered underneath them in a matter of minutes and then your assistance will no longer be needed!

Many kids won’t even sit on the seat at first; this is OK! Their security is in their feet at this point, and we want them to feel secure. As they get comfortable walking around with the bike between their legs and working handlebar, they will eventually start to ‘trust’ the saddle. Older kids get to this point in minutes, extremely young kids may take months. Gliding is attained when they transition from 100% of their trust in their feet to 100% of their trust in the saddle (feet off the ground). Let them transition at their own pace… they’ll be gliding along with feet up on the footrests before you know it!

When can they learn to ride a regular pedal bike?

At about age 4 or 5 (when kids are stronger and taller) they will be ready to graduate to a pedal bike ( which are typically two to three times heavier than balance bikes. If they have already mastered the balance bike (scooting, gliding, turning and braking) then they will quickly pick up pedaling. We have put together a step by step guide to help them through this transition and teach them how to ride a bicycle.

Ready for the next step?

STEP2 – TEACH YOUR CHILD TO RIDE A PEDAL BIKE (+4yrs)

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Director & Founder of BICYCLE SOUTH
Cape Town based designer & bicycle activist, Leonie is passionate about sustainability and green living. When she is not busy advocating for bicycle cities or blogging on Cape Town’s bicycle culture, you’ll find her adventuring beyond the city limits on her steel frame touring bike.
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Director & Founder of BICYCLE SOUTH
Cape Town based designer & bicycle activist, Leonie is passionate about sustainability and green living. When she is not busy advocating for bicycle cities or blogging on Cape Town’s bicycle culture, you’ll find her adventuring beyond the city limits on her steel frame touring bike.

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