I want to ride my bicycle.
He’s ready for a big boy bike. Well, maybe not, but he’s definitely outgrown that tricycle. So… how exactly do you go about teaching that skill he’s never going to forget?
Fun it up. Safely.
We get a lot of amused glances in the summer. Sure, the baby’s ice-cream-covered face is delightful, and yup, our cape/PJ-wearing seven-year-old turns a few heads, but the main reason we make total strangers smile is our balance-bike-riding-four-year-old. At least… we hope that’s the reason.
When our oldest turned three, we splurged and bought him one of those super-cool looking wooden bikes. It wasn’t even a Like-A-Bike, but it was still a Major Splurge, and we had Major Doubts. But… worth every penny. It made it easier for him to master a real bike solo, it took a beating and was still in great condition for his little bro AND little sis (one day), and it was super-light, which meant he could ride super-far without getting super-zonked and super-grumpy. Yay!
After two summers of riding the heck out of his wooden bike, he was too tall and ready to move on. But he wasn’t used to the weight of a regular bike and, well, let’s just say he hadn’t finessed his foot-eye-coordination enough to work a pedal. No prob, we removed the pedals from his cousin’s hand-me-down and that became his newer, heavier balance bike. Once he adjusted to the weight, the next step was putting the pedals back on and teaching him to spin. The key to this was holding the back of his seat as lightly as possible with only one hand (not touching the handlebar since that only throws off his balancing act) and lacing up our running shoes. Another bonus to holding only the back of the seat is that they don’t really notice when you take your hand away. Every once in a while we’d let go and wave at him, which startled him at first, but our hand was already back on the seat in time to compensate for any swerves. Once he got used to us letting him go for a second now and then, we simply had to let go more often than we held on, until he was racing away from us without a backwards glance.
It honestly didn’t take long. But, before it starts to sound too good to be true, time to ‘fess up to the mistake we made pre-pedals: we tried to force it. He loved his wooden bike and just did not want to change. One of us turned into a Tiger Mom, took all the fun out of it, and learned that our firstborn is even more stubborn than us. Yup, that set us back a week or three. So, after we’d taken a bicycle-break, we brought in the big guns: rewards. Back in the day, our then-five-year-old was nuts about… pencils. Life was good. We bought a pack of Cars pencils (WITH erasers, guys – he was ecstatic! Now you know why buying that bike was such a splurge!), casually pulled them out saying “You can choose a pencil every time you do a lap on your pedal bike,” and left them completely visible on the completely cleared kitchen table to tempt him every day/hour/minute. Totally worked. Within a week of only one laneway lap a day, he could fly on his new bike just as fast as his old.
Which led us to bike rules. He knew the helmet one: no helmet, no bike. We protect our noggins too, and we’ve been enforcing it since day one, so it’s never been an issue. But we had to get a little safety-savvy now that he could race from us and actually get away. The deal was that he had to count the houses as he passed them and once he counted ten, he had to stop and wait for us to catch up. Ten houses seemed like a safe distance to start with (we’ve increased it as he’s become more capable and independent). The other deal was that when he got close to a road, he had to stop a full sidewalk square before. If he broke the first rule, he got a warning. If he broke it again or ever let his wheel touch the road without us, he had to get off and walk his bike the rest of the trip. Nope, he didn’t like that. But it sure taught him fast.
Last summer, his younger brother turned three, and so began his wooden balance bike journey. Same bike, adjusted seat, new helmet… one happy kid. And a lot of happy passers-by.
There’s nothing wrong with training wheels. They’re just not necessary. Any bike can become a balance bike with the pedals removed. But, pedals or not, training wheels or not, the easiest way to teach someone how to ride a bike is to set an example and keep it fun. It’s also the easiest way to teach someone how to read/eat veggies/use the toilet/do anything.
Email us if you want a tip to make your kid stop. ringing. that. bell.