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My daughter is just about ready to start to ride a proper bike.
I am loathe to get her a bike with training wheels/stabilisers, as just about every kid I see with them just relies on them and doesn't learn to balance properly.
What is the best method to get her riding properly?

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Hi Anthony! Please be sure to choose a selected answer once you are satisfied with the results, otherwise you may want to edit, revise, or comment on your original question. –  Dustin Sep 2 '10 at 4:02
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Your question puts emphasis on balance - are you asking about this specifically? There is more to teaching a child to ride than balance. –  Kevin Sep 2 '10 at 11:31
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hembrow.eu/personal/howtorideabike.html is a good writeup on this. –  Ian Oct 14 '10 at 11:30

20 Answers 20

up vote 15 down vote accepted

My dad taught me, my two sisters, my neices and nephews the same basic way.

On grass. Get them on a two wheeler, no training wheels, but with helmet on, and start em up on the grass. Find a field that is smooth (maybe a slight downhill to start on) and push them and let them go.

Grass is harder to ride on, but soft enough to fall on without damage that will get Mommy mad.

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You are less likely to get superficial marks falling on grass, but for severe stuff cushioning of grass wont help much. But it is harder to stay upright on and gives a false sense of security. –  Tom Hawtin - tackline Aug 31 '10 at 18:58
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Similar suggestion is to take the peddles off so they start just pushing them selves along with their feet - so they can't fall over. –  mgb Jan 18 '11 at 18:49
    
This works; this is exactly what I did. –  Carnotaurus Apr 24 '11 at 7:22
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I learned same way, except replace grass with a gravel road :) –  dotjoe Feb 24 '12 at 18:02
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Yeah, this is how I learned, on a maybe 1:4 slope, with a flat bit at the bottom. Start by just rolling down the hill, without feet on pedals, practicing balance. Then try the same with feet on the pedals, but without pedalling. Then try pedalling. Then try it on flat ground. –  naught101 May 12 '12 at 3:09

You're absolutely right--children's bicycles with training wheels are good for exercise and entertainment, but they do little to nothing for balance.

In my experience, the best way to teach anyone--children included--to ride a bicycle is to take the pedals off, lower the seat, and let them scoot & coast around until they develop the proper balance. Then, add the pedals, and let them coast, pedal, etc.

For children, there are several popular brand that makes 'run bikes', which are usually made out of wood, and have neither training wheels nor pedals. They are low enough that the child can sit in the saddle and place both feet on the ground, but high enough that they can still propel themselves & lift their feet to coast.

These bikes allow the child to quickly and safely develop good bicycle balance.

(See http://www.earlyrider.com/, http://www.runbikes.com/, and http://www.likeabikeusa.com/)

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This sounds a lot less "painful" than my dad's (and mine) method... I got another niece who will be old enough soon... definately going to look at this as an option! –  MDV2000 Aug 31 '10 at 16:50
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A small bike with no pedals, "run bike"/"push bike", or scooter is what Sheldon Brown recommends as best: sheldonbrown.com/teachride.html –  freiheit Aug 31 '10 at 17:36
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We have a Stiyder stridersports.com for my 2.5 year old. He prefers the Tricycle (will ride 2+ miles on it!!!). Mostly because our street sucks for riding on. Need to take the Strider to the park and force him to try it... Good idea, not sure it is working with him. –  geoffc Aug 31 '10 at 18:11
    
Out kids used 'run bikes' for a year or so and then transitioned very easily onto pedal bikes (no trainer wheels). –  Richard Tasker Sep 1 '10 at 6:54
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Learning how to balance is not the final trick, is the main thing. Once the sense of balance is acquired the rest adds up to that. That is the real benefit of the balance bikes, or plainly using a normal bike and propelling with the feet on the floor, it focus the learning on the main issue (and the usual main source of falls and pain). –  LopSae Feb 10 '11 at 23:36

Well, I was raised "old school". My dad put me on my first huffy - got behind me and pushed me down the driveway. Well, after 10 to 15 times busting my tail, I got the hang of staying up and was riding on my own in about 2 hours. Afterwards, as I rode through the yard (I grew up on a four acre yard) I crashed, got up and kept going.
Just make your daughter dress in blue jeans, good shoes with laces tucked in, elbow pads and a helmet. Take her to a park or large field where she can crash and get up and try again with worrying about traffic, people, etc. Also, EVERYONE crashes to start with and you can’t be afraid that your child will crash. DO NOT freak out or act scared if she crashes – act like it was expected (it really is) and do not baby her if she does. It will only make her scared and apprehensive about trying again. My dad would say walk it off, quit whining, etc. and that would make me more resolved to succeed. He also taught my 4 sisters to ride the same way.

