Want to get your kid riding a balance bike fast? Father, avid mountain biker and MTB Direct co-founder Michael shares his tips and tricks for getting your little ones out on a strider or balance bike quickly, easily and confidently!
Why use a balance bike (not training wheels)?
Our experience is that balance bikes are a much better choice than training wheels for teaching the early fundamentals skills of riding. The most essential skill that makes it possible to ride a bike is balance. By balancing I mean, the natural instinct and ability to correct when the bike starts to fall one way, and using momentum to help keep you upright.
A balance bike - which is a simply a small bike designed for toddlers and young children that does not have pedals - is the perfect way to start teaching fundamental bike skills. They move along using their feet, and so as they develop they move faster, keep their feet off the ground more, and hone their balance.
The most common approach parents use to teach their children to ride by using training wheels. While training wheels do give the youngster an immediate sense of enjoyment by getting them moving on the bike, training wheels teaches a child that steering can be done at any time without any respect to their balance. This is not like riding a bike at all, and needs to be unlearned before they will be able to ride a bike without them. If you are interested in how to convert your regular bike into a balance bike please click here.
Getting them started with a balance bike
I recommend getting the smallest balance bike you possibly can get your hands on, putting the seat all the way down so that their feet are flat on the ground when they stand over the seat. Most kids are ready for this around two years of age, though some children may start a little earlier at around 18 months - this largely depends on their height, strength and coordination. Dropping tyre pressures can help get the seat a little lower too.
I found with my kids that they would take to the bike on their terms, in their own time - so I left it outside their bedroom or in other easily accessible places indoors (rather than out of sight in the garage) so they would see it and choose to give it a go in their own time.
How to push and guide a child on a balance bike
It’s really important as a child learns to use a balance bike that you provide enough support for them - so they feel secure and don’t immediately topple over! - without doing all the work for them.
I recommend placing your hand on their lower back, with your fingers under or just on the back of the seat. This way, you can give both the bike and the child a gentle push along at the same time, while also providing a bit of comfort to your child and consistent reassurance that you are still there!
You can guide them gently via the handlebars, to help them learn to steer left and right. However be careful to just guide them, rather than grabbing them too firmly. If you grab onto their hand - or shoulder, etc - too firmly, it can make them feel less in control and more fearful.
How to progress with the balance bike
As your child starts to get a bit more confident, you’ll want to start to encourage them to ‘coast’ along a bit more, rather than walking the bike. I find the best way to do this is to very gradually start sneaking up the seat height (yes, I said sneaking - because any time my kids see me make adjustments to their bikes, they get on and immediately feel uncomfortable and freak out! So I recommend doing this when the kids aren’t looking!).
The idea is that as you sneak the seat up, you are encouraging your child to balance more and use their feet less.
Once they are rolling for longer periods of time with their feet up, you can challenge them to see how far they can go to encourage progress. The next steps from here is to take them to a grass hill with a mellow decline. The grass keeps their speed down, and significantly lowers the stakes if (when!) there is an incident. Then start a little way up from the bottom and before they know it they’ll be able to roll down the whole thing. Once they have this dialled, it’s time to look at mastering the pedal bike!
There will inevitably be a few tumbles, but in the early stages you’ll be right there to catch and reassure them. I try to immediately praise them for their braveness or general rad-ness in having a little tumble, and typically we can avoid the big tears and freakouts. The idea with all things kids and bikes seems to be to keep it positive and light - the goal, more than anything, is to simply enjoy time on the bike!
Once they have this dialled, it’s time to look at mastering the pedal bike!