Outdoor Play / Play

14 Tips for Teaching Your Toddler How to Ride a Balance Bike

Last Updated: November 23, 2021

Today I wanted to share a bit about our balance bike experience with our toddler. We are a biking family. So it is important to us that our child learn how to ride a bike and enjoy biking too. I biked throughout my whole pregnancy with him (usually just short neighborhood jaunts). He was exposed to bikes from an early age and was really excited about getting a bike when we saw other kids on balance bikes. I bought him a Strider bike around 18 months, but he didn’t really start using it until just after turning 2! So first some practical info, then my tips for teaching your toddler or preschooler how to ride a balance bike.

How to teach your toddler to ride a balance bike - tips and tricks

Frequently Asked Questions about Toddlers & Balance Bikes:

What is the best balance bike for toddlers? First up, the bike. Strider balance bikes are the most popular balance bikes and very affordable. Two Wheeling Tots does a great job of comparing bikes and outlining the pros and cons. However, it can also make you feel like you should spend extra and get the BEST for your toddler. So I’m here to tell you, whether you buy a used Strider bike (retails $90) or a $200 Woom balance bike. That’s not going to make or break your toddler’s balance bike experience. We have friends with both and it’s really zero about the bike and more about the kid and parent.

When can toddlers start riding a balance bike? As long as they can walk well unassisted, they can “ride” a balance bike. At first, they’re simply walking around anyway. The earliest is usually around 18 months. Most toddlers don’t really get interested until closer to two years old, but it doesn’t hurt to have it around for added exposure!

How long does it take to learn to ride a balance bike? The younger they start, the longer it takes. Of course all children are different, but as a general rule, an 18 month old or young two year old is going to take many months to even a year to learn to ride and get to the “gliding” stage. If they’re older, like a three year old, they can learn it super quickly, even in a few days.

Tips for Teaching Your Child How to Ride a Balance Bike:

#1. Be Chill! Zero pressure from you, but EXPOSURE to the bike

Low pressure is key! I have met so many parents while biking around with my two year old who are just astounded that this little guy is speed racing around on a balance bike. This excitement can come across as a little intense! With comments like “see {insert their childs name} why don’t you do that?! You could be biking like this kid!” Ummm well there dad, you seem way too high pressure sales on this bike thing and like it’s a big deal that I do it and now I really am not interested.

We got our balance bike around 18 months, but he didn’t really start using it until just after turning 2! He took it out one time with us holding the handlebars and helping him walk. Then he wanted to get off it and didn’t really want to ride again. Over the next few months, I would ask occasionally if he wanted to ride it and he would say no! But it was in the house, and he liked to play bike shop with it and have it tipped upside down or play with the wheels etc. Suddenly around two, he was curious about riding. He would make these super slooow treks around the block and our neighborhood. And he progressed from inching along to zooming or gliding within a couple months.

Also monkey see, monkey do. Do you bike? If your child has never seen you on a bike before, they might take some getting used to the idea of bikes in general.

#2. Follow their personality

Our son is very cautious by nature and also stubborn. We’ve let him take his time and do it at his speed. I think seeing other friends and neighbor kids on bikes got him excited about it too, but for the most part, he approached balance biking very slowly and any time he has seemed to “level up” in skill it’s 100% his idea and doing in trying something new. However, one of his toddler friends was more motivated by seeing him bike than the idea of biking solo. And she has often leveled up by seeing him do a thing and wanting to do it too, like putting her feet up on the pegs etc.

So for many kids, it’s a combo of exposure and low pressure. The bike is around. Your child sees you biking. You aren’t forcing them to bike. Occasionally, you ask if they want to. You don’t try to bribe or convince. You my friend, have zero vested interest in whether or not they ride a bike. Be chill! By elementary school, they’ll probably have learned how to bike. For example, I would take the jogging stroller with us at first and if he was like I don’t want to ride anymore and we were a block or a mile from the house, it didn’t matter, I was just like sure whatever and we’d put it in the stroller. If you do a morning or an evening walk, try bringing the bike along for a week and see if they ask to use it instead of walking at some point.

how to fit a balance bike on a stroller
How to easily fit a balance bike on a jogging stroller. Have it hang vertically on the handlebar and console storage.

#3. Acknowledge that a new activity/bikes can be scary

When you first get a balance bike, it’s common for them to get on and then get right back off. Many children are afraid of balance bikes. This is totally normal. It can feel very unstable to be on a wheeled object. I mean, go stand on a skateboard and let me know how you feel. It’s a new activity for them. And it has wheels, which can roll away. Especially if they’re younger, and still getting their own walking and running coordination going. A strider bike can feel like too big of a thing. And sometimes as parents, we can be so goal-oriented of getting to the next “milestone” or learning how to do something. It’ll take as long as it takes. Kind of like toddler hiking, think of it as the journey!

#4. Make sure the seat is super low – feet flat on the ground

For the first few months they’re just walking around with it so they need to be able to freely walk AND feel like they could sit back on seat while not losing balance. If you’re starting early, that usually means having the seat almost as low as it can go. The going suggestion from balance bike brands is having the seat height 1-2″ lower than their standing inseam measurement. We never actually measured, but eyed it. Their feet should be flat on the ground if they’re sitting back on the seat. This is different than us as adults riding bikes!

#5. Teach them how to get on the bike and lower it back down

How we get on bikes as adults is very different than the easiest way for a toddler. Lay the bike on the ground on it’s side. Have your child step over the frame (one foot on each side). Then grab the handlebars and lift the bike up. To get off the bike, they do this in reverse. This helps them remain stable, with two feet firmly planted on the ground as they are starting out. Getting started by lifting a foot in the air while holding onto a rolling object, when they probably can’t even balance on one foot yet, is a recipe for them feeling unstable.

#6. Find a balance of pushing them around and letting them practice solo

Our toddler thought it was fun to put his feet up on the pegs and have us hold the handlebar and wheel him around. This is fun for them, but not teaching them to walk it around. So we would sometimes, but at some point we decided that it was a downhill help assistance that we would help him with and if he wanted to bike he needed to walk it. Of course, we would still occasionally run with him doing that because, hello it’s fun. But we tried to not get in a situation where it was like ok we take the bike out and the sole purpose is for us to just push him around.

#7. Practice with other balancing activities like scooters

We received a hand-me down Little Tikes scooter. The wheels on it were much slower than the Micro scooters. So he coasted on short sidewalk ramps on that from around 18 months old. And with a bar to hold onto and just standing on the platform, I think he felt safer (what an illusion!). But I would help him coast down little park ramps and sidewalk inclines. As a cautious toddler, it was good for him to experience the balance and feeling of moving on wheels. Some people say to not have other wheeled things around like tricycles or scooters when you’re trying to teach them a balance bike. I think that’s a little overboard and just let them be a kid with multiple interests. We’re not trying to get them into the Balance Bike Olympics.

#8. Practice indoors

We started letting him use it in the house a couple months after he started biking during winter (he would help clean the tires first) and that’s when he got a lot more confident and fast. So I think it was time on the bike overall and the extra time inside that helped him be more comfortable. I think being inside also felt lower pressure and it was a consistent environment and more exposure since he would just hop on and ride for 5-10 minutes after dinner etc. versus getting bundled up for an outdoor winter biking adventure. Tip: if you do bike in winter, get your kiddo a Buff headband to keep the wind and cold out of their ears. As mentioned in my kids winter gear post, it’s great for under helmets as it’s thinner than a beanie type hat.

#9. Practice on small hills, ramps or inclines

As they move into the balance and gliding stages, biking on different terrain is the biggest help to get other skills to click in. If you’re just practicing on a flat basketball court or parking lot, they may not have encountered other terrain. We take the balance bike on walks, where we encounter driveway ramps, hills, paths, and a few “off road” areas. Every time he’s leveled up it’s been from encountering something in his natural habitat. And wanting to go down a hill etc. This is how they will learn how to stop on a balance bike. After they start balancing and gliding a little bit, their natural instinct will be to slow themselves down with their feet! We always wear close-toe shoes for biking. And ones like the See Kai Run shoes have great soles for biking.

