Training wheels don’t work
If you have a young child who will learn to ride a bike sometime soon, you probably have recollections of the bike that you learnt on, and the awkwardness of bikes with stabilisers (also known as: training wheels). Recently, I came across this article about training wheels and balance bikes and it reminded me of the very different experience with my youngest son.
Balance bikes are much better
Balance bikes are great, as this video (not of my child) shows!
In my experience, they are obviously a better way to learn to ride a bike and it’s very surprising that anyone buys bikes with stabilisers (training wheels) any more. On a more professional note, this is also one of the best examples that I have encountered of innovation applied to learning by choosing different disclosure sequences, but that is a much bigger story.
How it started
It all started for us at a cycling festival in Barnstaple, Devon in 2007. A little boy, not much older than ours, came zipping past on a little bike with no pedals, a balance bike. We had never seen one before and our son, who was nearly three years old, wanted to try it. Despite the saddle being set a little too high for him, he immediately enjoyed it and wanted one!
This prompted me to find about more about this approach and which model of bike might be best to buy for him.
Advantages, tinged with concerns
The advantages of the approach were clear: your child learns to balance with feet on or near the ground, removing the fear of falling, and quickly learns to balance without having to learn to pedal first. But we had a number of significant concerns about buying a balance bike:
- would the bike become superfluous very soon after he’d learnt to balance?
- would the brakes be a problem?
- would the bike be too heavy for him?
Resolving our concerns
All of these concerns were removed or resolved.
Weight was reduced by choosing a bike with a simple design and made from lightweight material. It needed to be light enough for our child to handle it easily.
The brakes issue was slightly more complex. There was the concern, if he is able to operate the brakes at all, that if he operates a brake on the front wheel, he might tip forwards over the handlebars. Another concern was that the configuration of the brakes might differ from that of bigger bikes which he would ride later. The model that we chose resolved this.
And then there was the issue of longevity. As soon as our child had learnt to balance, would he move onto a bike with pedals and abandon the balance bike? If so, while this bike might be an aid to learning, we might need to buy another bike very soon afterwards. We found the opposite to be the case!
So our experience is that all the concerns that we had about difficulties with balance bikes were unfounded, our young son thoroughly enjoyed this much better way of learning to ride a bike, and he learnt faster and much younger than he would otherwise have done.
There have been a number of memorable situations in which this bike has been very useful and a lot of fun. At the time, I become so excited about this that I bought three more bikes of the same model to make them available to other parents of young children. But my salesmanship clearly was not equal to my enthusiasm; so I still have two left, new in their boxes, if you are interested in one.
If you would like your child of age two, three or four years old to learn to ride, then a balance bike is a very effective way to learn. If you have substantial concerns about the weight of the bike, the operation of the brakes and how long it will remain in use, then I can report that I had these concerns too and all were dealt with, mainly by choosing the most suitable model of bike for our child. If you have any questions about the details of that experience (or would even like to enquire about one of the new bikes that I have) then feel free to send me an email.
This has been one of the most enjoyable and successful pieces of equipment that our child has owned. Even now, at age nine, and despite have ridden (and discarded) several larger bikes in the meantime, he still wants to keep his little balance bike!