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a child wearing a helmet happily riding his strider balance bike

The Great Debate: Balance Bike vs Stabilisers for Toddlers

Learning To RideTypes Of Bike

As the world evolves, so do the methods for learning to ride a bike. Traditional stabilizers, also known as training wheels, have been the go-to for many years. However, in recent times, balance bikes have emerged as a new method to teach children how to ride a bike. Both have their pros and cons, and the choice between the two depends on various factors.

When today's parents were young, they probably learned to ride a bike in a similar way. Their parents likely took them to a big, flat, and safe place, took off the training wheels, gave them a push to start, and hoped they wouldn't fall.

It may have taken a few tries and some complaining, but eventually, they learned how to ride.

Teaching young children how to ride a bike has become more scientific nowadays. Bike manufacturers have found a way to make it easier by separating balancing and pedaling.

This means that getting started is not entirely based on luck. So, in this article, we're gonna chat about balance bikes versus stabilizers and share our thoughts on which one we think is best.

What is a Balance Bike?

Already taking the UK, and parents of the UK, by storm, the balance bike is such a great way for children to be introduced to bikes.

As kid bike experts, our approach to teaching children to learn how to ride a bike is that they need to learn to turn and control it as soon as possible without any help (that's inclusive of you too, Mum & Dad!).

You might think you're not getting much value for your investment as they don't come with pedals but the confidence booster your child will get out of riding a balance bike will be huge.

Some of the balance bike brands we stock - Cube and Frog - are all built according to the same theory: these are simple bikes with a frame, wheels, a handlebar, and a saddle. Some have a rear brake, too, but none of them has a pedal or drive system

Essentially, balance bikes work by teaching your child's muscles, and muscle memory, to be able to balance effectively on their bike.

They're much lighter than stabilisers and which is perfect for when your little one is getting tired (and we know they will!) and needs you to carry the bike back home for them. With this in mind, balance bikes can be suitable for children as young as 18 months old and start their riding journey early.

What's more, after a few years when it’s time for your child to move onto a bigger bike, you’ll most likely find that no stabilisers are needed.

There may be a few wobbles while they get used to the bigger bike but they’ve already built up their balance and the muscles that they need to control their new bike.

child on balance bike

You’ll find your child will take to their new bike surprisingly quickly, and even pick it up within an astonishing 30 minutes!

By removing those pedals, toddlers can use their feet flat on the floor to scoot themselves around and grow used to the way the bike moves beneath them. Once they get particularly good at balancing, they can zoom about with their feet in the air.

Then, when the time comes to move up to their first pedal bike, half the problem has been conquered. They know how to balance in the saddle, all they need to do now is get used to pedalling forwards.

Pros

  • Will help develop your child's motor skills (balance and coordination)
  • Offers more safety as your child won't be distracted by pedals or chainsets
  • Accommodate a wide age group

Cons

  • Your child may initially feel unsafe when riding this bike compared to one with stabilisers
  • Your child will outgrow it quickly (hello Bike Club!)
  • Not a good option for older kids who are still learning how to ride a bike

What Are Bike Stabilisers?

Think of them like a bike with training wheels that ensure your child can ride nice and steady on the pavement or through the park.

When your child is around 2 or 3 years old this is when you might start considering their first bike. Typically, 12" and 14" inch wheel bicycles come with stabilisers. In some instances, they've become accepted as the first step in your journey as a parent in teaching them how to ride a bike.

Furthermore, your child will be able to take off on their own almost immediately as they have the safety of bicycle stabilisers attached to their bike. This will give them that instant boost of confidence and get them on their way.

This is particularly helpful if you're keen on family rides around your local area or further and want to get them covering distances quickly.

Pros

  • Gets your kid moving on their bike
  • An instant confidence booster
  • Kids bikes with stabilisers are ideal for first-time riders learning to balance

Cons

  • Extra weight
  • Tricky to fit
  • Prevents a child from learning how to properly balance on a bike

What's the Verdict: Balance Bikes or Stabilisers?

We'd have to choose the balance bike as our preferred option in comparison to a children's bike with stabilisers.

Firstly, stabilisers actually promote ‘wrong riding’. Children riding bikes with them learn to lean the wrong way when cornering – preferring to lean outwards to keep their outside stabiliser wheel on the ground, rather than lean into the corner.

Kids on a stabilized bike don't have to worry about balance, so they might even learn to pedal by moving their legs backward!

Secondly, and probably the biggest hurdle, stabilisers often act like a safety net or comfort blanket and can prove difficult to remove as children can sometimes become reliant on them.

A balance bike teaches a child all the fundamentals of riding a bike from an early age which will ultimately hold them in good stead for when they are ready to ride a pedal bike.

child on green balance bike

So, basically, when you're teaching a kid to ride a bike, there's a big debate about whether to go with balance bikes or stabilisers since it's become all scientific now.

Stabilizers can give you a quick confidence boost and are great for beginners who are learning to balance, but they might stop you from properly learning how to balance on a bike and could make you develop bad habits.

On the other hand, balance bikes help develop a child's motor skills, offer more safety as the child won't be distracted by pedals or chainsets, and can accommodate a wide age group.

While balance bikes might not have pedals and your child may initially feel unsafe, they teach a child all the fundamentals of riding a bike from an early age, which will ultimately help them when they are ready to ride a pedal bike.

Frequently Asked Questions about Balance Bikes or Bikes with Stabilisers

At what age can my child start using a balance bike?

Your little one can start using a bike without pedals as soon as they feel confident walking. There is no fixed age, but in general, from 18 months or when they can walk with confidence is a good time to start.

Why choose a balance bike instead of a bike with stabilisers?

Bikes without pedals are preferable to bikes with stabilisers, as they encourage correct riding, while stabilisers wheels promote bad habits that are difficult to unlearn. In addition, balance bikes teach children fundamental riding skills from an early age and allow them to develop balance without relying on stabilisers. Despite the lack of pedals, balance bikes lay the foundation for future cycling experiences with pedals.

How do I teach my child to ride a balance bike?

To start your little one on their bike adventure, start by teaching them how to get on and off the bike, practising how to lean and swing their leg over the bike. Then encourage them to walk slowly on the bike, and as they gain confidence, teach them to push off with their feet. Make sure he looks straight ahead instead of looking at his feet.

As they progress, they will begin to lift their feet off the ground for longer periods of time and make longer rides. Once they hasve mastered balance, help them steer the bike by leaning and gently turning the handlebars. For braking, simply lower their feet or, if the bike has brakes, teach them to use them gently. Constant practice and patience are key to helping him gain confidence and eventually glide independently.