Hey there REI Community!
One of the most rewarding moments (of many!) of being a parent is when your kiddo first learns to ride a bike. The look on their face when they realize they have left their training wheels behind and are powering themselves on their bike is truly special. The journey to that moment, however, can be challenging and a struggle from time to time. There are a lot of good resources out there, like this Expert Advice article: How to Teach a Child to Ride a Bike, to help guide you along the process. We’d love to tap into the collective knowledge and wisdom of the REI community and hear about how you taught your kiddo to ride a bike. We're hoping you will share your experiences and what motivational tools you used to help get excited about riding. What advice, tips, and suggestions do you have for a someone preparing to teach their kiddo how to ride?
Our kiddo is in balance bike land still and not onto pedals yet, but I do have some thoughts:
- Make the bike available This might mean, yes, having the bike indoors, especially at first. This gets them more exposure to it earlier on. If it's hidden away in the garage except when you bring it out, it can feel forced on the child. When it's available to them at any time, they can go check it out when they're interested, even if it's only to spin the wheels while it lays on the floor.
- Be patient. No, really, be patient Many of my other parent friends comment that their kids are "only walking with the balance bike, they're not even sitting on the saddle". This is normal, they'll stand and walk, then sit and walk, and only then will they begin to experiment with picking up their feet. Let them learn on their own pace, and they will mostly teach themselves. This may take months to over a year. It feels slow in the moment, but by starting early, the end result is going to be full on bike riding well before they ever would be with training wheels. We started the whole process at about age 1.25, and only now at 2.5 is she really starting to glide much. Even if it takes another year to move onto pedals, that would still be a fully fledged biker at just age 3.5!!!
- Avoid training wheels More than just not teaching balance, they can actively teach unbalance, so that when you take them off, a child has to unlearn before they can start learning the right way. Training wheels are a solution to a problem that didn't need to exist (poorly designed frames with seats too high off the ground and high centers of gravity), and are obsolete. They may have some uses for children with special needs, but I simply cannot endorse them for most kids.
- Be a cyclist yourself / Focus on the fun It can be tempting to think of it as just teaching them a life skill, something that they should be learning only for the sake of learning it. Instead, keep it more to the tune of how the bike can take you on adventures, either faster than walking, or maybe even places you couldn't get to by walking. If they don't see you ever biking, why should they want to? Ride it to the park/playground, ride it to the beach, ride it to go watch some frogs in the pond. Kids also love riding bike/skate parks or "pump tracks" where there is undulating terrain, whether dirt or paved.
- Bring snacks, but avoid bribing Snacks are so so important for any small kid outing, but they should want to ride their bike for biking itself, not as a means to an end.
- Spend a little more This one is maybe a little controversial, and I know everyone's financial situation is different, but seriously, consider going a little higher budget than what you maybe initially think. A kid's bike isn't just a throwaway toy, it's a gateway to fun and independence that they crave. In particular go for something from a dedicated bike shop rather than Target or Walmart if you can. Your kids are worth it. More expensive bikes are generally more lightweight and better designed in the way they are shaped. A general guideline is that a bike shouldn't be any heavier than 30% of their weight. Can you imagine if me, a 200 lb. adult had to ride a 100 lb. non-electric bike (50%)? Yeah, not fun, and it's not so fun for the kids either, they just don't know any different if they've never experienced a bike truly designed for them. Check out this Instragram video where even proficient riders struggle with cheap bikes https://www.instagram.com/p/CH0IllxjLyT/.
When your kid outgrows it and it's time to sell, more expensive bikes also hold their value better, so once you factor that in, you're also probably not spending all that much more net (compare getting an $80 bike that you end up having to give away free vs. a $250 bike that you sell for $150: in the end you've spent a little more, $20, but your kid has had a much better experience). Any bike is better than no bike, but if you can swing it I seriously have to urge going up a little in price.
- Go give a look to twowheelingtots.com This is my ultimate resource for everything kids biking related. It is so comprehensive, unbiased, and thorough. Every review they have they have personally tested, and they have tested hundreds, maybe even thousands of bikes, bike trailers, and other bike accessories. The Instagram video above is from them.
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.
That's fantastic @TomV
And you're right about training wheels. We used them with our first child and didn't with our second. Want to guess which one learned faster and enjoyed it more?
“Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.” (John Muir)
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.
