It seems like training wheels are a right of passage. But, recently, there’s been a trend to forgo the training wheel phase completely. I have to admit, I was intrigued with this idea when I heard about it a few years ago.
We did end up getting a balance bike, and while I was secretly hoping that my son, Toby, would learn to ride a pedal bike without having to use training wheels, I wasn’t completely sold on the idea (yet).
When he got the balance bike, it was wintertime — we allowed Toby to coast around (carefully) in the basement. Once spring arrived, it was time for the balance bike to head outdoors. He spent the better part of the summer gleefully coasting around the neighborhood on his balance bike, scaring his parents with his ability to coast down the “big hill” at the top of our street. It was pretty impressive.
I toyed with the idea of getting him on a pedal bike then. But, at three, he was still a little small for the pedal bikes we’d received as hand-me-downs. One even came with training wheels, but Toby hated it. He preferred the tricycle if he was going to pedal around.
So, that’s what we did. Toby practiced balancing and gliding with his balance bike, and practiced pedaling on his tricycle.
Come this spring, Toby was excited to get out the bikes again. His preschool had a few balance bikes that were used for a few weeks in May, leading up to “bring your bike to school day.” He took his balance bike. Another classmate was on a pedal bike (without training wheels)… and that reminded me we should give it another shot!
So, I brought out the pedal bikes. Yes, we have two. I took the pedals off one of them, and had Toby glide around on that bike to get the hang of steering and balancing the much heavier metal frame. A word from the wise, if you decide to do this — bike pedals thread differently (both are NOT “righty tighty, lefty loosey”). I made a short YouTube video (watch DIY balance bike from toddler pedal bike) if you want to see how easy it is to take the pedals off and put them back on.
Once he got the hang of that, Toby wanted to go back to his tricyle for pedaling. He wanted nothing to do with the pedal bike that was begging to be ridden
I promised to help him if he would try. With some cajoling, Toby climbed onto his pedal bike, and I helped him balance by holding him at the armpits. He got his feet on the pedals, and then started going with me doing most of the balancing. We quickly progressed to me “helping” by holding his shirt (yes, I was literally just pinching the fabric on the back of his shirt).
The first time I let go, Toby immediately put his feet down and stopped biking…still a little unsure of pedaling and balancing all by himself. After some reassurance that I hadn’t been doing anything and that it was all him, Toby was willing to try again. I told him I would warn him before “letting go” this time. He got started, I gave my warning, and let go.
It was perfect. He kept on going for a number of feet before stopping! Steering was still iffy, and starting/stopping was shaky. We were definitely at the mental tipping point. Toby decided he was done for the day, and got out the tricycle again.
The next day, we went to my uncle’s auto shop for an oil change. I brought along the pedal bike on a whim.
Again, we started off with me holding onto Toby’s shirt, so he could learn to get started and figure out how to steer. I jogged around with him, wearing his baby brother on my back, while holding Toby’s shirt.
I added some verbal reminders at some point:
pedal, balance, steer!
I repeated those three words numerous times, and after a few minutes he was all but biking independently. Now it was time for the mental challenge. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice it to say, Toby learned to ride his bike before our oil change was done — and he learned to start, steer, and not-quite-brake to stop.
One of the first few times I let go of Toby’s shirt:
Within minutes, Toby was totally confident:
fall down seven, get up eight.
We had some falls, but nothing to write home about. Over the next week, Toby was rearing to go on bike rides with me pretty much daily. He wanted to zoom down the “big hill” in our neighborhood.
So we added another verbal reminder:
show me your “slow downs”
Before I let him go down the hill, he had to show me he could slow his bike down by braking gently — and NOT come to a complete stop. Once that was done, we were ready to tackle the hill. I made Toby keep pace with me on the first time down, and I admit I went really slow. After several times, Toby was ready to go faster. He zoomed ahead of me, doing great — until it came time to switch from gliding to pedaling. When he started pedaling, the front wheel turned abruptly and Toby tumbled off the bike.
I love teaching independence, but tumble was big enough that it had my heart pounding. Toby was scared and crying. We talked through things, I reassured him, and reminded him he had to try the hill one more time before we called it quits for the night. No way was I letting him end on a bad note.
So we tackled the hill again. This time, I reminded him:
pedal, balance, steer, …use your slow downs! …keep gliding, steer, and when you’re ready, gently start pedaling …gentle.
Success is so sweet.
It is worth the hard work, the tears.
Independence is hard work. It can be scary. But we made it. Toby loves riding his pedal bike, and can now turn on a dime, and stop smoothly. He’s learning the rules of the road as we go, too.
Am I glad we skipped training wheels? absolutely. I’m sold on the duo of balance bike and tricycle. It allowed us to separate two skills (balancing and pedaling) so that he could focus on each independently. I’m glad Toby used the balance bike for a whole summer, because he got really good at balancing. But now, I’m glad that he’s on a pedal bike. We can go so much further on bike rides now. He loves his independence, and I do too.
I’d love to hear your opinions on training wheels, and any learning to ride stories you’re up for sharing in the comments below!