Has your child learnt to walk? Great! They're ready to start riding a kids' bike. But are they best off with a balance bike (bike without pedals) or a tricycle?
We explain why balance bikes have become a must-have for toddlers aged 2 and up. why choose a balance bike? At what age can you use one?
1. What's the Difference Between a Tricycle and a Balance Bike (Bike Without Pedals)?
The difference between a balance bike (a bike without pedals) and a tricycle is pretty obvious: on a balance bike, your child is more or less vertical, whereas on a trike they're semi-reclined. The reason? The way each bike is designed. The posture that a child has to adopt on a balance bike - with their legs directly beneath their upper body - is a natural, physiological position. They therefore learn to balance naturally, as they would when learning to walk.
On a tricycle, the position is more stable because of the three wheels, the handlebar is higher than on a bike and, most importantly, the pedals are on the front wheel. Isn't stability good for learning? Not really. “It's not logical to use,” explains physiotherapist Karine Roulin. “On a tricycle, the child has their feet in front of them, which also means having their legs straight or pushing with their toes if they aren't very tall. The child can't put much force through the pedals and, on top of that, this position strains the abdomen.”
2. A Balance Bike or Tricycle for Kids Aged 2 and Up? What's Best for Developing Their Independence?
The great thing about balance bikes is that kids can move along, go up and down pavements, and get themselves off slightly muddy ground unaided. It's because they're lighter and more maneuverable than bikes with stabilizers, giving learner cyclists that bit more freedom. A balance bike is also perfect for learning to brake, provided you buy a model equipped with brakes. Kids will quickly understand that they're the one who controls their bike and that they can do what they want with it.
Some trikes come with a removable pole that parents can use to make sure their child doesn't stray too far and to help them steer.
The fundamental differences are by no means trivial. According to Frédéric Héran, an economist, urban designer and lecturer at the University of Lille 1, the rise of the tricycle dates from the 1950s to the 1970s, “when cycling was reduced to a recreational activity or a children's game. You could no longer leave kids to play on their bikes out in the street: that space was reserved for cars, the symbol of progress. But tricycles - with a parent pole to aid steering - and bikes with stabilizers stopped kids becoming too independent too quickly by forcing them to stay under constant adult supervision.”
In the era of free motor skills and independent activities, “the rise of the balance bike reflects the cycling boom and the unrivaled freedom it can offer for even the youngest of children, in cities where traffic levels are finally dropping,” he explains.
3. How Do You Learn to Ride a Bike?
When physiotherapist Karine Roulin explains what a balance bike is, she highlights the importance of the posture it forces kids to adopt. “The child has to find their center of gravity and realize that, if they lift one of their feet, they'll fall. It's all about shifting their weight from one foot to the other, and training the muscles that control posture. But if their posture is wrong, they won't learn to balance.”
But why not start out on a tricycle so you can learn to pedal first?
"Because pedaling isn't actually the hardest part of riding a bike. The hardest thing for a child is learning to balance, and understanding that they have to keep moving if they want to keep their balance," says Karine.
4. Why Use a Balance Bike to Learn to Ride a Bike?
Balance bikes - those little bikes without pedals - are often used by kids aged 2 and up. But what is the advantage of this pedal-less bike? Is it really necessary to begin cycling with a balance bike? We can say for sure that, among other things, it helps kids develop their balance and motor skills.
"Cycling involves coordinating and linking together multiple movements. This is in addition to hand/eye coordination and balance... So altogether there are a lot of things to take into account," Karine.
The balance bike gives children the opportunity to break down these movements. It helps them discover their balance, learn to distribute their weight, and find their center of gravity. The balance bike targets an essential basic skill: balance. ”
5. From What Age Can You Use a Balance Bike?
Pre-requisite: the child should be able to walk. “The balance bike can be used from 2 years upwards,” explains Karine. But if the child only began to walk at 18/20 months, you should perhaps wait a while… On the other hand, if you feel that the child is ready and confident, why not let them try a bit sooner?”
The issue of size is also important: the child should not be on their tiptoes; they should feel safe and in control.
“With the balance bike, the child discovers exactly what makes cycling so magical: dynamic balancing on two wheels,” summarizes Frédéric Héran. The lightness and simplicity of the bike perfectly suits their small bodies and provides them with extraordinary dexterity.”
So, Balance Bike or Tricycle?
What you choose will depend on your aims: if you want your child to learn to ride a bike or improve their motor skills, opt for a balance bike. ~If it's just for play, why not choose a trike? Certain models even come with a little plastic container hooked onto the back wheels, or a front basket that kids can put their toys in.
And when they're a bit older your child can begin to ride kids' bikes that resemble adult bikes very closely. Many have a chain guard for added safety. And when you're ready for one, too, we've got you covered.