Interview with Natalie from TwoWheelingTots (part 2 of 2)

In part 1 of an interview series with TwoWheelingTots.com, a review site for everything-kids’-bikes, woom spoke with founder Natalie Martins about TwoWheelingTots’ analytical approach, recommendations for parents, and more. In part 2 of the series, we focus on the topic of balance bikes. 

Natalie, you started TwoWheelingTots in late 2010 after you’d written a very successful review about your daughter’s balance bike. What was your experience at that time with other balance bike reviews?

Before I started the site, really the only reviews available for balance bikes were on Amazon. The problem I had with them was they were a review for the concept of a balance bike, not for the bike itself. They would say something like, “This bike is great, my kid can run on it!” The majority of those reviewers only had one balance bike, so they couldn’t say why it might be better than another brand. That’s when I jumped in and said, “Let’s see how they’re different, why is this better…” The balance bike was already a proven concept. I wanted to review the bike. 

Below: comparing the woom 1 Plus (red, 14" balance bike) to the woom 1 (blue, 12" balance bike).

TwoWheelingTots reviews all sizes of kids’ bikes, up to 24", but many people come to your site looking for their child’s very first bike. What are your views on balance bikes compared to training wheels?

Balance bikes are getting more popular, and that’s great, but I think there’s a misconception about what they’re used for. In my opinion, a balance bike is not just a replacement for training wheels. The original intent of training wheels was to help train your kid to ride a bike. In reality, however, training wheels do not train; they enable a kid to pedal a bike that is generally too big and too heavy for them. Any parent who takes the training wheels off a kid’s bike realizes pretty quickly that you’re starting from square one again.

Enter balance bikes into the field… And yes, balance bikes do prevent the use of training wheels, but what I often argue is it goes way beyond that. A balance bike really is a replacement for a tricycle. Though if you put a 1-year-old or 2-year-old on a tricycle, they’re not going to ride very far…that’s why tricycles have push handles. Kids can’t usually ride tricycles independently. On a balance bike, kids can start as early as 18 months—though 20 months is probably more common in that early range—and the bikes actually become exercise for the parents because they’re running after their kids. 

 

 

Where do you see the main value in balance bikes?

The main factor is independence. A kid can fully engage and ride the bike independently without any help from the parent. You can take a balance bike nearly anywhere you want to go—to the pump track, on singletrack, around the neighborhood, to a state park, up and down ramps. You can’t do those things with training wheels or a tricycle.

Some people say to just take the pedals off a pedal bike…and it’s true, you can do that, but a pedal bike weighs usually twice as much as a balance bike, plus the seat height is very high. So take the woom 1 balance bike—the minimum seat height is 10.5 inches. You can’t make a pedal bike with a minimum seat height of 10.5 inches because you have the crank arms and everything that fits below them. So you have to consider age. Usually the earliest you can get on a pedal bike—and this is if you have a very small pedal bike—is maybe 3, maybe 4 years old? But the child has to be able to balance it.

The woom 1 Balance Bike is suitable for riders aged 18 months to 3 and a half. 

With a balance bike, they’re on it as early as 18 months. In my experience with testers, you gain an average of about four years of independently riding and enjoying and experiencing what that bike can offer if you start with a balance bike versus a bike with training wheels.

What about the transition from balance bike to pedal bike? How does that differ from what parents would have experienced themselves growing up?

Kids don’t get the fear and anxiety that used to come with learning to ride a bike. Those fears are never actually even created. It’s usually just joy and very positive from day one.

I warn parents, I say, “Balance bikes are amazing, but that rite of passage of teaching your kid to ride a bike, you’ll never get.” They get on the bike and they go. There’s no running next to them, there’s no holding onto the seat. You get them on the bike, and they pedal away.

The woom 1 balance bike has a hand brake, while many other brands don’t. And we recently published a detailed article about our opinion of coaster brakes and our optional freewheel kit for the 14" woom 2. Obviously brakes are a huge topic, but can you touch on these ideas? What’s the value of brakes on a balance bike? And should a parent choose a bike without coaster brakes?  

With balance bikes, brakes are important.  I can see why people don’t put brakes on balance bikes, but they’re always good to have in terms of that safety factor.

On the subject of coaster brakes… When parents spend some time on TwoWheelingTots, they realize coaster brakes aren’t a good thing. We’ve been asked if a good budget bike exists that doesn’t have a coaster brake, and our answer is “No.” Our position is the bike that you buy at a discount store, even if it’s a brand that you know and might assume you could trust, has very poor quality hand brakes. If you really can’t afford an expensive bike, then you need to have coaster brakes, because you don’t want your kids flying down a hill with hand brakes that aren’t going to work.

What developments will we see in the biking world as a result of balance bikes?

In the last couple of years, we have noticed a huge growth in pump tracks and bike parks built specially for kids, and we are hopeful this trend will continue. Cities across the country, both big and small, are building bike parks in their cities. These parks attract kids of all ages and skill levels to get outside and ride, including balance bikes! As the popularity of balance bikes grows, more and more kids are experiencing the joys of biking at a younger age and want to get out and ride. 

These bike parks are the perfect place for kids to continue to build upon the love of riding they gained while on a balance bike.

Furthermore, communities are rallying behind the concept of bike parks because it’s not hard to see or hear how much kids love riding their bikes at these parks. We recently published a bucket list of bike parks for kids and it was the parks themselves, who were featured in the article, who were eagerly sharing our list with their social media outlets. They were proud of what they created and of the work they are doing to keep kids on bikes.

We believe that balance bikes are partially responsible for rebuilding the love of biking in today's youngest generations.

At woom bikes USA, we offer lightweight, high-quality woom bikes for children of all ages, starting at one and half and going up to 14-year-olds.  View all of our bikes and accessories here.