17 August 2009

Balance Bike for Lulu-Sophia

Learning Fun
It's time for Lulu-Sophia to start learning to ride a bike. She turns two next month and already loves riding about in the yard on a variety of vehicles.

Here's Lulu warming up for learning to ride a bicycle. It would seem that many Danish kids have a little plastic motorbike, like the ones in the video. I see them everywhere and they are, in a way, a forerunner to the balance bike. The back wheels are narrow and it requires some balance when learning to master it.

Learning Tools
When Felix, now seven, was learning to ride a bike four years ago, we started out with the classic Danish solution. Sticking a broom handle between the back forks and pushing him along. Just like Danish parents have done for many decades. Now you can buy [surprise surprise] attachable rods with a handle to do the same thing. In the photo at the top, a floor hockey stick is sufficient for pushing her along. It's amazing how quickly kids learn to steer.

Felix moved quickly on to training wheels and I rode to daycare with him from the age of three and half on the bike lanes and side streets. Just after he turned four I saw that he wasn't using the training wheels anyone, but balancing on the two wheels so we started a quick transition to riding a bike on two wheels.

Even just four or five years ago here in Denmark, balance bikes were a rare sight. Balance bikes being the small bikes with no pedals. Called 'løbecykel' in Danish, [loopfiets in Dutch and laufrad in German] which means 'running bike', the name evolved from the word for childrens' scooters - 'løbehjul', or 'running wheel'.

They are now a main prop when learning how to ride and I'll bet that training wheels are a thing of the past within ten years.

So. Time to find a balance bike for Lulu. I quickly discovered that the market is completely saturated with brands.

There's the Micro G-bike, the Puky, Mocka, assorted wooden brands, Hudora, Kokua's Likeabike, Strider bike, Mamamemo and then there's a host of cheap supermarket versions.

On the one hand I find the selection impressive but on the other hand, it's irritating. A brand like Kokua is marketed as the Rolls Royce of balance bikes and costs 1000 kroner [$190] MORE than the cheapest make I've found. There are other brands that are in this price region, too.

Now I like design. You can't really live in Denmark without liking design, it's an important part of life given our long design tradition for simplicity, functionality and aesthetics.

But I draw the line at paying $1300 kroner [$250] for a little bicycle that will only be used for a year or two. So we're going for a cheap and cheerful brand that costs about 350-400 kroner [$65-75]. We quite fancy the Mamamemo as it has a little basket bag at the front and you can pull a trailer.

Then I realised that there are sizes. 80 cm - about 2 years old and 90 cm - about 2.5 years old and Lulu is just a bit over 80 cm. We'll find one for her. And it'll probably be across the bridge in Sweden since their krone has suffered dreadfully since the global financial crisis and is at the lowest rate against the Danish krone in history. So you get to knock off a further 30-35% off the price.

Anybody out there have any experience to share with balance bikes? Regarding brands and quality? Do tell. Do tell.


Kiwehtin said...

Awww... That's cute! Couldn't figure out what she was saying when she was poking at the water on the seat... "a=di-di?" ?

Refreshing to see children on small tricycles without helmets. I can not recall seeing that once here (Montreal). I see several trike-riding kids a week, all duly helmeted by their caring parents "in case they fall". I always wonder what height chairs the kids sit on at home when they eat at the table, or whether they climb stairs at home (here, usually the outdoor stairs to reach a second or third floor apartment). And whether their parents caringly fix helmets on their heads in *those* cases "in case they fall".

Oh, yeah! Lulu needs a helmet! She fell twice (at least in the clip we saw). She could have smashed her head open! Maybe someone edited out the third fall that took her to hospital, I wonder. After all, notwithstanding *anything else*, once you get on something with two or three wheels that moves under your power, you immediately place yourself in a situation of extreme danger that unlike any other, requires special head protection. Lulu should be taken away from her uncaring parents.

Mikael said...

haha :-)

although looking at this post we can see where society is heading.

Mikael said...

your comment reminds me of something a chap at the Dutch Cyclist Federation - Fietserbond - said. Kids have the same level of risk of head injury in playgrounds but we don't helmet them there. Dutch logic. Refreshing.

JDHM said...

I love this idea, as it's the best way to teach balance, though it does not require special equipment. I will, therefore, share the homespun American wisdom of Sheldon Brown regarding balance bikes here:

"These are a waste of time and money. You can achieve the same effect simply by unscrewing the pedals from a real bicycle."

A "balance bike" has a relatively short period of utility. Why not just take the pedals off a bike they will continue to use after they learn?

