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Learning to ride a bike is a major developmental milestone for children. Riding a bike teaches children independence, allows them to improve their balance and reaction time, and improves their physical fitness. Most experts agree the average age for a child to be able to master a two-wheel pedal bike is between 5 and 7 years old.
Tricycles and bikes with training wheels do not allow children to improve their balance when riding, and in theory this delays when they will be able to successfully ride a pedal bike. Learning to pedal is an easier task for children than learning to balance, which takes more time and practice.
In addition, balance bikes prepare children more for the random loss of balance they will experience on a pedal bike, leading them to fall less often when they finally get on a pedal bike. When a child rides a tricycle or a bike with training wheels the side wheels stop them from losing their balance. The challenge is that they don’t learn the skill of ‘counterbalancing’ (shifting your weight to the opposite side of the fall to keep yourself upright) to keep from falling. Counterbalancing becomes second nature to experienced riders, but to a child just learning to ride it can be confusing and throw them off.
Balance bikes are smaller and lighter than pedal bikes, making them less intimidating, easier to balance on, and allows children to ride at a younger age. Most of the recommendations suggest starting your child on a balance bike around the age of 2. There is such a thing as ‘too early’ to start your child on a balance bike. Wait until they are developmentally ready to balance on a bike, which is usually between 18-24 months. The earlier they start on a balance bike, in theory, the earlier they will be able to master a pedal bike. Keep in mind, some kids have no interest in biking at that age, so you can continue to reintroduce the bike every couple of months until they are motivated to learn. When picking out a balance bike, you should make sure you child can put both feet on the ground comfortably and that the seat is high enough to allow you child to lift their feet off the ground and glide.
My 4-year-old cruises on his balance bike at crazy fast speeds, allowing him to cover a lot of ground. For children with older siblings this is a great aspect of the balance bike, allowing them to keep up with their older siblings easier than they would on a big wheel or tricycle. Children also build extra confidence riding a balance bike because they are not getting any assistance from their parents, or wheels that help balance them out.
Why not try a balance bike? There are no hard fast rules for learning to ride a bike. Kids have different learning styles and there are many techniques you can try to get your child riding their first two-wheel pedal bike. In the end, no matter what kind of bike you decide start your child out on, you are getting your child outside and moving around instead of sitting on the couch watching TV or playing on a tablet … and that’s a good thing!
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