Balance bike parents: 3 tell-tale signs your child is ready to pedal
Learning to pedal is a major milestone in every kid's biking journey, and it’s something that as parents, we might feel anxious about tackling.
Perhaps you’re already imagining the tears and tantrums. What if you get it wrong and it puts them off riding bikes forever? Are they ready, when’s the right time, and do they even want to try it?
But thankfully, teaching your little one to ride doesn’t have to be an anxiety inducing experience for you, or them, so long as your little one is ready to make the transition.
Read on to discover the 3 key indicators that your kid is ready to transition from their balance bike and discover the world of pedalling:
SIGN #1: YOUR KID IS ALREADY A BALANCE BIKE NINJA.
Although there’s nothing to stop a pedal bike being your kids first bike, we strongly recommend your kid gets to grips with a balance bike from an early age. Not only are they super fun and easy, helping little riders get stoked on 2 wheels - but they also teach your kid a tonne of key riding skills. Ticking off those skills on a balance bike means when it comes to learning to pedal - all their attention is focussed on the task at hand (or should I say feet?).
How to tell that your kid is a balance bike ninja:
1/ Balancing is second nature
Your little one will be gliding for long periods on their balance bike, only using their feet to propel themselves – and not putting them down in-between glides.
2/ Steering is a breeze
They can shift their weight on the bike and steer between obstacles. They can make tight turns without falling.
3/ They know how to stop
It’s a good idea to get a rear hand brake for your kids' balance bike, and make sure they’re using it confidently before introducing pedals. On a pedal bike, they won’t be able to put their feet down to stop, so if they’re confident using a hand brake – that’s one less thing to learn and draw their attention away from pedalling.
SIGN #2: YOUR KID IS PHYSICALLY READY TO RIDE
As the parenting adage goes – it’s about stages, not ages. There’s no golden rule for what age your kid should start pedalling, and every kid will develop at different times.
Below are 3 indicators that your little one is physically ready to pedal:
1/ They’re strong enough
Your little one’s first pedal bike will likely be a 14” or 16” bike, and be constructed from heavier materials than their 12” balance bike. As such, you want to know your kid can handle the weight. Climbing playground equipment is a good indication they’ve got suitable arm strength.
Keep in mind that a kid's bike ideally shouldn’t weigh more than 30% of their body weight. For example, if your 4 year old weighs 37lb / 17kg, that translates to a 11lb / 5kg bike max weight. By the time you get to 16”, only the more premium bikes would meet this criteria for our 4 year old example. As such, you might choose to start on a 14” bike, or wait a little longer for your kid to mature - it’s a balancing act (see what I did there?)
2/ They’re tall enough
Your little one’s new pedal bike is not only going to be heavier, it’s also going to be bigger. With this in mind, it’s important to make sure your child is tall enough to comfortably ride their new bike.
The key here is saddle height. Your kids inseam (the distance between their crotch and the ground) should be 1-2” higher than the saddle height of the bike. For example, if the bike’s minimum saddle height is 20”, you want your kids inseam to be at least 21”.
Kids bikes vary a lot, but for 14” wheel bikes you’ll find a minimum seat height of around 15-16”, and for 16” wheel bikes you’ll find a minimum seat height of around 18”.
3/ They’re coordinated
Riding a bike requires a set of complex coordination skills – balancing, steering, leaning, using a hand brake - and all at the same time! That’s why we recommend learning most of those skills on a balance bike first, before learning to pedal.
Here are some key indicators of co-ordination development, that suggest your kid is ready to hit the pedals:
- Catching and kicking a ball
- Brushing their own teeth
- They can handle fast changes in direction – for example when running
- They are running, jumping and skipping easily
The development needed for anti-phase leg motion (aka pedalling), typically comes long before they’ll be pedalling a bike, at around 20 months. You’ll notice this develop in your child if they have other pedal based toys, such as trikes.
If your kid is a balance bike ninja, and they're developed enough to physically handle the task of pedalling a larger bike – there’s just one crucial factor left to consider. And it’s a biggie…
SIGN #3: THEY’RE EAGER TO GET PEDALLING
If there’s one point to take away from this article – it’s that there really is no rush for your kid to move on to pedalling if they’re not actually keen.
Being the zen MTB parent coach you are, it’s important to take your own expectations out of the equation. Just because your friends' kids of the same age are all ripping around on pedal bikes, doesn’t mean your kid should be too. After all, angsty parent pressure to get pedalling often has the opposite effect on your kids motivation.
Long story short, your kid is likely to ask for pedals when they’re ready, but to help stoke their interest, try taking them for a bike ride with some friends of the same age who are already pedalling. Try swapping bikes and having a go – seeing their friends on pedal bikes will have them asking questions about it in no time. Easy peasy!
Once you know your kid is ready to hit the pedals, it’s time to get out there and give it a shot. To help you along the way, here are our top 5 tips for making sure their pedal progression a success.
OUR TOP 5 TRICKS FOR TANTRUM FREE, PEDAL PROGRESSION SUCCESS
1/ Keep the balance bike around
The most important thing is to keep your kid stoked on riding bikes. Being able to give their pedal bike a go, but know they can jump back on their balance bike, is key for keeping the good times rolling and the motivation high.
2/ Take the pedals off their new bike
When first introducing a pedal bike, remove the pedals themselves from your kids' new bike, and let them use it as a balance bike for a while. It will mean they get their balancing, braking and steering locked in on the new steed, before they have to worry about actually pedalling.
3/ Try a turbo trainer
If you have one, why not set your kids' pedal bike up on a turbo trainer – that way, they can learn the physical motion required to pedal, without having to worry about balancing, steering or braking at the same time. You might think this sounds the same as training wheels, but …
4/ Don’t be tempted by training wheels
Training wheels are for kids who can’t balance yet – and we know that your little one is already a balance bike master thanks to their runner bike experience. Training wheels can introduce a tonne of bad habits and might even set your little one back a few steps! Learn more about why stabilisers suck over on our blog.
5/ Try a tow rope
One of the biggest challenges for a new pedaler is setting off from a stationary position. Try using a tow rope to give them a slight pull from standstill – just to initiate the motion. The benefit of this approach is that it keeps your little one looking up at you, as opposed to down at their feet, which is far better for learning to ride.
When did your little one make the leap from balance to pedal bike, and did you discover any good tips along the way? We’d love to hear how it went for you, let us know below in the comments.