Ready to Ride: Navigating the Transition from a Balance Bike to Pedal Bike

By Charlotte Murray

Balance bikes, also known as toddler bikes, are specially designed to teach your child how to balance on two wheels. Without pedals, they learn two basic fundamentals of riding a bike: how to start, and how to stop.

Back in the ‘90s and prior to that, stabilisers, also known as training wheels, were the way to learn. They could be attached to and removed from a bike, meaning children could grow with the bike they were learning on. But over the past 20 years, the approach to teaching to ride a bike has changed. Learning to pedal can take a few minutes to grasp but learning to balance can take months. Hence, stabilisers have fallen out of fashion and the balance bike has risen in popularity.

The next challenge comes then when they’re ready to start pedalling. They’re cruising along with two feet at speed and using their brakes when needed. Visions of two-wheeled adventures with your little one are getting ever more possible as you imagine buying their very first pedal bike.

If you’ve got a bike from which you removed the pedals, it may seem simple enough to just put the pedals back on and hope your little one takes to it with ease. But you want to get it right the first time so that you build a sustainable love for cycling as they get older.

Boy on a bike
Is your child ready? © Profimedia

1) Are they ready?

You’ll likely know when they’re ready and there are a few questions you can ask to be sure.

– Does your little one show confidence on their balance bike?
– Are they keen and excited by the prospect of being out on their bike?
– Do they have good hand/eye coordination generally, even when not on their bike?
– Have they asked for a pedal bike?

2) Have they practised a variety of skills on their balance bike?

Honing a variety of skills on a balance bike will make the transition to a pedal bike much easier. You could try a number of different challenges to test your little rider’s skills such as:

– Riding through and around cones,
– Riding up or down a curb,
– Ride up and down hills, you could try a pump track designed for smaller bikes,

These skills can be practised on a pedal bike but they’re much less likely to injure themselves on a balance bike and will learn great movement control before the transition to pedals.

3) Can they balance, steer and pedal at the same time?

A difficult one to gauge but trying to do all three things at once is difficult even for an adult if they’ve never done it before. Some kids might hop on a pedal bike and cycle off into the sunset, others however won’t get it straight away.

It’s best to keep hold of the balance bike until you’re sure they’re confident in the transition. You want them to love riding their bike so it shouldn’t be too much of a challenge and you can’t force this developmental milestone. It will come with time and gentle encouragement will ensure they set off on the right foot.

You may even have a 2-in-1 balance-to-pedal bike, in which case you can occasionally try adding the pedals back on and see what happens. You’re safe in the knowledge that they can be removed again if the time isn’t right.

It’s an exciting stage in a child’s life, as well as the parent’s. The possibilities begin to grow and you may feel inclined to rush the process. But take it one step at a time and don’t be discouraged if it feels slower than you anticipated. Be OK with the fact that there may be some regression and some tantrums. But ultimately your love of bikes will filter through to your little one, ready for a life filled with two-wheeled adventures.