Introduction: Make a Kid's Bike Into a Balance Bike

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A little background - this one is intended for people with no background in working on bikes.  If you've worked on bikes you probably don't need to read this.  If you haven't this should be clear enough for you to be able to get it.

Balance bikes are the trend in teaching a kid to ride a 2 wheeler.  The idea is to allow them to learn balance before they have to coordinate pedaling.  There are very nice custom bikes built specifically with this in mind.  However, they tend to be a little spendy and when your kid is ready for pedals you've got no choice but to buy an entirely new bike. 

There's a pretty good background of what I'm talking about here:

Step 1: Tools and Getting Started

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I was unable to find any 12" bikes that didn't need a lot of help locally, but get one used if you can. Kids usually outgrow this size bike rather than wear it out.

To do this you're going to need a 12" adjustable wrench, a chainbreaker, and a screwdriver. If you have a used bike you're going to want a pedal wrench.

Our objective is to remove the chain and cranks. If you're starting with an assembled bike, remove the training wheels and the pedals - note that the left pedal is reverse thread. You should probably use some penetrating oil before trying to remove them.

Step 2: Remove the Chain Guard and Chain

Picture of Remove the Chain Guard and Chain

On this bike I needed to remove the chain guard to get to the chain.

Once you have access, use the chainbreaker to remove the drive chain.

Step 3: Remove the Crank

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Next turn the bike around and take a look at the way the cranks are held in - on this bike it is a one piece crank held in with a single nut that was reverse threaded. Remove the nut, washer, and the bearing cup. Remove the bearing (this one is caged, thankfully) then remove the crank.

Step 4: Clean Up the Bottom Bracket

Picture of Clean Up the Bottom Bracket

Clean all the grease off of everything and put the bearings, cups, washer and locknut somewhere for safekeeping - you'll need them to put the cranks back on. On this bike the edge of the bottom bracket was nice and smooth so I just left it as it was, but if the edge of your bottom bracket is rough you'll want to put some tape or a hunk of innertube on there to keep it safe.

Step 5: Finish the Build

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With the drivetrain off I still had the nasty chainguard stays sticking out of the bottom bracket so I put the chainguard back on.

From here if you have a bike that was already built you're done. If there are any brakes you might want to remove them but it's not important. If you have a new bike, finish building it according to the directions you have.

Keep in mind that this size bike is not intended for riding on roads and that with the drivetrain off it has no brakes! Always have your kid wear a helmet.

Once your kid is comfortable riding, stopping, balancing, and turning you can put the pedals and crank back in.

Have fun!


plethora5 (author)2015-08-28

This worked great for my daughter. We bought a bike at the thrift store for $5. I just folded the chain up out of the way and held it in place with a couple of zip wire ties. When she finally learned how to ride I just reinstalled the crank, pedals, and guard. She took off like a flash with pedals.

Grazerquart (author)2014-06-04

I remember when I tried to learn to ride a bike the first time I could not learn because the training wheels made me nervous. The second time there where no training wheels and within two minutes I could ride my bike.

bprokop1 (author)2014-04-28

This was a very good guide to do this. I have been trying to teach my kids to ride with no training wheels for a bit now. Both of them seem to want to kick their feet up and not use their pedals. I feel this will eliminate the need for pedals all together and allow them to learn how to keep their balance better. Very great guide. Thank you for sharing this with us.

Chris (author)2012-08-26

Pretty good instructions. If I had never worked on bikes before, I'd need a bit more info on using the chain-breaker though (I broke two of the breakers before I figured out how to use it correctly earlier this year).

I found all I needed to do for my son was take the pedals off. The crank didn't seem to get in the way, and it was just 2 evenings going down a grassy hill before he asked for them back on.

surfyman.1 (author)2011-10-18

i like your style

green_flash (author)surfyman.12011-11-01

Thanks! I look forward to doing more of these. I've always admired the "here's how you do it" style of John Muir (of the Volkswagen for the Compleat Idiot series) and hope I can communicate like he does.

Malhecho (author)2011-10-15

my most traumatic memory of learning to ride was when i busted my crotch on the top bar trying to be like the older cool kids and coming off all slick. ive come a long way since then

rowerwet (author)2011-10-15

I found the time my child needed was only two weeks, so I was glad I didn't have to put the pedals, pedal crank, chain and bearings back in
he never really had a problem with the pedal crank there as his feet were out wide for balance. If you have a child that is a slow learner then I guess this I'ble would work for the long term.

dimtick (author)2011-10-14

I basically did this with my kids although I didn't remove the pedals. i used a bike that was a couple sizes to small and set the seat low so that when the kid sat on it their feet was firmly on the ground. my son has anxiety and actually didn't want to use a bike with no pedals because he was afraid that he couldn't stop.

my son was the latest to learn. what i did for him was to find a modest hill into a parking lot that isn't used very much. the parking lot was big and had plenty of room to coast to a sop. i started at the bottom of the hill and as my son got more and more confortable with coasting we worked gradually higher and higher. at the middle of the hill I had him pick up his feet and pedal when he felt comfortable. by the time we worked our way to the top he was a pedaling master.

I had him use this small bike with the seat set low for a couple weeks. he would shuffle to get going then pick up his feet and pedal. after a couple weeks I set his seat higher, and then after a couple weeks of that I switched him to a correct size bike for his size.

zazenergy (author)2011-10-14

what a great idea! i don't have any kids, so my only memory of learning to bike was nervously ambling down the road on training wheels. awesome project.

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