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“Balance Bikes Are Stupid!”

A bike with no pedals.

The idea seems silly. Like a scooter that you sit on.

I remember when my husband came home with a balance bike for our three-year-old. I thought he had lost his mind. “What is he supposed to do with that?” I asked him. “All the pros start their kids on them. They never need training wheels if you teach them to glide on these!”

I didn’t believe him, so he started pulling up videos of tiny children flying down driveways and rolling down ramps with their legs raised high and giggles surrounding them. They were fast, and they were balanced, and they were having fun.

The concept is pretty basic. Once your toddler is past the need for a solid sitting surface like on a tricycle or scooting car, you want them to learn balance before pedaling. It’s been proven that for most kids it’s harder to overcome the dependency on training wheels than it is to add pedaling to a balancing skill.

So instead of creating a training wheel dependency, you put your three-year-old on a two-wheel bike where they can put their feet firmly on the ground, and the faster they go, the better they get at raising their feet and coasting. Once they are coasting well, you can get them ramps and some downhill slopes so that they will coast and steer at the same time.

Once your child can coast through a turn, you can add pedals to their bike or get them a bike with pedals.

A tip for this transition is to get them a properly fitting bicycle with pedals but to remove the actual pedals for the first while. Let them transition their coasting skills to the new fit, and then put the pedals back on. Let them try pedaling on a downhill slope where they are used to doing a long coast, and it should only take them a few minutes to figure out how to pedal and continue their long coast.

In countries where it’s traditional to start with a balance bike instead of pedals, most children can transition to a two-wheel system by 4-5 years old, whereas most American children are using trainers until they are 5-7, and sometimes 8 years old.

Now my kid is outside on his 2-wheel bike every day, riding up and down our road. It’s been 5 years since my husband brought home that tiny blue balance bicycle, but he occasionally pulls it out of the garage and coasts down our back hill on it, legs raised to the sides and a grin plastered across his face.