About 3 years ago whilst working as a community cycling coordinator, I was talking to a colleague in the office who remarked how much fun his son was having on his balance bike. At this time I had no idea what these were, so he explained to me that a balance bike was a lightweight pedal-less bike for children as young as 18 months to help them learn to cycle. After researching the benefits of these types of bikes and seeing children whizzing around on them in parks and to and from school, I wondered why stabilisers are still used when we have these little nifty things, yet I was coming across children age 6 plus who were still stuck on bike stabilisers.
My response to this is why I am here writing this today as we have set up a structured programme of courses for children to have fun and learn to cycle safely by using the balance first method of balance bikes in the learning process as opposed to stabilisers.
The issue with stabilisers is not only do they make a rickety noise but once removed a child still has to learn the most important aspect of riding a bike which is balance as they are learning to pedal first so by using a balance bike this whole process is reserved so a child is learning balance first before introducing pedals. When you think of it like that it makes you think why are stabilisers actually still widely used? A answer to this might be that these are often displayed in shops attached onto the bikes so you kind of feel they are a part of the bike and therefore must be used.
At Mini Wheelers we love balance bikes as we use these throughout our level 1 course and in the first 3 weeks of our level 2 course as they really are the best way to get children on two wheels smoothly and quickly as we have proven with the number of new cyclists we have trained since opening our doors in 2016. We have a variety of sizes of them and for our older children we use this same method by removing the pedals of their bike and lowering the saddle to make it into a balance bike which is just as effective.
I taught my daughter to cycle by using the balance bike method which was a very enjoyable experience as from been 18 months we would play out in the garden and take it out with us as they are so easy to throw in the car due to the size and weight. It was amazing to see my daughters skills and confidence increase by using a balance bike and you could see the fun she was having picking her feet up down hills and other terrain! I feel that it is very important to offer lots of praise and encouragement during this stage and if they do have the odd slip or trip try to get them back on as soon as possible so this doesn't become a lasting memory and potentially a barrier. After getting her a bike for Christmas last year just before her third birthday she took instantly to her bike with pedals after some encouragement and reassurance which I knew she would as I could see she now had all the important skills needed to ride a bike including balance, coordination and a feel for how a bike steers already as a result of using a balance bike.
Today she is extremely confident on her bike, and we regularly go on bike rides around our local area where people often STOP in amazement and say look at that little girl with no stabilisers - by this point I have no time to stop and chat as I have to pedal on to catch her up!
In summary, I cannot recommend balance bikes enough for children and parents when it comes to starting to learn to cycle as not only are they a fantastic learning tool, but they are brilliant fun as well!
I would love to hear your thoughts on own experiences of using balance bikes by commenting on this post!