Sean Carter said...

hey mikael

some cute kidlets you have there!

there are a couple ways you can go here - the runbike for sure, and if you are looking for something that is not too expensive, have a look at the Adams version from Norco - http://www.norco.com/bikes/kids/run-bikes/

the other route to go (the one we took) was to use a 12" wheeled bike, remove the cranks, chain, etc, slam the saddle all the way down and voila! - runbike!

my son had been riding the same 12" wheeled bike (with training wheels) from 1-1/2yrs to 4yrs old. when i saw the runbike idea for the first time, i stripped his bike, and with some coddling/prodding he tried out his "new" bike and within 2 hrs was ready for me to put his cranks/chain/pedals back on and voila! - he was 2-wheeling. here is the link to the videos/pics - http://picasaweb.google.ca/seanmcarter/2009randoms?authkey=Gv1sRgCNDNtOTMhbHj_gE#

since then, i have been telling my friends with 'lil ones that the runbike is the way to go. training wheels prevent kids from learning how to balance - so as soon as kids can feel what its like to balance their bike, pedaling it becomes a non-issue.

good luck!

Gordon Inkeles said...

I do hope the children wear good helmets out on the street. And I hope their parents set a good example by doing so as well.

Thomas Nielsen said...

German Cool Products makes a bike with a detachable crank making the transition from running to riding easy.


Of course, pulling out the crank from an ordinary children's bike would pretty much amount to the same thing, only slightly messier.

There has been a few tests of balance bikes in British bike magasine Velo Vision over the years.

Thomas Nielsen said...

Oh, and as for experience. Our grandkid got a Puky. Very good quality with a few nifty details. The seat post moves quite a bit, the fork balances the front wheel well (he can almost ride it sans hands) and the handle bar can turn 360° so it doesn't jerk him in the stomach when falling. All bearings are sealed to keep his trousers oil free (and in turn his parents happy).

It is obvious now that he is ready for pedals and that is where it comes short. He has to move to another bike, both here and at his parents'. That intimidates him somewhat. Simply adding pedals to what he is already used to would help a bundle.
To add to the negatives, the Puky does not have brakes. Properly inflated the bike runs fast. Very fast. That could cause some serious bruising and some lost toe nails if he is not wearing shoes. Keep the shoes on and valuable Ming vases out of his path, and it is a brilliant bike.

JPTwins said...

When our twins were 2.5, we got some cheap chinese knock-off wooden balance bikes. We tried them last summer when they were 3, and they didn't like them and preferred the tricycles we had. Made another attempt at the end of last summer, again with no luck.

This spring, right before they turned 4, they were tall enough (we must have had the larger size you mention) and it was so amazing and immediate! They were zipping around! Within two months, we found some used pedal bikes with 12" wheels with no training wheels and the only thing they needed to work on was pedaling and stopping. now they are experts, though still afraid of some of the larger hills here. They've been riding the 1km to school for the last 3 months or so. Too bad their new school is further and a bit more difficult to get to. I'll keep up the encouragement anyhow.

my main point for you is that it probabaly doesn't matter what you get (unless you plan to regift or resell it) because she'll be on a bike soon enough...

Mikael said...

great comments! thanks so much. both for and against.

problem is that there are few proper bikes for an 80 cm 2 year old that can have the pedals removed.

if she were older, sure... i've thought about that. but it looks like a balance bike for now. cheap and cheerful.

Juan said...

We got my son the
Strider at 2 yrs. Surprisingly by 3 he's nearly outgrown the standard seat post, though they do sell a larger one. Since they are aluminum they are nice and light and the foam tires are pretty worry free.

I decided to upgrade him to the Trek Float (removable cranks) and due to a miscalculation on my part realized he couldn't reach the ground with his feet (doh!) . So instead of using it as a run bike for now, I put the cranks on and had to install training wheels. The Trek is a solid bike, though, and should last many more years than the Strider.

Cosmo said...

My daughter has a Skuut which was $90 US and we bought it for her last year when she turned two. It took her a while to warm up to it but she loves it now at 3 and it pretty good on it. We are planning on just putting off the pedal bike until she out grows the Skuut since she grows so fast. Though she does wear a helmet since it is state law here for minors She has only fallen a couple of times on the first ride and was not riding any faster then she could run.

Adrienne Johnson said...

Declan had a Scuut- until I raised the seat and didn't clamp it correctly and broke it! Uuuurrrgh!!!!! We are now on training wheels because we didn't get to keep the balance bike long enough. Oh well.

I say, find a used one. Unless you are planning on another kid coming along, they don't get used for long enough to make them worth purchasing new.

Oh, and look out for hills. Declan managed to find every overly steep decline with a tree at the bottom that SF has to offer : )

kfg said...

If adults were restricted to childish behavior in order to "set a good example" for children - there wouldn't be any children.


Kenny said...

My son is also just starting to learn how to ride a bike. Before Christmas he would just ride a tricycle. I have just invested in a balance bike, the prince lionheart to be exact and he has taken to it quit easy. I can't wait for summer.