Bike Riding 2.0: A Balanced Approach

bikeOne of the unsettling joys of parenthood is finding out all of the things that have changed since you were a kid. But learning to ride a two-wheel bike would still be the same, right? Wrong. Welcome to Bike Riding 2.0.

To prep for our first lesson without training wheels, I went to YouTube to get some tips. Instead of seeing parents running behind their kids’ bikes and hearing how many weeks it would take to make it all work, I found that there’s a new way to teach kids to ride a bike—it involves no running, and it takes less than an hour.

The trick to getting your kids up on two wheels that quickly is breaking down the process into two separate parts: balance first, pedaling second. Which means the biggest change is that once the training wheels are off, the pedals come off the bike too. Then lower the seat so your child’s feet are flat on the ground while sitting. You now have a no-pedal, scooter-like bike, and you’re ready for Lesson One: Balancing.

[Note: Not all kids’ bikes have pedals that come off easily. Don’t worry—you can either just tell your child not to use the pedals, or get a balance bike for this part, which doesn’t have pedals.]

We went to the tennis courts at Maplecrest Park in Maplewood and began learning to balance. In an open space, have your kid push off with their feet and get the bike rolling. Then have them lift their feet and try to balance. The great part is they won’t fall (like we all did when learning this), because their feet aren’t busy pedaling. When they feel they’re tipping, your child just puts one or both feet on the ground and stops. No scraped knees, no crying.

As they continue scooting the bike, have them scoot faster and lift their feet for longer periods of time. You won’t believe how quickly they’ll start balancing on two wheels—it’ll probably be a matter of 10-20 minutes!

Once they’ve got balancing down (and, as a bonus, have quickly overcome their fear about being able to do this), it’s time for: Pedaling. When they push off into a fast scoot, feet go on the pedals and start pumping. Because the seat is still low and they’ve practiced bracing a fall with their feet on the ground, you’ll have few or no falls at this point either.

I found my son needed a little push from behind to get enough speed to pedal, but I didn’t have to run with him or help him balance even once. In less than an hour, he was doing this:

He was pedaling with a huge, confident smile on his face and moving on to mastering turns. When, at this point, he fell once or twice, his lack of fear and sense of accomplishment made it no sweat to pop right back up and start again.

If you’ve been putting off or worrying about teaching your kids to ride a two-wheeler, it’s time to make it happen. Just like Netflix has made it simpler for our kids to watch shows they like and boosters make it easier to keep children safe in the back seat of the car, Bike Riding 2.0 is a big upgrade from how things used to go for kids—and for parents.

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  1. This is really great, thanks for the article and video. I taught my little ones how to ride a few years ago through the usual lessons of pushing them off and yelling “pedal!” I wish I could go back and try this out! Perhaps I’ll check with my wife and see if she wants to go for one more so we can test out your method.

  2. This makes me laugh. As if learning to ride a bike has been so difficult in the past 50+ years that we NOW need a NEW method.

    And the NEW method is…… taking off the pedals! C’mon. My dad did this for me back in like ’72. But that’s when men were dads, not “pals” so fearful of the young ones delicate sensibilities that yelling “PEDAL PEDAL” might cause years of PTSD.

    I’d also add that kids will ride when they are ready and have the coordination to do so. For some, no “method” is better than time to grow a bit.

    The best are the folks who waste their money on a “balance bike.” I guess they don’t realize that a simple wrench, turned in a counter-clockwise manner will take the pedals off.

    Fun aside, bike riding is one of the great joys. Hitting the West Essex trail, riding Park Ave. during NYC’s Summer Streets, our own Bike Montclair or just a quick ride to Brookdale’s playground remain my fondest memories.

  3. Actually, the balance bike should be used to avoid training wheels all together and they are really meant for toddlers and pre-school age. I was unfamiliar with them when my son was a toddler, but we bought our two year old a used balance bike hoping to completely skip the training wheels. She does have very good balance and coordination for her age and enjoys the balance bike, so we are hoping when she is ready for a bike in a couple of years, to make a fairly easy transition. She does also have a tricycle, but can’t get her to pedal!

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