For the outliers, whose process and progress of learning how to pedal might be slow, developing confidence, balance, and coordination is always a great step that sparks the love for bikes.
After developing our ultimate balance bike buying guide, writing extensively on why skipping training wheels is warranted, and further reviewing some of the best balance bike options for kids of different size and ages, we felt it is time to handle the elephant in the room – when do we transition kids from balance bikes to first pedal bikes?
We were having a light moment at the coffee shop as we developed ideas for this article. For Awwy, our founder, his experience learning how to ride a bike revives memories written in scars, making it a painful rite of passage then.
Seeing how easy it has become to train kids to ride a bike, the era of a crash landing on the driveway full of fear, anxiety, and pleasure is over. In comes the age where balance bikes make the most history on how easy it is to cycle at a young age.
But how then do we tell when our little champs are in for the pedal challenge? Stay tuned for the answers – we have them in plenty.
Signs that a Child needs to Upgrade to a first Pedal Bike
Balance bikes are outstanding in teaching kids how to glide and how not to pedal. But here is the catch, these pedal-less bikes have a unique and memorable way of reinforcing balancing, coordination, steering, stopping, and turning, which are critical bike riding skills. Like learning a language, your child is only competent to transition from a balance bike to a pedal bike once they master the skills outlined above. We could end this article here, but there is still more, so let’s delve in a little bit deeper.
Here are the key indicators that your child is pedal-bike ready:
- They constantly ask for a pedal bike
- They can balance, coordinate, and steer unhindered
- They are daredevils on their balance bikes
- They often borrow pedal bikes from friends at the playground
- They share stories of their friends/peers with pedal bikes
Constant nagging for a Pedal Bike
One of the parents we convinced to choose balance bikes over training wheels appreciated how fast their kid learned how to ride a balance bike. However, it got to a critical time when they got fed up with the balance bike and wanted a more challenging encounter. The kid kept nagging the parents for a pedal bike. Once they gave the little kiddo the pedal bike, he rode as though the balance bike had been a simulator.
From the above narrative, it is clear that pedal bikes are a new brave world where kids get to gain independence. Even though the nagging might push you to the wall, eventually giving in depends on many factors.
From our observation, kids used to balance bikes can do a lot on a balance bike when on the pump tracks, trails, pave, and in bike parks compared to riding either size 12”, 14”, or 16” pedal bikes depending on their inseam heights and real heights.
Nevertheless, as the world is full of challenges that determine how we approach life, if they ask for a first pedal bike, and you are sure that they have fully mastered their balance bike, give it to them!
The catch here is to the only transition when they are ready and not because others are doing it or the thrill of having to pedal. It takes a process to learn and master cycling.
They borrow their friend’s Rides
Kids are known to be social creatures than adults, the world with more kids would be better, but we grow up anyway! Now, another tell-tale sign that your kid is ready to transition is when they borrow pedal bikes from other kids.
This could take place in the bike parks, pump tracks, pavements in the neighborhood, from their siblings, and any other place.
It calls for being a distant observer and noticing your child's behavior, just as psychologists recommend.
Often, when a kid is ready to transition, they will start out with what is available. You will find them trying out other bikes just out of sheer fun. However, this is enough a signal to make you get your child their first bike.
The kid is a little daredevil on a Balance Bike
You can always tell that your kid has mastered a balance bike by how they handle the bike as they glide their miles. If you have a fitness tracker with challenges, the distance the kid rides would be increasing each day, which is a subtle sign that they are ready.
Another signal is how they roughly ride up and down a jump. Usually, kids who are afraid to do simple stunts, which comes involuntarily as part of the fun, are not ready for the transition.
You will also see the kid ride through the challenging staggered cones and weak in and out of the barriers/obstacles.
If this is the case, you should be ready with money for the first pedal bike, either size 14” or size 16” because we said size 12” bikes is a waste of money, and that is our evidence-based truth.
Advanced balance bike riders also have some mad skills that make them stand out. It is these same skills that signal the much-awaited time to transition to pedal bikes.
First, the kid might be riding their balance bike while seated on the bike, which is challenging – only balance bike masters can take the challenge.
Another one is making sharp bends without biting the dust/mud by shifting their weight accordingly.
Furthermore, if your kid is leaning either backward or forward when ascending and descending, they are undoubtedly ready!
The list is endless, but even as you look at the behavior change when on a balance bike, the true measure of when to get your child a first balance bike depends on your budget, your confidence that they are ready, and your willingness to let go of the balance bike phase.
Perfect Mastery of Balancing, Steering, and Coordination
Balance bikes have no brakes, but they are very safe for kids who master how to ride them. Of course, we have some kids who- by bad luck or God forbid, would have little curable accidents, but that is part of the thrill when learning how to cycle.
Observe from the start the attitude of your kid towards the balance bike. If they begin with wearing their helmets, elbow and knee pads, and sunglasses, or any other safety gear, it means that they understand the safety hazards of riding a bike. The consciousness of safety is a subtle sign of readiness.
Another signal is how they coordinate the bike. Observe them as they negotiate corners, escape barriers, and maintain their focus on their path.
