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I’m a child of the seventies and remember, with the nostalgic fuzziness of time, learning to ride a two wheel bike. A rite of passage that most children go through which offers, once mastered, a sense of divine freedom to explore the neighbourhood. Not to mention the amazing array of gross motor skill development that goes with it!
Mix that memory with a good dollop of stress on both the child and parents’ part, plenty of bruises and scabs from frequent tumbles, many months of trying, a gradually building back problem for the parent and you are close to reality!
Learning to ride a bike the old fashioned way was never easy…..and here’s why!
Stabilisers (or training wheels as they are known in some countries) were developed to solve the very real problem that it is hard to balance on a two wheeled bike. And being able to ride a bike is such a great skill to have in life. It offers a sense of independence for your child as well as the development of so many gross motor skills. Leg, arm and core strength, balance and endurance to name a few.
It gives an opportunity to stimulate their senses, improving sensory processing, and gets your child outdoors which improves mood and reduces stress levels. It’s a cheap method of transport, and is environmentally green.
Yes, you could argue that they start to build up some of those skills by riding a bike on stabilisers but dynamic balance is a vital skill. There is a complex set of brain activity going on using many of the sensory and motor control systems. Plus, riding with training wheels forever is not cool!
So, at some stage, out comes the tool box and the stabilisers have to go. Then come the tears!
To balance a bike requires two main strategies: steering and body movement relative to the bike. The centre of mass of the person needs to be over the frame of the bike. Suprisingly it is the steering strategy that is absolutely necessary to balance a bicycle, whereas body movements are not so vital.
And the steering alterations necessary to keep the bicycle upright do not follow common sense. Check out the video below for the science stuff:
If your 2 wheel bike wobbles and leans to the left, you have to turn the handle bars to that same direction to allow the bike to steady itself. It’s totally counter intuitive so no wonder we have a hard time learning to balance on a moving bike. A child on stabilisers never experiences the lean so never learns the correct strategy.
Turning Left? With stabilisers on, your child will learn to turn the handle bars left to go left. Common sense right? That’s what they do on any 3 or 4 wheeled ride-on toy that they may have already experienced. So, what’s the problem? If they do that, the 2 wheel bike will right itself and stop the turn. Your child will be learning something that they will have to then unlearn.
If you want to steer your bike to the left, you have to counter steer to the right first, then steer to the left and your bike will go left. Science is weird sometimes! You and I won’t even notice that we do this because it is a subconscious action, but your child will have to learn this concept the hard way once the stabilisers come off. This is often the reason that it can take months and sometimes up to a year of stress for your child to master it.
Learning to balance is a hard skill, not to mention learning to balance on a moving object. It’s so much easier to balance first, then learn to turn the pedals afterwards than learn to pedal first then try to figure out how to balance and steer. Balancing a moving object is a much harder concept to grasp than turning pedals.
Balance Bikes have been around for a couple of decades but are becoming increasingly popular for a very good reason. I absolutely love them as a concept! They are basically a bike frame without any pedals or chain and allow your child to figure out how to balance literally step by step. No stress, no tears, no anxiety.
A child can learn to balance a two wheel bike in as little as a few hours. Their feet comfortably touch the ground and initially, it looks like they are just taking their bikes for a walk. They use their feet to propel themselves forward and little by little, increase the time that both feet are off the ground until they are essentially balancing.
Give them a few weeks and they’ll be confidently scooting along having figured out the whole counter intuitive steering/balancing issues. Kids on balance bikes can travel so much faster than on a heavier bike with training wheels, so they can join in with family bike trips, or ride alongside the jogging or walking parent with ease.
Once they are confident on the balance bike, they can progress to their first pedal bike with no dramas. My son was up to speed by 3 1/2 years and it took just two goes before he set off on his new Trek pedal bike. His grandparents stood by looking sceptical until they saw him zipping around. They are now total converts to my balance bike mantra!
There are so many choices out there in the market at the moment. You can choose a wooden, steel, aluminium alloy or synthetic frame. The bikes can have air or foam filled tyres. And there are plenty of cool accessories to personalise their ride. Some people question the cost and value for money. Fair comment, most aren’t cheap. But, if you took the cost of a tricycle and a 12″ pedal bike with stabilisers, I reckon that you would have spent more than the cost of one balance bike.
That’s all from me for this time. Stay active!