If you're anything like us, when you were younger, the ways to learn to cycle were simple. If you didn't know how to ride a two-wheeled bicycle, you'd usually first aim to build your confidence.
Now, there's a new kid on the block. The balance bike has arrived, and it looks like it's here to stay. We say arrived, but the idea dates back to 1817, so the concept is actually older than the modern bicycle!
The balance bike seems to be opposed to everything that tricycles and stabilisers stand for. But does it work? In this guide, we explore the pros and cons of each learning style to help you in your quest for the perfect bicycle.
The tricycle (sometimes known as the trike) is a tried-and-trusted way to learn to cycle. The three-wheeled design is popular amongst toddlers and young children.
Perfect for when they may not be ready for the challenges of a bike but are certainly ready for some adventures!
Teach a child how to pedal.
Pedalling is not a natural motion for a child used to stepping, running, and floating. But, it's a basic motion when riding a standard bike.
Tricycles allow kids to learn pedalling early in life, making it intuitive when they eventually ride a pedal bike.
The trike's purpose is to help you remain well balanced. It does this through a three-wheeled design, which gives your youngster the confidence to zoom off with little chance of falling.
Bigger wheels mean that it's sturdier than training wheels, which are usually only little.
A push pole.
If you want a bit of added security, some tricycles come with a push handle. This addition can ensure that your child doesn't stray too far by keeping your hand on the vehicle.
It also has the added benefit of allowing you to steer the tricycle if your kid needs help. Plus, they usually are removable for once they've gained confidence.
Your child doesn't have to get off of their tricycle if they fancy a rest. It doubles as a seat!
Staying still doesn't mean carefully balancing your bike when it has three wheels. Take our word for it - this helps when it comes to precarious tasks, like ice cream breaks while perched on the trike.
Okay, this one may not be a practical advantage, but we couldn't ignore it.
The tricycle is a timeless look that's - frankly - incredibly cute. Looking back at pictures of your little one aboard their trike will melt your heart in the future.
It only works on smooth ground.
Tricycles don't deal well with uneven surfaces. You probably won't notice on your driveway and roads, but trikes quickly waver when taken off-road.
The three wheels that support your child can become imbalanced if the ground is not one even level, making your tricycle topple over.
Not for speed.
You may consider this point a positive if you don't want your child zipping off! But, it's worth mentioning that tricycles aren't designed to go fast.
Because there's usually only one gear on a kids trike, it can be harder to pedal and more tiring to pick up speed. (Good for parents!)
Can be heavy.
Tricycles often weigh more than the kid that rides them. And who will be left carrying or pushing it around when your child tires of using the trike? An exhausting thought, we know.
It won't develop balance.
While a trike does teach the critical skill of pedalling, it may leave your child unable to comprehend how to balance on a bike. There is always time to learn, but a tricycle is not the route to perfecting this particular skill.
The Balance Bike
The balance bike has gained traction because of its simple yet effective method. The bike without pedals moves forward by the child resting their feet flat on the ground and pushing.
As they spend more time on their bike you child will grow in confidence. You'll see their technique evolve from faltering steps to fearless running.
It can handle uneven terrain.
Unlike the tricycle, the balance bike thrives on bumpy grounds. The saddle is so low that the child's feet can create extra support if placed on the floor.
Forget awkward riding on anything other than pavement. And, so, your balance bike can go on all sorts of journeys!
Mastering balancing skills.
Without a doubt, the most challenging part of learning to ride a pedal bicycle is balance. As the name suggests, the balance bike teaches you to balance and steer.
Therefore, pedals are the primary addition when you progress to a regular bicycle. Learning to pedal is much easier than learning to balance - so the transition is more straightforward.
Children who learn to ride balance bikes early must realise how to hold a bike steady and pick it up if it topples. These are important challenges when riding a bike. Learning this early is fantastic for a child's development into a confident cyclist.
Simple, so light.
The balance bike is such a great basic design, stripping back most of the bicycle to leave its bare bones. In doing so, it also strips most of the weight.
This makes it easier for your child to play on it longer. Plus, it makes it easier for you to carry it around when they inevitably abandon it in the most inconvenient place imaginable.
You can start as young as 18 months.
Eighteen months may seem very early to start compared to most first bicycles. Yet, most of the knack of the balance bike is balancing and walking. So, as long as your child is confident walking and their feet reach the ground when sat on the bike seat, you're good to go!
This headstart can mean your balance bike has a longer life span than you'd initially thought. Because your child can start so early, they could be riding the bike for several years (depending on growth spurts.)
Falls aren't so scary.
The seat is usually lower on a balance bike than on a tricycle or bike with stabilisers. This is so that your toddler can use the ground to propel themself. The height has the benefit of meaning that when your child takes a tumble, they don't have far to fall.
