What to Know About a Balance Bike

Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on October 13, 2022

Cycling is a fun activity and a great exercise for kids. A family bike ride is a wonderful way to help your kids get the hour of moderate-to-vigorous exercise they need every day, and learning to ride a two-wheel bike is a major milestone in a child's life. A balance bike is a useful tool that can make this transition easier. 

What Is a Balance Bike? 

A balance bike is a two-wheeled bike without pedals. Kids move the balance bike by sitting on the seat and walking the bike around with their feet. As they gain confidence and skill, they'll learn to push off with their feet and glide on the balance bike. There are typically no brakes on a balance bike, so kids slow down by dragging their feet. Balance bikes separate the skills of balancing and pedaling, so kids only have to focus on learning one at a time.

Balance Bike Benefits

Balance bikes can make the process of learning to ride a two-wheeler easier for kids. When choosing between a balance bike vs training wheels, you might consider some of the benefits of starting with a balance bike, which can be: 

More secure. Balance bikes are lower to the ground because children use their feet to propel them. Very young children can ride them and feel secure with their feet on the ground.

Less expensive. If you buy your child a balance bike, you can avoid buying a tricycle and a 12-inch bicycle with training wheels. If you already have a bike with training wheels, you can convert it to a balance bike by simply removing the pedals and chain.

Safer. Balance bikes are easier to maneuver and less likely to tip over than tricycles. They give kids more control over their speed, so they only go as fast as they're comfortable going. Children can focus completely on balancing, which prepares them in case they start to fall. Because the balance bike is lower to the ground, they can simply put their foot down to stop a fall.

Lighter in weight. Balance bikes don't have pedals or a drivetrain, so they're much lighter than a regular bike. Most balance bikes with a 12-inch wheel weigh between six and nine pounds, whereas a traditional bike with a 12-inch wheel typically weighs 12 to 15 pounds. In fact, a traditional bike can weigh 50% of what your child does.

A lighter bike is easier to maneuver and control and less tiring to ride. Your child will have more stamina and be able to spend more time riding a lighter bike. Imagine having to ride a bike that's half your weight up a hill, and you will better understand the benefits of a lighter bike.

Able to teach better habits. Riding a balance bike teaches children to ride naturally. They don't have to learn a set of skills to ride with training wheels and then unlearn them to ride without them. With a balance bike, kids learn to lean into turns the way they will when they're riding a normal bike. When they're riding a bike with training wheels, they can't lean into turns because the training wheels limit how far the bike will lean.

Children who learn to ride a balance bike generally learn to ride a pedal bike independently at a younger age. While most children learn to ride without training wheels around the age of five or six, children as young as three learn to ride a pedal bike after using a balance bike.

How to Use a Balance Bike

You can buy balance bikes in many sizes for children of all ages. You can start children on a balance bike whenever they're comfortable, but starting around age two-and-a-half is ideal. Put your child's helmet on and make sure it fits correctly. Make sure your child is also wearing sturdy shoes that fit well since they'll probably use their feet to slow down. 

Show your child how to lean the bike a bit and then swing their leg over to get them on the bike. They should sit in the seat with both feet on the ground and their hands on the handlebars. Let your child practice getting on and off the bike several times by themself before they start riding. 

Next, tell your child to walk the bike slowly forward. When they're ready to stop, they can just stop walking. Once they're comfortable walking the bike, though, encourage them to use their feet to push off. For very young children, it may help if you stand in front of them so they can look at you. You want them to look where they're going, not at the ground. 

Let them get comfortable at every stage before you move on to the next one. When they master pushing off the ground, try to get them to keep their feet up for longer periods of time. Using a slight downward slope can make this process easier. Finally, you can add in steering when they're comfortable pushing and gliding. Teach them to lean into their turns and turn the handlebars. 

When your child is around four years old and an expert at riding their balance bike, they can start to transition to a pedal bike. At this point, it should be easy because they've already mastered balancing and steering. 

How to Choose a Balance Bike

It's important to choose a balance bike that fits your child now rather than one they will grow into. Your child should be able to get on the bike easily even at a young age. When they're sitting down, both their feet should be flat on the ground. Look for a bike with plenty of air in the tires so it can easily go over various surfaces. Some balance bikes also come with hand brakes if you want your child to learn to use them. 

Show Sources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Physical Activity Guidelines for School-Aged Children and Adolescents."
Cycling UK: "Video: How to teach your child to ride a balance bike."
Intermountain Healthcare: "The Benefits of Balance Bikes."
USA Cycling: "Balance Bike vs. Training Wheels."

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