How to Use a Balance Bike With Your Child

young child on a balance bike

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Learning to ride a bike is a childhood rite of passage. But the process can take time, especially if your child has a fear of having the training wheels removed. For this reason, some parents feel that balance bikes are the ideal way to introduce young kids to bicycle riding. Not only are balance bikes typically smaller, lighter, and designed to fit small children, but kids can potentially start riding a balance bike at a younger age than a traditional bicycle.

"The point of a balance bike is to teach a child to learn to ride without training wheels," says Elizabeth Davis, MD, FAAP, a pediatric sports medicine physician with Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children. "They are bikes without pedals that kids can sit on while their feet touch the ground. There is no known advantage of a balance bike over a traditional bike, but the child may possibly learn to ride a two-wheeled bike with pedals a little sooner."

In fact, one study found that using a balance bike—particularly during the first stages of learning—can lead to kids mastering bike riding at a much younger age. Additionally, the researchers found that when kids learn to ride a bike earlier, they are more likely to have a healthy weight once they are in school.

If you are considering a balance bike for your child, you may be wondering how to use one as well as the best time to start. We spoke with experts to learn more about balance bikes, their benefits, and how to use one at home with your kids.

What Is a Balance Bike? 

A balance bike is a bicycle made for little kids that does not contain pedals. It has a frame, fork, handlebars, and wheels, but no drivetrain. To move forward, kids push along the ground with their feet.

"With a balance bike, a child will sit on the saddle and walk in place until they learn to glide," says Ann Marie Miller, MA, a USA Cycling level 2 licensed coach and AFAA group fitness instructor. "Eventually, a child will learn to take increasingly longer strides until they can coast for lengthier periods of time."

These bikes do not have training wheels or stabilizers. Instead, kids put their feet on the ground while they learn to develop their balance and coordination. When they are confident and ready, they can progress to a bike with pedals, Miller says.

Some balance bikes do not have handbrakes, but others do. Bikes with brakes allow a child to learn how to operate them before moving to a bike with pedals. 

One advantage of using a balance bike is that it challenges your child to actively maintain balance at a young age. It also can help instill a love for cycling and provide an additional mode of transportation. Starting with a balance bike can pave the way for ongoing physical activity for your child as they get older.

When Can a Child Use a Balance Bike? 

While most kids can start using a balance bike between 18 months and 2 years old, the ideal age will depend on when your child is physically and developmentally ready. Even if your child starts balance biking at a later age, they will still enjoy the benefits that these tools offer. "The usual age [that kids start using a balance bike] is around 2 years old," says Dr. Davis. "Some will start as young as 18 months—especially if there are older siblings already riding bikes. The little ones want to keep up with the big kids!"

You will know your child is ready for a balance bike if they have solid gross motor skills like walking, climbing, and stepping up, says Dr. Davis. In other words, they should be able to stand over the center of the bike. They also should be showing some independence, and demonstrating that they want to try new things, she adds.

"Your child will need to be tall enough to sit on the balance bike comfortably with their feet touching the ground," Miller says. "Remember, when you put a younger child on a balance bike, they must be able to use it on their own, but with your supervision."

How to Use a Balance Bike

The learning process for a balance bike is very similar to training on a traditional bicycle. Your child will need to be equipped with the proper safety gear and will need to be shown how to balance in order to stop the bike.

That said, some kids may be a little reluctant at first. Here is how you can make the process of learning to use a balance bike easier—and more fun—for your child.

Think Safety First

When riding a balance bike, or any moving toy like a scooter or skateboard, your child should always wear a well-fitted helmet, Dr. Davis says. They should also be supervised by an adult and should preferably ride where there are no cars or other motorized vehicles.

"Your child should also be wearing protective footwear, which consists of a solid covering over the foot," Miller says. "Sandals are not appropriate because you want to avoid scraping toes or hurting their feet. You also should make sure they are wearing appropriate clothing." Avoid loose hanging clothes and sleeves that are droopy, she says.

