In the past, very young children tended to ride trikes or children’s bicycles with additional training stabilizer wheels, however the balance bike has now become a very common choice of bicycle to introduce kids to cycling.
Also known as a bike without pedals or a walking bike, the balance bike is the perfect way to learn how to ride a bike from the age of two and a half. It helps the child in his search for stability while promoting his independence and self-confidence.
In this article we will see how, in just a few steps of removing the pedal and the drive chain, we can turn a standard child’s bike into a DIY balance bike.
What is a Balance Bike?
The balance bike is a vehicle with muscular propulsion invented in 1817 by the German Baron Karl Drais (hence its original name “Draisienne “). It consisted of a frame on which was aligned two wheels that were pushed forward on the ground with rider’s feet: around 1860, the French Pierre Michaux took over the invention by adding a pedal crank, and the bicycle as we know it was invented.
Nearly two centuries later, the balance bike resurfaced in 1997, with the marketing in Germany of wooden models for toddlers.
The Bicycle’s ancestor, the Bicycle’s forerunner, proves to be the perfect instrument to allow the young child to find his balance on two wheels without having to worry about pedals and without stabilizing wheels. It is known that from the age of two and a half, the child will be able to develop his motor skills and balance. It is then a question of pushing with one’s feet on the ground to propel the machine, a movement that comes quickly and naturally to most children.
What we will achieve in this project
We will look at the drive train mechanism and remove step by step all its elements: the chain, the complete pedal and isolate the pinion of the rear wheel. Nothing will interfere with the movement of the child’s legs. Our bike will quickly be transformed into a balance bike.
What we need
We will need an old or unused bike at the correct height for the child. The child’s feet should be in contact with the ground when sitting on the saddle. We also need a basic toolkit to make the changes.
Check the general condition of the bike. Check that there is no play on the handlebar and fork. Rotate the wheels; they must rotate freely, the tires must be in good condition and the spokes – if any – must be in place. Avoid rusty frames.
- Strip the bike of all its useless accessories. Bells, brake shoes, cables, guides, reflectors etc … And carefully keep what can be reused, including the various parts of the braking system if it has one.
- Remove the pedals, cranks and any bottom bracket if there is one. On many children’s bikes therse components are simpler than on an adult bike, any you should typically only need to remove a few nuts to disassemble the drive system.
- Remove the chain. The chain will be connected though the rear chainstays of the frame so it will be necessary to break it by removing a link. We can use a chain removal tool to remove a link by pushing out a pin, but if you don’t have this tool or you don’t want to keep or reuse the chain, a hammer and a solid flat screwdriver will be the solution. If you plan on re-using the chain later, a quick link link for bike chains can easily be found in most cycling shops and will allow us to re-attach the chain around the frame again.
- Restore and rejuvinate the frame. Grease and store the pedal parts carefully. Wash the assembly and if necessary, carefully sand the frame and refresh all with a coat of paint; the ideal being to choose a paint of the same color as the original, which will reduce the number of coats.
- Some finishing touches. The rear wheel will have the chain drive sprocket or cog; it is better to cover this to avoid risk of injury. For this, we found many plastic tops from containers can be a good fit. The important thing is that this cover is made of a reasonably strong plastic material and that it has enough depth to completely cover the sprocket. Make a small hole in the center, the diameter of the axle rod which fixes the wheel to the frame, and it will be sufficient to screw it onto to the axle.
Finally, we can plug the hole where the bottom bracket or axle passed through the frame. Again you may need to experiment with plastic container lids etc, to find something that will fit. Measure the diameter of the opening and check for similar sized bottle caps, furniture feet carpet protectors or small wooden sleeves can do the trick.
Finishing Off Our DIY Balance Bike
You may now only need to make a few small final adjustments. The saddle must be at the right height. To verify this, when the child is seated on the bike, his or her feet should be flat on the ground, legs at least shoulder width apart. If we install a brake handle now, take great care in adjusting it. Brake installation at the rear wheel is preferable for safe braking. The brake shoe pads should be flush with the edge of the rim without impeding the turn of the wheel so that braking is even and immediate.
If you’re thinking of buying a child’s pedal bike or balance bike, take a look at our fantastic range of children’s bikes here.