Balance Bikes are Not for Every Kid, Including My Daughter

I confess, as the owner of a business designed to empower transportation focused cyclists, I have barely spent any time attempting to teach my daughter to ride a bicycle, and she is almost six.

Her birthday is next month. So I’ve resolved to get her a nice bike and make things right.


Amelia Lipton, Lifestyle Test Pilot

When my daughter was two or so, I brought home a balance bike from the shop and thought my work was done. But no one told me that not every kid is instantly attracted to balance bikes, frothing at the mouth to compete in the Strider world championships.

She had fun on the balance bike, but most of the fun involved me crouching over, grabbing the handlebars and pushing her around the yard, which was a little bit of fun for me, but not turning her into a precocious cyclist.

We didn’t want to try to push her into something she wan’t interested in, so we let it be.  I did occasionally try to coax her to push the balance bike on her own, but it was a losing battle.

It began to dawn on me that balance bikes were not the end-all, be all to kids learning to ride bikes, as I’d had been beaten into me by their proponents, and then propagated onwards to our customers.  Some kids need another way.

amelia-on-burley-balance-bike

 

After our floundering around with the balance bike, which has since been inherited by Amelia’s little brother, who has ignored it  with similar disdain, we’ve moved onto several other devises.

Much to my dismay, for Amelia’s fourth birthday, her grandparents got her a princess bike with training wheels.  While balance bikes were not the answer for Amelia, a princess bicycle was definitely not the answer for her bicycle advocating dad.  I begrudgingly assembled that piece of junk on Christmas morning and took her first ride.  And while she liked it to a certain extent and had a little fun, it really wasn’t the answer either.  She wasn’t really learning to ride and it basically has just entered the rotation of toys that occasionally gets pulled out.

While the princess bike has languished, one of Amelia’s other Grandma’s acquired an old school tricycle for her.  Now that has been a truly big hit for Amelia and Jackson.  As pictured below, they’ve had a blast riding around together.

amelia-and-jackson-riding-the-tricycle

While I may have been slacking along the lines of teaching Amelia to ride, there has been no shortage of bicycle riding for Amelia.  It’s just that she’s only been a passenger.  From our Xtracycle with Yepp Maxi Easyfit setup to riding with her brother in the Thule Chariot Cougar 2 to our Surly ECR outfitted with Yepp Maxi and Yepp Mini capable of taking the kids on some easy trails, she’s seen the gamut of child transportation by bike.

amelia-and-jackson-on-Surly-ECR-with-Yepp

But now it is time to teach her to learn the joy and freedom of riding on her own.

Last week I called up Cleary Bikes and ordered Amelia an Owl.  Ryan at Cleary bikes who also happens to be a very experienced cycling instructor, gave me the key points of how he teaches children to start riding bicycles.  He says if a kid can walk in a straight line he can teach them to ride in 1 to 3 hours, and more typically towards an hour.

His key points were:

  1. Get the cyclist to focus their weight down through the seat.  Their legs should be loosely balancing them with 90% of the weight on the bike.
  2. The cyclist should always be looking ahead  – not down.
  3. Begin without the pedals (the cranks and chain can also be removed if desired), getting comfortable with balancing and pushing the bike around, basically the same idea behind balance bikes.
  4. Once they are comfortable with balancing the bike, get them to pedal.
  5. When they are successful, don’t get overly excited just, let’s do it again and keep going until they really have it down.

I’ll be attempting this next month with my daughter and will be reporting back with what I learn.  Wish me luck!


If you have any great tips or tricks for teaching kids to ride a bike or just some funny stories, we’d love to hear them in the comments below.

 


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6 thoughts on “Balance Bikes are Not for Every Kid, Including My Daughter”

  1. Tad Reeves says:

    Well, for me, I’m one of those “balance bike” guys who has been preaching the balance bike thing ever since getting ours. I’ve got three kids, and we got my daughter a balance bike when she was about 18 mos old. She didn’t use it at all, actually, for the first two years. It sat as a useless object until one winter, when she was 4, and she just started using it to do laps in our basement. She spent hours on that thing, and soon was able to balance on her own without her feet down. As soon as we had a thaw, I decided to give a go to sticking her on her pedal bike, and it was shocking – in literally about 5 minutes, she was on the pedal bike, biking on her own.

    So, the balance bike then went to my son, who’s 17 mos younger than the big sister. He LOVED that thing, and owing to its stability, took it everywhere, doing all kinds of crazy stunts. It actually was only hard getting him onto a pedal bike because he had so little interest – it was only when he couldn’t keep up with his sister anymore that he decided to scrap it and go for a proper pedal bike.

    My youngest is 2, and she’s content to sit in the WeeHoo trailer when we go for rides – so I guess we’ll see how that one goes.

  2. John says:

    First day on a bike, my dad took me to the top of a grassy hill behind my grandparents’ house, held on for 10′ or so and pushed. I went flailing down the hill until I lost momentum, or hit a big bump, and fell. Then I had to walk it back up the hill. Over and over all day long until I got it. I think I was 4, maybe 5.

  3. Tuffshed says:

    First off I would try helping them balance by manipulating their shoulders to steer the bike under them. Much of an adults steering inputs are from the shoulders, imagine if someone were to grab the bars on your bike?! I had my son riding his balance bike before age two and riding with pedals before age 3. It took less than a half hour for him to get reasonably competent on the balance bike on level ground, quite a while longer with some epic crashes learning to brake with both feet on hills. We used the wooden Scut(?) bike as the handlebars can’t get turned far enough to hit him in the stomach on most falls. At the end of the day tho all that matters is that they are having fun and can share in their family’s activity.

  4. Dan says:

    I have two daughters. Bought a balance bike for the older one, and she never took to it. She’d go on it, but never really learned to balance, just sort of shuffled along.
    Her scooter, however, she loved.
    My younger daughter took to it really fast. She could balance like a pro.
    Now my older daughter has graduated to a two-wheeled scooter, and learned to balance on that. She still doesn’t ride her bike, but now she’s got the balance thing I’m sure she’ll get there soon.
    Some kids like bikes. Some like scooters. Some like trikes. And some don’t dig any of them.
    One of the big differences I see compared to when we were kids is that a bike is really just a kind of a toy, or at least a recreation. When I was a kid, it was freedom. From a young age we’d go out on our bikes in the street on our own, ride to the park and so on. So there was a huge incentive to learn to ride so you could keep up with your friends.
    Nowadays, we either can’t or won’t or don’t let kids do that. So the incentive to learn to ride a bike is not really there.

  5. Jess says:

    My boys wouldn’t do a balance bike, so I went for the the training wheels – at least then they were riding a bike. They were both very cautious, so they didn’t ride without training wheels until peer-pressure set in (age 7 for one, age 8 for the other – one day they didn’t want them anymore so I took them off and they rode just fine). My daughter, however, is a dare-devil, and was absolutely determined to ride without training wheels before she turned 6. She had been riding with the ‘bendy’ training wheels. Then, I did the old-fashioned hold-the-seat-and-let-go thing (made much easier by having a banana-seat bike with the handle on the back of the seat). She worked hard and was riding with no problems right around her 6th birthday. Now, she’s 8 and into bmx 🙂

  6. Robert Johnson says:

    Nice article, nice sentiments. There are a lot of different people in the world, so a moments contemplation suggests there are lot of different ways of teaching something. Brave of you to speak about your experience with balance bikes when, as you say, they are the trend of the moment.

    I have a Cleary Owl and it revolutionized both my kids school commutes because of the light weight and excellent riding position. They were confidently climbing hills that the previous heavy bikes and high handlebars made very difficult. Good luck!

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