I have taught two nephews and one niece to ride – my sisters tried but always babied them letting them quit trying after one crash… which you should never do no matter how much you think you are being mean. Letting them quit will only make it harder for them to learn later. Riding a bicycle is REALLY easy as long as you are willing to try and somethings parents should make their child learn because it allows them to have a tangible achievment in their life and teaches them a skill they can enjoy the rest of their life - like we do!

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That's how I learned to drive a stick shift –  Joe Philllips Sep 2 '10 at 14:35
    
I got 2 girls and it's their first summer on bikes. They manage to fall, even with the training wheels. Actually one fell off the tricycle today. You don't think it can happen, but it can. It's nice that they just get right back on again. Gives me confidence that when it comes times to take of the training wheels that they won't give up after a little spill. –  Kibbee Oct 4 '10 at 1:30

I've never tried them out, so I can't vouch for them personally, but these wheels with a gyroscope look like a really good idea. I've heard good reports about them as well.

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These are pretty cool in a technical sense, but they are essentially the same as training wheels--it maintains balance for the rider, so proper technique is not correctly learned. –  Dustin Aug 31 '10 at 19:16
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One of the main differences I see here is that you can adjust the stability that these wheels provide (3 settings for the ones I linked to), but training wheels are an all-or-nothing - and if you're 'using' a training wheel you'll be tipped to one side, that doesn't happen with the gyroscope wheels. –  Wilka Aug 31 '10 at 22:04
    
Wheels have a self-balancing effect anyway. Next time you have your wheel off, spin it around quickly, while holding the hub. Than try to make the wheel "fall over". It requires quite a bit of force for a spinning tire to fall over. It's the same reason you can roll a tire down the road, the wheel balances itself. –  Kibbee Oct 4 '10 at 1:33
    
True, that's why gyroscopes work. The difference here is that these wheels self-balance even when not rolling (because they have an internal gyroscope). So as the child slow slows down, they don't fall over. –  Wilka Oct 4 '10 at 9:57

The best thing about training wheels is that it get them on the bike and fast. They get a feel for what it takes to peddle, wear a helmet, etc...

The other thing I found is that my kids had little or no problem making the transition to a riding without training wheels. Yeah it took some time the first day but they were used to the mechanics of riding if not the true feel of two wheels.

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This at least worked for me and my siblings. :-) –  johannes Feb 23 '12 at 1:21

I taught all four of my kids in a nearby park that had tall and nice grass .. i found that the grass made them pedal harder and it seemed easier for them to maintain their balance.

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Learning to ride a bike on a traditional pedal bike can be a scary experience for both parent and child. We've all been there. The initial excitement of chosing the brightly colored princess bike or the bike adorned with the latest comic book superhero quickly fades when reality sets in. That reality is that a standard pedal bike is the wrong tool for teaching a child to ride.

The traditional pedal bike is too tall for most young riders. Training wheels create a false sense of security that prevents children from testing and mastering their balance skills. Training wheels can also create wobble and cause the bike to tip over, making your little guy or girl fearful. Many children will take one look at the metal contraption with the pedals, chain and jagged sprocket and decide they are not interested.

Balance bikes have a low profile that puts the child close to the ground. They're feet rest firmly on the ground, putting them in total control. With no scary sprockets, chains or pedals, the balance bike makes kids more comfortable and enthusiastic about learning to ride.

With a balance bike, kids learn at their own pace. They can start by just walking the bike around on the sidewalk or grass. Once they've gained a little confidence, they start to pump their feet more vigorously and test out their balance and steering. In no time at all, most kids will be propelling themselves around the neighborhood under their own power and cruising along as they lift their feet and let their new found sense of balance take over.

