The balance bike has to be one of the great (re) inventions of the 21st century. They have transformed how children go about learning to ride a bike. No longer do our kids have to suffer the pain of riding around on stabilisers – balance bikes are the new school, but how do you get your child balance biking like a pro?
The first thing to do is to check that the balance bike you have bought for your child is set up correctly. Your child needs to be able to stand on the bike with their feet flat on the ground. You may need to adjust the seat height up and down as they learn and develop. To start with it needs to be at a safe height so that your child can easily get on and off the bike, and that it is not in their way or affecting their balance.
You also need to check that they can reach the bars and grips comfortably, and if the bike is supplied with brakes (both our PINTO and SKØG bikes have both front and back brakes) that your child can reach the levers easily. It’s really important that your child knows how to stop, whether that is by using their feet or the brakes, before they start balance biking.
We should also mention here that we believe that a light weight bike is hugely important for your child when they are learning to ride. Learning to ride can be tiring, and there will be times when your child falls off. Having a light bike just makes everything easier, safer and more pleasurable. We have more information here about why a lightweight bike is important for your child. And did we say? Our bikes are light.
Children can start balance biking as young as 18 months, but two years old is more common. You need to pick a nice safe area to learn to balance bike on, well away from cars and danger. Parks, playing fields, playgrounds (that allow bikes), your own back or front garden or car free driveway. A flat area is best but somewhere with a very gentle slope will be perfect a little later on (see Push and Glide).
With your child sat on the bike seat with their feet on the ground and their legs slightly bent just get them to start walking with the bike. At first it may seem a bit cumbersome, but your child should soon start to get used to how the bike feels. It is best just to let them play around like this for quite some time, it may be hours, days or weeks. There is no point rushing this stage, and you as a parent are the best judge to know when your child is ready to move on.
As your child becomes more comfortable on the bike they will start to feel how it reacts to their inputs and to understand a little about how things work. You should start to encourage them to take larger steps, and then eventually to take bigger strides. They will hopefully start to ‘bound’ along, getting faster and more confident. Make sure that they are looking ahead at where they are going and not down at their feet. This will make them more aware of their surroundings but also how the bike feels through their body and opposed seeing what it is doing through their eyes.
Push & Glide
As your child takes bigger strides they should grow in confidence. This usually means that they will start to go faster and really build up speed. This is when they need to start lifting their feet off the ground momentarily. We call it ‘push and glide’. As they push down and back with their feet (stride) they should begin to have the coordination and skill to glide along with their feet off the ground. It might only be for a brief second, but as the saying goes, practice makes perfect. Don’t worry if this don;’t pick it up straight away.The more time your child can spend on their bike the quicker they should gain the skills. This might also be a good time to slightly raise the height of the seat (they should still be able to touch the ground with their feet), and to move to an area with a very slight downward slope.
Speed can be your friend
Like many sports, speed can be your friend. Most things that involve movement and balance (skateboarding, surfing, skiing, etc.) are usually easier if a little bit of speed is involved. We are not talking about flat-out zooming around the place, just a good bit of gentle speed! But don’t forget, one of the most important things about going fast is...
As mentioned at the start, being able to stop is important. Your child can use their feet (new shoes please) or the brakes on their bike. Make sure your child knows how to stop before they get too confident!
Don't worry about turning
When first learning to ride being able to turn can be tricky for some children. If space is limited you tend to see children just go in a straight line, then stop and pick the front end of their bike up and bounce it around until they are facing the direction they have just come from. If you are in an area that has a bit more space then some children will automatically begin to turn, usually in big arcs at first, but that is fine.
It’s also good to remember that you don’t just steer a bike by turning the handlebars, subtly leaning the bike will also make it turn. You almost can’t teach this, it is just intuitive… you just do it.
Learning to ride a balance bike is the perfect start to any child’s cycling life. It is a safe and fun way to get your child onto two wheels, and it is the perfect stepping stone for the transition to a bike with pedals.