Video: How to teach your child to ride a balance bike
What is a balance bike?
A balance bike is a small bike for toddlers. It has no pedals and rather fat pneumatic tyres. Most bikes come with one brake, although most toddlers will slow down using their feet at first so choose their shoes wisely (no Crocs or flip-flops).
If your child is a bit bigger, you can just remove the pedals on a standard bike and transform it into a balance bike.
Why choose a balance bike?
There are many reasons to choose a balance bike instead of a bike with stabilisers or a trike as your child’s first bike. Most cycle instructors agree it’s best to learn to balance first, before moving onto pedalling unaided.
Your child will have more control over the bike and will learn to slow down and stop properly right from the start.
Bikes with stabilisers are often not stable on bumpy or slightly sloping ground and make your child think they are balancing when they are not. This can lead to a habit of over-leaning that they will then have to unlearn when they are trying to ride by themselves.
Once the stabilisers are removed your child will have to learn to balance and steer, as well as pedalling.
At Cycling UK we believe the most important thing is that all children learn to ride a bike and we’re not saying if you have a bike with stabilisers you shouldn’t use it. As both parents and professionals we believe balance bikes provide an easier way to learn.
If you choose for your child to wear a helmet, make sure it is on properly. It needs to cover their forehead and the straps should be tight.
Checking the bike
The tyres must be pumped up. The saddle shouldn’t be wobbly and the brake should work.
Getting on and off a bike
You need to show your child to lean the bike and then swing their leg over. It’s easier to get them to stand with the bike on their right and lean the bike towards them.
Both feet should be flat on the ground and both hands should be on the handlebars. Make sure your child can reach the brake comfortably.
Practice getting on and off the bike, don’t just lift your toddler onto the bike.
Ask the child to have a go at walking slowly with the bike.
Explain that when they want to stop, they just stop walking.
Encourage your child to walk again and this time push on the ground using their feet. Remember to encourage them to look where they are going, not at their feet. They will need to sit up and look straight ahead.
It helps to have someone up ahead to look at, as toddlers are easily distracted.
Do this many times and your child will naturally sit on the saddle and pick up speed. If they want to slow down just remind them to put their feet down.
Lifting their feet up
As your child gains confidence, try to encourage longer scoots. We found it helpful to say “push, push, glide”.
Choose a very gentle slope and encourage them to lift their feet off the ground.
Practice makes perfect, so you will need to try this again and again.
Once they have mastered lifting their feet, you can help them to steer the bike by getting them to lean and turning the handlebars gently.
If they are ready, you can show them how to squeeze the brake gently to help slow down.
Play simple games like shouting “Stop!” and “Go!”, “Slow!” and “Fast!” to help keep it fun.
Always stop before your child is tired, bored or hungry. A toddler can probably only cope with about half an hour of cycling practice. So take the balance bike out little and often and soon your toddler will be zooming about.
Remember to make it fun, keep it positive and be encouraging even if the progress is slow and you end up carrying the bike home!
When are they ready for pedals?
Normally, when your child is around four years old and has been regularly using a balance bike, you will find the transition to riding a pedal bike without stabilisers fairly straightforward as they have already learned to balance, steer and brake.
To move onto the next step, you can watch our video and read more about how to teach a child to ride a bike.