Just Say No to Training Wheels

    Just Say No to Training Wheels

    Photo Credit: Melissa Avery

    When our oldest was just a year old, we were in a local bike shop and discovered our first “balance bike”.  We honestly had no idea what to think of it and assumed it was just for tricks or some sort of sport that we had yet to be introduced to.  We left the shop (over an hour later) with a full understanding of what a balance bike was and the conviction that they were the perfect way to start all kids on bikes.

    Before J turned two, we bought him a Haro balance bike (and a horn to make it more fun) and were more excited than him to see what he could do.  He started out slowly, but took to it eventually.  By 2.5 he was cruising on it.  By 4 he was successfully riding a pedal bike. As parents we questioned if he would ever get the hang of it (we were definitely more excited about it than he was), but it happened on his own time.

    P had the advantage of watching his brother on bikes literally from the time he was born.  However, he is small for his age and was inhibited by the fact that he couldn’t fit on even the smallest of balance bikes.  When he was finally old enough, his start was slower, but when he figured it out he flew.  And then he was on pedals before he was three and completely independent on pedals (starting himself, going up hills, etc.) just a couple months after his third birthday.  These kids are knocking our socks off with their biking skills, but they are not anything unique – they’ve just been given the tools from an early age.

    We’ve seen the benefits of using balance bikes translate into many other areas of their lives.  As young children, both boys have developed excellent balance for skiing, hiking, and Stand up Paddleboarding.  Biking immensely boosted J’s confidence in himself and helped change his personality from a timid toddler to a confident and self-motivated preschooler.

     

    Mtn Papa and I both learned to ride bikes with the help of training wheels, as did most of our generation.  However, training wheels actually do little to build the skills necessary to ride.

    Here’s the facts about training wheels:

    • They teach kids to balance on training wheels, not on their own two wheels
    • They are slow and inhibiting (even for the best of riders – and I’ve seen some VERY proficient training-wheel riders.)
    • They don’t do corners well
    • They become an unnecessary crutch that prolongs a movement towards riding without training wheels at all.

     

    Since most of us learned to ride with training wheels, teaching our own children a completely different method can be a bit intimidating.  It was definitely a learn-as-we-go process.  Looking back on it now, though, it really wasn’t difficult.

    Here’s some good things to remember when using balance bikes:

    1. The balance that children learn by riding a balance bike is all they need for eventually riding a pedal bike.  Training wheels only provide an unnecessary crutch during transition stages.  In fact, training wheels only teach children how to ride a bike with training wheels!
    2. It’s ok for kids to ride a balance bike until they are comfortable with pedals.  They come in a variety of sizes to accommodate all ages of kids.  If your child is not ready for pedals for 3 years, it is perfectly ok and normal.  Strider bikes even makes a 16″ and a 20″ balance bike for kids aged 6+ and 12+ respectfully.  They are for learning, for doing tricks, and for helping with balance and coordination for bigger kids and adults.
    3. Kids can start as young as they can fit on a bike and walk well (usually around 18 months).  The progression is them walking while on the bike, then sitting down on the seat and walking, then running and balancing.  There is no “right age” that it happens.
    4. Relax and let your child have fun. Any sort of pressure usually has adverse effects. The main goal is to help them love biking.
    5. Once they get the hang of it, children ride much faster on a balance bike than they can with training wheels. It provides them freedom of movement, an opportunity for independence, and continuing practice on their balance.  The emotional benefits go much further than the bike.
    6. Skills learned while biking are not restricted to JUST biking.  The balance training and strength transfers to skiing, climbing and stand up paddle boarding just to name a few.
    7.  As a parent, there is much freedom for you too in the fact that they can keep up at a younger age while you walk/bike/run with them – you get out, they burn off some energy.

     

    But, how do they learn how to pedal? 

    Many times the argument for training wheels or a tricycle is learning how to make the pedaling movement and strengthen their muscles.  While there is some validity to that, both of our kids (and most of the others I know who learned in the same way) did not ever ride either.  When you can put your child on a balance bike before they are two, there is no need for a tricycle.  Remember that when they are walking/running on the balance bikes they are building muscles to do the pedaling.  The balance is the hard part – pedaling comes when they’re ready and is much less of an obstacle than most people think.

     

    My kid just will NOT ride a balance bike!

    I have some very good friends with kids that were offered a balance bike, but just refuse to do it. They have no interest nor motivation.  Here’s the reality – some kids will be crazy about biking, others will not. However, it’s important to not give up too early (again – those larger balance bikes are a great tool!)

