Okay, I’ll say it: When it comes to teaching my kids to ride a bike, I am a better parent than you are. You might have nailed down nutritious snack habits, taught your kids how to save their allowance, and had them prepped for the SATs by the time they were in first grade. But me? My daughter was riding her bike with confidence before her fourth birthday and never once relied on the worn-out, self-defeating crutch of training wheels. And my two-year-old is not far behind. He’ll be pedaling away within the year.
How did we do it? Easy. By approaching the bike the same way our ancestors did.
Have you ever looked at a cup of coffee and asked, Who was the first guy to pick these beans, roast them, grind them up and soak the grounds in hot water until it turned black, drank that bitter mess, and said “Let’s do that again!”? You could ask something similar of bikes: Who was the first guy to build a frame with two wheels, add pedals and gears to power those wheels, and then spent a month falling down trying to figure out the balance?
It makes sense to start by teaching kids BALANCE. And that’s why you need to get your kid a “balance bike.” We’ve talked about this before (here and here), which might be over-talking it, but I shake my head whenever I see kids out there pumping away at the pedals, leaning 20 degrees to the left, held up by the old training wheels.
So why are training wheels bad, you ask? They don’t teach kids the fundamental ability they need to acquire to ride: balance. They teach kids how to get on the bike and pedal fast. Later, when the training wheels come off, they have the confidence to dive into riding but still have to learn balance. It’s backwards.
A balance bike, on the other hand, has kids coasting around and balancing naturallyâ€”as a parent, all you have to do is show them the bike. Then, once they decide they want to go faster, you move them up to a bike with pedals. There might be a transition at this point (I had to run behind Grace two times; then she just figured it out).
We tried this “method” first on Grace, but to determine it wasn’t a fluke, we stared Tater on a balance bike at two. As soon as his legs were long enough, he jumped on and hasn’t gotten off since. When he’s on his bike, the world has no obstacles. He’ll ride down the stairs of our deck (they’re pretty shallow stairs), we’ve had to teach him not to ride into the house. I even watched him coast (balancing, mind you) backwards down our driveway. I can’t even balance this good!
I hope you’ll forgive my tongue-in-cheek at the beginning and give the balance bike a try. It’s for the kids!