Teaching your child to ride a bike can be one of the most exciting experiences for you and your little one and an amazing milestone. You get to watch them develop a new skill while improving their motor skills, decision making and determination. Riding a bike is challenging. You can’t make it any easier for them, but you can guide them through the process and revel in their delight when they finally figure it out. There are many options for getting your child on a bike, and one of the biggest choices to make is whether to use training wheels or a balance bike. Below, we discuss some of the aspects of learning to ride a bike and how each of these options compares.
Safety note: No matter what kind of bike you choose, remember your child should wear a helmet from the start!
BALANCING ON WHEELS
When you show your child their first bike, and they dash over to climb on – how easy is it for them to get started? Bikes with training wheels are easy for a kid to hop onto and sit on, but they are much more limited in movement. Pedals are a tricky thing for young toddlers to figure out, and sometimes just tackling the pedals can be too much for them in their stage of motor development.
But balance bikes, like the Specialized Hot Walk have no pedals, so your child can learn balance without the pedals knocking against their legs. Balance bikes are propelled by the same basic motion as walking and have the added comfort of kids being able to keep their feet close to the ground while they are learning. And if you start with the correct-sized balance bike, as long as your child can walk, they can start moving forward on a balance bike.
GOING OFF ROAD WITH BALANCE BIKES
If you have a bike with training wheels, you are pretty limited in the terrain that they can ride on. You need a flat, even, hard surface for them to be able to move with the training wheels. A balance bike can be used almost anywhere – a flat surface like a driveway, grass, easy dirt trails and even smaller hills.
An advantage to balance bikes is that if you live somewhere where there are hills, your child can navigate them with their bike in about the same way they walk up them. Pedaling up hills is hard and discouraging for little legs, but kids can walk balance bikes, which are innovative and lightweight starting at 7 lbs, up hills more easy. Balance bikes also help kids build strength when they make the eventual switch to pedals.
Some people do not really “get” balance bikes at first. A bike with no pedals what’s the point? Then they see some kids at a local park on balance bikes and some riding a bike with training wheels. The kids on balance bikes ride them much like a normal bike in a continuous flow. The children on the training wheels have to stop and turn themselves around whenever they reach grass and keep having to ask mom to come over for help. Balance bikes allow more independent learning and more ability to develop not just the motor skills but also decision making, independence and confidence.
Balance bikes allow for a more seamless transition to a pedal bike than training wheels. With training wheels, your child will already have the pedaling motion down, but no concept of balance. They will have to learn how to keep the bike upright and deal with what happens when they fall.
Balance bikes teach children balance. It gives them the opportunity to deal with falling right from the start when they are going slow, so it is not a new experience when they make the switch. Because pedaling can be challenging, a child experienced with a balance bike will know how to maintain balance and save themselves with their feet when they begin to tip over.