Stabilisers suck: Why your child shouldn’t use training wheels
If you’re reading this article, then you probably learnt to ride using training wheels – also known as stabilisers.
You're also probably invested in your child not only learning to ride, but doing that in a way that fosters a passion for mountain biking.
With the above in mind, we’re here to tell you that one of the major pitfalls in your kid's journey from beginner to biker, is, wait for it... training wheels.
Not only are training wheels detrimental to your little one's fun, but they can also hinder their progression.
Read on to find out why stabilisers suck, and the best way to get your kids pedalling.
Hang on, why are training wheels so bad?
Training wheels are still a common tool in teaching kids how to ride a pedal bike, but the truth is, they belong in the past along with J-bars and suspension seat posts – and here’s why...
Training wheels don't teach your kids to ride.
Balancing is one of the hardest parts about learning to ride, but kids can actually learn this from an amazingly young age, through riding a balance bike. If you later add training wheels, it removes their ability to balance, and can be confusing.
Also, one of the fundamentals of cycling is that you steer by leaning, and not by turning the handlebars. Training wheels reverse this (as you can no longer lean), and lead to your kid forming bad habits – which will have to be unlearnt once the training wheels come off.
Long story short, training wheels holt progress – you might initially remove the need for your child to balance whilst learning to pedal, but this will only be reintroduced when the training wheels are removed. It’s akin to giving your toddler a walking aid when they’re learning to walk, it doesn’t actually help them achieve their goal and can become a crutch they depend on.
Training wheels also make for a terrible biking experience
If your kid has come from a balance bike, then they can already balance and steer their bike, and adding training wheels removes their ability to do this. What's left is a terrible experience, where all the fun they had riding around on their balance bike is gone. It can be incredibly frustrating and end up with your kid losing interest in their bike.
Also, training wheels can’t be used on rough ground, and are a really bad / bumpy riding experience, often leading to crashes if the ground isn’t smooth. Whereas a good balance bike can go anywhere, including into the forest and onto the trails, which after all, is your end goal. MTB for life!
The best case scenario with training wheels is that your kid learns to pedal, but not whilst balancing, and then has to relearn to balance once the training wheels come off. It's pretty untidy.
The worst case scenario is that your kid loses interest in riding bikes due to the lack of progression and bad experience, which is the opposite of what you want as a bike-mad parent.
So what's the alternative? Read on to discover a better way...
Ditch the training wheels, and start your kid on a balance bike instead.
Let's be honest, balance bikes are the raddest thing to ever happen to kids biking.
Not only are they incredibly fun and confidence inspiring, but they help develop key biking skills at an early age.
And if your child's first bike is a pedal bike, then take the pedals off, drop the saddle, and you've got yourself a balance bike to learn on. Hey presto!
But hey, don't just take our word for it. Leaders in the kids biking sector (such as Woom, Stryder or Frog bikes) don’t even supply their bikes with training wheels, and USA Cycling President Derek Bouchard-Hall went so far as to say that balance bikes "have made training wheels obsolete”.
We couldn't agree more.
Progressing from a balance bike will make learning to pedal much faster, and be a lot more fun for your little one.
Balance bikes: The pathway to pedalling
Balance bikes are a perfect starting point to raising a pedal bike kid, because they’re not about learning, they’re about play.
By the time your little one is ready to move onto a 14" wheel bike they'll probably have mastered steering, controlling their speed by scuffing their feet, and even braking if you introduce a hand brake to their balance bike.
With these skills mastered, it's time to try pedalling...
How to teach your kid to ride a pedal bike
We’re big fans of the Sustrans method of introducing pedals, which we’ve briefly outlined below:
- Start by taking the pedals off their new bike and letting them use it as a balance bike to get to grips with the new size.
- Reintroduce the pedals one at a time. By adding just one pedal to begin with they can get used to having their foot on a pedal whilst still using their balance bike skills to glide.
- When it’s time to try pedalling, stand behind them with your hands either side of their shoulders stopping them from falling over either way. This should be like spotting in a gym, you’re not holding them up but just there to catch them if they fall. Get them to take a few pedals and then use the brake to stop.
- Once you’re comfortable with this you can take a few steps backwards as they pedal away. When they turn around it will seem as if they’ve gone much further than they have, which will build their confidence massively. They’ll be pedalling on their own in no time.
4 top tips for staying stoked whilst introducing pedals
When you introduce pedals, it can change the dynamic as your child now has a hurdle to overcome – it’s a key point of transition in their biking journey. With this in mind, here are some top tips to keep things fun and easy:
Remove any expectations about timelines and work to your kids schedule. There’s nothing more off-putting for a kid who's struggling with a new skill than a parent heaping on the pressure or getting frustrated.
Learn in a safe environment, somewhere open and flat either on tarmac or short grass. Make sure your kid has the correct safety gear such as a helmet, so that the inevitable crashes only lead to everyday bumps and scrapes.
Try learning around other kids who are already pedalling. You’ll be surprised how quickly children can pick up skills when copying their peers.
- Don’t crowd your kid. When they’re starting to pedal, don’t hold onto their bars or their saddle and walk with them. You might think you’re helping, but doing so removes their ability to balance, and you’ll be crowding their space – all making for a more stressful experience.
Did your little one learn without training wheels?
Let us know your thoughts on stabilisers in the comments below.
This is a very ableist and non-inclusive take for both kids and parents. There is a world full of people with varying needs and abilities that are completely ignored here.
We started Miya on her balance bike and she was the one to ask each time for the progression. She then moved to a pedal bike with stabilizers then on her own. She seemed to progress pretty quickly but what you’re saying makes a lot of sense. We will have to do that for our other child. Thanks for the advice. Makes sense.