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Thursday, August 17, 2017

It’s rather surprising that bicycles are sold with training wheels these days. After all, what is the point? Those extra little wheels don’t train children to ride a bike independently. In fact, they do the opposite!

No doubt someone, somewhere on this planet is ready to stand up and loudly proclaim with outrage, “That’s just not true. My son learned how to ride because of those helpful extra wheels.” At the risk of starting an argument, isn’t it more likely that the eager kid learned to balance properly only after the “training wheels” were removed?

After all, the three main skills required to ride are:

  • balancing
  • steering
  • pedaling

The last two skills are more useful once you know how to balance. That’s good to know, some may say, but how do I teach my child balancing skills without having to hold the bike upright, all the while straining my back?

First, start with a willing and interested child or two. A strong desire towards reaching the goal is the key to success because it motivates a child to continue even after falling. A friendly partner provides extra motivation and it’s always more fun learning with a buddy, whether it’s a sibling or a neighbor.

Second, get a balance bike with an adjustable seat. The most affordable option is to find an older used bike whose pedals can be easily removed and later reattached with simple tools. Most newer models don’t allow for this. The other option is to purchase a balance bike. There are many available on the market, many of them 12-inch bikes geared to the 18-month to 5-year range. On Amazon, these range in price from $50-$150. For older kids, advertised as “up to age 10,” look for a 16-inch balance bike and expect to pay an extra $50 more.

My recommendation is to avoid the ones with a handbrake. Kids will wear out their sneakers by braking against the ground with their feet but this motion prepares them for when they need to push the pedals in the opposite direction to brake. However, each parent knows their child best and each should choose the most appropriate option for individual personalities—daring kids would benefit from a handbrake while speeding down a hill! Its interesting to note that nearly all the 16-inch balance bikes have a handbrake.

Third, get your child fitted for a helmet and make it an enforced rule that no helmet means no riding. The League of American Bicyclists has good advice on fitting and adjusting a helmet. Please visit bikeleague.org and watch their video on helmet safety under their “Smart Cycling” menu sidebar, or read the sidebar to this article.

Now all you need to do is adjust the bicycle so that your child’s feet lie flat on the ground with a small bend in the knees. Explain how the balance bike works and that after mastering it he/she can then go on to ride with pedals. Provide them with a safe boundary to practice and then let them roll.

You’ll be amazed at the confidence your child will have. It’s the best feeling in the world to know that, through perseverance, you learned and accomplished something completely on your own. Your child doesn’t need to know that you set them up for success!

By Zita Weinstein