I guess it was good to learn to crash at a young age. It's the kind of thing that teaches you to appreciate not crashing. And that's a valuable thing to know for any child. I think it's what my kid's teachers call a 'life skill'... you know, as opposed to that useless stuff they teach you in school that you'll never, ever use again. For that, I'd like to thank my parents. On the other hand, you didn't know jack about teaching me how to ride a bike. Tis the season for new bikes so I thought it appropriate to go over a REALLY important, stop-trying-to-kill-your-child tip.
The problem really isn't the well-intentioned parent. In fact, I love to see parents teaching their kids to ride a bike. For us admitted bike-geeks, there's nothing better than passing our love & passion for bikes on to the next generation. No, the problem isn't the parent. It's the damn bike... and a whole industry of useless, teach-your-child-to-ride gadgets & gizmos that don't work at all. Specifically, I'm declaring war on training wheels.
My belief is that training wheels have caused more bad feelings than any other bike part/accessory in the history of the world. Period. I'm talking about pain, aggravation, bleeding, crying (the ugly cry, too), resentment, anxiety... and basically every other negative emotion you could think of. It's literally the cycling equivalent of conditioning a child to do one thing & wanting them to do the exact opposite.
The Problem Explained
Training wheels teach the exact wrong thing. The intent of training wheels, I suppose, is to help a child balance their bike so they don't fall over. Much like a helping hand, the idea is that if a child starts to move too far outside their center-of-balance, the training wheel will 'catch them' so to speak, preventing them from falling over, busting their lip & making them do the ugly cry. Man, I hate the ugly cry. Mostly because it makes me laugh. And then I feel bad.
Instead of providing a safety catch, what typically happens is that a child starts using their training wheels as little out-riggers. So rather than trying to balance by centering their weight, the well-intentioned little tike learns to push their weight to the side, resting on the training wheel.
So here's the real problem: guess what happens when you try to get away from the training wheels? Yup. The child has been conditioned to throw their hips to the side and rest on their little out-riggers so when the training wheels are gone, they continue to throw their weight to the side and fall over because they NEVER LEARNED TO BALANCE!
A Better Way
No training wheels. Ever. Ok, that's not especially helpful on it's own, but it's a good start. Next, no pedals. Really. No training wheels AND no pedals. The general idea is that we want to set the bike up so that it helps teach the RIGHT thing instead of the WRONG thing. Just like a child crawls before walking and walks before running, the first step in learning to ride a bike is to learn to balance before pedaling.
Fortunately, "Balance Bikes" are catching on more & more. Bike shops are carrying them as a child's first bike and they're not that expensive. It's nothing more than a two-wheeled, sit down scooter. In the absence of getting a one-trick pony bike that only does one thing and doesn't grow with your child, you can get a lot of use out of that starter bike but leave the training wheels off and, I'm 100% serious, pull the pedals too.
After that, it's incredibly simple. You'll be amazed at how quickly a child, in some cases before their 2nd birthday, learns to sit & scoot around on their bike. It's not even that they learn to balance... they always knew that. More importantly, they DON'T learn to ride the training wheels.
So if you find yourself putting a new bike under the tree this Christmas, do yourself, and your little one a favor: No Training Wheels! Just because we came from a generation that learned to ride by crashing, doesn't mean we should share that biking experience with our kids! I'd love to hear any balance bike success stories in the Comments section below.
From your friends at COMBO, have a safe and Happy Holiday!