Children as young as two are able to ride a balance bike, so why wait? Skip the training wheels and let your child begin to build their balance skills with a balance bike.

If your child is late in taking on the challenge of learning to ride...lower the seat, remove the pedals and find a small incline for them to coast down. Let them build the confidence in their balance then add the pedals back on the bike.

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First make sure the child has some protection gear like helmet, knee/elbow guards (in my childhood I dit not have these, but the world has changed since :)

Then find a small slope so that the child does not have to pedal very hard, but can concentrate on balancing.

...

Success!

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The underpants gnomes strategy? –  Highly Irregular Feb 21 '12 at 2:18

Be patient, try to have fun.

Then practice as much as you can, on any surface (kids don't hurt themselves the way adults do), any bike (that fits), any time. Just mind the traffic.

Did I say: have fun?

(And get your camera ready).

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Our children learned first to balance using a 2-wheeled push scooter, next step to a bike was easy.

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The first time I successfully learned to balance was on a grassy slope in a park. The slope was pronounced but not large: a total height/drop of maybe 3 or 4 feet, and maybe 10 degrees of slope.

The point of a slope is that, before I tried it, when I was trying to learn to cycle on the flat I found it to difficult/impossible to learn to balance, steer, and peddle all at the same time: because peddling pushed my weight from side to side ... whereas free-wheeling down a slope, I could learn about just steering: steering into the direction I was falling over into.

And the point of its being grassy, as opposed to paved, is probably obvious.

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Nail on the head right here! You instantly learn how to balance once you're coasting at moderate speed. –  dotjoe Mar 31 '12 at 2:08

My wife bought a Stryder bike, which is a two wheeler, with no pedals/crank/chain/etc.

My son sits on it, pushes and brakes with his feet.

He rode about 40 miles this summer on it. (The pool is about a 3 mile round trip from our house, and we rode there a fair bit).

Now he glides and balances very well. We have to get him a real bike this summer, to save money on worn out shoes from breaking with his feet.

I am not sure this would work with an adult/non-child but it seems to be working well on my son. (Started at 2.5 and still riding it now as a 4 year old). We plan on skipping training wheels altogether.

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I taught my kids the same way I learned - running alongside them with a firm grip on the back of the saddle, and sometimes on the handlebars, over and over again, trying not to wrench my shoulder too hard when preventing them from falling over. First on grass, later on the sidewalk, and at last just jogging alongside and not letting them notice that I wasn't holding on any more.

I believe it worked because they were fully supported by someone they trusted at all times when they needed it, and that support was gradually replaced with their own ability, whether they initially realized it or not.

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Was this effective? If so, why? –  Neil Fein Feb 22 '12 at 4:06
    
Yup, it was very effective. Both of them came to love cycling, and one became a tri-athlete. I believe it worked because they were fully supported by someone they trusted at all times when they needed it, and that support was gradually replaced with their own ability, whether they initially realized it or not. As a parenting strategy in general, it's not bad. –  Ross Patterson Feb 22 '12 at 11:40
    
Have edited that into your answer, it adds quite a bit. –  Neil Fein Feb 22 '12 at 16:26
    
+1 Yes, now it's coming back to me....this is how I really learned. –  dotjoe Mar 31 '12 at 1:58
    
This is how I taught my two girls to ride. I'll use the same method with my son when he's old enough. One thing I found that helps is to pull up on the back of the seat to balance the bike instead of trying to pull it to the side. Pulling up will naturally center the bike, whereas pulling to the side it's easy to overshoot and you'll find yourself doing much more adjustments. –  Kibbee Sep 20 '12 at 0:54

Our kid is a wimp when it comes to bumps and I'm overprotective, so just sticking some pads on her and letting her go wasn't an option - the scrapes and bruises would've turned her off.

We tried riding on grass but couldn't find any place with enough of a gentle slope to overcome the extra resistance from the soft ground. But right next to one of the grass fields we tried was a small basketball court with new, smooth asphalt, so I spent about half an hour jogging along next to her, holding the seat of the bike and one of her arms to steady her while she got used to the feel.

