Have you noticed all of these stand-up bikes that are popping up in your neighborhood? What are these things and why are they suddenly so popular? They are balance bikes! And if you’re still scratching your head about what these are, keep reading. This blog post will go over what a balance bike is, how to use one, and the benefits of having one for your toddler.
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What is a balance bike?
A balance bike is just that – a bike that you balance on. There are no pedals or gears. Instead of pedals, toddlers use their feet to push off the ground to move. Because of this, balance bikes are the perfect “first bike” for toddlers.
Balance bikes still have handlebars and seats, but the cushion sits lower to the ground since the feet have to be able to reach the floor rather than pedals.
What is the Best Age for a Balance Bike?
In general, if your toddler can walk, they are at a great age for a balance bike. Balance bikes are geared towards kids between the ages of 18 months to 7 years.
When your toddler starts showing signs of wanting to be more independent is an ideal time to introduce a balance bike. Using one will give them the confidence needed to start exploring the world as an individual (cue the tears). ????
How do you ride a balance bike?
You may be wondering, “if there are no pedals, how does one ride a balance bike?”. This was the same exact question I had. Think of a balance bike like a scooter. But for sitting down and with both legs.
Your toddler will use their legs to simply push off the ground and propel the bike (and themselves) forward.
There are essentially 4 stages that a toddler will go through when exploring a balance bike:
|Stand and Walk||Toddler will grasp the handlebars to steer, but still remain in a standing position while walking with balance bike between their legs|
|Sit and Walk||Toddler will sit on the seat of the balance bike and start walking to move|
|Sit and Run||Toddler will sit on the seat of the balance bike and start to run, moving the bike faster|
|Run and Glide||Toddler will sit on the seat of the balance bike, run for a distance, and then pick up their feet to glide around, using their balance to remain upright|
These four stages are meant to be a progression as your toddler starts to be more comfortable with their balance bike. It is quite fun to watch your toddler go through each stage as they become more confident and independent.
How do you brake on a balance bike?
Because a balance bike does not come with gears like a pedal bike, one of the most frequently asked questions is “how do you even brake or stop on a balance bike?”. Some models do come with a handbrake and/or rear brake, but if your toddler is on the younger side, they won’t have the coordination to use a handbrake.
Instead, since the saddle is lower on a balance bike, your toddler will intuitively stop by dragging their feet (sorry shoes!). Once your toddler feels more comfortable and starts to go faster on a balance bike, a brake may come in handy.
Benefits of a balance bike over a traditional bike
Given this relatively new popularity of balance bikes, you may be questioning if a balance bike is better than the traditional pedal bike as a first bike for your toddler. For example, with a traditional pedal bike, you can get more use out of it with training wheels at the beginning. Even more so, why would you want to spend money on an extra item? Here are some benefits of a balance bike:
Perfect for younger toddlers
Toddlers can start riding a balance bike at a younger age than a pedal bike. Balance bikes are smaller and lighter than a traditional bike, making them more maneuverable. In addition, balance bikes are lower to the ground so they are more stable. Once a toddler can walk confidently around 18 months, they can use a balance bike.
For a traditional bike, you have to wait for your toddler to reach a certain height before using it, even with training wheels. Since most pedal bikes start at 12”, a child can’t start using one until they are about 3 or 4 years of age.
Using a balance bike is intuitive. Thus, there will be minimal intervention from you as the parent when your toddler first uses one. This is a great way for your toddler to use critical thinking and motor skills on their own!
Since your toddler is only learning how to balance (instead of learning how to balance AND pedal AND steer), they can master that first and be proud of it. Furthermore, your toddler is learning how to do all of this independently from you!
Easier transition to pedal bike
Imagine going from a balance bike to a pedal bike WITHOUT using training wheels! Like it was mentioned before, your toddler will learn how to balance FIRST without the added stress of learning how to steer and pedal at the same time. Thus, when it is time to convert to a pedal bike, you’re just adding pedals. Balancing has already been mastered.
Gross motor development
A balance bike will build strength and coordination. Your toddler will work out those large muscle groups as they run and glide, while steering the handle bar.
If your toddler is anything like mine, they will use any excuse to get outside to ride his “motorcycle” (with him making the vroom vroom sound down the street ????). Balance bikes are so much fun, it doesn’t seem like real exercise is happening.
Cons of a balance bike
Unfortunately, there are downsides to all things, even balance bikes. Here are some cons that you should think about before adding a balance bike to your toddler’s fleet:
Do not learn how to pedal
Balance bikes do not teach your toddler how to pedal. Of course, this is the whole point of a balance bike! But, pedaling requires a certain amount of coordination that is not learned by gliding on a balance bike.
Not as intuitive
Learning to ride a balance bike is not as intuitive as learning to ride a pedal bike with training wheels. It may take your toddler a little while to get used to walking and steering their balance bike at the same time as they may feel awkward.
Easy to outgrow
Since balance bikes are so effective at teaching kids how to ride a bike, they are easily outgrown as kids graduate to a traditional bike – without pedals! Because of this, it may seem that a balance bike is not worth the price and hassle.
Can be an unnecessary expense
Are balance bikes truly necessary? Not really. After all, kids have been learning to ride a bike without using a balance bike first. Plus, with the cost (see below), a balance bike may seem like an extraneous item to buy.
How much does a balance bike cost?
The cost of a balance bike can range from $50 to $150. While this is not necessarily cheap, the benefits of a balance bike as listed above may make the cost worth it. In addition, the resale value for a balance bike is pretty decent.
How to decide if a balance bike is right for your toddler
There are many factors to take into account when trying to decide if a balance bike is right for your toddler. Does your toddler love being outdoors? Will they get good use out of a balance bike? Is your child too tall for a balance bike?
Ultimately, your child will learn to ride a bike, whether they learned with a balance bike or a pedal bike. There is no wrong decision.
Top Balance Bikes for 2021
|Radio Flyer Glide and Go||
|Advertised Age Range||18 months - 5 years||2-4 years||2.5-5 years||18 months - 5 years|
|Type of Brake||None||None||None||None|
|Price (as of Nov 2020)||$109.99|
Check Strider Price on Amazon
Check Schwinn Price on Amazon
Check Radio Flyer Price on Amazon
Check Bixe Price on Amazon
Overall, a balance bike can be a great investment for your toddler! Just remember that as with all bikes, safety is of the utmost importance. Be sure to teach your toddler about safety rules and the need to wear a helmet and reflectors. Did your little one have a balance bike or you are thinking of getting one? I’d love to hear your experience!