The Marketing Scam of Balance Bikes
“Children can start riding balance bikes when they’re around 18-months to two years old, and little ones up to around the age of five enjoy them. In most cases, children will move on to a bike with pedals at around the age of four.”
It was a summers day. I had taken my son off to the park to learn how to bike. I remembered my Dad doing likewise back when I was a child. I thought it’ll take some time. There’ll be tears. A bloody knee or two. Some war stories to retell with friends over dinner. I never believed it would be an impossible task.
My son was four. I was nine when I learnt how to ride a bike. It had more to do with economics that my son was going to learn at an earlier age than me. I grew up on the streets of London from a family who scraped for every penny. Finally, at nine, I got a BMX ! Blue and yellow. It was prize possession.
In the park that day, I held the back of my sons’ two wheeler. The stabilizers were off. We stood near the bandstand on the soft grass. His mum insisted he wore a helmet. I laughed. I didn’t believe he’ll need it cycling on grass. Still, good safety habits begin at an early age.
Within the first push, he was away. Round and round he went. He learnt how to stop and use his brakes on the fourth push. It took maximum ten minutes for him to learn how to cycle. Not once did he fall over.
Fast forward four more years and I repeated the same ritual with my daughter. She’s a fast learner. After a single push she was whizzing round the park, startling joggers with her speed and scaring dogs with her maniacal laugh.
Neither of my children were exposed to Balance Bikes.
Were my kids unusual? Were they born with the gift of balance? How did they manage to learn so fast and not have years of training on a Balance Bike? What’s going on here?
“Balance bikes are ideal for younger kids who are already comfortable walking. As they walk with the bike, they learn how to move it side-to-side to balance. By doing this without pedalling, they build a fundamental skill of biking first. They learn to balance before they focus on pedalling.” Source — Experiencedmommy.com
Learn to balance first. The fundamental skill of biking.
I can’t really argue with that statement. I suppose it is the fundamental skill of biking. But learning to balance? Hasn’t a child already at the age of two learnt about balancing? By that age, they’re walking around, wobbling, tottering, occasionally bumping into things, like tables or chairs, but generally learning the art of balancing. Having a mobile pedal-less bike between their legs isn’t increasing their balancing technique by much.
By the age of four, there’s not a single child who can’t walk or balance.
But, you’re saying, it’s balancing on a bike that’s important.
Your child will still learn to ride a bike regardless of which method you choose. Training wheels or Balance Bike.
Balance bikes are made for your child to sit on the seat and push themselves along with their feet. This helps create stability as they learn to balance back and forth on the bike. They’re also agile, often made from lightweight material, and are easy to turn. You won’t find many children toppling over on a Balance Bike!
Training wheels teach your child how to pedal. It helps build up leg muscles. Training wheels are also notoriously unstable. The bike would often topple over from your child riding too fast and taking a turn. This has the effect of teaching your child resilience, ‘getting back on the bike’.
Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages.
You Simply MUST Do It
It’s the cult-like acceptance that the Balance Bike is purer that really grinds my gears. The holier-than-thou aspirational parent seeking a better, cleaner, environmentally friendlier alternative. The new-age parent who has bought into the marketing spiel. The one that talks fondly of tofu dinners and a more spiritual entry into the world of bikes.
The same parent will talk about pseudo-science relating to the benefits of a Balance Bike. How they tested the bikes on Appalachian children. Observing the kids in action from deep within the valleys of the mountains. How the children adapted to the pedal-less bikes and quickly became one with the balance motion of biking itself. These tiny toddlers brains were so advanced, they managed to master the bike within 30 seconds of mounting.
Every street, in this utopia, will have tykes riding Balance Bikes.
The world’s most popular entry into the bike market. No falling. No child harmed. No knees accidentally scraped. Just solid, agile running. What a marvelous bohemian sight it all is.
Sorry. Misleading title. There is no science. Here are three unproven scientific reasons why a parent needs to choose a Balance Bike:
- They’re easy to use. Yes. There’s two parts to riding a bike, balance and pedalling. Remove one from the equation and it makes life easier. No need to pedal. Watch your child become adept at…walking with an aid? Running with help? You know what else is easy to use that science isn’t quoted? Training wheels.
- They build strength and coordination. The design of a balance bike encourages kids to use their arms and lift their legs when moving forward. This not only helps them to build up their strength, it also helps them to fine tune their motor skills, coordination and agility. Does lifting your legs really help with future biking skills? These children still need to learn how to pedal.
- They’re a safer way to start riding. Lower to the ground which means your child is safer when they do fall. The added bonus? They can only go as fast as they run, so no high-speed crashes. Only a handful of children were harmed in testing this theory and that was mainly because the parents allowed them to run downhill.
The biggest disadvantage? No brakes. AND PEDALS!
Please Stop Preaching
Look, there’s nothing wrong with this method of learning. Equally, training wheels are effective too. What I hate is the preaching. The fervent attitude of fresh face parents explaining why Balance Bikes are superior. I’m sorry to tell you my twinkle-eyed young mama and bearded hipster dad, they’re not. And there’s no science to prove otherwise.
Now get on your bike and don’t let me hear you admonish any parent for choosing training wheels over the eco-friendly cult of Balance.