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Learning to ride is as easy as ABC

Simon Booth, founder of Kiddimoto, talks freedom, fun and limiting tumbles.

It’s all about balance! As a dad and producer of cool bikes and biking accessories, I believe that getting kids active and having great adventures is the key to a happy and healthy life. Learning and developing balance on a balance bike at an early age opens up the world to so many new experiences, and the step from a balance bike to a bicycle is so easy and natural. Learning to ride is a rite of passage. We’re just trying to make that journey as easy as ABC.

The earlier children are riding bicycles, the earlier they can find a world of independence, freedom and mobility. They can get out for rides with their parents, siblings and friends. Not only does this expand their learning, but it also encourages physical activity and movement, which in turn promotes a positive and healthy lifestyle. Getting children on bicycles at a very young age instils a habit of being active, and all the adventures feed their imaginations and hungry minds.

All of this learning, activity and adventure builds lifelong skills and habits, which are all positive for healthy bodies and minds later in life. It is proven that good levels of activity and healthy behaviour will help to maintain good mental health in adults. Brands like Kiddimoto encourage children to get on bicycles early by helping them to develop their balance, core strength and motor skills by using balance bikes from as young as 18 months. Together with beautifully designed, ergonomic and safe products, children pick it up by having fun. It also gives parents the confidence that their children are doing the right thing.

It’s about going all out to get kids active, being creative and having fun. A happy life is one full of experiences and adventures. As the Kiddimoto tagline says: ‘Adventure starts here’. Kiddimoto understands that when learning to ride there has to be a balance of education and fun. Not only is learning to ride an absolute blast, there are some top health benefits of balance bikes.

Weight control
It is no question that the weight of our little ones is a hot topic at the moment. It is said that a quarter of two to ten-year-olds are overweight or obese. Overweight and obesity in adults is predicted to reach 70% by 2025. Obesity and being overweight are linked to a wide range of conditions including diabetes, asthma and heart disease. Just a small amount of exercise each day can help to combat this, and what better way to exercise than having fun on a bike?

Improved posture
Good posture in children is important, as not only does it carry health benefits but it can also increase overall confidence. Balance bikes command the correct posture needed to progress onto a standard bicycle.

Heart rate
They may already be running circles around you at the park, but cycling is a great way to keep hearts in check. Plus, it is fairly low intensity so if you’re out on a ride you will hardly even know you’re exercising!

Joint movement
Balance bikes improve core strength and the running element of the bikes can improve and maintain good mobility in joints. Mental wellbeing Mental health is just as important as physical health. Balance bikes improve confidence, independence and encourage a positive mental attitude. “Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride” as John F Kennedy said.

Most of us already know, but let’s just quickly go over what a balance bike actually is….

A balance bike is a bike without pedals designed to teach children how to cycle without having to use stabilisers. It’s a question that is often asked, and it’s an entirely understandable one. People are used to seeing bikes with pedals on so the sight of a bike without them can be an unusual one. But the lack of pedals on a balance bike is entirely deliberate and designed to help prepare children for a lifetime of cycling, and all the physical and mental health benefits that come with it. Balance bikes originated in Germany in the early 19th century with a bulky wooden adult version, but never gained popularity and quickly faded from use. They were reborn sometime in the early 2000s for children and are now commonly found all over the world.

Kiddimoto was the first British brand of balance bike to bring them to the masses. Thanks to Kiddimoto and number of other specialists in the field – Early Rider, Isla, Frog, Strider and Wishbone to name a few – balance bikes are now becoming commonplace. Many of the major bicycle brands have jumped on the bandwagon, but the specialist guys still have the best in show and continue to develop child-focused solutions. Balance bikes look almost identical to normal bikes but don’t have any pedals or drivetrain. Instead of pedalling like you would on a regular bike, children propel themselves along by pushing along the ground with their feet. When they grow in confidence and have mastered balance, they will start to cruise along with their feet off the ground. It’s a lot of fun!

Children who learn to ride bikes with stabilisers learn to pedal but not to balance – the extra wheels do all the balancing for them. So when mum and dad eventually take those stabilisers off, the child has to learn to ride a bike all over again because now they have to pedal and learn to balance all at the same time. Starting out on a balance bike enables children to develop balance skills without having to pedal. Then, when they’re eventually ready to ride a pedal bike, all they have to do is pick up the relatively straightforward task of learning to pedal. No running alongside them, no holding their seat, no painful tumbles… it really is that easy.

As British cycling legend Chris Hoy said: “I’ve always been a big believer in the fact that stabilisers aren’t good for kids because they don’t learn how to balance. A balance bike teaches that important part of learning how to ride. Kids feel safe too because all they have to do is put their feet down if they start to wobble.”

Another top cyclist, Olympic gold medallist Craig Maclean, gives an emphatic answer when asked what parents should choose for their child’s first bike. “I’d say a balance bike without doubt,” he said. “You can learn to pedal at any age, that’s the easy bit, but the earlier they can develop their balance the better.”

Carl Burgwardt of the Pedalling History Bicycle Museum in New York derides the use of stabilisers as a ‘crutch’. “They don’t teach anything,” he said. “All they do is prolong the agony of learning to ride.”

For lots of children, their first experience of riding around on wheels will be on a trike. While a lot of fun, they can often be cumbersome, awkward to manoeuvre and can easily tip over. If a child is riding a balance bike, they are focused on balancing rather than pedalling, so are more prepared for a sudden loss of balance and less likely to fall as a result.

Once they master balancing, kids can also completely skip stabilisers and head straight for a standard bike. In doing so, the countless falls and grazed knees from learning to balance on a pedal bike are greatly reduced. Parents naturally consider the financial implications of teaching their children to cycle, and we’re confident that buying one balance bike replaces the need to buy a tricycle and a 12in pedal bike. By the time a child has learnt from a balance bike, they can graduate straight onto a 16in or 20in pedal bike.

These little bikes and all the accessories such as helmets, gloves, bells, horns, backpacks are not only great for the little people in our lives, but they are good for the bicycle industry as a whole. It opens up the market for customers to get into stores or online and start the customer buying cycle sooner. Surely that is only a good thing for the entire sector? Let’s give our children the freedom, fun and adventures that come with riding a bike but get them doing it from the age of two years, if not sooner.

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