Why you should buy your child a balance bike

By Jeffrey Stern

I remember the day well, almost as if it was yesterday – riding my bike without training wheels on the tennis courts a few blocks away from my childhood home. I was so excited by the near 25 seconds I spent pedaling free of those clunky “safety” wheels, I nearly crashed my pearl white Specialized Hardrock straight into the bottom of the net.

Instead, I just kept going (and haven’t stopped since) shouting with joy, a level of excitement you learn to express as a child, all while seeing the grin to grin smile on my dad’s face, helping forever ingrain in me that day as a pivotal life experience. It’s likely that most of you have similar riding memories from the day the wheels first came off. The freedom from riding a bike around the block, to circumnavigating the world is the rooted in same feeling and it’s simply the best.

Now, imagine if you could give that experience and the lifelong gift of cycling to your child, but years earlier? I think I was around 5 or 6 when that day happened after months of practice on that same lap around the courts (our street was a bit too busy). I’m a child of the 80s, times before dozens of fancy type balance bikes were manufactured and available to the kids of the world, but oh do I wish I had one of them back then!

Homemade balance bike,

Homemade balance bike. Just remove the cranks!

These days I see kids, not even 2 years old, cruising around my neighborhood in complete control on these tiny, confidence boosting miniature bikes. Countless of friends have replayed stories of their children quickly graduating from keeping their feet on the ground to coasting their mini bikes with feet extended wide in excitement. Pure joy, the same feeling we all experienced on our first rides without training wheels.

One of the best things about balance bikes, is you can convert a normal child’s bike into one at home. Yes, it’s true you don’t have to buy a brand new one from any number of online dealers featuring wooden designs, or special additions. Using a traditional, children’s pedal-powered bike, you can easily remove the cranks and for the price of a garage sale item you’ve got yourself a perfectly usable, durable balance bike for your child.

Why are these bikes so important in developing your child’s riding skills? A balance bike focuses on teaching children how to, you guessed it, balance and steer on two wheels. When learning to ride, it’s of the utmost importance that a kid get the proper feel for how steering with the handlebars affects the balance of their bike. Using only foot propulsion and with the ability to save themselves as they teeter in and out of balance, a child can build confidence quickly. With increased coordination and balance, their on the bike courage is guaranteed to soar. In no time, your child will be coasting more than pushing and you’ll know when the time is right to upgrade to a real bike and pass along your homemade balance bike to a younger sibling or another kid in the neighborhood.

Photo: Matt Dubberley

Photo: Matt Dubberley

The transition from coasting around the block to pedaling a bike wherever their heart desires is at their fingertips. It’s our duty as adults to help lessen the learning curve and inspire the next generation of riders, by encouraging the use of balance bikes for cycling fundamentals that will be used for a lifetime to come.


Field Tested: Cleary Bikes Owl

Words: Trina and Stephen Haynes. Photos: Justin Steiner

Cleary Bikes is a new company founded by Jeff Cleary, a father of two who understands the need for a good quality bike that will be reliable and long lasting. We got our hands on a prototype 20-inch wheeled Cleary Owl.

The Owl ($325) is a stripped down single speed that comes in subtle blue or grey, has front and rear hand brakes and is reminiscent of a BMX bike, only lighter (just 17lbs) and more refined. Internally routed brake cables and cool, minimalist graphics add to the bike’s good looks, without shouting at you.

This lightweight, steel-framed newcomer is easy to wrangle for most kids. The geometry of the Owl aims to center the child’s weight between the saddle and handlebars, giving the rider an attentive stance. The saddle, handlebars, grips and brake levers have all been scaled down to accommodate the small features of children. The grips also feature a “no drop” bar-end designed to keep your Mini Me’s mitts attached to their grips.

Editor’s note: This review originally appeared in Issue #31 of Bicycle Times. To make sure you never miss a bike review, order a subscription and you’ll be ready for the everyday cycling adventure.

Our seven-year-old son, Odin, immediately took to the Owl, having already mastered the use of handbrakes. This is a point that’s easy to overlook. There aren’t many kid’s bikes out there that are designed with a free wheel and hand brakes. As parents and cyclists, we struggled to find a bike that wouldn’t be a step back developmentally for Odin.

It’s great to see another bike company use parental experience to create a solid bike, with a good price point. The Owl is at home on the street or on the trail and wouldn’t find itself out of place at the local bike park either.

Cleary Bikes offers four different models starting at $205, from gliders to the 20-inch Owl. All of them have two handbrakes, internal cable routing and are singlespeeds. The bikes are currently available to order through the website, and you can receive a sticker kit for your kid to customize their ride.

Tech Editor’s note: The prototype we received had vertical dropouts, but I’m happy to report Cleary Bikes will be implementing horizontal dropouts for easier singlespeed setup. Also, our prototype had riser bars, while the production bikes will feature flat bars.


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