By Joseph Robertia
Teaching a child to ride a bicycle is a rite of passage for parents, usually happening around age 5. But a new type of bike is allowing kids to learn to ride younger than ever before, and practically on their own.
“Iver got his bike at 22 months and now, at just over 2 years old, he can keep up with us on our own bikes. It’s great exercise and a huge confidence booster for him,” said Bryan Ledahl, of Soldotna, of his son’s skills on his balance bike.
A balance bicycle, sometimes called a run bike, is a training bicycle that helps children as young as 18 months learn the fundamentals of balance and steering, but without pedals, a crankset, chain or training wheels.
“We first saw these bikes when visiting San Diego. All the kids riding them looked like they were having a blast,” Ledahl said. “After doing some research, it was quite obvious to us the benefits of a balance bike versus one with training wheels.”
The theory is that the no-pedal design allows young children to learn to ride on two wheels, avoiding tricycle tip-overs and training-wheel wobbles.
“Kids can start riding balance bikes pretty much as soon as they can walk. They progress at their own pace and really learn how to balance, do leaned turns, etc., as opposed to a bike with training wheels where they basically just learn how to pedal,” Ledahl said.
Ryan Beeson, with Beemun’s Bike and Ski Loft in Soldotna, said that the bikes are growing in popularity.
“People are coming in and buying them, but I don’t think it’s reached its peak yet. They’ve been out for about three years now, but only in the last year and a half have they really seemed to gain in popularity, and I think that wave is still rising,” he said.
Beeson added that Beemun’s typically carries three to four brands of balance bikes, ranging from an average of roughly $100 to $160 for most models.
Beeson said that he’s seen kids riding balance bikes experience the learning curve described by Ledahl.
“Two- to 3-year-olds can struggle with pedaling while learning to ride, so these help them build muscle, endurance and balance before they learn to pedal, then when they’re 5 to 6 years old, they’re ready to come in and go right to a two-wheel bike with 16-inch tires with no training wheels,” he said.
Ledahl said that his son has not only avoided training wheels, but seems well on his way to being ready for a pedal bike soon.
“After less than four months of riding, Iver can ride without his feet down, can ride down the sledding hills and keep up with us on sidewalks. He could easily be riding a normal pedal bike without training wheels by 3 years old. From what we’ve heard, this fast progression is pretty typical,” he said.
In addition to the physical attributes gained from the balance bike, Iver is also learning spatial awareness.
“We are teaching him about vehicle safety in our subdivision, and whenever a car comes or when he hears Mom or Dad say ‘car’ he immediately goes to the side of the road and waits for the car to pass,” Ledahl said.
Beyond the exercise and educational component of the balance bike, Ledahl said that the most enjoyable aspect of it has been seeing his son have so much fun.
“He absolutely loves it. Oftentimes the first words out of his mouth in the morning is ‘ride my blue bike.’ He loves to ‘pop-a-wheelie’ and never passes by road drains, bumps or rocks without running them over. We would highly recommend these bikes to parents with small kids,” he said.
“They also make a ski kit for wintertime,” Ledahl added, “so we are going to give that a shot this winter. Should be fun.”