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After a decade of commuting and travelling by bike, I just learned about balance bikes. I get the sense that this is a fairly well-known technology, but for those like me who are just hearing of it today, I'll explain. A balance bike has no pedals, but the seat is low enough for the rider's feet to touch the ground. Thus the rider propels the bike essentially by running on the ground. But just like on a regular bike, the rider can coast, allowing forward progress to continue without constant exertion.

Balance bikes appear to be used almost exclusively as a training tool for little kids who can't balance on a real bike yet, hence the name. (I didn't know what they were because as a kid I just had training wheels and then a regular bike. I guess I was precocious?) But I started wondering why I've never seen an adult riding one. One clear problem with the pedal-less design is that it can't support multiple gears, so there is no way to leverage mechanical disadvantage to achieve higher top speeds. But that can't be a total dealbreaker--first of all, not everyone is out there trying to keep up with motorized traffic. Also, there is a contingent of talented riders who enjoy single-speed fixies, so clearly some people don't mind not changing gears.

On the other hand, balance bikes seem to have clear benefits. In addition to ease of balance, they are no doubt less difficult to maintain, cheaper to produce, and safer to fall from. And yet I never see anyone riding a balance bike. What gives? Are grownups just self-conscious about being seen riding "kid" bikes? Or are there other serious drawbacks I haven't thought of? Are there examples of adults riding balance bikes that I don't know about?

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  • 14
    Just take the bottom bracket out and crankset off any adult bike and there you go, a balance bike. Jul 2 at 21:06
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    Well, not any bike. You'd need a frame that allowed you to lower the seat sufficiently. But point taken. Jul 2 at 22:17
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    I'm honestly not seeing the use-case that couldn't be solved (cheaper, more simply and much more portably) with a kick scooter or a skateboard.
    – DavidW
    Jul 3 at 3:00
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    @DavidW learning to ride is a realistic use-case, but one solved by stripping down a regular bike
    – Chris H
    Jul 3 at 21:04
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    As as aside I think use of balance bikes is intended to remove the need for training wheels. So, having learned how to balance, turn and brake they can go straight to a pedal bike without the crutch of training wheels.
    – Eric Nolan
    Jul 5 at 13:33
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I tried using my regular MTB as a balance bike for a while, in order to show my kid how to use his.

After about 20 minutes I started feeling pain in my feet soles as a result of hammering my feet into the ground. Also, stopping was a challenge. It caused my feet to slide inside my shoes, my toes hitting the inside of the shoe tip, resulting in some pain/discomfort around the toenails.

I can also confirm "saddle pain" appears much much sooner than when using the proper saddle height and the pedals.

From the marketing side of things, I fail to see where there is a use case for a grownup's balance bike, neither for transportation or leisure.

With such a contraption as a pedal-less bike, you can barely move faster than a fast walk, and climbing slopes are extremely awkward. For that matter, a kick-scooter is somewhat better. You can go faster and the whole thing has a smaller footprint/storage requirements.

If I had to haul some load around I'd prefer a push cart or a hand truck.

Regarding an adult's training, I guess a balance bike does not provide enough advantage to grant buying a separate apparatus before the actual bike. Most adults I know that learned to ride while being grownups learned in a regular bike in the lapse of around one month with one or two practice sessions per week. For a little child a balance bike makes sense, because they grow so fast that the balance bike or bike with training wheels fits them for about two years.

So, I don't see any reason to buy an adult balance bike, so that it would be a commercial risk to produce even a single lot, knowing very few people, if any, would buy.

Note: For people with some balance disability but having use of their legs, adult-sized trikes seem a better fit, since they have pedals, may have multiple gears and good load carrying capabilities.

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The "balance bike for adults" did actually exist, and was known as dandy-horse, draisine or laufmaschine. It went out of fashion immediately when pedals were invented. According to Wikipedia, its main failures were inefficiency and limited speed, and the need to be exactly the right size for the rider. In my opinion the sitting position in saddle looks really uncomfortable compared to modern bikes because the design puts all the weight on rider's crotch instead of sitting bones when freewheeling.

Buster Keaton shows how to ride one, probably slightly exaggerated for comedy. Note the arm rests that might take some of the weight.

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    "main failures were inefficiency and limited speed", I can't un-imagine dozens of such dandy horses stopped on a red light and everyone starts flapping like sea lions as the light goes green. Bosses and workers alike pushing hard and fast to reach the office on time.
    – paki eng
    Jul 3 at 7:12
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    I have tried one of the traditional design in an openair museum in Belgium and had one which was a tiny bit high for me. Hard to push off. Great fun though and I would love to own one.
    – Willeke
    Jul 3 at 15:51
  • Admittedly I still had the pedals on, but I've had freehub trouble so tried to ride like this. It was slower than running but faster than walking, and not exactly effortless
    – Chris H
    Jul 3 at 21:07
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There are adult sized 'balance bikes' for sale now.
But those are not to improve speed on the road or to learn to ride a bicycle but to help people with weak leg muscles to move around on walking speed.

This is a link to a google search (in Dutch) for images.

If you search on 'loopfiets voor volwassenen' in your favorite internet search engine you may find more. (Translating services may be needed.)

