Are Balance Bikes Better Than Training Wheels?
Which is best - a balance bike or a pedal bike with training wheels?
Balance bikes are a relatively new thing so why are they so popular and are they really any better than a kids bike with training wheels. In short, we think the answer is yes, for a number of reasons outlined below.
Most parents today will have learnt to ride a bike with training wheels/stabilisers. The day those stabilisers came off was a big deal, and lots of wobbling later, when you took your first unaided lap around the park, the sense of achievement was incredible.
The thing is that while you might have mastered riding with the training wheels, riding without them is a different game entirely, and takes a lot of getting used to while you find your balance.
Balance Bike vs Training Wheels
With a pedal bike children learn the art of pedalling first while being supported by the stabilisers. Training wheels are great as they keep them upright but they stop children from understanding how moving their body and steering affects their balance.
When the training wheels come off kids then have to learn the more complex skill of balancing. Stabilisers can stop children from learning to counter-steer and lead them to learn bad habits that have to be unlearnt when they start to ride without them.
By contrast with a balance bike children learn to balance and steer first without their feet being on the pedals. Children start off by walking with their bums on the seats, then running and finally cruising along with their legs in the air. And you might be surprised how quickly some kids get to this stage.
Once children have got the hang of steering and cruising they are then ready to learn the easier skill of pedalling, although they will probably be more than happy scooting along on a balance bike for quite some time.
Reasons to choose a balance bike over a bike with stabilisers or training wheels
First off a child can generally start to use a balance bike before they would be able to ride a traditional pedal bike, even with training wheels. Balance bikes tend to be smaller and lighter (or smaller and lighter versions are available) so children can start to ride from around 18 months.
Balance bikes are better on rough terrain making them more fun to ride. They have a low centre of gravity, they are easy to steer and manoeuvre, and brilliant for pump tracks and off-roading where stabilisers would just get in the way.
Obviously a balance bike without brakes will be more difficult to control on a steep slope. Kids quickly become expert at using their feet to slow down but that does mean they can get through shoes pretty quickly.
Another benefit, especially for little kids, is that a balance bike can only go as fast as they can run unless they are going downhill, so provided you keep them on the flat there won't be any high-speed crashes while they're getting the hang of it. But of course, once they've mastered the art they will want to go as fast as they can so a helmet is a must and little riding gloves can be handy to protect their palms.
If you've been convinced that a balance bike is better for children to learn to ride you might be wondering if they are safe and how children stop. We take a closer look at how do you stop on a balance bike here.