Remember, to coordinate pedalling and steering a bike; one needs to stay alert. From our experience, even 3-4 year-olds who’ve mastered balance bikes fail the attempt of pedalling and steering at first, but it eventually builds up with practice.
If you thought mastering a balance bike is a direct ticket to moving directly into a pedal bike, you are wrong!
For success in transitioning, we advise you Please Do Not Rush the Kid. Developing balancing, coordination, control, and steering takes time, but it eventually comes naturally. It is the beauty of cycling, like a clock, every second, minute, and hour counts.
More Stories of Friends/Peers with Pedal Bikes
Kids are enterprising and social. You will always hear stories of their different bike encounters with peers/friends, even without kids' bike clubs.
Sometimes, although a neglected signal, kids share these stories to let us know that they are ready for their first pedal bike.
The best way is to listen and give hints or creatively ask if they are thrilled by pedal bikes. If the answer is positive, start saving up for that first pedal bike.
Your kid’s choice of a pedal bike might come from such experiences, which means he/she has tried the pedal bikes anyway.
Whatever the case, this is another critical signal that you can rely on when deciding on whether or not to get that pedal bike.
Strong Reasons against Rushing the Balance - Pedal Bike Transition
Everybody likes and looks forward to an upgrade, whether it be a car, house, or a job. The same thing happens with bikes. Even as adult cyclists, a time comes when you want better, faster, or bigger. However, sometimes it is better to hold back and think before giving in to first pedal bikes in the case of kids. Here are THREE key reasons:
- You lack the funds to purchase a first pedal bike
- If you want the kid to transition to a pedal bike at a specific age
- It is about you and not the kid
Having a Specific target age for a first Pedal Bike – You’re Wrong!
How fast or slow you learn how to ride a bike does not matter in any aspect of your life. It will never feature as a question on the first date (or it may), a job interview, or a college entry essay. So, what is the rush anyway?
If you push your kid to transition to a balance bike, you might as well make them hate cycling altogether.
Remember, kids are little rebels, and their level of obstinate is on a whole new level when they choose to. But we do not want drama over a simple balance-pedal bike transition, do we?
If you have set a target of a specific age, you need your child to transition, rethink about it. The learning curve for cycling is different and dependent on many factors altogether.
Shun the age thing and let the balance bike riding skills determine the course of the transition.
No funds, no Pedal Bike!
If you have no funds to purchase your child their first pedal bike, it is never a crime to delay the transition. There is no harm in letting the kid know that you cannot afford a pedal bike.
However, as an alternative, you can be renting bikes at a fee from the local bike stores, especially for the weekends.
Besides, there are exchange programs such as the Woom upCYCLING program, where you can get the right size of a bike that costs less. So this again is never an excuse, at least not with the kids-friendly programs.
However, if you cannot meet the criteria of either borrowing/renting or the discount programs, there is still no harm in letting your child glide on their balance bike for a few months or even one year.
Surprisingly, most kids will ride their balance bike even for one year after outgrowing it, and that is a plus for your pocket. If you are saving for a high-end first pedal bike, that is as well allowed. Although not recommendable, there is no harm in holding on to the balance bike a little longer.
And as you wait, the kid might eventually transition directly to size 16” pedal bikes instead of size 12” and 14” pedal bikes, which is a great save! With our bike sizing guide, you can estimate how much relief you will get before the kid moves to bigger size bikes as they grow.
It is all about you and not the Kid – They’re not slow!
When we first wrote our article on how to successfully execute a family ride or how to bike camp with kids, we had a lot of parents asking us about how to deal with slow kids who were riding balance bikes.
Well, our answer to date remains, if they are too slow for you, it is not a family thing with kids. Find a way of taking care of the kids and do the tour alone, period!
If you feel like a balance bike is a hindrance of a full thrill during family bike tour or camping, a bike trailer, cargo bike, or a trailer cycle could be the best alternatives for you. Just don’t rush a child as that can attract rebellion and drama, and it is the last thing you want when on a ride.
Balance bikes are not that slow either, so planning your rides on easy to tackle trails could also be a contributing factor.
Whatever the case, do not hasten the balance-pedal bike transition on account of the slowness of kids on balance bikes.
Instead, let the kid ride the balance bike for as long as they want. Trust us, it will be a sober decision at the end of the day!
Our Parting Shot!
With your kid transitioning to a pedal bike from a balance bike, it does not mean that you do away with the balance bike. Kids will be kids; sometimes, they will find their way back to the balance bikes for the thrill of it.
No one is too old for a balance bike; it is a combination of experience and passion that determines if they are ready for a pedal bike. Sometimes it is a matter of getting a bigger size balance bike, so be very patient and observant.
As your kid eventually masters balance bike riding, they will graduate to their first pedal bikes. We’ve highlighted some tell-tale signs that they are ready for the transition. Because our article is based on anecdotal evidence, we suggest that you combine the signs. Besides, DO NOT RUSH your child into pedal bikes.
Riding a bike takes time, patience and is gradual.
And as you choose the first pedal bike, be sure to read our comprehensive guide on how to select the best pedal bike for your kid. We have also covered the best kid’s bike brands that can start you off on that journey. As well, when you get them a pedal bike, we have an article on how to teach kids to pedal right, and eventually one on how to clean kids’ bikes because a clean bike is a fast and durable bike!