Ending the Great Training Wheel Conspiracy
For generations, parents have been subjecting their kids to a form of abuse that's left lasting scars. Sure, we may wear them as a badge of honor but the truth is that training wheels are a plight on society and the time has come to eradicate them. There is a better way to teach kids to ride a bike.
From time to time, America gets it wrong. Sure, we’re a clever, innovative and industrious people and over the past two centuries we’ve come up with some pretty solid ideas, but training wheels were definitely not one of them.
Yet the majority of parents walk into their local department store and purchase a bike, perhaps one that already has those training wheels attached, and never question whether there might be a better way to teach their child to ride a bike. This can often lead to months or even years of frustration as a child struggles to break their dependency on these stabilisers (as they are known in Europe).
The problem with training wheels is that they don’t train a child to do anything. A better name for them might be false sense of security wheels. Perhaps you believe that training wheels help acclimate your child to bike riding in a way that gently introduces the important concepts of cycling.
I won’t argue that they will probably get some exposure to pedaling and may even learn to brake. What they won’t learn to do is balance and steer and I would argue that being able to balance and steer a bike should probably be the first priority when learning to ride.
You can’t learn to balance a bike if it is propped up for you and while a child might be able to direct a bike with training wheels they aren’t actually steering it. That’s because controlling a bike is really done by shifting your weight to get the bike to go where you want it to go.
Does a unicyclist need handlebars to control his unicycle? Of course he doesn’t. That’s because he uses his mind and body in concert to control the unicycle. Kids learning to ride a bike need that same experience. Turning the handlebars to make a bike on training wheels go where he or she wants it to go doesn’t provide a lesson in the motor skills needed to operate a bicycle.
The moment that a child has their training wheels removed, they are in a dangerous situation because they have actually been trained wrong. The training wheel method has taught them that in order to turn left you just turn the handlebars to the left…just like a car.
Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Simply turning the handle bars left will throw the child’s momentum to the right putting them off balance. A bicycle is turned mostly by a lean that is initiated from turning the handlebars in the opposite direction of the turn. This technique is known as counter steering.
It’s a bit of a physics lesson, but the bottom line is that if your son or daughter learns on training wheels they won’t have an innate understanding of these concepts and they’ll probably pay for it with skinned knees and a few bumps and bruises.
So are you a cruel and inhuman parent if you teach your child to ride a bike using training wheels? No, you’re not. You’re probably just a traditionalist and believe me it took teaching a few of my kids the wrong way before I discovered the right way to teach a child to ride a bike. When it comes to down to how to teach a child to ride a bike, there is a better way.
After struggling to teach two daughters how to ride a bike using the training wheels method, I knew I had to come up with something better for my third daughter. That’s when I discovered the balance bike. Not an entirely new concept at the time and pretty popular in Europe, but I had never seen one. My immediate reaction was “brilliant.”
It never ceased to amaze me how skilled my daughter was on her balance bike after just a few rides. She got so good with it, that I couldn’t even keep up with her on foot and had to ride my own bike to stay with her. She had absolutely no fear on her balance bike as this video of Marlee riding her balance bike suggests.
So my suggestion to all the parents out there is to ditch the training wheels and get your little one started on a balance bike as early as possible. Kids are far more fearless at a young age and perfectly capable of balancing on a bicycle. They just need one small enough and light enough to ride. That’s what makes balance bikes so perfect. They’re designed for the pre-school set so they are low to the ground and very lightweight.
With a balance bike you probably won’t ever have to do anything more than put the helmet on your child’s head. Your son or daughter’s own curiosity and natural ability should take care of the rest. Just be prepared for the inevitable need to get on your own bike just to keep up.
The problem with training wheels is that they don’t train a child to do anything. A better name for them might be false sense of security wheels.