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What Is a Balance Bike?

Updated 6 July 2022

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Author avatar Danny Ashton

Danny is the father of a 5-year-old who loves video games and a very active 2-year-old who is always playing outside. He has made plenty of mistakes buying toys in the early years of parenthood, so hopes he can help others avoid the same fate.

Balance bikes are becoming more and more popular among parents with small children. They’re often touted as a more effective and faster way to teach young riders key balance skills and get them on a “real” bike, fast. If you’re considering a balance bike, you want to know what makes them so great, or you’re trying to figure out what a balance bike is so you can follow your friends’ discussions, you’ve come to the right place.

Rather than pedaling a balance bike, the rider uses their feet to propel themselves forwards. If you’ve ever ridden a bike with a low seat, you’ve probably noticed that you can touch the ground with your shoes while you’re sitting down. By removing the pedals on a traditional bicycle, balance bikes give the rider plenty of room to use their legs to push themselves forward.

What Are Balance Bikes Used For?

Balance bikes are commonly used by young children who are developing the skills they need to ride a more traditional bike.

On a traditional bike, the rider’s feet are usually involved in the action of pedaling. When the bike starts to tip over, the rider must disentangle their feet from the pedals in order to use their legs to arrest their fall. This is especially relevant during the slow-speed tip-overs that dominate a child’s early hours on a bicycle.

On a balance bike, by contrast, the rider’s feet are perfectly free at all times. Riders can keep their feet mere inches above the ground, giving them the confidence they need to begin to balance on the wheels and experiment with riding techniques. When the bike begins to tip over, the rider can easily stick out a leg to regain their balance, avoiding painful falls that might discourage the rider from continuing with their learning experience.

traditional bikes vs balance bikes

Many modern cycling experts think that balance bikes are much better at teaching key cycling skills than bikes equipped with training wheels. When a skilled rider balances a bike, they correct small shifts in the bike’s balance through a combination of steering the handlebars, shifting their weight, and manipulating the pedals. Training wheels prevent these minor unbalances from occurring at all, as the wheels keep the bike upright. Some critics argue that this teaches new riders incorrect steering techniques and prevents them from learning correct countersteering habits. On a balance bike, by contrast, no such support exists, so the rider is forced to utilize the correct steering and weight-shifting techniques immediately.

History Of Balance Bikes

No-pedal bicycles, called dandy horses, predate the pedal-driven bicycle by several years. Between 1817 and the 1860s, dandy horses were used as an alternative to walking or horse-based transportation. These devices were quickly phased out in favor of pedal-based transportation in the late 1800s.

dandy horse bike 1820

The modern balance bike as a learning tool seems to have resurfaced around 2007. Ryan McFarland removed the pedals from a toddler bike to help his two-year-old learn and noticed that it seemed to be an effective learning tool. He founded the company Strider Bikes to market and produce balance bikes for other parents to use as safe teaching environments.

Balance Bikes vs Training Wheels: Which Is Better?

Anecdotal evidence from well-connected modern parents seems to suggest that balance bikes are more effective than bikes with training wheels at teaching children to ride quickly. There are numerous reasons for this:

1) Balance bikes immediately teach countersteering and balance techniques without the additional complication of pedaling.

2) Balance bikes give an increased feeling of safety as kids have more control over the bike.

3) Balance bikes allow your child to progress at their own pace, while training wheels require adjustment from an adult to move on to the next phase of learning.

That being said, it’s worth remembering that balance bikes are a useful tool, not a magic pill that will instantly teach your child how to ride.

Many of the complaints about balance bikes come from parents who attempt to extract quick results through constant coaching and structured training. One of the biggest benefits of a balance bike is that you don’t need to do that: your child will find “gliding” along with their feet up fun and will naturally do it more and more, picking up key bike balance skills along the way.

The biggest downside of a balance bike is the cost. A bike with training wheels will eventually become a regular bicycle whereas a balance bike might not. Many parents get around this downside by simply purchasing a normal children’s bicycle and removing the pedals. These can be re-attached at a later date to restore the bicycle to its full functionality. This DIY balance bike approach has the added benefit of giving you a platform for training wheels should you decide to switch methods.

Why doesn’t my child want to ride their balance bike?

Some children learn at different paces than others, and your child’s environment might shape how they learn. If your kid keeps asking you for a bike with training wheels (probably because of the influence of siblings, peers, or media), they might be disappointed by the idea of a balance bike and resist the idea of using it as a learning tool.

Toddlers are not rational beings, so sometimes cooperating with their unreasonable demands can be easier than trying to negotiate with them. If your kid hates their balance bike, you might make some progress by giving them a bicycle with training wheels instead.

Why can’t my child ride a bike like all the other kids?

There’s no reason to rush teaching your kids riding skills. Just because you, your friends’ kids or your other children learned to ride a bike at a certain age, it doesn’t mean your kid needs to match that rate of skill progression.

There’s no race. Give your child the space they need to experiment with their preferred riding vehicle at a pace that makes sense for them. Stressing out over your kid’s “slow learning” will simply cause frustration for both you and your child. Instead, focus on having fun and let the learning come more naturally.

Balance Bikes: A Fun Learning Alternative

Balance bikes are becoming more popular among savvy parents. These pedal-less bicycles offer a fun alternative to training wheels for new riders beginning their exploration of biking skills. By emphasizing balance-related techniques in a safe environment and giving the rider control over the pace of learning, balance bikes can help new riders become proficient cyclists faster than traditional alternatives. This creative use has given the oldest bicycle variant new life and purpose almost 200 years after its introduction.