This spring, my 4-year-old learned to ride a pedal bicycle in two days. The first day, she asked my husband or me to run alongside, perhaps holding the handlebars or steadying her back. The next day, she was riding on her own.
Why was she so quick to learn? And how did she skip the fear of falling?
I think it’s because she rode balance bikes (also known as push bikes or scoot bikes) for more than a year before switching to a regular bike with pedals. The balance bicycle is essentially two wheels plus a seat and handlebars. It has no pedals, no chains, and no training wheels. This setup lets kids push with their feet on the ground and get a feel for coasting, balancing, and steering. When they want to stop, they simply put their feet down. No falling over. No big fears.
At first, my daughter pretty much walked along with the balance bike between her legs. But as she got more confident, she sought out hills to glide down with her feet in the air. She never went down anything very steep, though, and was always able to stop with the simple “foot brakes” of putting her sneakers on the pavement.
I knew she was ready for a regular bike when she started gliding downhill and pretending to pedal in the air. Still I was surprised that the transition went so quickly. As I remember it, learning to ride a two-wheeler after getting used to training wheels was much more difficult.
I count myself lucky to have missed the back-breaking chase after a wobbly cyclist who wants mom to hold on. I did it only twice. So while I don’t know of any research that proves kids learn to ride faster if they start on a balance bicycle, it sure seems easier.
My daughter first rode a balance bicycle that was designed for the purpose. When that seemed too small, she rode a homemade balance bike: a regular kid’s bicycle with the pedals taken off (see photo). Either works. If you have a child ready to start riding, I recommend you give one or the other a try. Your back may thank you.