Updated: Aug 31, 2019
Abigail is my niece and just turned 4. This was her first time on a pedal bike and she picked it up easy! Yea I'm proud of her, but her learning experience is not unique among kids who stayed away from training wheels.
Proper Way to Learn to Ride
She used a balance bike to learn so easily. Balance bikes are small bikes without pedals, without brakes, and NO training wheels. Their seat height is adjustable to be set so their feet can touch the ground, even as they grow. They first use their feet to balance and simply walk around with the bike underneath them. That naturally turns into occasionally sitting on the seat and trying to "glide" for a moment. This stage is when the kids are learning how a two-wheeled vehicle handles. Soon after this stage they start ripping around like seriously fast little leg-powered rockets. From there, jumping on a pedal bike is a breeze.
Problems with Training Wheels
Why do training wheels stop this process? Training wheels mess with the learner in a big way. Bicycles are two-wheeled vehicles that balance and stabilize through a combination of influences from rake and trail, counter-steering, body-weight, and more! If you're falling over to the right on a bicycle, you turn the handlebars to the right to stop from falling over. Vice versa for the left. To change direction or go around a corner, you and the bike work together to find some happy amount to turn the front wheel that allows the bike to balance and you achieve your desired arc at the same time. Riders learn how counter-steering, body weight, lean angle and more allow you to control where the bike goes and prevent from falling over.
Two-Wheels VS. Three or More Wheels
Now when you put training wheels on a bicycle, they don't touch the ground when the bike is straight up and down right? Without much lean angle, the bike with training wheels performs like a two-wheeled vehicle. But, as soon as the kid leans over even a small amount (which you have to do to ride a bike successfully), one of the training wheels contacts the ground. It then instantly becomes a three-wheeled vehicle and loses all the controlling dynamics it had just before this moment. Some of the handling dynamics actually become opposite of what they were before! This screws the kid up! Don't do that to them! Even worse, what occurs while riders use training wheels, is they continuously bounce on and off the training wheels throughout the ride. The bike is in a continuously changing state of how it steers, stabilizes, turns, and balances. The poor rider is stuck having little control over the bike. Consider if you were riding and turning right, then wanted to tighten the turn more to the right. If you're on a two-wheeled vehicle, you could turn the handlebars to the left momentarily (counter-steer) to make the bike lean over more to the right and arc tighter. If you are in the same situation on a three-wheeled vehicle, you would need to turn the bars to the right to turn tighter to the right. Those two methods are very opposite! Don't like think about this in such a detailed way? Would you rather just go ride and let your mind and body figure it out? So would the kid! Training wheels slow this progression significantly!
So What Should You Do?
To keep this simple, just give kids balance bikes and they will be happy and skilled! If you want to be cruel and watch them and parents get frustrated, possibly give up, or even worse, watch the kid get hurt, give them training wheels. Have a comment about this or an experience you'd like to share that can help others? Leave it in the comments below. If you have more technical questions and want to chat with me personally, schedule a call below. I'm not kidding, why not have a phone call discuss this further? I want to help riders worldwide, to connect and enjoy their rides. Think this information was helpful and want more? Sign up to join our mailing list below. Sig's Rides helps to provide great riding experiences for riders of bicycles and motorcycles. Yes we provide unforgettable trips, but we also just want to provide helpful information, instruction and products to make your rides better.
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Author: Gerry Signorelli
Gerry used his experience of training at the Olympic Training Center (having made two national teams as a gymnast for the USA) then graduating from the University of Michigan (degree in economics and financial mathematics) to pursue success in the bike world. Through practice, study and the help of many mentors, he raced professionally to top-five finishes in the U.S. motorcycle road racing series and frequently races mountain bikes internationally in the Enduro World Series. Before founding Sig's Rides, he spent nearly ten years traveling the world as professional coach for the California Superbike School.