I have children who I'm trying to get stoked about riding bikes. I am prone to letting them try and fail, and learn from mistakes, gaining confidence as they go, but this doesn't work perfectly with their personalities. I was wondering if there was some community consensus on what what conditions should be met for removing training wheels.

  • What should I look for in the rider?
  • Are there any activities that we could do to build confidence?
  • Should I remove both training wheels at once, or one at a time?

I am looking for consensus, not necessarily the "right" answer, but a widely-accepted one.

  • 1
    Thanks @Carel - I would accept this as an answer if you would care to do so. – Bruce Becker Nov 5 at 10:21
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    @Carel Where was this knowledge when my parents were raising me?!?! This could have saved so many scraped knees... – MonkeyZeus Nov 5 at 13:20
  • When the kid wants to. – PlasmaHH Nov 5 at 14:24
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    Created this account specifically to post this. When I was learning to ride a bike without training wheels, my parents wouldn't let me ride on our driveway. They thought that if I fell on the concrete, it would hurt more. Instead, they made me struggle riding on the grass, which was far harder. I was no where near strong enough to peddle the bike over uneven grass back then, and as a result fell frequently and had a miserable experience. Training wheels made it even harder to ride on the grass. I actually wanted my training wheels back on so they would let me ride on the concrete. – X-27 Nov 5 at 23:37
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    @pipe I know SE isn't a forum - but what I wanted to say also wouldn't have been a good answer to the question he was asking. It was more of a related point I thought was important to bring up, and it fit better as a comment than an answer. – X-27 Nov 7 at 2:31
up vote 95 down vote accepted

Consensus seems to be more and more this:

Do not use training wheels.

The most important part of cycling is not the pedaling, but balancing and steering. Steering is mostly done by leaning (therefore balance) and not by turning the handle bar. Training wheels do not help in learning to balance the bike and actively prevent leaning.

Therefore it might be better to start with a balance bike (no training wheels, no pedals) to learn the essentials and add the easy part of pedaling afterwards.

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    +1, totally agree. More than half of my kids started with balance bike and never used the training wheels. For the oldest one we've tried several things (training wheels, push rod) and nothing worked. With a balance bike for couple of days she got into "normal" cycling in no time. – Mike Nov 5 at 11:17
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    Apart from the nonsense about steering being done by leaning and not with the handlbars, +1. – Grimm The Opiner Nov 5 at 12:42
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    @GrimmTheOpiner And yet when you ride a bike hands-free you steer exclusively by leaning and not with the handlebar, and it works fine for everything except narrow turns. – Konrad Rudolph Nov 5 at 13:37
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    @Martin Not really. A balance bike is unambiguously safer, because the child can always put their feet down. Even if they build up speed and forget how brakes work, they can put their feet down. Balance bikes are cheaper. And from a cycling POV, there's complete consensus that it's a better method of teaching. So if it comes to parenting, your it depends is actually it depends if you want your child to learn less effectively, at higher cost, and with a significantly higher risk of injury, for no reason at all. :) – Graham Nov 5 at 14:24
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    @GrimmTheOpiner, the steering vs counter-steering argument is very valid here. With training wheels, the 'bike' stays upright and steers like a car. Turning the bars to the right makes the bike go right. When you take the the training wheels off, suddenly the child has to unlearn everything they've done so far and learn to do the opposite. – Holloway Nov 6 at 10:28

Not knowing how widespread this apporach may be, I'll just contribute, what strategy my parents applied:

My father bent the trainers more outward/upward - this left more room to tilt from one side to the other, or to balance in between. I figured that it would be cool (and less noisy) to try to keep both trainers off the ground. Soon afterwards, the trainers were gone.

Or, you can just wait until love makes the trainers obsolete:

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    This would be my suggestion and what I did with my kids. Their's had slotted mounts, though, so no bending was required - I just raised the wheels up a bit at a time as they gained confidence. – FreeMan Nov 5 at 15:12
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    I too did this with my children. However, I am now aware a missed the page in the parenting manual (you know, the one that came with the kids) on trainer wheels 'Don't'. – mattnz Nov 5 at 20:17
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    Bending the wheels upwards could prove rather dangerous. Imagine the child beginning to master leaning and then trying to lean that little bit more. When the training wheel suddenly touches the hard surface the rear wheel of the bike will be lifted from the ground. These helper wheels are used on training courses with motorcycles to teach the rider to lean deeper than fear or test the maximum leaning angle of tyres. But those wheels are attached to the front end of the frame ahead of the rider. – Carel Nov 5 at 21:01
  • When I learned to cycle, with (rather feeble) training wheels, I kept going faster around corners and pushed the wheels out ever more. After a while, they were up from the ground and like suggested here, I quickly learned to deliberately balance so as to keep them off the ground. – leftaroundabout Nov 6 at 13:27
  • As kids, we had the slotted variety, too. I may add that some things that have changed for most kids since are: we learned on a gravel driveway with potholes and on the (bumpy) lawn - which I still insist is quite different from nice level concrete/asphalt. The stage before learning to bike was a tricycle. We did not have a kick-scooter (tiny wheels do not work well with gravel). The trainers allowed to not always fall off when we'd come to a standstill in a bump. Though always in an awkward way because they were high enough to allow quite some leaning of the bike - it certainly did not ... – cbeleites Nov 7 at 19:53

The accepted answer is correct: don't use training wheels. Once my kids got interested in bikes, I assembled the ones I bought for them and just left the pedals off. After a couple sessions of learning to push themselves around on flat pavement and gentle slopes, they could push off with both feet and coast while balancing. They were ready. I put the pedals on, and they immediately started riding. No falls, no scraped knees, just movement.

