Learning to ride a bike is a super exciting rite of passage, both for kids and their parents (sometimes it’s hard to know who is the more excited!). And separating out the various skills – balance, steering, pedalling, braking – is the ideal way to master this milestone. Balance is the first skill that needs to be mastered, and a brilliant balance bike that has been painstakingly researched and designed for kids as young as 22 months is the FirstBike, which comes in a range of scrumptious colours and boasts a plethora of awards to its name.
So why start with a balance bike? After all, back in ‘our’ day, we all just had trainer wheels plus loads of grazed knees as we got to grips with our regular bikes, but in the intervening years, there’s been a lot of talk that the best way for kids to get started on a bike is to learn the art of balance first, with pedalling, steering and braking the skills to master later.
Balance bikes, or “running bikes” are not a new concept – in fact the very first bike invented in 1817 was “The Dandy Horse” and it was essentially a balance bike. Over the past few years, balance bikes have returned to vogue as a fantastic way of teaching small children how to balance on a bicycle without trainer wheels. The saddle of the bike sits low enough for the rider to place their feet on the ground and be able to walk (or run) and therefore propel the bike forward at a speed they are comfortable with. And – despite no pedals – that speed can be pretty fast indeed! However, when you start researching balance bikes, you quickly discover that there is an entire universe of balance bikes out there. So how do you choose the one that’s right for your child?
Well, what FirstBike has done so well is to create a bike that is thoroughly thought out in its design. Our pick of the best design features?
- All of the bearings are sealed, which means there are no metal nuts and bolts sticking out from the wheels that can burr and scratch little legs.
- The rotation on the steering column is restricted, so it can’t be oversteered and send your first rider flying into a fence or oncoming pedestrian.
- The horseshoe shaped saddle prevents little bottoms slipping off and the height can quickly and easily be adjusted without tools to accommodate different rider heights. There is an optional brake that has a rear-drum mechanism, which is much safer for little fingers than the typical V or pincer system.
- The frame is made from a high-tech composite material that won’t scratch, splinter, swell or rust (as would be the case with wood or metal). It also is very hardwearing (unlike the composite materials we’ve seen used on other balance bikes that shred, peel or perish after a few months of use.
- Lightweight, which means the bike is not such a chore to carry (and you will have to carry it) when junior’s had enough riding for the day.
- A lowering kit is also available to lower the the whole bike, not just the seat, to accommodate shorter legs – great if you have siblings who will be rising through the ranks.
And of course there’s aesthetics: the first thing you realise when you open the box of a FirstBike is that this is a super cool looking machine
Not only did our four-year-old like the look of it, our 12-month-old was pretty keen to get her hands on it too. Lucky then that our model was red!! The bike arrives in its box unassembled, but the good news is it’s pretty simple to put together. You won’t need any tools and the instructions are all very clear.
Tyre Options There are four tyre options to choose from depending on the environment your child will be riding over: Street, Cross, or Racing tyres (all three are air filled tyres), as well as soft non-air-filled PU tyres.
Additional Accessories Every last one of these were heartily embraced by our four-year-old road tester, and they include a “stop thief, stop thief” bell; a shopping basket, available in four colours (ever so useful for all those little bits and pieces your preschooler loves to collect); hi-visibility stickers (essential!) and even a ski foot you can use to replace the front wheel if you live in colder climates (or do like us and test it out on sand dunes).
Learning to ride can be trying for little ones and we heard a lot of “I can’t do this!” as the bike was thrown to the ground first time around, so be prepared to let them learn at their own pace (you can lead a toddler to a balance bike, but…). We actually had to put the bike away for a while until interest was reignited; second time around, it was pure magic. Also keep in mind that there will be spills and accidents, so a healthy tolerance (on your child’s part) of scratches and bruises won’t go astray… Finally, even though they may not be going very fast at first, now is the time to start getting your child used to wearing a helmet – but that’s a whole other review post!
Good For… gross motor skill, dexterity, strength, balance, coordination, self confidence, responsibility, independent exploration, imaginary play (my son likes to pretend he’s a motorcycle cop or thief)
Keep in Mind… The flexible frame is fantastic for smaller riders, whom the bike was designed for, but those aged 4 and older may find it less suitable, as their own body weight may cause the frame to wobble. Nonetheless, the older the child, the easier they will find it to balance, so all in all, it works out perfectly
Kids Love… Discovering balance and the freedom to zoom about by themselves is a huge confidence boost. They’ll feel very grown up to ride their own bike. And who can’t remember riding about with a gang of friends – well 3 year olds start in the playground…
Parents Love… Seeing your kid get the hang of balance is awesome. I can’t tell you how proud I felt when my son got the idea. Its also terrific fun to race alongside on a scooter
Awards Creative Child Top Toy of the Year (2012) | Top Product of the Year | National Parenting Centre Seal of Approval | Tillywig Top Fun Award | Zabowka Roku (2014) | The Toyman Award of Excellence (2012-13) | Seal of Approval (2012-13) | E-choice Award | Dr Toy Allumni | Two Wheeling Tots Best in Class for Safety, Exceptional for Toddlers (18 months to 3 years)
Designer Details Ralf Coerschulte, an avid German cyclist, product designer, and father, developed FirstBIKE with one goal: to build the best balance bike for younger children, allowing them to learn to ride a bike intuitively and without stress. After years of fine-tuning and testing, he succeeded in creating an unparalleled product that is deemed to be the safest on the market in terms of features supporting a child’s physical development. FirstBIKE has also proven to be a great helper when it comes to the development of a child’s self-confidence, sense of independence, and enjoyment of learning.