Balance Bikes vs. Training Wheels

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Chances are, when you learned to ride a bike you did so with training wheels. You probably hopped right on that bike with the clanking extra wheels and pedaled off to the playground. But when it came time to take them off and ride without the extra support of the training wheels, things probably got difficult and a little scary. That’s because learning to balance is the hard part of learning to bike; the pedaling’s the easy.

Well, there’s a new way to learn to ride — and it’s a whole lot easier, intuitive and fun! Enter: the balance bike.

Balance bikes are little more than regular bikes without pedals. On a balance bike, kids propel themselves by using their feet to push along the ground – as opposed to moving forward by pressing on pedals to rotate a wheel. The balance bike process is much more similar to walking, an activity young children are already used to and comfortable with. This is beneficial because, by the time parents want to introduce pedals, the kids already understand how to balance in motion on a bicycle. Again, it’s harder to learn to balance than it is to pedal. So your kiddo’s done the most difficult part first, with their feet safely on the ground.

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Balance bikes come in lots of shapes and sizes.

The SF Bicycle Coalition teaches Freedom From Training Wheels classes at every Sunday Streets. Our terrific instructors have seen time and time again that youngsters who are excited and ready to go are regularly able to ride independently within just an hour, while those used to riding with training wheels may take days to learn.

Kids begin with walking the bike, getting comfortable with sitting on the balance bicycle. Soon the walk turns into a glide, then a longer glide. Once she can glide comfortably for 15 feet, she’s ready to add pedals to the equation. After that, it’s a matter of giving her a little push while telling her to look straight ahead. Don’t forget to encourage her to pedal, pedal, pedal!

Learning to balance before learning to pedal also makes sense for adults who want to practice for the first time. That’s why SF Bicycle Coalition instructors use the same tactics in Freedom from Training Wheels as in our Adult Learn to Ride Classes. The priority is learning to balance, then pedaling and turning come next.

We also use the balance bike method to teach adults.

We also use the balance bike method to teach adults.

Don’t have a balance bike? Just take the pedals off a regular bike and lower the seat enough so that the person learning to ride can walk comfortably along the ground. Kids can also join us and other children learning to ride at every Sunday Streets. We always have volunteer instructors ready to jog enthusiastically and supportively at any child’s side. Every year the SF Bicycle Coalition hundreds of kids and dozens of adults to bike using the balance bike method. Download our tip sheet here for DIY instruction.

We always have plenty of balance bikes and tip sheets at every Sunday Streets for families looking for pleasant ways to get kids rolling quickly, safely and comfortably while having a magically fun time! And if you’re an adult who never learned to bike, we’ll teach you at our Adult Learn to Ride class. Happy balancing … and in not too long, happy pedaling!

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