Teaching Your Toddler How To Use A Balance Bike
Spring is the perfect time to teach your child how to ride a bike, making sure they are ready to enjoy the great outdoors during the summer holidays! Long gone are the days where kids would learn to ride a bike using a set of stabilisers, then learn again to go without stabilisers.
These days, children are able to learn how to balance themselves and steer their bike using a balance bike, two important skills for mastering riding a regular bike, making the transition from starter bike to regular bike much smoother.
In today’s blog we cover the basics of teaching your child how to ride a balance bike. If you have any experience of teaching your child to ride a bike and want to share any tips with us, please tag us @cameronlodges on Twitter or leave us a message on our Facebook page.
What is a balance bike?
So what is a balance bike and how does it differ from a normal bike? Side-by-side, the main difference is that a balance bike doesn’t have pedals or a chain set, two mainstays of any regular bike.
Balance bikes are a replacement for tricycles and bikes with stabilisers. As they’re meant for toddlers, they’re smaller than regular bikes and have fatter tyres which help stabilise the bike. Most balance bikes have at least one brake, however, at first most kids will try and stop themselves using their feet. So top tip number one, choose their footwear wisely! We don’t want their brand new trainers getting ruined on their first outing! You should also consider safety, so stay away from open-toed sandals, crocs, or any other kind of footwear where part of the foot is exposed.
How do they work?
Pedalling, steering, balancing, braking…cycling requires a lot of different skills and a lot of coordination to master! Balance bikes focus on teaching kids the two most important of these skills – balance and steering.
Balance bikes allow children to push the bike along with their feet at first, before learning to push off and glide along with their feet off the ground.
Is a balance bike better than a regular bike with stabilisers?
Isla Rowntree, triple British cyclo-cross champion and founder of Islabikes, a leading manufacturer of balance bikes, summarises in an interview with Cycling Weekly why balance bikes are better than stabilisers at teaching kids how to ride a bike:
“[Stabilisers] are not actually a great way to learn to ride. A bicycle steers by leaning, you lean it to the right and the handlebars fall to the right, you lean it to the left and they fall to the left. Stabilisers hold the bike in a rigid, upright position – so when a child learns to steer with stabilisers on the bike, they’re actually learning to steer a tricycle.
Instead of learning to steer by leaning, they learn to steer by turning the handlebars, and pushing their bodyweight away from the bike, to stop it toppling over. When they come to ride without the stabilisers, they’ve then got to un-learn what they’ve been doing and learn something different.”
What age is a balance bike suitable for?
Balance bikes are suitable from toddler age upwards. As long as your child can walk, there’s no reason why they can’t begin to learn a balance bike, however most bike manufacturers state from age 2+. Brands including Yvolution have designed a balance bike that’s suitable for younger kids aged 18 months +. Their Y Velo Junior Balance Bike has a double rear wheel for added stability when the child is younger, but the second wheel can then be removed when they gain confidence.
Is there an upper age limit to using a balance bike? In general, kids up to 5 years old can enjoy riding a balance bike, however most children will move on to a regular bike by age 4.
How to choose a balance bike
With so many options on the market, how do you choose a bike that’s right for your child?
Given that your little ones will likely use the bike over a two year period and they will grow a lot in that time, adjustability is key. Most bikes come with adjustable seat and handle bar heights and most bike manufacturers measure using a minimum inside leg measurement, as opposed to age. As well as height, you should find a bike that is no more than a third of your child’s weight.
Safety is key and some bikes offer a steering limiter, which means that the front wheel and handlebars won’t be able to spin fully round. Another important safety factor is whether or not your child can reach, and pull on, the brake.
How much does a balance bike cost?
Like any other product, you can get low (<£50), mid (£50-£100) and high-end (>£100) price points. Factors which affect the cost of the bike include its features e.g. weight, material and tyre type, whether it comes pre-assembled or needs to be built at home, and the brand itself.
The Independent wrote a great balance bike review in October 2018 which ranks the UK’s most popular balance bikes in a top 10 list, taking into account factors such as price, brand and features.
How do I teach my child to ride a balance bike?
As with any bike, before you begin, make sure the tyres are firm, the saddle is stable and the brake works. Teaching your child to ride a balance bike can be split into five main areas –
- Getting on / off the bike
Before your child gets on to the bike, it’s useful to teach them how to use the brake (if, of course, your chosen balance bike has a brake) so that they know how they can stop themselves if they feel they are going too fast (plus it will save those shoes!).
Start by having them walk alongside the bike, hands on the handlebars. Ask them to gently pull the brake lever until the bike starts to stop. Repeat this exercise as many times as possible for your little one to become comfortable with braking.
- Getting on and off the bike
It may be tempting to just lift your toddler on to the bike, however it’s worth spending some time teaching them how to get on and off properly. Getting on and off a balance bike is very similar to getting on and off a regular bike. The key skills to master are leaning the bike and swinging the leg over. Once they have swung their leg over, they should place it on the ground. At this stage, both feet should be flat on the ground, their bottom should be on the saddle and their hands should easily reach the handlebars. If at this stage you think your child looks uncomfortable, consider adjusting the seat / handle bar height.
Once safely seated on the saddle, hands on handle bars, ask them to walk slowly in a straight line to allow them to get used to the bike and the movement required. While they’re walking, encourage them to look ahead. Top tip: kids can be easily distracted, so it’s useful to have someone up ahead that they can focus on. Your child will naturally go faster as they get used to the bike.
Once your child can confidently walk with the bike, encourage them to take longer steps, pushing themselves forward. The aim is to get them to lift their feet off the ground and glide along. Push with the left foot, push with the right foot, then glide! Top tip: a gentle downward slope will encourage them to lift their feet. Once your child has mastered the movements of cycling, re-introduce the brakes. To make it more fun, try playing games where you shout out words like Go / Slow / Fast and Stop!
Once your child is comfortable with being on the bike and moving forward, it’s time to teach them how to steer. A bike steers by leaning on the handle bars. To help them steer, ask them to lean to the right / left while slightly turning the handle bars. Avoid sharp corners until they’ve built up confidence with gentle curves.
How long will it take to teach my child to ride a balance bike?
Little and often is key, as toddlers will generally only be able to do 30 mins of cycle practice at a time before getting tired, hungry or distracted. All kids learn at their own pace and some may take longer than others to pick up these new skills, but the important thing is that they are enjoying what they are doing!
Here are some tips from some one of our favourite parenting bloggers…
Sam Rickelton from North East Family Fun
“We found taking the kids to a cycle path with a very slight incline worked really well as it helped to give them a little momentum as they were getting started. Also, when you’re moving from a balance bike to their first proper bike, if you remove the pedals and lower the seats for the first few days it will help your children get used to a bigger bike and make the transition from balance to ‘proper’ bike.”
What are the next steps once they’ve mastered the balance bike?
Children usually use a balance bike up until the age of 4 or 5, but again, some kids will progress quicker than others and will be ready to ride a regular bike before their 4th birthday. With the skills they’ve picked up using a balance bike, the transition between riding a balance bike and riding a regular bike will mainly be teaching your kids how to pedal.
Enjoy a Family Cycling Break In Loch Lomond
Loch Lomond is a fantastic location for all the family to get outdoors and enjoy cycling. Whatever your ability, Loch Lomond has a cycle path to suit! Starting in Balloch and ending in Tarbet, the West Loch Lomond Cycle Path is a 17 mile route which has access to some amazing beaches and picnic spots along the way.
Download the route card from Loch Lomond & The Trossachs
There are other, shorter routes, some of which can be found within the ground of our resort, making Cameron Lodges the perfect base for a family cycling holiday in Scotland.