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Pedalgogy: Balance Bikes and Training Wheels

by Ted Johnson

A couple of years ago I was at a local bike shop buying a bike for my future stepdaughter who, at the time, was an eight-year-old girl who did not yet know how to ride on two wheels.

We asked about training wheels, and was told by the owner of the shop that it was not possible to put training wheels on a bike with a rear derailleur. Simply not possible, he claimed, because derailleur gets in the way of the struts, or the brackets, or the other thingy. Anyway, I just accepted it as authoritative truth. Then I set my mind on teaching the kid to ride on two wheels from the get go.

In the past week I’ve learned two things.

First, it may have been for the best that we didn’t use training wheels.

Strider Childs Balance Bike

Strider Child's Balance Bike

In fact, I now believe that training wheels are at best a crutch for people who should have learned to ride at a younger age. At worst they are an impediment that keeps young kids from transitioning to full competence on bikes.

Fighting words? Call it the zeal of a convert. Last week I was introduced to balance bikes. I took a close look at a Strider Child Balance Bike, I talked to a sales rep, and I watched a couple of YouTube videos.

That qualifies me as an Internet pseudo-expert. So pity the next person who gives me half a reason to go off half-cocked about how best to teach a child to ride.

I was pretty badass on a tricycle, but I was seven or eight years old when I finally learned to ride a bike. I now have to wonder whether my tricycle and training wheels stunted my progress toward two wheels.

The other thing I learned this week is that, contrary to what was said by Mr. Bike Shop Owner Who Shall Remain Nameless, you absolutely can put training wheels on a bike with a derailleur. I did it.

A derailleur living in haromony with Sunlite Adjustable Training Wheels

A derailleur living in harmony with Sunlite Adjustable Training Wheels

I can see how it could be potentially problematic with the struts, but top training wheel engineers in advanced research labs have solved that problem.

We have two kinds of training wheels here, and both worked on the child’s bike that I used for testing. The Sunlite Adjustable Bike Training Wheels had the most clearance from the derailleur. The Wald Bike Training Wheels worked as well, but might have had difficulty working on another bike with a different derailleur or a different bottom dropout design.

So, fine. If you must. Put training wheels on your kid’s bike, if only to prove a certain bike shop owner wrong. Just don’t be surprised when the kid who learned on a Strider leaves your kid in the dust.


For the testament of another convert, check out Learning to Ride: Balance Bikes by John Coe.
Also take a look at this recent photo of Eden on her Skuut Balance Bike over at PedalPoweredFamily.com

 
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6 Responses to “Pedalgogy: Balance Bikes and Training Wheels”

  1. Kudos.

    There are several great push/balance bikes out there and the Strider is my favorite one. We have thought about having a rental program at the bike shop, but it seems people purchase these lovely machines $100 and simply pass them on. The last forever and can teach endless amounts of children to ride without training wheels.

    If I was to ever own my bike shop, kids bikes with training wheels, and kids bike seats would not be allowed…

    -BSG

  2. [...] got his balance bike when he was 2 1/2. It took about a week to convince him to get on it, but once he did it only [...]

  3. c says:

    I am a big supporter of Strider Bikes, bought one for my son a month before his third birthday. three months after his fourth birthday he was riding a 16″ trek without training wheels. He rides almost everyday with me, last saturday we rode six miles (with many breaks). He will be five in february. If I ever own a bike shop I will not sell training wheels.

  4. [...] all you have to do is reach for the Strider Balance Bike. Check out what Balance Bike Reviews and Bike Shop Hub have had to say about balance [...]

  5. [...] a video that’s bound to push someone’s buttons: A skeleton, on an e-bike, with training wheels, and no [...]

  6. [...] For young kids, in case you haven’t heard, the paradigm has changed. Tricycles, and even training wheels are out of favor for the reason that they inhibit children from learning to balance on two wheels. [...]

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