The Balance Bike: A 200 Year Old Idea Finally Finds Its Time
Way back in 1817 a German, Baron Karl von Drais, invented a brilliant machine he called the “Laufmaschine” (english translation: running machine), better known to us as the hobby-horse or dandy-horse. It was made entirely out of wood, and was propelled by straddling the frame and pushing it along with ones feet.
The hobby horse is the earliest known predecessor to the modern bicycle. Although the machine was not very efficient, it was faster than walking, provided there was a smooth path to travel on. The first true “bicycle” didn’t appear until the 1860’s, when some smart fellow attached rotary cranks and pedals to the front hub of a hobby-horse.
Almost two hundred years later, the hobby-horse seems to be making a big comeback, however this time it’s not just a fad. The new hobby-horse has become a safe and fun learning tool to teach children basic balance skills before they are even big enough to ride an actual bicycle, and fittingly, you can find many of this new era of “running machines” still made entirely out of wood! They go by different names, but whether you call them run bikes, push bikes, balance bikes, or strider bikes, the idea is all the same: two wheels, no cranks, no pedals and kids just push them along with their feet.
Run bikes are awesome because they allow a child to safely learn how to balance and steer a bike, (probably the most important riding skills,) before having to cope with the complexity of getting feet onto pedals, spinning cranks and braking. Although some degree of safety during learning can be achieved through the use of training wheels, this in turn creates a dependency which must later be removed, enforcing bad riding habits that make for a slow transition to pedalling on two wheels.
Run bikes improve balance and teach a kid to counter steer to turn the bike. Training wheels, especially if they are not adjusted properly, don’t teach kids to balance the bike or counter-steer when turning. Both counter-steering and balance are learned quite naturally on a run bike, and this is done at an very early age. The transition from push bike to pedal bike is so smooth, that a child can basically just hop on and start pedalling a two-wheeler as soon as they are big enough to fit one!
Kids can typically start trying to ride their push bikes at just over a year and a half or two years old at the latest. It won’t take them long before they are holding their feet up and coasting down the sidewalk faster than you can walk. Tricycles and training wheels are still great fun, and we all still learned to ride a bike despite the ways they slow down process, but with run bikes, our children will be riding better at four years of age than we could at 6 years back in our day. Two years of learning goes a long way at that stage of life. Who knows what some of these kids will be capable of by the time they are ten, twelve, sixteen or twenty years of age? The run bike may very well progress the sport of mountain biking more than anything else to date by giving our kids more of their crucial early development years to spend learning to go faster, higher and discovering new tricks.
With the re-invention of the “walking machine”, kids are discovering the freedom and fun of riding a bike earlier, and this is great news for the sport of cycling in general, as well as for many enthusiastic cyclists that happen to also be parents. Perhaps the only thing more fun for us than riding our bikes, is riding with our little ones and watching them enjoy it too!
Want to see some of the potential that balance bikes are offering our children? Check out these videos!