For most bike riders, graduating from tricycle to two-wheeler involved a set of training wheels — and often, tears, frustration and scraped skin, too. But many parents are finding their kids have an easier and safer transition riding a balance bike instead.
These no-pedal bicycles for toddlers and children go by many names: walking bike, kick bike, push bike. And they can be “ridden” as soon as a child can confidently walk. For Redding mom Heather Waldrop, “It’s the only way to get your kid to learn how to ride a bike.”
“Training wheels are so unsafe, in my opinion. I’ve actually seen accidents happen because of training wheels,” she said.
At Redding bike shop Bikes Etc., mechanic Noel Welch said training wheels simply aren’t helpful in learning to ride. In fact, “We try not to sell them if we can help it,” he said.
Welch pointed out a pink-and-white girls’ bike that a customer had brought in for some work. “There’s a perfect example,” he said, pointing out its training wheels, worn down on just one side. “(Kids) lean on the back wheel and the training wheel, and they never learn the balance.”
Instead, the shop’s employees direct customers to their selection of Raleigh aluminum-frame push bikes (which sell for $140), or to the wood-frame Skuut bikes (about $99) or other brands they can order. Most bike shops in Redding now stock balance bikes, which can range widely in price. Toy stores now carry some models, too. Online, Toys “R” Us and Target both sell the Strider balance bike for $99.
Instead of purchasing a balance bike, Heather Waldrop’s husband John, an avid cyclist and adept bike mechanic, suggested they take the pedals and chain off the two-wheeler awaiting their son Tyler.
“Of course, you know, at first I thought it was just another one of his harebrained ideas,” Heather Waldrop said with a laugh.
But with the modified bike, both Tyler and younger sister Adeline easily learned how to ride bikes with pedals by age 3, Heather Waldrop said.
On a balance bike, children sit on the seat and “walk” the bike forward, gaining confidence at their own pace. Over time, they speed up to a seated “run.” Eventually, young riders lift their feet off the ground and let themselves glide for a few seconds, thrilled with the joy of coasting along. After that stage, the Waldrops’ children started seeking out little hills to roll down, Heather said.
The couple has taken their kids on dirt trails that would never work for a bike with training wheels, she said. Both parents and kids love that freedom, she said. “You can go off road, and they just follow along and cruise around, and it’s just way more fun.”
At Sugarplum Cottage Toy Shoppe & Baby Boutique in Redding, owner Kathy Norman said she has stocked several kinds of balance bikes for very young children, and plans to again at Christmas. One that she likes for ages 2 or 3 is the TootScoot, for $79, which has wheels wide enough for the bike to stand up by itself.
“The TootSkoot is very lightweight as well. My 2-year-old grandson can pick it up and carry it around,” she said. “But the whole concept is that they learn to balance the bike, and the feet are on the ground.”
When parents come in the store and spot a balance bike, they don’t look at it skeptically, Norman said. “It’s more like, why haven’t we been doing this all along?”
Kimberly Ross is managing editor of aNewsCafe.com and the proud at-home mama of one balance-bike-ridin’ 2-year-old. Little Sophia adores her bright red bicycle, and can now zip around the block with her parents, Kimberly and Bruce, on her own two wheels. You may reach Sophia’s mom at email@example.com.
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