I found that she got used to the feel of balancing much faster when I had her turn - she'd lean into the turn, I'd make sure she didn't lean too far or turn the bars too sharply and she quickly got to the point that I could mostly let her go. (Also, I'd be on the inside of the turn so I didn't have to run as much - less of an issue for people who aren't as out of shape!)

We did that first half-hour session, did another one the next day, then the third session she rode around a track-and-field track a few times and I only trailed along with her the first couple times. She wasn't fast, the turns were gentle, but that got her some time on the bike. Since then, we've done a couple rides, and some make-shift obstacle courses around light poles on a nearby plaza and she's progressing fine.

The biggest issue for us is that it rains a lot here (Vancouver) and I don't like to ride in the rain and I'm not prepared to buy good gear for her to ride in a downpour, so we pretty much parked the bikes over the winter and are only getting back into it now.

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Well the answer that I found worked well for my youngest and some of my friends kids was:

  1. Lower the seat so that they can almost have their feet flat on the ground so they can prevent themselves from falling too many times - so they are not terrified.
  2. Pick a bike with short pedal arms so their legs rotate more times per minute which will help with balance.
  3. The run along beside them with a firm grip on their shoulder applying downward pressure to help them with their balance. (this is almost stage 2, if they have zero balance you may have to hold the back of the seat also or something).
  4. When they are ready, count outloud how many seconds they are on their own as a feedback mechanism if that is helpful.

Good luck! and it does help you get in shape!

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Get your kid a Gyrobike. They are actually really amazing. Training wheels just hinder the learning process.

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I really feel you're very wrong by painful methods such as "let 'em fall" to learn.

If you want them to learn without training wheels, run beside them and grab the handlebars when the look like they're going to fall over.

You have to be fit and fast to do this, but it can be done (I did it twice for 2 kids).

Just a note, if they use the training wheels for a couple of months, they will learn to ride. In my experience I have nothing against training wheels, and I learned that rushing to take them off early actually causes more pain than it's worth.

To repeat my answer at the other site, basically to sum they started with training wheels, when the older one (who was 3 at the time) looked ready, I thought it was time to take them off, so we did, and I trained him by running beside the bike and grabbing the handlebars whenever he looked as though he was going to fall over. (You have to have a lot of endurance to do this, and as you'll see it was an ineffective strategy).

For the second one, I realized that I kind of rushed it for the first one. When the second one turned 3, after about a month into the summer this year (20 minute bike rides almost every day), I noticed he didn't rely on the wheels as much. So I removed the training wheels, and ran alongside him like I did for the first one the previous year, but the difference was, he didn't need my help after the first 20 minutes. He was riding on his own without a need for help after that.

So, basically it's practice. I realized I actually overexhausted myself by rushing the first one. There's no rush. Keep the training wheels until he's comfortable with them on. I think the 2 seasons of practice with training wheels is what made the 2nd 3 year old able to ride without training wheels so easily.

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Start with a balance bike if the child is vary small (under 2 yo). If older, take any bike, remove the pedals and use it as a balance bike and once the child masters the balance, screw in back the pedals.

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However you proceed, get a bike that fits the child. None of this "(s)he'll grow into it."

Our then 4 yr old son had a bike and he was somewhat wobbly on it and I took great pains to supervise closely when he rode. One day we borrowed a neighbor's small bike (no training wheels), smaller than I'd ever seen before. It fit our son beautifully. And to our utter amazement he just started riding like he'd been doing this for years. No training wheels - for the first time. He was steady, turned with confidence, and fast.

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Based only on my personal experience with my first son I would suggest to use a Balance Bike starting from age of 2/3 depending on how tall the kid is (you're daughter in this case).

I blogged about my experience here:

http://thebestformysonen.blogspot.it/2014/09/the-best-balance-bike.html

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You can also remove the pedals from a regular bike and lower the saddle a bit to get more or less the same effect. –  Neil Fein Sep 18 at 0:59
    
A balance bike is made up with proportions and barycenter studied to not be an impediment for the child balance. It's not the same as removing pedals from a regular bike. –  ilmatte Sep 19 at 11:08

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