    Here’s some tips to help your child:

    1. Get on a bike too. If they don’t see YOU biking, why would they want to?
    2. Monkey see, monkey do (AKA “Peer Pressure is a Beautiful Thing”): Get them around other kids on balance bikes. P picked it up much faster because he saw his brother and friends doing it. It’s great for them to see other kids riding pedal bikes too, but they’ll follow quicker when everyone is doing the same thing.
    3. Get out there a little bit every day.  Even just 5 minutes.
    4. Making your biking time special family time or one-on-one with a parent time.
    5. Bring the bling – a fun horn or some streamers makes a huge (HUGE) difference sometimes.  Silly, but true!
    6. Relax – they’ll do it when they’re good and ready.
    7. Help them foster a love of bikes (and therefore a desire to learn) any way you can.  Using Trail-a-bikes or a WeeHoo is a great way to help the family continue to get out there.

     

    Finally, remember to model good biking behavior and enthusiasm.  Wear your helmet every time (and be sure they have theirs on too from the very beginning.)  Teach them traffic rules as you go (stopping at stop signs, etc.) by modeling and talking them through it.

     

    Balance bikes come in different sizes

    Not all balance bikes are the same size or shape.  They come in many different materials too (wood, metal, pneumatic tires, polymer tires, etc.)  Some have hand brakes, some do not.  I always say the best option is to see them in person.  However, in this day and age, that isn’t always possible.  It’s usually just making your best guess on sizing and purchasing online. Here’s a rough outline on the sizing of some of the bikes we have used:

    *this list just mentions a few that we have tried – there are MANY options out there now*

    You can also just take the pedals off a normal bike for learning. It works, but spending ~$100 or so on a lighter, smaller balance bike is a worthwhile investment in our opinion. In fact, we think that it’s some of the best money you can spend on a toddler.

    Recommended by us: Check out the Axel Project. For every bike purchased through their site, they donate another to a kid in need. Win, win!

     

    Questions? 

    Feel free to leave them in the comments.  We’ll answer them (and feel free to chine in too!)

      Comments

      1. This is a very timely post today! Our nearly-4 year old son has been on a balance bike for 2 years now, and he seems completely ready for a pedal bike. We borrowed one from some friends this weekend, and let him have a go on it. I figured he would just take off, but he did REALLY struggle with the peddling. He is staring at his feet the whole time, and that makes riding forward difficult. Any suggestions on how to teach a kid to pedal who never has?? Thanks!

        • Emily Formosa says:

          I would say just give it some time. My son had trouble the first couple of times we went out. He got frustrated and each of our “outings” lasted less than two blocks. I would help him balance while he got his feet on the pedals and we talked through the motions. Then it poured for two weeks so we didn’t bother going out. The next time we went out he needed help getting started each time he stopped (which was a lot) but we biked over a mile to a playground and he loved it. Two weeks later he taught himself how to start off by himself. Now he loves to ride everywhere and he’s so independent! I love it.

          • Thanks for chiming in, Emily! And reminded me that them actually starting on their own can take much longer than the initial riding on their own. It took both my boys months actually!

        • Kate – I agree with what Emily said. It really does take time and a lot of patience MOST times. P (who was riding a pedal bike before he was 3) was very slow about it for a frustratingly long time. Best tips I can give are time, patience and get him around other kids on balance bikes if you can! Also, maybe run in front of him and have him look at you (even maybe hold out a fun toy or balloon or something so he is looking forward?) Finally, take 5-10 minutes every day on the bike (and make it one-on-one parent time if you can!) – he’ll get it!!

      2. My daughter is almost 6 and she has had a balance bike since she was 18? months. She rode it for a couple of years but never got as good as many of her friends. She has always been super cautious and would not lift her feet up totally. Her best friend learned to ride pedals without training wheels this last year and she finally decided that she is ready for that. So we got out a 2 wheeler and within a couple of minutes she was riding. But within that week she became so scared she is going to fall that she now won’t ride. I got her knee pads/elbow pads etc but she still will ride for 2 seconds then put her feet down. She much prefers our neighbour’s bike with training wheels or riding her brother’s (her old) balance bike. I’m thinking of just giving it time and perhaps a new bike (the bike is old and heavy and I’m not sure if it fits her right) but any other advice would be really helpful!