As I told in a comment, I have used a traditional (heavy) balance bike in an openair museum in Belgium (and I do not remember which museum or even which part of Belgium) and I had one which was a tad high for me. Still fun. I was in company of someone who did not want to share the experience and we had more plans for the day so I did not go back to select a smaller one.
I would like to add one to my collection of transports but it has to be one for speed and distances, not for balance help.

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Balance bikes for kids weren't really a thing when most of us were growing up. It was training wheels until you worked it out, or a tricycle.

A balance bike is hard to just step-off, and the concept might be hard for a small child to grasp, especially while also learning steering and balance. A child's balance bike often has hard, squared-off tyres to encourage a straight path.

Learning should take place at relatively low speed. Most child-sized balance bikes won't go more than 10 km in their entire life, at a max speed of "dawdling" An adult learner is physically larger and needs to go at approx 6-8 km/h to effectively balance. This is about jogging speed for an adult. So if something goes wrong, the adult learner cannot just step off at this speed - the bike frame is simply in the way.

Scooters have come back in the last couple of decades, and are similar, while allowing immediate escape by simply stepping off, similar to a skateboard in that respect.

In my opinion, the modern equivalent of a balance bike is an adult-sized scooter, with pneumatic tyres, often BMX handlebars or a T-shaped flat bar, and scaled up. These will also have hand brakes, connected to normal bike wheel brakes of some sort (rim caliper/rim V/disk/band brakes) One could also see the modern rental scooter, electrified or not, working in the role of a balance bike.

https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&url=https%3A%2F%2Fm.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DQK8mJJJvaes&psig=AOvVaw2OazxyuXKbhftqSLmD0Y2z&ust=1625353683880000&source=images&cd=vfe&ved=0CAoQjRxqFwoTCOiss8DAxfECFQAAAAAdAAAAABAJ
Grandad's style is optional

I own one, and can noodle along comfortably at around 12-14 km/h with bursts up to 20 km/h if I push it. That's way faster than a balance bike could achieve.

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    Adult sized scooters and balance bikes are completely different beasts. Both fill a niche but not the same niche in my view.
    – Willeke
    Jul 3 at 15:53
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    Balance bikes i've encountered for children have normal rounded tyres. My experience and the general consensus is that they teach balance and steering quickly and make riding the bike fun for the little child.
    – JoeK
    Jul 3 at 19:16
  • Like @JoeK I've only handled kids' balance bikes with normal bike tyres. Even the wooden ones normally have them, though I've seen very old wooden balance bikes with solid permanent tyres
    – Chris H
    Jul 3 at 21:12
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    I have seen several, some recently in a shop, but can not find many pics on internet. Only this amazon link (out of stock) with three wheels. amazon.nl/Draagbare-opvouwbare-Loopfiets-Speelgoed-Driewieler/…
    – Willeke
    Jul 5 at 10:19
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    This is a three wheeled version but two wheeled versions are more common. And Dutch kids are placed on those as soon as they can walk
    – Willeke
    Jul 5 at 16:45
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A balance bike would just be too slow to be attractive. When people want to move slowly they can walk or run, and when they want to move faster they want a higher geared machine. While it's true that many people are happy to do without a choice of gears on a single-speed bike, that one gear that they have is a lot higher then you get by using your feet directly on the ground.

A common set up is having gears that make the wheels turn twice for every complete rotation of the pedals. As the wheels are also a lot larger than the pedal cranks the distance the bike moves is a lot higher (maybe five times higher) than the distance it would go if your foot was directly pushing the ground back.

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  • That all being true, it does not measure the fun of this kind of transport can bring.
    – Willeke
    Jul 3 at 20:15
  • @Willeke, that's fair, but for most I expect you can get very similar fun with a bicycle, and there's much more reason for bikes to be easily available whenever you want to play with them. You can always remove the pedals (or more of the drivetrain) from a bicycle to convert it into a balance bike.
    – bdsl
    Jul 3 at 20:56
  • Not true. A dedicated balance bike will have a different seat and likely a different build.
    – Willeke
    Jul 3 at 21:46
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The category doesn't exist for adults for the simple reason that any bike can be turned into a balance bike by removing the pedals and lowering the saddle a little.

The crank arms can stay, and so this is an easy adjustment.

During the pandemic in particular, people (who grew up in societies where biking is not entirely widespread) who never thought they would bike went out of their way to start biking. If you know an adult trying to learn, it's easy enough on any bike of a suitable size—by removing the pedals.

You don't even need to teach them to run as one would have on a Laufmaschine. Just have them start on the top of a (smoothly paved) hill, and ask them to remove their feet momentarily. Take a video of the "aha!" moment when they will discover balance. It will happen quite quickly—likely from the very first time. The hill needs to be of very low slope. You don't want them to panic when they discover that they don't need to move themselves but rather to slow themselves down.

Balance bikes made for kids are, for some reason, often built with wood, including the wheels (rustic feel, less intimidating for a child than metal, light-weight, ...?)

An adult would not find a wood-frame bike appealing, and it may be too fragile. Hence the category need not really exist. A child's balance bike will typically have 10" wheels, and so a very small child can train on it until they move to a 12" bike. An initial investment for the brief learning period for an adult wouldn't make sense. If they committed to bike, they can learn on the same bike they will subsequently ride.

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    Exactly -- I have used this approach to help several adults learn to ride.
    – kmm
    Jul 3 at 19:26

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