In other words, kids should not wear their princess dress while riding their balance bike. Instead, they should wear pants, sturdy shoes, and a snug shirt or jacket.

You also want to ensure that the balance bike fits your child, Miller notes. While sitting on the saddle, your child should be able to touch the ground with their feet, and the handlebars should be within comfortable reach. "You might even consider protective eyewear like sunglasses to ensure that insects or sand do not get in your child's eyes," she adds.

Help Your Child Get Comfortable

Some kids will hop on a balance bike without any issues and take off right away. Others may need a little more support and encouragement.

While you don't want to pressure your child to get on a balance bike before they are ready, you do want to empower them to give it a try. Do what you can to make them feel as comfortable as possible, even if that means walking or jogging alongside them at first.

Pick a Safe Location

An open area free from traffic and distraction will provide the best learning environment for your child. Parks, bike trails, and some sidewalks can provide good places to test out a balance bike. Just try to avoid locations with a lot of obstacles like people, open water, parked cars, steps, or lots of trees.

According to Miller, some parents find that it’s helpful to pick a gentle hill where your child can coast easily without gaining too much speed. Just make sure there is plenty of space at the bottom for them to stop without running into something or someone.

Teach Them to Use the Balance Bike

It is also important to talk to your child about how to use a balance bike. Make sure they know how to make it "go." "Like a scooter, they use their feet to propel the bike forward," says Dr. Davis. "To take a break and 'coast' on the bike while it's moving, they lift their feet off the ground. This teaches them balance and coordination."

More importantly than making the bike go, make sure they know how to stop. Most kids will naturally put their feet down to stop the bike, says Miller. But be sure they know that they are responsible for stopping the bike should they be going too fast or approaching an obstacle.

Once they are comfortable and know how to use their feet to stop, you can talk to them about the handbrakes if your child's balance bike is equipped with them. Not only will they need finger strength to use the brakes, but they also need to know how to operate them.

Start with the rear brakes first before moving to the front brakes, Miller says. Some parents choose to run alongside their child with their hand on their back in case they need to stop while they are still learning how to operate the brakes. This provides a sense of comfort and safety for your child. "You also want to talk to them about the bike and how it works," says Miller. "Encourage them to keep looking forward and watch where they are going. They should look where they want to go, and the bike will move in that direction."

Show Them That Cycling Is Fun

Because kids often want to copy what they see others doing, show your child that riding a bike offers them a chance for adventure. If they have a sibling that rides a bike—even better. You can go on bicycle outings as a family and demonstrate that riding a bike is something enjoyable to do with others.

"Make riding a bike fun," suggests Miller. "Introduce them to the idea that cycling makes the world around them easily accessible. Help them associate cycling with adventure as well as it being beneficial for fitness and health. A child who has a positive experience will continue to cycle and may even make it a regular part of their life when they are older."

A Word From Verywell

Balance bikes are a great way to introduce your toddler or preschooler to cycling. Not only do these unique bikes prepare kids for riding a traditional bike, but they also help them develop balance and coordination. Plus, they provide your child with an excellent way to stay physically active and have some fun, too.

Be sure that you are supervising your child while they are using the balance bike as well as dressing them in the appropriate safety gear—namely, a well-fitted helmet. You also should talk to your child about how a balance bike works and help them get comfortable using one. Before you know it, they will be zooming around the neighborhood with the rest of the family.

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Mercê C, Branco M, Catela D, Lopes F, Cordovil R. Learning to cycle: From training wheels to balance bike. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022 Feb 5;19(3):1814. doi:10.3390/ijerph19031814

  2. Blommenstein B, Kamp J. Mastering balance: The use of balance bicycles promotes the development of independent cyclingBritish J of Dev Psycho. 2022;40(2):242-253. doi:10.1111/bjdp.12409

Additional Reading

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert.