Should Balance Bikes Have Brakes?

Although my daughter can now ride a pedal bike, she still asks me to let her go on her pink balance bike from time to time. You’d think she’d have no further use for it now that she can ride a bike for ‘bigger kids’!

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However, balance bikes are great fun for toddlers and young children. They are useful for learning the basics, and for improving stability and confidence before they transition to pedal bikes. But why do some balance bikes not have brakes? And why don’t they have pedals at all? Let’s take a look at this in more detail.

Do you need brakes on a balance bike?

Balance bikes don’t need to have brakes, as they can use their feet instead. However, you can buy balance bikes with a brake if you prefer. It’s usually connected to the back wheel, so it’ll be on the left hand side of the handlebar. However, it’s probably advisable to encourage them to use their feet to stop at first. Once your child has mastered this, you can start showing them how to use the brake.

While many parents just transition to a pedal bike once their child has outgrown a balance bike, if they are not quite ready for a bigger frame, it can actually be useful to show them how to brake at this stage. The concept of pedalling, balance and braking can be overwhelming for some young children on a pedal bike!

Why do balance bikes not have brakes?

While you can buy a balance bike with a rear brake, the main function is to encourage your child to use their feet to generate forward motion and to stop, while developing their stability and balance. They are designed to make it easier and quicker to move on to a pedal bike. This means brakes aren’t really that necessary, as it’s just an extra step to think about.  Furthermore, you can always look at braking later, once your child is up and about on a pedal bike.

However, some parents feel more secure knowing their child’s balance bike comes with a brake, as it’s possible for children to pick up some serious speed, even if they don’t have pedals! It’s your choice as a parent really.

Can you add pedals to a balance bike?

You can’t add pedals to a balance bike, as the whole point of them is to build your child’s confidence and allow them to stabilize themselves with their feet. However, you can remove pedals from a pedal bike. This might be an idea if your child has outgrown their balance bike, but they’re not quite ready to start pedalling. You can just unscrew the pedals and take them off the crank arms. Just make sure you lower the seat a bit, so they can touch the floor with their feet a little easier.

How do you stop on a balance bike?

So if some balance bikes don’t have brakes, how are you supposed to stop? You have to encourage your child to use their feet to stop and slow down. This is actually a lot more natural and instinctive for toddlers to understand than to use a brake. At this age, they are constantly on the move walking and running and they understand that their feet are the brakes! They might wear out the soles of their shoes more, but it’s honestly the best way. Just make sure they use their heels and the base of the shoes to slow down, and not their toes. While the latter approach will slow them down a bit, it’s certainly not as effective.

When should a toddler start using a balance bike? How long do they last?

Children are usually ready to ride a balance bike once they are around 18 months to 2 years old. Most kids are ready to start riding a pedal bike from the age of 4, but some continue to use their balance bike until they are 5 years old.

Are balance bikes a waste of money?

It’s clear that some parents think balance bikes are a waste of money, as they feel you could just remove the pedals from a pedal bike and just lower the saddle. While this might be a solution for some, in many cases they’re forgetting some of the advantages of balance bikes.

Firstly, they are fun and very lightweight, which makes it easier for toddlers to manoeuvre and push them with their legs and feet. Many pedal bikes are heavier due to their steel frames. Balance bikes also have a lower height and shorter wheel base, which helps kids balance and ride with more stability. Furthermore, balance bikes aren’t that expensive and you can always pick up one second hand if you’re on a budget.

That being said, one of the main disadvantages with balance bikes is that kids can outgrow them quickly. If your child is a quick learner, it’s possible they might only use one for a few months before moving on to the pedal bike. However, just take pride that your child has learnt how to ride a bike quickly and the balance bike has helped them achieve this goal faster. Furthermore, they’ve learnt this skill safely and they’ll likely have better balance once they are up and running on a pedal bike. Finally, if you’re planning on having a second child, or if you have one who’s almost a toddler, you can always let them use the balance bike at a later date.

Are they dangerous?

Actually balance bikes are a lot safer than other options for young children. This is because the child is in more control as their feet are either on the ground, or very close to it. Tricycles on the other hand are slower, more awkward to manoeuvre and less stable on uneven surfaces.

Are they better than tricycles?

Balance bike owners would say so, and parents who’ve had experience with both products. Here are a couple of reasons why:

  1. Balance bikes are more stable and move easier over uneven surfaces.
  2. They generally fit children better as they are narrower and smaller.
  3. Balance bikes are lighter, a lot easier to ride and kids can travel further with them. Tricycles require a lot more effort to move.

Over at Two Wheeling Tots, they have experience of using tricycles and balance bikes and they have written a really compelling argument on why balance bikes are the best option.

Do balance bikes really work?

It depends on your point of view and your experience with them. Most owners of balance bikes sing their praises as it’s not uncommon for riders to move on to pedal bikes from the age of 4, or even 3. Kids who use training wheels (stabilisers) usually take longer to use pedal bikes on their own, from the age of 5 or 6.

What should you look for in a balance bike?

Here are a few things you should look for if you’re in the market for a balance bike:

Size

To determine the right size, your child should be able to have both feet firmly on the ground when they’re sitting in the saddle. They should also be able to reach the handlebars comfortably with their body learning slightly forwards.

Weight

A lightweight frame is essential for a balance bike to make it easier for your child to use. Aluminium is the best choice as it doesn’t rust and it’s much lighter than steel.

Wheels

Look for balance bikes which have air tyres as they will make it more comfortable to ride, providing more cushioning with the ground.

Padded saddle

You want your child to feel comfortable so buy a balance bike with a padded saddle.

Check out Little Big Bikes for more info on choosing balance bikes.

What is the best balance bike for my child?

Here are some good options to consider if you want to buy a balance bike for your toddler.

Strider – 12 Sport Balance Bike

A good overall option, with very good customer feedback. A high end balance bike.

Click image for latest price

Bixe Balance Bike

Available in 4 colours at a mid-price point.

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Uenjoy Kids Balance Bike

A budget option available in 3 colours in 2 different frames.

Click image for latest price

should balance bikes have brakes?
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