For generations, training wheels were the go-to method for teaching young children how to ride a two-wheeled bicycle. In recent years, though, a new tool has emerged as the ideal way for toddlers and preschoolers to learn balancing and steering skills that will prepare them for pedal bikes – the balance bike. Unlike tricycles or bikes with training wheels, balance bikes (also known as run bikes or no-pedal bikes) have no pedals, gears, or drive train. Kids simply use their feet to push themselves along and glide, developing critical coordination, balance, and motor skills in the process.
Mastering Balance and Coordination
One of the biggest challenges for children learning to ride a bicycle is balancing. Training wheels prevent the bicycle from tipping over, but they also prevent kids from developing a feel for balancing themselves on two wheels. According to the experts over at Woom, a balance bike means that children as young as 18 months can scoot around and work on staying upright. They quickly learn how to use their body weight to steer the bike and keep it stable. Training wheels never allow for this type of natural experimentation and skill building.
As kids coast along on balance bikes using their feet to stop and start gliding, they gain an innate sense of balance and control over the bike. Their coordination improves as they practice turning, speeding up, slowing down, and maneuvering around obstacles. These are all critical skills for balancing on and operating a real bicycle. The beauty of the balance bike is that kids subconsciously develop these abilities just through play.
In addition to balance, learning to steer is the other major skill kids need to ride a two-wheeler. Training wheels completely prevent children from practicing proper steering techniques. The wheels keep the bicycle vertical and moving in a straight line regardless of whether the child attempts to turn the handlebars. This gives a false sense of steering aptitude.
With a balance bike, steering mistakes result in natural consequences that teach kids proper techniques. If they turn too sharply or improperly, the bike will tip and they will have to put a foot down to regain stability. Through trial and error, children quickly learn how to control the handlebars and wheels to maneuver in the desired direction. These steering fundamentals give them the tools to successfully operate a real bicycle.
Developing Leg and Core Strength
Gliding along on a balance bike relies heavily on leg strength as kids use their feet to propel themselves. This builds powerful leg muscles they will need for pedaling. Balance bikes also help strengthen toddlers’ back and core muscles as they work to remain upright and control the bike. This conditioning pays dividends when kids graduate to pedal bikes, allowing them to ride longer with less fatigue. Balance bikes let kids build up this key muscle memory and endurance gradually and naturally through play.
Fostering Independence and Self-Confidence
Training wheels tend to keep kids dependent on mom or dad holding the back of the bike steady during those tentative first rides. Balance bikes empower children with independent mobility at an early age. As soon as they develop the coordination to walk and run, they can operate a balance bike. This independence breeds self-confidence and a sense of maturity.
The balance bike has emerged as the ideal way for children as young as 18 months to learn all the skills needed to safely ride a traditional bicycle. Through self-directed play, kids master balancing, steering, stopping, safety, and strength on appropriately sized balance bikes. Ultimately, balance bikes provide the smoothest, safest transition to two-wheelers, setting children up for a lifetime of cycling enjoyment.