        • Hi Tricia,
          Totally normal. Really!! I know many kids in the same boat (and it seems to be particularly girls). I would say give it a break – let her ride the balance bike again for a couple of weeks and then let her try again. And yes, a lighter pedal bike would be awesome IF you can afford it. But, if you can’t it’s probably less of a hinderance than you would think. Just do what your family can do – it WILL happen 🙂
          But, as much as we, as parents, would like to prevent it, falls are going to happen 🙁 We always tell our kids just one less fall they have to take 🙂
          Finally, check out biking gloves for her. If she DOES fall, they help immensely!!
          Does that help at all??
          =) Amelia

        • Hi Tricia,
          My almost 5 year old daughter is very cautious too! She doesn’t like the feeling of being out of control or wobbling at all. I am really active and don’t have a cautious bone in my body when it comes to trying new sports, so imagine my surprise when my little person threw her bike across the driveway and said “I hate biking” at two years old, three, and again at four! We have opted to not push her and have just reintroduced the balance bike AND the training wheel bike every once in awhile over the past couple of years. She still hasn’t taken to the balance bike and won’t actually even sit on it, but this summer she started peddling around the neighborhood on her training wheeled bike and enjoys it in short spurts. Yes, it is very possible that it will be a slower learning curve to drop the training wheels when the time comes, but honestly I just want to see her having success at something physical and I try not to get hung up on all the details.

          I know this post is all about no training wheels but I do have to say that all children are different and that I believe the most important aspect of the learning process is that it is FUN for your child! Training wheels, no training wheels, trail-a-bike, wee-hoo- no matter…just let it be fun.

      3. My oldest son was very nervous on bikes and we did try training wheels. But, they were a failure. What helped him gain confidence in his balancing skills was using a scooter for a while before getting back to his bike!

        • Hi Candy,
          Oh awesome! What a great idea! Our boys used them after they already biked and I noticed they picked them up quickly! I guess the two go hand-in-hand! 🙂
          Thanks for sharing!
          =) Amelia

      4. We are struggling with this right now.

        Problem 1 is that the other boys have training wheels. My son’s best friend has pedals and training wheels so that’s what he wanted more than anything and begged and begged for it.

        Problem 2 is that there is coordination involved in the pedaling, and we see he struggles with steering, pedaling, judging and braking. He doesn’t have these issues with the balance bike and is certainly much faster with it. I love when he gets really going, tucks his feet up on the platform, and does serpentines down the road…

        He currently has his balance bike and his ‘big boy bike’ which does at the moment have training wheels. We alternate outings between the two, and I’ve been talking up how exciting it is when he gets to take off the ‘little wheels’ and just ride with the big wheels. But this transition is definitely tough.

        • Hi Charlotte,

          Well, first of all, I won’t pretend to have all the answers. It’s the tricky (And beautiful) thing about all kids being so different! And I really do feel your struggle – I’ve seen it many times before. I know it won’t be easy at first, but I suggest just taking off those training wheels and then letting him go between the balance bike and his “big bike” as he wants. Plan on spending some quality time with him working on it without the training wheels (one-on-one with a parent for ~5 or 10 minutes daily or more if he is into it.) Maybe stress that when he gets it (which he WILL because he already knows how to balance) that he will be going much faster than his friend. If this sort of thing works for your kid, maybe “buy them off him” (a treat, special time with a parent, a new bike horn, etc.) Let me know how it goes! We are learning here too! 🙂

          =) Amelia

      5. Could you share which pedal bike you have for J? I am just going to buy one for my 4 year old daughter transitioning from strider.

      6. My son (3) has been asking for a bike and my husband and I have agreed that he will get one for Christmas. I like the idea of a balance bike though I’m not totally against training wheels either. I can see both sides of the coin. My 13 and 11 year old started with training wheels before balance bikes were “a thing”. My 13 year old daughter picked up riding without training wheels right away. On the other hand, my 11 year old son only learned to ride this past summer! Crazy, I know, but we had moved from a bike friendly neighborhood when he was 5 and the bikes were packed up for some time, then he got too big for his bike, and finally, he was convinced that he just couldn’t learn (though he hadn’t tried). So we were stuck asking ourselves if we should spend money on a bike that he wasn’t going to ride. In the meantime, he enjoyed using a scooter. He agreed to try this summer and picked it up within a half hour on his sister’s bike…needless to say, we bought him his own bike right away so that he wouldn’t have to ride a purple bike. 🙂

        • Kristen – yes, I think there are both sides of the coin (and agree that balance bikes are NOT the answer for EVERY kid.) But, since he is so young, I would highly suggest starting him with that! Plus, it’s fun for his older siblings when he can keep up with them too 🙂 Thanks for your input!!
          =) Amelia

