Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Balance bike or stabilisers?

We have a policy on Christmas (and indeed birthday) presents: try and get them something that we'd be buying them anyway.  It's worked so far, although I realise it probably won't for much longer, and certainly not once they hit school and peer pressure.

Anyway, this year, with L four and a half and S and A coming up three, we think it's time we introduced another life skill.  Time to get up on two wheels.  Bikes it is.

But even the world of bikes is not as straightforward as it was when my parents bought me "Bobcat" thirty-odd years ago.  There are now choices:  do we go for the tried and tested stabilisers, or the modern and trendy balance bike?

I rather feel that for L, we have missed the boat (if that's the right metaphor in this context) with a balance bike, although that might simply be because you tend to see very small children on them, and not the slightly bigger ones, but that for S and A, we could decide to go either way.

Fortunately we have cousins, and fortunately the cousins have both sorts, so this weekend we tried them out in an attempt to see what suits.

My instinctive preference is for the balance bike.  If riding a bike breaks down into two parts: balancing and pedalling, then pedalling is, surely, the easy bit.  Better therefore to master the tricky one first and then add the easy one.

The problem is, of course, that that leaves balancing as the tricky bit, and three year olds, or at least my nearly-three-year-olds, aren't that good at perseverance in the face of initial failure.  They tried the balance bike, gave up and proceeded to fight over the one with pedals and stabilisers* for the simple reason that they could do it.  My sister-in-law also pointed out that with twins, balance bikes, which require an initial intense element of parental participation, are even harder - you can't hold on to two children on bikes at the same time, apparently, especially if they're heading in opposite directions.

So I'm veering back to the principle of four wheels good, two wheels bad, but what do others think? Does mastering a balance bike first really make learning to ride a "proper" bike easier in the long run? Or doesn't it make much difference?

PS: You'll be pleased to hear that compromise was finally reached...


  1. We bought a balance bike to Blondie for her 3rd birthday (she is now nearly 4). It was painful at the beginning and we had to encourage her a lot so that she would not drop the bike for ever. But after 2 weeks she got very familiar with her bike and this summer she tried a "proper" bike without the stabilisers. on day 1 she could pedal without any difficulty and on day 2 she could even start from scratch without any help. So yes, I am definitvely in great favour of balance bike.

    Thank you for your help to subscribe to your blog. I will try the top left button and see how it goes;-)
    Me & The Girls

  2. Balance bike for L and bikes with stabilisers for A and S?

    Much to my shame, we have managed to get 7-yo to the age of 7 and a half without being able to ride a bike. (In my defence, there isn't much opportunity here, no pavements in the neighbourhood, and it's just not a big part of a childhood like in the UK.) Part of the problem is that she has had a bike with stabilisers, and is now very nervous without them. The bike has the kind of brakes where you pedal backwards, and I think that has discouraged her from ever building up much speed. Therefore she's never really got the feel of being on a speeding bike, or of balancing on one.

    All I can say is that our oldest also didn't learn to ride a bike till 7, and it only took him a few tries before he got it, so I'm hoping the same will be true for 7-yo, once she really wants to. I think the key (sorry, sore point) is for the child to want to.

  3. Fresh off taking stabilisers off Luke's bike (last weekend in fact!) I'm full of theories on this front.

    I do think it is a good idea for them to learn how to balance but we found that a 2 wheeled scooter did the trick for that. So we went for stabilisers and when he'd cracked the scooter the learning how to ride a bike took all of 10 minutes.

    Now we are obsessed with family bike rides. Just in time for winter. Should have thought about that...

  4. In Germany everybody seems to go with balance bikes. I bought one for Orla from a second hand toy shop and the man there told me that most children can master the balance bike well enough within about 3 months and then you can put them on a proper bike. He gave me the option of bringing the balance bike back and swapping it for a pedal bike once she was ready.

    But I have kept it because Hamish is now using it, and we've been holding off until Christmas on getting Orla a proper bike. But yes, it really doesn't take long at all for them to be ready for proper cycling.

