by Angela Reed-Fox
If you're reading this, and you're pondering the question, the chances are you learned to ride a bike using stabilisers. It's just what we all did back then. Is being launched down a hilly track with stabilisers and optimism still the best way to learn, or are balance bikes more than just the next 'in' thing?
At Cyclekids we've taught hundreds of children to cycle often from scratch, and frequently with problems such as dyspraxia, communication issues, balance problems, autism, as well as more common problems such as lack of confidence and a low tantrum threshold - so there's not much we haven't seen more than once.
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Stabilisers are also known as 'training wheels' and area attached to the back of the bike, turning the bike from a two-wheeler into a four-wheeler (admittedly those training wheels are considerably smaller than the bike wheels!)
With stabilisers, the child will learn to pedal before steering, balancing, turning, braking, etc. This means that when the stabilisers are removed, the child still cannot ride a two-wheeler bike, and still has to master balance and control. The risk here is that there is more chance of the child falling off and getting hurt/losing confidence, as all 'non-pedalling' skills need to be learned (balance, steering, cornering etc).
Therefore, the child doesn't learn to cycle with stabiliers until they are removed. Also there is the additional problem of the chlid learning bad habits; as the bike will not fall over, the child can pedal forwards and backwards in half-circles whilst still remaining upright, this is known as 'half-cranking'.
Stabilisers can also make falling off more likely if the cyclist is riding on uneven ground, such as grass, wonky pavements, potholes or bumps in the road.
Bikes with stabilisers also tend to be heavier than balance bikes which makes them much more difficult for little people to control.
Balance bikes tend to be lighter than regular children's bikes - this is partly because the 'pedalling equipment' is missing, but also because manufacturers of balance bikes often (but not always!) design more ergonomic, child-specific bikes which are lighter and easier to handle.
Balance bikes change the order in which children learn the skills for cycling. This is really important. With a balance bike, the child strides along. When they become more confident they also learn to glide with their feet off the ground. At this point, they're learning to balance, they're strengthening their core muscles in readiness for pedalling, and they're learning to steer and corner using their whole body which is safer and more effective, than just turning the handlebars as one would with a bike with stabilisers.
Children therefore learn all of the required skills for cycling except pedalling. So when it's time for a pedal bike, they've already cracked most of the challenge. Pedalling is just the last stage.
On a financial note, the resale value of quality balance bikes is great - so you an recoup much of your investment, which allows you to get your child pedalling in a safe, confident way - without it costing more than buying a lower quality bike with stabilisers.
Stabilisers have been 'received wisdom' for years - but that doesn't mean it's the best way. Balance bikes are a safer way to get your child pedalling while boosting their confidence as they learn not just the skills of balancing, cornering, steering, braking, etc for pedalling, but also they are able to build the muscle memory and strength to perform those manoeuvres that we longer-toothed pedallers take for granted. For safety, and for removing at least some of the fear that comes with learning to pedal, balance bikes are unparallelled.
Need to get your little nipper pedalling sharpish?
That's OK, we get most children riding tantrum-free in about an hour. Call Steve on 01275 595227 for a chat about your child, or go here for more info:
Need a child-friendly bike?
We only sell what we're happy to endorse. All our bikes are sold with free set-up and bike fit so your little chiddler gets the best deal.