Skip the Training Wheels
I remember biking to a playground one day with my daughter, Gaia. As we pulled up, one of the ladies couldn't keep her eyes off Gaia. After a few minutes she walked over and asked me how old Gaia was. A look of shock passed over her face when I replied that she was 4. The lady mentioned that her daughter was 8 and still rode with training wheels. Now, there is nothing wrong with this -every kid learns at a different pace. What did strike me though, was what she said next, "My husband works so much, he hasn't had time to teach her."
I'm sure this is common, we all come home from work tired, and parenting isn't exactly a breeze either. The part that I found difficult to understand though was why she didn't teach her daughter? Perhaps she didn't know how to ride a bike? Perhaps she was saving it for her husband as a daddy/daughter bonding moment? Maybe she wasn't confident in her teaching skills?
Whatever the reason, I was reminded of that moment when writing this piece. And considering that Spring is hot on our heels, I thought it only seemed fitting to take it back and talk about kids and bikes.
So here is my 3 step program to getting a kid from zero to hero on a bike.
Step 1: Use a balance bike (also known as a strider bike, running bike, or glide bike)
A balance bike is a small bike with no pedals and no brakes. They come in two different frame types, wooden and metal.
This is your top secret weapon.
-Wooden balance bikes have restricted steering making it easier for children to turn and control the bike. I would recommend this style for a more cautious child (or cautious parent maybe ;) )
-Metal frame balance bikes don't have the restricted steering (think BMX style steering where the handlebars flip around).
The great thing about these bikes is that kids learn to balance on their own. When they first start out they keep one foot firmly planted on the ground at all times. As their skills progress, watch them take both feet off the ground for a fleeting moment. Then all of a sudden they are gliding along and their feet hardly even touch the earth. Your child will likely ride this bike for 6 months- 2 years (anywhere from ages 2.5 - 4.5)
Step 2: acquire an appropriate sized "big kid bike" (usually a 14" or 16")
if it comes with training wheels, take them off
Don't even let them see the training wheels if you have the chance. Here's something I rarely share: I am lazy. I didn't let Gaia have training wheels because I didn't want to have to fight with her when it was time to take them away. If there is a shorter, faster, and easier way to do something that will produce the same results, I can guarantee that's the way I will go.
Going from a little wooden balance bike to a 16" bike with brakes and ultra responsive steering can be quite the challenge for a 4-6 year old.
As an additional and completely optional step, you can take the pedals off the bike to make it into a "makeshift balance bike". This allows your child to get used to their new bike without being overstimulated. If your child started on a metal balance bike they likely won't need this step.
I've linked a youtube video here (not mine, just one I found on the internet) on how to take pedals off of a child's bike.
Once you feel your child is comfortable, put the pedals back on and send them out into the world.
Step 3: Bike, bike, bike
Honestly, it can be that easy. Talk them through it if they're scared, take them to flat areas and run/walk beside them. Let them choose when to turn around and go home, and help them up if they fall. Tell them that they are doing great (even if you feel there is room for improvement). If they want to go for a bike ride, drop everything and go. Those moments are special.
Of course, this method might not work for all kids and that is totally okay! If anyone has any other suggestions please comment below. I also love reading your stories of triumph.