The Europeans seem to have great ideas when it comes to children and play.
(Just think about how IKEA incorporates play structures into ordinary furniture and how that Denmark library has play structures devoted to full body and mind learning.)
Here's another one of their great ideas: The Balance Bike!
There are at least two sturdy and popular brands of their balance bikes available in the U.S., including Skuut (shown at right) and LIKEaBIKE (new Kokua model shown below).
These wooden bikes have no pedals and no training wheels. Kids just skoot the bike along with their feet. They naturally develop their balance.
So the transition to a two-wheeler with pedals becomes very easy.
There is never a need for training wheels, which never seemed useful to me as a child learning to ride a bike, or as a parent watching my kids.
If it seems hard to envision, check out this video from LIKEaBIKE.
And the good news is that you can make one yourself!
These bikes are designed for ages 2 to 5, but many older kids can still have a hard time learning to ride a bike. And the price can be prohibitive for many families.
So here is a solution from Kristy and her brilliant husband using some ordinary bikes from a garage sale:
(1) Remove pedals/shaft
(2) Remove training wheels
(3) Let the kids ride!!!
(4) Later, put the pedals/shaft back on the bike
Kristy said it took the her 5 year olds just a couple of months to transition from the pedal-less bikes to the two-wheelers.
And the advantage to this approach for older kids is that the bike is just like the ones their friends use rather than the wooden versions.
Comments from Mandi, owner "Jillians Drawers.com" -- She is a fellow scientist and always does fabulous research on any product she carries!!!
A modified pedal bike (pedal bike with the pedals removed), or other brands that have a large turning radius for the front wheel make it really, really hard to steer for beginners. Maybe for 4 year olds it would be okay, but for 2 or 3 year olds, they really need the front tire to basically go straight, and not turn too quickly. Also, brakes seem like a good idea, but a toddler really shouldn't be going so quickly that they need brakes... they don't really have the control to stop smoothly.
After really falling in love with the whole concept of balance bikes, I did some research for our store and decided to go with Skuut. We've been really, really happy with the company. It's seldom, but when something with a bike goes wrong, they are incredibly quick to either replace the part or the whole bike. The bikes really hold up and they work great!
I've heard great things about LikeaBike, too, so I'm sure it would be great! Striders are great if the bike will be left outside (the wood bikes shouldn't be left outside) and/or if you have a really active child that will be going up and down ramps, doing jumps (I've seen it!), using it in muddy areas, but the handlebars do turn all the way.