There are so many milestones that babies reach. First smile, first word, first roll over and then the first hesitant steps and then they are off. Proud moments for any parent!
But now what? What options are there available to keep a toddler active and engaged when outside?
Maybe you considered ride-on toys, but your child will outgrow them quickly.
I know this from first-hand experience. We had already accumulated a garage full of plastic ride-on toys, thinking they were great and that my kids would love them. They didn’t!
The reality is that tricycles tip over and the little ones don’t really learn any skills. Push-along trikes are impossible to negotiate curbs and aren’t a great deal of fun for the toddler as they are just sat in it. Some push-along trikes come with pedals but the toddler can’t reach them or if they do they are in the wrong position to turn them with any success.
There is another way! Have you considered a balance bike?
Surprisingly as soon as your little one can walk, this method of teaching a child to ride on two wheels, can start from as soon as they hit 18 months old.
So why do balance bikes work in teaching a child to learn to ride a bike?
Balance bikes have no pedals. The toddler’s feet are flat on the floor. There is nothing complicated to confuse, so the rider simply starts walking the bike along. Initially, they don’t even sit down and shuffle it along. As the bike leans to one side, the rider will naturally bring it back up-right, in order to move forwards. Balance is being taught without even realizing it.
Stabilisers introduce the concept of pedaling first, but this is the quickest and easiest skill to learn. Bikes with stabilisers are heavy and won’t fit a child until they are three years plus. However once stabilisers are removed, we see children falling over to one side immediately, as they have not learned to balance. As the process of riding a balance bike is instinctive, the kids are simply having fun, gaining speed and confidence, without realizing they are learning. The little ones love the feeling of accomplishment, whilst having fun and they feel safe.
As confidence grows they start sitting down and picking up their feet for longer periods of time, and start moving quicker. This whole time, balance is being learned, motor skills and coordination improving and the child is having fun! It also allows you two free hands to push a buggy, carry shopping and get somewhere quicker.
So how do you choose the correct balance bike?
Choose one that fits your child and that is light enough for them to handle.
Size: Unlike a bike with pedals, feet will be on the floor. Ignore wheel and frame size, the bit that matters is whether they can reach the floor when sitting on the seat. Check the minimum seat height. Always check the inseam of your child.
Don’t rely on age indicators given by manufacturers alone. Some brands will market their bikes for toddlers, but the seat starts at 34cm upwards so they won’t fit for the youngest kids. A good starting point is around the 30 cm mark.
Adjustability You need the bike to grow with your child. Kids tend to ride their balance bikes up to the age of 5. Sure, they can probably transition to a pedal bike before this, but as pedal bikes are heavier, the child often opts for their balance bike as it is easier. I often find they overlap, wanting their balance bike one day, a pedal bike the next. That is fine. Just encourage them on either.
Avoid bikes that don’t tell you the lowest and highest seat positions, as you will want a few years’ use out of the bike. Most metal bikes have the advantage here, as wooden bikes rely on 3-4 pre-drilled positions, so adjustability is poor.
Weight of bike. If a bike won’t state its weight then it is probably because it’s too heavy. Anything over 3.5 k.g is just too heavy for a toddler that only weighs a few KG. When a heavy bike falls over it fightens them and knocks their confidence. Tassels, steel frames, baskets, flags and mudguards all add up. Aluminium is far better than Steel, as it won’t rust and is lighter.
Brakes - do we need them? I am not a fan for the under 4’s. I have seen countless children struggle with a front lever system that they either can’t reach, can’t control the force they use to pull them or worse, take their hands off the handlebars to reach them. If your brakes fail on your bike, then instinct tells you to put your feet down. Toddlers and young children will simply stop with their feet.
Footrest Quality balance bikes have them discreetly built into the frame, under the seat and exactly where pedals will be on their next bike. As well as teaching balance in the correct position, the child can rest feet up on it to take the knocks and bumps in their legs. If you have ever gone off a curb with your feet dangling you won’t do it again as it hurts. It is just the same for advanced balance bike riders. It allows them to put their feet up for longer and coast.
Tyres: Some cheaper bikes go for foam tyres as they are light and cheap to manufacture. They are great for the first few weeks but they don’t last and are uncomfortable as the child gets heavier. Alloy Rims and pneumatics add cost and weight, but last much longer and give a far smoother ride.
So once your researched bike of choice is assembled and ready for the rider what happens next. The simple method is to just leave the bike lying around so the child can pick up and use when they wish.
The child will know what to do. Try not to hold the bike for them, unless they are really young, as the child will figure it out. Gentle encouragement is all that is needed.
Kidvelo has a range of balance bikes, including the perfect first bike – The Rookie 12” balance bike.
Aluminium, pneumatic tyres and the lightest on the market of this type at just 2.93kg. Designed for kids! Built for adventure, our tough bikes will stand the rigours of toddler riding and last until they are nearly 5 years old. A great investment! Learn Balance, improve coordination, tune motor skills and learn to ride a bike, all in a fun proven method.
For more information visit kidvelobikes.co.uk. There is lots of information and ideas on how to get the best out of a balance bike.
About Karen Wood, founder of Kidvelo
– Karen started off retailing balance bikes in 2009 and became the official Strider Distributor for the UK. In 2019, Karen and her husband then stepped up to manufacturing their own brand. Putting their 10 years of knowledge into designing and manufacturing their own range, Kidvelo ® Bikes - just launched in the UK. Kidvelobikes.co.uk