There are multiple schools of thought on the best way to teach a child to ride a bike. Whilst some still swear by more old school methods, others are convinced balance bikes are the way to go. So which is the right answer? Stabilisers or balance bike? Well of course, the truth is, in reality, there is no right or wrong answer; it very much depends on the child. But here are some pros and cons of a pedal bike with stabilisers vs balance bike…
Starting Out on the Right Footing
All children learn at their own pace and have different levels of confidence when it comes to learning. Cycling is no different. The child’s gross motor skills and physical abilities (such as muscle strength, balance, and coordination), as well as their mindset, and also their emotional development for taking on a new skill, all play a part in learning to ride a bike. If they are not interested or not ready, it is unlikely to be an enjoyable experience, and it therefore might be better to come back to it at a later date.
However, even if your child is keen to learn and ready to begin, it is still natural that some kids will find certain activities easier, whereas others will find them distressing or frustrating. This can come down to a variety of factors, such as the ones given above. For example, it can help to begin with a balance bike if one of these factors comes down to be not being ready to pedal. On the otherhand, if the child struggles with balance, or doesn’t like feeling wobbly or unstable (which can be a fear of falling off, but can also be a sensory processing difficulty too) then stabilisers might make more sense to begin.
Balance Bike (Pros and Cons)
There are fewer moving parts; no pedals or chains for example. This means there are fewer visual distractions and less parts to consider for the learner. Many find that balance bikes are efficient at encouraging the development of balance and coordination, and these early motor skills lead to increased confidence.
The market accommodates a wide range of shapes and sizes, from a year and half upwards. As they are a training item, they tend not to benefit from long-term use. Fortunately though, there are balance bikes on the market which can be expanded upon or adjusted. It is also worth noting some are made from more eco-friendly materials too.
Some children just don’t gel with the concept of a balance bike. Which, of course, is understandable. This can come down to lack of strength in certain muscles, lack of coordination, not being ready developmentally, a sensory disorder, confidence, or any number of other things. It can even be as simple as being uncomfortable standing for prolonged periods of time and needing the respite that stabilisers give.
Stabilisers (Pros and Cons)
There is much discourse out there about whether or not stabilisers are a good thing. I think generally speaking, if you opt for a pedal bike vs balance bike, then starting out with stabilisers usually makes sense.
The debate for and against stabilisers often comes down to factors such as offering comfort and building confidence vs developing good habits (ie learning to balance). There is alot to be said though for developing the muscle strength and technique needed to pedal, practising steering and braking skills, and developing road safety awareness, before tackling balance. Ultimately, it comes down to what the child who is learning to ride a bike needs. If the extra support and balance of stabilisers will give them the confidence to move forward, then the choice should be simple.
It is also worth noting that some people opt for getting a traditional bike then actually remove the pedals and stabilisers from this type of bike, if they decide they do wish to try the balance bike method for a while. This potentially makes this style of bike a more versatile choice, giving greater flexiblily in teaching approach.
Balance Bike vs Stabilisers Summary
So here is the bottom line when it comes to deciding on a balance bike vs stabilisers; no two kids are the same. Think about your individual child; their needs and personal preferences. Then make the choice that makes the most sense for them personally. And if it turns out not to be the right decision, try something else.
Whether opting for a balance bike or pedal bike with stabilisers, children do grow out of bikes quite quickly. So whichever method you choose, it is often worth seeing whether you can borrow a bike to try out first, or consider buying secondhand. That way, it won’t be as frustrating if you need to rethink your approach, or your child becomes disinterested in learning to cycle.
Squiggle’s bikes to date have cost a few pounds from local buying and selling groups, and have then been passed on after she has outgrown them. I personally wouldn’t consider investing in a new bike until I know it will actually be worth it! And she did not get on with balance bikes at all; for sensory reasons, she absolutely hated the concept and couldn’t even tolerate sitting on a balance bike for a few seconds. So, the answer for us; pedal bike with stabilisers!
Which does your child prefer; pedal bike with stabilisers or balance bike? Let me know in comments!
You might also enjoy: How to teach a child to ride a bike and safety considerations when teaching a child to ride a bike