As cycling innovations go, the kick/scoot/balance bike will probably have the biggest impact when it comes to getting more people to ride. Embraced in Europe for generations, the concept is pretty simple: yank off the pedals and lose the brakes, so kids can figure out how to balance and steer at a much younger age. As a former elementary school teacher and bike shop employee, I saw my child development and cognition classes acted out when enthusiastic parents saw their dreams of family rides get washed away in a flood of tears as their toddler quickly grew frustrated on a 12 inch bike with training wheels. Balancing, steering, pedaling, AND braking – especially with coaster brakes – quickly overwhelms a small child.
Then one day a German couple came to the shop with a simple wooden balance bike, handed it to one of my customers, and demonstrated how a very young child can quickly master gliding around under their own power. Better yet, once their gross motor skills catch up, kids that start out on balance bikes learn how to ride “real” bikes at a much younger age than children who solely rely on training wheels.
Considering the simplicity of the concept, we are pretty impressed with some new products that promise balance bikes with better versatility and longevity than most current offerings. South African company Two Wheels Trading is offering both steel and alloy-framed balance bikes built up with quality components to help them last through a long line of hand-me-downs. California-based cargo bike maker Yuba has a new design that will grow with your child.
Muna Balance Bikes
Muna, which means “first” in Filipino, is offering four new models of balance bikes, two with steel frames, and two with aluminum frames. Muna’s approach is to create a quality product, built up with dependable and serviceable components, so bike shops can offer something that can compete with what is sold at big box stores. For $110 (UPDATE:
$150 $160 for the alloy models) you get a bike built with inflatable tires, stainless spokes, a headset with bearings, a quick release seat post binder, and a bar lever actuated rear drum brake. As your kid gets more skilled, and starts riding faster, the addition of a reliable, low-maintenance brake should give you considerable peace of mind; progressing from Flinstone stops to using a handbrake will be a valuable lesson before progressing to a pedal bike as well. It is also my belief that coaster brakes, and the inability to pedal backwards, is often a critical point of frustration for young children.
The steel models begin shipping next week to bike shops across the United States. The alloy modelswill begin shipping in late September. Annoyingly, they have branded the bikes as the Fire Truck (steel) and Pro Mini (alloy) for boys versus the “girls'” Pinkie (steel) and Rabbit (alloy). The bikes are distributed in the US through Torcano Industries.
Yuba Flip Flop
Yuba is releasing an innovative line of kids’ “cargo” balance bikes that feature a frame design that will stretch out its useful life for your growing child. Taking the same basic principal as turning a BMX bike into a gravity bike the Flip Flop is designed with a curving top (well, only) tube, to provide a much greater range of standover and saddle heights. The bike, available in three colors, comes standard with a rear rack, and adorably tiny little saddlebags are available.
Given the rapid rate at which many children can progress from a balance bike to pedaling, the amount of growing room may not be necessary. However, if you do plan to start a child at a very young age, or are a parent aiming to get two children a couple years apart both pedaling in short order, the Flip Flop may save you an intermediate purchase. Shop owners may also be attracted to a single item that can substitute multiple sized models from another brand. Pricing is $149.99, and will be at your LBS and on the Yuba website in November.