Skip training wheels, say couple who sell balance bikes
They sell bikes without pedals and believe in teaching children how to ride without training wheels.
Warwick residents Ebru and Ivan Altinbasak recently opened WeeBikeShop, LLC at 3566 Post Road. The couple has been an online retailer since 2007, primarily selling balance bikes with 12-inch wheels designed for children ages 2 to 5.
“It’s a new approach to teaching children about balance and how to gain confidence,” said Ivan, who also teaches spin classes a few days a week at Kent County YMCA and the YMCA in Cranston. “We ship all over the country from Warwick. We’ve really grown our business.”
Balance bikes help children, including those who have special needs like cerebral palsy, improve motor skills. A child is able to sit on the bike and propel himself with his feet.
“It’s just like The Flintstones,” Ivan said, noting that very few bike shops in Rhode Island offer balance bikes. “The reason these are so great is because even a 2-year-old can begin to use one. You don’t have to wait until a child is 5 or 6, which is what parents traditionally do. They buy a really cheap bike with training wheels for that instant gratification, but it is false.”
Ivan and Ebru don’t recommend training wheels for a few reasons. Ivan said training wheels cause bad habits that have to be unlearned.
“Parents wonder why it’s so hard to take the training wheels off, and that’s why,” he said. “They are like crutches, teaching them the exact opposite of what they should be learning to do naturally. We have bikes that come with training wheels, but we don’t install them. We’ll give them to parents, but we do not encourage their use.”
Learning to ride without training wheels helps children build confidence, they said.
It also gives them a newfound independence.
“Kids take to these like they are lollypops,” said Ivan.
Some bikes are equipped with brakes, while others require the operator to use his feet to stop. Seat heights range from 12 inches to 18 inches, so parents can measure their child’s inseam to determine the best fit.
“This is what Europeans have known for the past 20 years and it’s now just becoming mainstream here,” Ivan said.
Ivan and Ebru went on to say that the original balance bike was created in 1997 in Germany. They learned of the bikes when they purchased one for their son, Reis, who is now 10 and a fourth grader at Cedar Hill Elementary.
“We said, ‘Why don’t we sell these?’” said Ebru, who owns a majority of the business. “These are more like a toy than bikes.”
But she also said they are a sensible toy, as they motivate children to be active. With childhood obesity on the rise, the bikes keep children physically fit.
“Childhood obesity is a big problem in this country,” Ivan said. “Bikes are a way to get children outside and expose them to something that in the future is going to be important.”
He said that while only 2 percent of people ride bikes to work in the United States, 25 to 35 percent in Europe travel via bike. As gas prices go up and air quality becomes more of an issue, he said bicycles are going to be needed much more.
“Start them young and get them ready for life without a car,” said Ivan.
A majority of their products are of European origin. Brands include FirstBIKE, Kinderfeets, Ridgeback UK, Chillafish, Yedoo, Bixbi, KUNDO, and LIKEaBIKE.
“We were probably the biggest LIKEaBIKE dealer in the country for many years – 2008, 2009 and 2010,” said Ivan. “The business expanded to a point where we were looking for other brands that we could import to the U.S. ourselves.”
From there, they discovered FirstBike, a product made in Holland. They say they launched the brand in America.
“We brought it here and turned it into a tremendous success,” Ivan said. “It was Ebru and I who made all that happen.”
They said one reason the brand sells so well is because they demonstrate how durable it is. Ivan laid the bike on the floor and stood across the body.
“It’s marketed to be indestructible,” he said.
While some of the bikes they offer are pricey, others are more affordable. They range from $100 to more than $300.
“The theme has always been high-end European bikes,” Ivan said. “This is a really good investment.”
Aside from balance bikes, they also sell traditional bikes. The next size up from a 12-inch wheel is a 14-inch wheel.
“After they graduate from the balance bike, we have bigger bikes for kids and adults,” Ebru said. “When they come here, we don’t want them to be left out.”
Additionally, they offer helmets and matching gear like riding gloves and shirts, which are imported from Europe. Helmet brands include Catlike, Lazer, Garneau, Uvex.
Merchandise includes year round fun, as well, as they sell ski attachments that children use for sledding. The front wheel can be removed to insert a ski.
“If you’re a rock star, you can get rid of both wheels and put two skis on the bike,” Ivan said.
Bikes with chalkboard finish so children can draw and personalize bikes, along with portable folding bikes and scooters, are available.
“We have so many things,” Ebru said. “We also have our own line of 100 percent Merino wool underwear for kids to wear in the wintertime. It’s a very fine wool.”
As noted, they sell items online, as well as import and distribute to dealers throughout the country. The retail showroom, which is equipped with an open area so children can test bikes in the store, is the final stage of their business plan.
“We want to give parents and their children a good shopping experience,” Ivan said. “We want to meet customers and experience the excitement with them. This is the only child-centered bike shop you are going to find.” Store hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday through Friday; 12 to 6 p.m. on Saturday; and closed on Sunday. Learn more at weebikeshop.com, and find them on Facebook.