Balance Bikes

This week I’m  dealing with getting youngsters mobile on their own bikes.

As you’d imagine, there are swarms of tiny bikes equipped with stabilisers out there. These quickly let a child get the idea of pedalling and braking without too much adult supervision. While this is fine as a stopgap, eventually kids have to develop their balance.

Recently we’ve seen the arrival of ‘balance bikes’ which take a different approach to the problem. Rather like the 19th century hobby horse, the forerunner of Macmillan’s velocipede, these bikes have steering and occasionally brakes, but no pedals. They’re propelled by the rider scooting them along. Because the youngsters’ feet have to touch the ground, they feel much more confident and they can develop their balance at their own pace.

These ‘balance bikes’ come in very small sizes, so a child of three or so should be able to manage one. Once balance, steering and braking have been mastered, the action of pedalling should fall into place quite easily. If your child has a normal bike with pedals, it’s possible to create a similar situation by removing the pedals. This will let the rider scoot along without any fear of the pedals catching them in the back of the ankles!

In both cases, the rider should be able to put their feet fairly flat on the floor. Though this helps their confidence, it does eat into the length of time that a bike will last. The reason for this is that a conventional bike needs the saddle sufficiently high so that the rider’s legs almost straighten out when pedalling. This makes cycling much easier, try walking around like Goucho Marx for a few minutes and see how hard it is, but when you do achieve this position, invariably only your toes touch the ground. This is common whatever the rider’s age.

I’ve often thought that it might be a good idea to find a second hand bike that’s a bit too small to begin with. This would help a youngster gain confidence, and once that’s been established a bike of the right size could be obtained.

I’m often asked by parents how long a bike will last before the child outgrows it, as children all grow at different rates it’s difficult to be accurate, but usually two year to three years is a reasonable expectation.

In the past, it’s been difficult to buy kids’ bikes that are beyond average quality. I think it’s because parents were generally loathe to spend too much on a bike that might get wrecked or might be quickly outgrown. Because of this, lower quality bikes were more prevalent.

Nowadays, parents are often looking for a slightly better bike. Even if your kids don’t race, a better bike is easier to manage, particularly when going out as a family, and it will encourage youngsters to enjoy the lifelong pleasures of cycling.

©Arthur Lamy

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