Learn to Ride a Bike …how we skipped training wheels completely

posted in: Parenting | 7

Learn to Ride a Bike ...how we skipped training wheels completelyIt 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.

Toby's balance bike
Toby’s balance bike

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.

Our DIY balance bike, with pedals removed

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

Toby's pedal bike
Toby’s pedal bike

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:

This is how we skipped training wheels. "Pedal, balance, steer"

A video posted by Betsy Finn {BPhotoArt.com} (@betsy.bphotoart) on

Within minutes, Toby was totally confident:

Wohoo! On our pedal bike! We skipped training wheels.

A video posted by Betsy Finn {BPhotoArt.com} (@betsy.bphotoart) on

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.

Meant to share this one yesterday. .. #latergram

A photo posted by Betsy Finn {BPhotoArt.com} (@betsy.bphotoart) on

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!

7 Responses

  1. Sue Lively

    We are working on riding a bike right now too Betsy, so I loved reading this post. We debated getting a balance bike last summer, but were short on the money and decided not to and wish we had now. I wonder if it’s too late, my son is now 3 1/2. But he still shows NO interest in riding his bike (with training wheels) and instead wants to stick with his 3-wheeler “motorcycle.” This makes me think we should get the balance bike and see what happens. I would love to start getting back on MY bicycle and doing family rides!

  2. Lisa @ Fun Money Mom

    Yay…that’s awesome! Maybe we’ll try skipping the training wheels when my youngest is ready. I’ll see how it goes…LOL

    Visiting from Small Victories Sunday


  3. […] Learn to Ride a Bike …how we skipped training wheels completely […]

  4. This is a great idea. I’ve never heard of a balance bike before. Although it’s too late for my grandson because he as already gotten used to the training wheels I have a granddaughter in the wings. Thanks for the idea.

  5. Ann GrubbsnCritters

    I’ve heard that it works really well to try those gliding bikes first, and some parents have shared their success stories with me. Your story makes me even more motivated to try!

  6. Jessie, FlusteredMom

    I’ve heard this is the best way to learn to ride a bike. I wish I had known it when my kids learned to ride. Thanks for sharing. #SmallVictoriesSundays

  7. That is a cool balance bike. We’d already bought a bike with training wheels that has been handed down from my oldest who’s a teen, back when balance bikes didn’t exist 🙂 How fun to skip that stage completely, way to go Toby! Thanks for sharing with Small Victories Sunday Linkup. Pinning to our linkup board and hope you found some great posts to visit this week!