As balance bikes are accessible from a very young age, they allow your child earlier independence, helping them grow. The joy that you get from cycling in your youth is unparalleled, and this can begin sooner with a balance bike.
Often, balance bikes are designed without brakes. This is due to the relatively low speeds your child can reach when riding. However, one thing that can suffer from the lack of breaks is your children's shoes.
Shoes can quickly become scuffed when dragged against concrete, meaning that they wear out at an accelerated pace. Scuffs and scratches are inevitable with kids shoes anyway, but remember to go for your cycles in older shoes if you want to avoid heartbreak.
It's only safe on flat surfaces.
If a balance bike does lack brakes, it's essential to stay on level ground when riding. Adding a hill to the mix could be extremely dangerous.
This restriction is less of a concern in urban spaces, as they tend to be flatter. But, if where you live is mainly hilly, this could be a real problem.
A means to an end?
Almost always, the balance bike aims to prepare a child for a bike with pedals. So, when they are ready for this, their bicycle without pedals becomes redundant.
The trike is a method of cycling of its own. And, the bike with stabilisers can remove the training wheels and becomes a new challenge. The balance bike is only for a certain period of your child's development.
Stabilisers (Training Wheels)
Perhaps the most obvious way to learn to ride a bicycle is by using stabilisers. The small wheels align with the rear wheel to give extra support to someone learning to ride. Training wheels aid the bike's balance by preventing it from leaning in the way it usually would.
Common sense option.
Most adults learnt to ride on stabilisers, making them the obvious way of teaching their own children. Many people are also well aware that it's standard for small bikes to include training wheels. You can expect this in bicycles from sizes of 12" up to 16".
Knowing this can make a parents decision for them. If they are going to buy this size bike anyway, learning to cycle on the stabilisers provided just makes sense.
Bikes with training wheels have to have brakes. So, when cycling in hilly areas and at high speeds, your child is much safer because they can stop at any time. And, as a bonus, stopping won't destroy your kid's shoes!
This knowledge will help put your mind at rest if your child goes zipping off.
The bike grows with your child.
When you buy a bike with training wheels, you expect it to last a significant amount of time.
This stems from the knowledge that you can remove the stabilisers when your child is ready. Usually, bikes with stabilisers have an adjustable seat and adjustable handlebar.
So, after a growth spurt, your bike will remain the correct size for your little one - meaning the fun doesn't stop! After removing the stabilisers, your child can begin to develop their sense of balance. This means moving onto the next step of learning to cycle, but on the same bike.
Cheaper in the long term.
Because the bike transforms as your child does, you won't need to replace it so quickly. We know (as sad as it is) children won't stay so tiny forever. But, the bike has the potential to adapt for a bigger rider, and so could last a few years.
Compared to the cost of a tricycle or balance bike plus the additional expense of a regular bike, stabilisers are the cheapest option by far.
It doesn't teach balance.
When your child graduates to riding a bike without stabilisers, they will do so without developing balance skills. Balancing is hard to grasp, which can mean having to reteach cycling to your child.
Develop bad habits.
Training wheels keep a bike upright. Because of this, a child who learns using them does not know the importance of leaning when cycling.
Stabilisers mean that a bike leans to the wrong side when taking a corner, teaching the bad habit of leaning the wrong way. This puts you on the backfoot when taking off the stabilisers. This is because new skills need teaching and old, bad ones need to be untaught.
Plastic rattling noise.
Although it isn't as fundamental as some of our other cons, it had to make our list. Stabilisers are usually made of plastic. Sometimes this creates an annoying rattling sound as they move.
This noise won't frustrate many people, but it could be a deal-breaker for those that it does irritate. Think squeaking shoes and a rusty swing. If these sounds make you irrationally angry, we understand. And, we urge you to choose your kids training wheels carefully.
Don't deal well with uneven surfaces.
Little wheels cannot handle rocky terrain. If the wheels go on rough surfaces, bikes with stabilisers often cannot move forward. And who can blame them - they're only tiny! But, this is less than ideal if the ground is anything but smooth, limiting where you can explore with training wheels.
After weighing up the pros and cons of the tricycle, balance bike, and stabilisers, you might have a better idea of the best option for your child.
There are no wrong decisions, as each choice is proven to help kids learn to cycle countless times. This knowledge should make your purchase simpler, but we know it's not that easy.
Instead, perhaps consider these questions. They aim to prompt you to think about which option will best meet your specific needs:
What skill do you want to teach your child first - pedalling or balancing?
Where do you live? In a flat area or amongst a lot of hills?
How young do you want to start teaching your child to cycle?
How long do you want this bike to last your child?
Do you want your child to stay close to you or be able to roam freely when on their bike?
Do the areas you aim to cycle in have smooth or bumpy ground?
We hope we have made the decision making process and little easier for you!
Considering a tricycle but still not sure if it's right for you? Click here to find out more about the tricycle!