Skip the Tricycle and the Training Wheels

by Rob Mabry
(San Antonio, Texas)

3-year-old Marlee on her balance bike.

3-year-old Marlee on her balance bike.

For any parent who has struggled teaching their child to ride a bike, the experience can be a frustrating one for both parent and child. Most parents start a child out on a tricycle and then progress to a pedal bike with training wheels. Unfortunately, this method is severely flawed.

There's nothing wrong with tricycles as a toy for toddlers, but when it comes to riding a bike there are few lessons to be learned from a trike. Even the pedaling motion on a tricycle with feet forward differs from the method a child will use on their bike when they must balance and pedal.

Training wheels on the other hand are counterproductive when teaching a child to ride a bicycle. This is because they remove the most essential element of learning to ride a bike...balance. For many kids, this prolongs the process of learning to ride and leads to fear, anxiety and self-doubt.

Parents often make the mistake of buying a bike that a child "can grow into" and then put training wheels on the bike. For a child, this means they must learn to control a very heavy, wobbly bicycle that puts their feet too far off the ground. It scares them and with good reason.

An alternative that's been popular in Europe and is gaining acceptance here in the United States is the balance bike. Balance bikes do not have pedals or a chain. They are smaller than most pedal bikes and generally weigh half as much.

The balance bike's light weight and low seat make it easy for toddlers as young as two to maneuver the bikes. Kids who learn to ride a bike on a balance bike learn to balance and steer naturally through experimentation and most need little or no assistance from a parent.

Balance bikes allow parents to start their child on their path to riding a bike much earlier than with training wheels. Using a balance bike can eliminate the fear and anxiety that many kids experience when learning to ride a bike.

Balance bikes cost a bit more than the bicycles you might find in a department store, but the investment can certainly pay off. A balance bike will rarely cost more than both a tricycle and first bike combined, but it will serve the purpose of both. It's a fun toy for a very young toddler that will quickly become their vehicle of choice as they reach preschool age.

Rob Mabry is a former Army journalist and entrepreneur who has taught two daughters to ride using balance bikes. He believes the method so much that he opened a balance bike store online.

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