Tricycles could soon become extinct thanks to the introduction of the balance bike.
One of the cool things about becoming a parent is discovering how little things have changed for kids over the years. Saturday mornings are still filled with cartoons; toy boxes are still filled with robots, dinosaurs and princesses; and after a round of “Ring Around the Rosie,” everyone all still falls down.
A good number of my toddler Emile’s favourite things even used to be ours—from my wife’s childhood Superman cape to my own tin spinning top, plush stegosaurus and battered collection of Little Golden Books.
But some things eventually disappear, too—like tricycles.
This isn’t restricted to kiddie culture, of course. Every once in a while, a new technological advancement simply comes along that makes the previous iteration essentially obsolete. Rotary dial phones, for instance, or roller skates being replaced by roller blades. Tricycles, too, are now facing a phase out out in the wake of Flinstones-style, foot-powered balance bikes.
We actually do own a trike—a gorgeous, red Radio Flyer—that my mother-in-law bought us. But E has never really ridden it much. Initially, he was too small and incapable of pushing the pedals, but even when his legs got longer he never showed interest.
It was a classic tricycle, not dissimilar from the one I had at his age. Though to be fair, my strongest memory of my trike was when I was riding it barefoot on my neighbour’s driveway and somehow got my toe stuck in the pedal and flipped over. Bloodletting ensued. None of which, of course, would have been an issue with a pedal-less balance bike.
E, for his part, just got frustrated at his trike and returned to his indoor be-wheeled bumblebee and the Tow Mater plastic ride-on truck that we let him tool around the schoolyard in. That was, until he got a Strider balance bike from his other grandparents last Chrismukkah, which they taught him to ride during a visit last spring and is now his primary form of transit to daycare on near every morning. He’s now at the point where he “runs” the bike really fast then lifts his feet up and glides, balancing and grinning all the way.
Balance bikes have been around in North America for about a decade, and in Europe since the ’90s, but only took off in Canada over the last couple years, according to a 2011 Globe and Mail trend piece (which itself followed a 2010 Wall Street Journal piece with the exact same “Look Ma, No Pedals” headline). They weren’t really something I paid attention to before we were given one—but just like ants, once you see one, you see them everywhere.
The basic idea behind them is that rather than using a tricycle and then a bike with training wheels and eventually a two-wheeler, you ignore the whole pedaling thing—which is, c’mon, pretty basic—and focus on balance and steering. The intention being that kids, having already learned how to stay upright on a balance bike, will graduate to a proper one without need for training wheels (or the skinned elbows, tumbles and tears that accompany their removal.)
The current versions were pioneered in Germany in 1997 with the wooden LIKEaBIKE, patterned after the similarly German dandy-horse—or, as Baron Karl Drais called his 1817 invention, Laufmaschine—a two-wheeled, pedal-free vehicle which predated the French bicycle from the 1860s.
Strider, which was founded in 2007 and calls itself “the world’s premier manufacturer and marketer of children’s no-pedal balance bikes,” targets toddlers and, anecdotally speaking, hits their target. Emile loves his “pre-bike” because it looks like mine, unlike his tricycle, and because he can cruise around so ably.
Most of the research I did found pediatricians hemming and hawing over whether balance bikes actually speed up the learning process while warning about their lack of brakes. Fair enough on the latter, be warned, but common sense dictates that training wheels are a literal crutch that learning to balance first could do away with.
Of course, training wheels are for bigger kids anyway—what balance bikes do right off the bat, in being designed for kids as young as 18 months, is make tricycles as relevant today as a Sony Walkman. Trikes are well on their way to being consigned to the history books by tech that, well, escaped the history books. So hey, as an added bonus, it’ll be your toddler’s first lesson in irony!