    In your position I'm not sure what I would do. Pointless to buy a balance bike for 3 months of learning really unless you are going to pass it on to one of the younger ones later on.

    Maybe PantsWithNames has a good idea with the 2 wheeled scooter.

  5. I'm a huge fan of balance bikes. My younger son had one from the age of 2, and was riding a proper bike by age 3. We din't find it was necessary to get involved at all with his learning to ride either of them, he did it all by himself, and it was the same with my elder son, though he was a little older, and found pedalling more difficult. Whatever you do, don't put stabilisers onto the proper bike if they have got used to a balance bike - some friends of ours did that, and the child just lost all the confidence they had gained from the balance bike. If you don't want to spend money on a balance bike for your older child, just take the pedals off an ordinary bike for a little while until they get the hang of balance.

  6. We got a balance bike for our two-year-old, and he's loved it from the start. We bought it second hand from a family who had bought it for their son as a toddler, and now he was four he'd gone straight to a 'proper' bike with no problems, so I'd second that they're better preparation than stabilisers.

  7. I always found ours learnt to ride really quickly on the lawn. They didn't seem to be as afraid of falling off then

  8. I live in Germany and here I have only ever seen one kid on a bike with stabilizers, balance bikes are definitely the preference (although, being British, I of course learnt with stabilizers many years ago). My son got his balance bike at 2 and definitely didn't have the patience for it. As soon as it would fall (they can be pretty heavy), he would lose confidence and give up. I put it away for a while and then tried again about 6 months later and now he loves it. He hasn't quite mastered getting to any major speed yet (although I am quite happy about this!) but his confidence on it has really come along and he adores it! Having the saddle and handlebars at the right height seems to be the key.

  9. Stabilisers are a very bad invention because they do not teach balance and co-ordination. Transitioning from pedalling with stabilisers to pedalling without stabilisers is very difficult without the intermediate balance bike stage and will involve lots of falls. Once a child can ride about 50 metres on stabilisers then there is little benefit to leaving them on. What I can't understand is why kids bikes don't come with 3 piece cranks like some BMXs do so they can be converted to a balance bike and then back to a bike with pedals.

  10. I learned to ride with bendy stabilisers. They stopped the bike from falling over, but allowed it to lean so that you got the hang of leaning round corners etc. One day my dad took the stabilisers off and away I went without them. The only problem is that no one seems to make them any more!

  11. Well, a little over a year later, we went with stabilisers for L, which finally came off about a month ago:

    "Mummy! I'm doing it!!"

    and balance bikes for A and S. We've got a holiday which hopefully will involve bikes planned for this summer so I'm hoping to get them away by then. This weekend (if it's dry, which is a big if a the moment) will be the acid test - do they get the real thing quicker than L did? They could hardly be slower...

    Oddly, too, just as this question is coming to the fore again, I got sent this link by a US blog. I'm not sure it actually adds much to the debate but it might we worth checking it out for anyone else in a dither...


  12. Balance bikes all the way! i got mine from www.totswheels.co.uk but don't forget to buy a helmet, safety first.

  13. To be honest I'm not that impressed with balance bikes. Bought the much respected Islabike Rothan for my daughter at 2 years old and she's largely ignored it. Whenever I'd get her on it I'd have a bad back in minutes holding the back of her jacket and running along to get her rolling so it was no fun for me and as soon as I'd stop she'd get off and do something else because she could see that she was able to walk faster without the bike between her legs! At 3.5 years old she's now too big for the little balance bike and not wanting to blow cash on a decent bike for it to sit unused again I get a rubbish Disney princess bike free from a skip and it's got stabilsers. Well, my daughter loves it becuase she can get on it, pedal and actually move at a pace worth the effort. So for my daughter the stabilsers are better because she's now out there riding and she's enjoying it. Surely that's what it's all about? And you know what - most of us parents learnt to ride with stabilisers and I don't remember it being a major trauma the day my dad took them off. Like most people, dad ran along whilst I shouted "don't let go" and lo-and-behold dad did let go and I was riding by myself. Took all of about 20 mins!

  14. I will opt for balance bike for my children as it will help him to learn balancing more easily.


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