The only fall that day came after a great deal of riding. The oldest overcorrected on sharp corner at top speed. Aggressiveness coupled with inexperience. Somewhat inevitable, but at least my helmet investment paid off and saved a lot of damage to a forehead.

Your first step is to get a bike that's the right size. Being able to touch the ground while sitting in the seat is essential. The other thing is the bike's weight. The smaller and/or less muscular the child, the lighter the bike needs to be. It really makes a difference. For more details, this article seems to cover things nicely. Finally, try to find a paved surface that's in good condition. We wasted some time in a rundown parking lot nearby and had much better, faster results when we picked a better location.

What should I look for in the rider?

Do the procedure below and just watch what happens.

Are there any activities that we could do to build confidence?

Start out with pedal-less bikes (walking bikes). No danger at all, plenty of time to have fun. This can start at toddler age. They will learn all the balancing on their own, when they are ready. When you notice them taking a run and then sailing along without crashing at the end, you know that they are more than ready.

By the time they are strong enough to turn the pedals of the abysmally heavy children bikes (relatively speaking), I grabbed my kids (individually) and took one very long ride with them. I walked along; at first I held them very strongly (i.e., grabbed both handle bars). After a few 100 meters, I held them at the hips and let them try to steer, but still holding strongly enough that I could just pick them up together with the bike, if necessary. After a few more 100 meters, I only vaguely stabilized them. At the end of this (maybe 2-3km, on a very nice sunny day, with obviously them not pedalling all the time, but me pushing/holding as necessary, they had it pat down and could ride their bike on their own.

At the beginning, you are 100% in control, and they have 0% control. At the end, you have 0% and they 100%. You can stop at any time if you see it does not make sense.

I had great success with this "one-piece" education. For whatever reason it worked out - this is a test sample of size 2, not a consensus, but maybe food for thought.

If, at the beginning, you notice that it simply does not work out, then just stop. They don't even have to know what you had planned (no hard feelings etc.).

Should I remove both training wheels at once, or one at a time?

Skip wheels. Wheels are always bad. Bikes are stabilized by speed. It makes no sense to stabilize a standing bike. If they are not able to develop a certain minimum speed (at which point the bike will be stable), and hold the handlebar straight, then they have no benefit of sitting on a stabilized, standing bike. They will only learn that they can lean to the side and nothing happens - this is a very detrimental behaviour on a moving, training-wheel-less bike.

  • "Start out with pedal-less bikes (walking bikes)" - yes these are brilliant. Also they can be used from a very young age when you're walking with the kids (so you can walk at a normal pace without having to carry them) and they don't require as much balance as a micro-scooter. My daughter loved her walking bicycle but was never comfortable on a scooter. – icc97 Nov 7 at 10:23

IMO the condition is to have an adult available to help the kids to build balance skills. The time needed is surprisingly short. It need not be an adult, it can be a teenager. Do the training on a soft leveled ground. Grass is the best. Ensure that the bikes don't have any prominences that might harm the kids. And, as Carel said, lower the saddle. And, very important, greet them as they progress.

  • I doubt that many parents would give their child a new bike and then leave them alone with it? – David Richerby Nov 5 at 15:39

Training wheels are good if they have not learned to pedal. Once that is done start moving the training wheels off the ground, a little at a time. If the kids are nervous don't let them know you are doing it, they will adjust to it without thinking about it. If they have pedaling down and are the braver sort. just take the training wheels off, as others said speed will keep them up. If they are older you can explain the science of it by taking the front wheel off and spinning it. It will stay up stay up with holding just one side, like a gyroscope.

  • I believe it's quite difficult to make children understand the science-bit since many adults don't understand how and why it works. ;-) – Carel Nov 6 at 20:40
  • Bicycle stability has very little to do with gyroscopes. If it did, steering would be difficult and expensive light racing wheels would be unstable. Also, people have demonstrated this by building bicycles with extra wheels held just off the ground but geared to rotate in the opposite direction so all gyroscopic forces are cancelled. These bikes are just as stable as an ordinary one. Rather, bicycles are stable because leaning to either side causes the bicycle to steer in that direction and stay under you. – David Richerby Nov 7 at 14:34
  • Also, every demonstration of bicycle wheels as gyroscopes that I've seen involves spinning the wheel pretty quickly, usually by winding a piece of string around the axle and pulling it. Bikes are easily stable at 5mph (8km/h), which corresponds to the wheel rotating only about once per second. – David Richerby Nov 7 at 14:37

In our family, one of the secondary benefits of training wheels is that it allowed the youngest to bike with the family.

I secretly raised the wheels a bit at a time until we told him to see how far he could go without either one touching.

  • When I was about five or six, I didn't know about just lifting them a bit. I decided I wanted to try my bike without the stabilisers, so just grabbed a spanner and took them off. I had a lot of falls that day! – Toby Speight Nov 9 at 11:14

Once the bicycle is moving forward, the training wheels are unlikely to be touching the ground. Their main function is stability when starting and stopping. Video the child riding to demonstrate this. Then wait until the message sinks in and they're ready to ask you to remove the wheels.

Forget the training wheels. On level ground, preferably no pavement & definately no gravel, push & steady the bike. Your child will learn very quickly and you'll know when to let go. It took me about 3 hours to learn this way.

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