“This gives more control because their feet can be on the ground,” says Todd Williams, an occupational therapist in pediatric rehabilitation at Logan Regional Hospital. “If you can balance, it’s easier to add pedaling later, instead of trying to master both skills at once.”
Williams uses balance bikes with his young patients, but he also used one to teach his daughter to ride. Instead of buying a brand-name balance bike for her, he purchased a child's bike from a thrift shop and removed the pedals and chain. Two weeks later, she graduated to riding a regular bike on her own.
Riding without pedals, Williams says, allows young riders to develop confidence and balance while feeling in control of their speed.
Some adults prefer to teach youngsters on regular bikes, with the assistance of training wheels, while still others worry that balance bikes are too expensive, or just a fad. Proponents argue that the balance bikes are much safer and allow kids to start riding at younger ages. Particularly for those who don’t have the leg strength to push pedals, the simplicity of propelling themselves provides freedom without complication.
Williams is a fan of the balance bikes in a rehabilitation setting for the same reasons he likes them for any child.
“They’re fun,” he says. “Kids ride bikes, that’s what they do. Just because a kid has a disability doesn’t mean they can’t do things other kids do. The kids we use them with have a hard time with the reciprocal motion of pedaling, and some have anxiety, so they get nervous about tipping.”
As an added bonus, the balance bikes roll easily over various surfaces, including trails, dirt roads and even fields
“They’re great for all kinds of kids,” Williams says.
5 reasons to try a balance bike
1. Safety: Balance bikes are safer and more practical than tricycles and training wheels. Tricycles are slow, awkward to maneuver and easily tip on uneven or angled surfaces. On a balance bike, children are focused on balancing, rather than pedaling. As a result, they are more prepared for an unexpected loss in balance and are much less likely to fall.
2. Economics: Many parents hesitate purchasing a balance bike because they consider them to be a waste of money, when in fact one balance bike can replace the need for a tricycle and a 12″ bike with training wheels.
3. Enticement: Instead of bugging your kids to get outside and play, they will be bugging you to take them for a ride. Kids love the independence and sense of accomplishment they get from riding a balance bike. Whether it’s being stopped by strangers on a walk or bombarded by kids at the park, kids quickly realize that there is something cool about riding bikes and want to be part of the action.
4. Family Time: Balance bikes are reinvigorating families with go-outside-and-explore-your-world fun. Balance bikes allow toddlers to cruise sidewalks and bikes paths at moderate speeds, pleasing parents and older siblings alike. In fact, balance bikes also allow families to explore the great outdoors. Furthermore, balance bikes are easy to transport. Without pedals, they can quickly be thrown in the car, or thrown into the basket of some strollers.
5. Acceleration: Kids who ride balance bike generally ride pedal bikes independently at a younger age than those who use training wheels. It is not uncommon for balance bike riders to start riding a pedal bike at the age of three verses 5 or 6 with training wheels. In addition, transitioning an experienced balance biker to a pedal bike is a piece of cake. Simply give them a bike and let them ride. No running beside them, no holding their seat, no tears; simply give them the bike and watch as they ride off on their own.