Balance bikes. Whoever thought of taking a bike, sizing it down to fit a tiny person (aka a toddler), removing the pedals, and allowing the said child to experience the joy and challenge of biking too.... was a genius. In my mind at least.
Balance Bikes, or Push Bikes as some call them, are gaining in popularity, and for good reason. I have seen younger and younger kids getting involved in biking and learning to ride independently than even a couple years ago. Transitioning from a balance bike to a big kid bike is so easy and natural for a young child as they already have the balancing down (the hard part of learning to bike), and it involves no training wheels. If you are not familiar with balance bikes, it is essentially a pedal-less bike, that the child sits on the seat and pushes with their legs instead of pedalling, lifting up their feet and gliding as they learn to balance.
My 3 year old learned on a borrowed balance bike for a while and then was riding with 2 wheels in a matter of a day, as she just had to figure out the pedals and the brakes. Brakes are important to learn too! At that time our 15 month old was just itching to ride a bike too, but literally did not fit on the balance bike, so we waited. Spring rolled around, and she turned 2, and her birthday present was, lo and behold, her own balance bike! She was thrilled! There was still snow on the ground, but she was off. And she has been glued to her bike since.
There are lots of options for balance bikes now, and even high-end bike manufactures are making balance bikes for kids now. You can get rubber or hard foam wheels, hand brakes (actually a great idea), and bikes that convert from balance to pedal. There are lots of options with a wide price range. We bought our balance bike from Canadian Tire (nothing special but it works great), and will last her and the next kids coming along behind her. I think we may still add hand brakes (which is not hard to do) to her bike.
So anyway, I love balance bikes. It has been so natural for my 2 year old to learn to ride and I think most importantly, she is able to be part of the biking group. She rides along with her sisters on their bikes, on the trails through the woods, on the pump track, over wooden bridges, through the grass, on gravel, on the sidewalk, everywhere. Try riding a bike with training wheels on a bike trail through the woods, it isn't going to happen. And she can fly too! I have to run to keep up with her! I love hearing her say "YaaHoooo!" when biking the trails, "Me go faster!" when riding on gravel or pavement, and "Big!" when going up and down the hills on the pump track. It is building her confidence, balance, coordination, determination and strength that riding in a trailer behind mom certainly can't do.
I have some tips that I have found with my own kids learning to ride using a balance bike.
Bring the bike everywhere. When my 2 year old first started riding, she loved to ride, but would get tired and cold (it was spring) fairly fast. So I would walk with our bike trailer/stroller and when she would tire, I would pop the whole bike in the back of the trailer, and take a break. A couple minutes later she would want to ride again. Just having the bike available was huge. Take it to the park. Take it on a picnic. She would ride it for a few minutes then go pick flowers. Soon she got stronger and it got warmer and she was able to last longer and longer. Now she can sit on her bike (riding and stopping and watching birds) for 1 1/2 hrs easy.
Have patience. When she was first learning, it was painfully slow. Especially with a 2 year old who stops every 2 feet to comment on the rocks or the grass or say, "Me ride bike!" over and over. We would go to a nature park across the street and I would let the 3 big girls ride while I stuck with the new biker. At first, she couldn't figure out how to turn the handles to steer and would have to get off the bike to re-position her bike. Anyway it was slow at first (aren't most new things you learn?), but within a couple weeks, she could ride faster than she could run, turn, and walk her bike over bumps if she needed.
Encourage and make it fun! We take our bikers to pump-tracks, mountain biking trails, and places they can ride fast (can't do that very well on sidewalks alone). They learn so many more skills and challenges them, and of course, encourage them and have a positive attitude. Keep biking fun!
Wear a helmet. I put this point last, not because it is less important, but that it should already be assumed that kids are wearing a helmet, even on a balance bike. It is still a bike, and they will fall off too! You can read about the helmet we use for our littlest heads of the family HERE.
Balance bikes are a great way for the little ones of the family to be involved in biking alongside everyone else, and that is why I love them! What about you? Do you have a balance bike of one of your kids? Do you have any tips to share? I would love to hear them! Happy biking everyone!