The traditional method of learning to ride a bicycle involves training wheels, a healthy dose of fear, and lots of scuffs and bruises. Thankfully, teaching children to ride a bike can be achieved a lot easier, and in a significantly shorter time than expected by using a balance bike (also called a glide bike).
Balance bikes are simple to use and effective. They look just like a small bicycle but without the pedals and crank. With a balance bike there is no need at all to use training wheels to get your toddler up and pedaling in no time.
Here are five reasons why using a balance bike is a superior method than using training wheels.
1. It's a natural method for teaching balance- the most important skill for riding a bicycle.
Training wheels are crutches - literally. Just as a crutch holds you still on one leg, so do training wheels hold you still on a bicycle. But bikes aren't designed to stand still, which is the main drawback of the training wheels. You can't teach a child to ride by holding them in one place, or just by creeping forward inch by inch.
The balance bike is moved forward by pushing the ground with the child's feet, just like the Flintstones' car. There are two benefits to this.
First, the child learns to alternate feet forward and backward, just like the pedaling motion.
Second, as the child pushes faster and faster, they lift both feet off the ground and naturally glide on two wheels- the perfect balance. This eliminates the need for training wheels altogether, as the child has a natural feel for balancing on two wheels from the beginning.
Tip: Start your child on top of a small inclined road or sidewalk, to let them coast naturally on their balance bike.
2. It's easier to graduate to the two wheeled pedal bike.
With the natural balance discussed above, putting the child on a similar sized pedal bike will follow completely naturally. If the child is already used to coasting on their balance bike, they will naturally find the pedals with their feet on a pedal bike.
Tip: Let the child use a tricycle or bigwheel to practice pedaling before graduating to the balance bike.
3. It's faster learning to ride with a balance bike.
It's true. Two year olds are up and pedaling without training wheels after using balance bikes first. My daughter took only one week on the balance bike before graduating to pedals- well before her third birthday.
This is in large part due to the next benefit:
4. Balance bikes reduce the fear of riding.
On the balance bike, the child always has his/her feet available to connect with the ground. If the bike goes too fast, they drag their feet. If they tip to the side, they put a foot down. This offers a feeling of complete security to the learning child that they can control themself on a bicycle.
Going from training wheels to none, however, offers no assurances. It only stokes the fear of the unknown, the feeling that they've never done this before. It's always scary to try things we've never done before, especially for children.
5. The balance bike is still fun after graduating to two wheels.
Riding a bike takes effort- pedaling is work! Even after learning to pedal, children will still find hours of enjoyment on a balance bike, coasting down hills and gliding down the sidewalk. It's a great toy to keep around even after its primary purpose is done.
So, given all the benefits, is there really any reason to keep training wheels? If it's simply a question of cost, don't believe you need to purchase a fancy balance bike. You can make a balance bike yourself by simply removing the pedals from a toddler's bike. It's not difficult and you can later convert the bike back to a pedal bike when ready.
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