This is a great conversation and I just wanted to say I appreciate all the perspectives! I also wish I had all your wisdom before I taught my kiddos to ride. I'm very intrigued with the idea of training wheels vs no training wheels. My daughter definitely used them to figure out the pedaling and then took off without them no problem. For my son, they were definitely a 'crutch' that he came to rely on and it was a struggle to get him to give them up. Ultimately, we chose not to fight against his will and one day he walked into the garage and announced that he was ready to have them taken off. Of course, after he rode off without them and did great he told us he wanted them put back on and that's when we drew the line!
All in all, I think the critical part is patience with your kiddo and letting them come to the bike. There were moments we had to change plans and adapt what we were doing because my son wasn't having it with his bike that day. I honestly think that because our goal was for him to have fun at all times on his bike, he is now a little ripper and really enjoys his time on two wheels now.
Thank you for sharing your stories, I'm looking forward to hearing more!
Got a min so....
I disagree with the non use of training wheels. Contrary to current views, kids are different. Some need them, some dont, some get dependent. That doesnt mean you leave them on until the kid is 16, in fact as soon as mine started to lean into them, I raised them. Then when they started to become dependent on them, I bent them to increase the lean for one of the girls without letting her know. The son took to it like everything else. He went from crawl to run, jumped in any pool without worrying about the whole breathing thing, and was pedaling around his older sister. Zero to sixty in all things physical. The girls learned more methodically and incrementally. Which is why IMHO it is a lot easier to teach a woman to shoot. They mine the gold, not jump into every available stream with a pan.
The training wheels are for the kid to learn to pedal and brake. To get them to put time in the saddle before they have to put it all together. If they are stuck on them, then you raise them, or bend them, or both over time.
As an aside, we didnt have new stuff when I was a kid. There was a little red bike that came from somewhere. My sister decided I needed to ride. So she put me on it and shoved me over a hill steep enough that when my mother caught us she was "vexed". After about 10 runs or so I got it so my son comes by it naturally.
I thought of another thing to add that's been great in our family is the Kids Ride Shotgun Mountain Bike Seat, this has the kid riding on your own frame between you and the handlebars on their own mini saddle. They are not strapped to it in any way, so they must rely on their own (and your) balance. It's a great way for them to learn how a bike feels at speed as it dips and leans and maneuvers around without having to worry about the propulsion. AND it's my understanding that they're now stocked at REI... 😏
As far as training wheels, I just want to be clear it can be done that way, but some of the main points against them in more detail:
- To do it properly, you have to constantly raise them as mentioned above, and from my observations most people don't seem to realize this. I see training wheels on/barely above the ground all the time.
- Whether you do it consciously or unconsciously, turning a bike is done primarily by leaning the bike slightly in the direction of the turn, not just by turning the handlebars. Training wheels, especially if set too low, inhibit this and may lead to letting the bike lean the incorrect way in turns, so it's not just about balance it's also about proper technique. This is lessened if you raise the training wheels, but see #1. When kids are able to really lean the bike and make sharp turns, they also just seem to have more fun! My girl had a few jackknife incidents at first but quickly corrected that.
- The basic idea of both training wheels/balance bikes is to separate balance from pedaling, but balancing is the real crux of biking while pedaling is comparatively much easier to grasp, and can be done on any pedal bike with a stack of books under the bottom bracket. I've heard tricycles are also sometimes used to teach pedaling, but I'm not a fan of them in general either. Coaster brakes throw a bit of a wrench in the works here too, but that's a whole other can of worms involving the CSPC...
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.
What fantastic timing to tag me in this! We just did our first Bikepacking trip yesterday/day before. While it was supposed to be 3 nights and I pulled the plug after 1, they did simply amazing on the trail (but I don’t tolerate poor campers, and there was a disconnect at our campsite, zero help from either child… I adventure solo with the 2 kids, 3 and 6 years old… when you’re in the backcountry alone with young children you can’t take a chance that they aren’t listening… so I pulled the plug, I’m hopeful that the message was received even with the listening ears clearly turned off)…
My daughter is 6 now, riding a islabikes beinn 20s… my son is 3 and on a strider pro. All I have is our experiences and a lot of research… someone mentioned 2 wheeling tots up ahead of me and I’ve found them to be the most useful over all… no matter you stage in the game or your financial level.
My 6 year old began on a balance bike, she moved to pedals at a new 4 and never fell. I mean, she falls, especially while learning to navigate her bike for the first time 2 days ago with loaded panniers.
My son is more adventurous and ready for pedals but they’re now hard to come by given how light weight he is.
My tips and advice??
Get the lightest weight bike you can afford, shop used. The younger the rider, the more important this is.
Get out there. Try all different terrains and experiences. My son far prefers the pump park. My daughter, a nice paved trail…
Keep the bike available as often as possible… 24/7.