      7. My kids learned on balance bikes. My daughter was uninterested in the Strider we got her, and my son found it in the garage when he was old enough to start riding it. He learned to ride a bike before his older sister. My son started on a Strider, my daughter started on a Specialized Hotrock 16 with the cranks removed that I eventually rebuilt into my son’s little yellow dirt jumper mountain bike. We are an avid biking family, and my kids are very strong riders now. I tell everyone that balance bikes are the only way to go. Here are a few videos that show some progression. The first is old, the second shows what a kid can do on a balance bike, even after he is riding a pedal bike, and the third is at the beginning of the summer. My son is an even stronger rider now, I’ve just been too busy to edit the recent video I have of him. The last is a video of a pretty famous rider killing it on a balance bike. Balance bikes are definitely the way to start your kid out as a rider.

        https://vimeo.com/81329937
        https://vimeo.com/92429073
        https://vimeo.com/97059474
        http://www.pinkbike.com/video/147106/

      8. Here is a post I wrote last spring about getting the right bike for your kid. Not about balance bikes, but is more info for those commentors above talking about buying pedal bikes. Mostly this info pertains to the 4-6 year old kids, but the ideas can be extrapolated to older or younger kids.

        http://forums.mtbr.com/families-riding-kids/how-buy-bike-your-kid-910217.html

        • Lee – very good points. I do disagree with a couple of them, but see them addressed further down in the thread. But, while I think no kid should START on a bike with gears and shocks, etc. many kids that start on a balance bike have been riding for literally years by the time they are 5. They are ready for gears and shocks and brakes, etc. Our 5 year old is seriously held back now by his 16″ bike as we ride longer distances and do some pretty impressive hills. But, agree that it’s been good for him to have a ton of time to get used to riding a simple bike 🙂
          Keep on commenting and feel free to respond to some questions posted here too! Thanks!
          =) Amelia

          • Oh and I also think sometimes just a little “bling” goes a long way for the little ones (like a horn or a sticker or something like that.) But, I agree extra weight and “stuff” can be a hinderance if it gets out of hand (which it easily could!)

      9. Just wanted to say thanks- especially for the part about pedaling! My 3 year old loves her Strider bike but is growing out of it and I had no idea how to proceed with pedals. Your post (and the comments!) have been very helpful. 🙂

      10. I never even thought of leaving off the training wheels! A balance bike will probably be among my future purchases!

      11. Tara Kidd says:

        I cannot believe how timely this post is for me! I have been going back and forth about whether to buy my 2 year old a tricycle or a balance bike for Christmas. I happened upon a used balance bike and bought it because I couldn’t pass up the deal, but I was still slightly second-guessing myself (I think because I always pictured her riding around on a little tricycle…) but your article really helped me see that I made the right choice. I can’t wait to give it to her!

      12. With my first child I put away tricycles and other bikes to focus him on using the balance bike(just a few weeks)Then after a year of using the balance bike he had strong legs and could go fast and balance. I felt like giving him the opportunity to explore the balance bike with out distraction showed him the possibilities of a balance bike compared to the other ride on toys we have.

      13. Maureen Anderson says:

        About the range of sizes, are the larger ones for adults? That is someone over 5 feet tall?

      14. Hi! I just discovered your blog and love it! I had been looking to see if anyone else introduced a pedal bike to their kid before 3 and it sounds like you have. My almost 2.5 year old flies on the balance bike. Do you have any recommendations for a well-built small bike for the under 3 set? Thanks!!

      15. Good information. I had no idea. Neither my three or four year old has had any success with a balance bike today, but maybe I should try again!

      16. Paige Forberger says:

        Yes! To all of this!!! My husband doesnt agree with me! He just can’t comprehend why balance bikes are better than training wheels!!

        • Totally get it….share the post with him and feel free to have him or you email us with questions! Seriously game-changer!

      17. I love that my (not so independent) 4-year-old daughter feels very confident and independent on her balance bike. I think a balance bike allows for mastery of small skills along the way, whereas it’s kind of all or nothing with training wheels. She has moved at her own pace from just walking on the bike to getting longer strides to gliding down hills. It’s so awesome to see her take charge of her own mastery and be proud of what she can do!

      18. Melissa Keberlein says:

        I want to get one for my kiddo and even asked both grandparents for one, only to end up with two horrible tricycles. I thought the guilt of selling them to buy a balance bike is too strong. ..but after reading this article I really think I should!

      19. Michelle Gauthier says:

        This is brilliant. Why bother when they can use their own intuition and skill!

      Trackbacks

      1. […] input: If you haven’t read it, check out our article on “Just Say No to Training Wheels” – there is some great conversation in the comments […]

      2. […] But, this post is all about those motorcycles balance bikes. If you don’t know what I am talking about, read this post about why you should stay far away from training wheels.  […]

      3. […] or not? We did simply because I didn’t know any better at the time, but after reading “Just Say No to Training Wheels” from Tales of a Mountain Mama, I’m wishing we had never introduced training wheels. I […]

      Speak Your Mind

      *