#10. Take the bike places

What’s nice about a balance bike is that it’s so small. We often put it in the car and bring it along on an adventure. Like easy and wide “hiking” trails or walks, to a different neighborhood, going to a friends house, camping, etc. This can also be more motivating for a kid to have a change of scenery and they might want to use it.

balance bike at the pump track

#11. Teach bike and traffic safety early

It may seem silly to try and teach your toddler about traffic lights and stop signs. But teaching them from a young age is the best way for it to be instinctual. When we get to the end of the street we stop, and have him help in looking both ways. They won’t be biking on their own for a while, but if you’re the one who always goes and says ok it’s clear, they’re not getting that practice of looking and thinking for themselves.

#12. Get a helmet they like

With a balance bike, you’re teaching them early about bike safety. Find a helmet that is comfortable on their head. And letting them pick the color can also help in them wanting to wear it. We liked the Giro Scamp for early years because it was so lightweight. We have a helmet-required policy in our family. If you’re on a wheeled object, you have a helmet on. Parents included. Practice what you preach and make it a non-negotiable thing. They might be going slow just walking a bike around, but they can still crash easily and being used to wearing a helmet early is easier when they get older. And make sure you have the helmet fitted over their forehead. The forehead and hands are usually what hit first when they start crashing. I see so many helmets perched back on the top of kids’ heads. It’s not a yarmulka.

#13. Start a balance bike gang!

Depending on your neighborhood, if you don’t have young kids on your street, go find some! A couple months in to balance biking our little one loved biking with a friend. I would walk with the jogging stroller about half mile to their house, and their “bike gang” would Strider from there to a low-traffic street “bike boulevard”. This was great motivation for them both. And a nice little outing, since there weren’t kids out playing on our street during the day during the school year.

#14. They might not be a balance bike fan [yet] or ever!

Do you love all the same activities and hobbies as your mom does? While some kids take just a month or two or a year to warm up to balance bikes, there are some kids who just aren’t fans. Yes, you might need to teach them to ride a bike for practical life reasons at some point. But we don’t all have the same interests and desires. That’s ok too. I have one niece who was all about the balance bike around 2 years old, and the other niece at that age just wanted to go fast on her scooter. She ended up learning to ride a bike with training wheels around 4.5 years old. Guess what? They’re both active kids and both knew how to ride a bike by elementary school. Just different ways of learning and interests.

Typical Progression of Balance Bike Skill Level:

Here’s a great video of what the stages look like. I would add a few:

  • Looking at the bike, ignoring the bike, or actively disliking the bike
  • Acceptance of the bike and it’s existence, curiosity about the bike
  • Putting them on the bike and rolling them around by the handlebar
  • Teaching them to get on/off the bike solo (by stepping over frame, and lifting up)
  • STAND & WALK: Walking the bike (not using seat)
  • SIT & WALK: Walking the bike while using the seat
  • SIT, RUN, & BALANCE: Gliding and coasting with feet sliding on ground or lifted off ground
  • SIT, RUN, & GLIDE: Turning and gliding while balancing, and coasting with feet up on the pegs

Six months after our son started riding his balance bike, he started coasting with his feet up on the pegs. He’d already been gliding for a while, but he would just lift his feet up in the air. And then using his shoes sliding to slow himself down after coasting. At first I was wishing he had a hand brake, but then thought well then he might go even faster so maybe it’s best he knows he has to use his shoes to slow down for now. And now, at almost three we’re taking him to the pump track and he’s zooming over the little hills and having a great time. (Update: and at 3 he started riding his first pedal bike – the Woom 2!)

Suddenly one day, they’ll be scaring you a little bit more every day! Do you have any tips to add?

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