Training Wheels are Worthless, Weak and Evil
In looking at systems problems sometimes the obvious is just not seen because of convention, for example, training wheels are the biggest mistake I have ever seen for a kid or anyone to learn how to ride a bicycle. Kids do not really learn how to balance with training wheels and are scared, rightfully so, when the training wheels come off and it is the big "go or crash" moment. All that proper adjustment of the training wheels, watching the kid flop around using the training wheels, taking off the training wheels, the advice to hold the kid on the bike while running around, the inevitable thump, massive bleeding, life altering facial scars, the trip to the hospital, etc. who needs it, especially if you are old and fat like me.
So what does it take to learn to ride? The basic physical skills are simple: balance moving on two wheels, turn and stop. Do training wheels do this? Obvious to anyone who has seen a kid using training wheels flop precariously from one side to the other, training wheels do nothing but make an unsteady platform for a likely accident. Training wheels make turning difficult. Training wheels make braking weaker on the back wheel, especially when on a not perfectly flat surface, it is even worse with a coaster brake. No balance, no turning, no stopping, and you get a heart attack watching your tyke smash into the sidewalk. Feh.
Training wheels seem to be the Devil's play toy, my own feeling is that if medical insurance companies checked training wheel accident rates training wheels would be illegal to sell. It is a classic unneeded hardware solution, (hold the kid upright,) to a problem that should be looked at in a different way, (train the child's skills of balance.)
Two Wheel Scooters Train Children for Biking
Instead, get the kid a two wheel scooter. Riding the scooter will train the essential "two wheel balance" and turning skills that a bicycle rider needs. I like those little aluminum scooters with the roller blade wheels, it trains the kid to ride without fear, with minimal falls, the child has much more control of the process with the low center of gravity on the scooter and best of all you can lay in the hammock and drink beer instead of all that training wheel trauma. Well, we had a scooter lying around and when I removed the training wheels from the bike and tossed them in the trash the scooter became a toy that was used, a lot.
When is the Kid Ready to Bike?
How do you know when to put the tot on the bike? It is easy to gauge when a child is ready for bicycling, if your kid can ride a scooter for quite a distance without putting their feet on the ground they are ready to bike, they now have the magic "two wheel balance" and turning skills. If they can't ride a scooter
they can't ride a bicycle. My four year old is not quite there yet, but no worries, I can easily tell when she is ready, I have her sister's old tiny starter bike hanging in the garage when she is ready to go. UPDATE: At five the kid hopped on the tiny bike and zoomed off so fast I never even saw it happen, though I did see that she was starting to master a scooter well. Next time I "teach" a kid to bike I will not go inside to get the beer opener.
OK Kid, Now Ride the Bicycle in Minutes
When the kid can ride a scooter the actual "learning to bike" takes just a few minutes. The first bicycle should be small, I found a 12" wheel bike at a garage sale for five bucks, then lowered the seat so my kid could put both feet on the ground when sitting on the bike, she had lots of bend in the knees when putting feet on the ground. Then I said "hey, use the bike like a scooter, push with your feet and get a feeling for the steering." Do not bother with the pedals yet. This lets the kid feel safe and gives them control of the stopping and starting and steering. Naturally, do this in a flat area without a lot of things around to crash into, like a sidewalk, parking lot or driveway. If the bike has hand brakes have the child try out the brakes so they know how to stop, for coaster brakes have them try one foot for the feel of locking up the back wheel.
After a few minutes of pushing the bike with feet on the ground my kid got bored and experimented with the pedals on her own and rode off, (I missed that part when I went in to get the beer opener.) If it is a coaster brake bicycle make sure the kid learns how to stop with the coaster brake before taking off down the street. And that's it. The little bike is saved for the next kid, after a few weeks I got the next size, 16" wheels that fits my kid better. The point is to have a very small, easy to stand over bike to start your child riding.
Be the envy of the parents on your block when you tell them "Ha, MY kid only took a couple minutes to learn to bike." Say this when you see their child lurching around on training wheels, they will be wondering how they have failed in parenting and you can be insufferably smug.
Your kid is now driving a vehicle and should start learning the rules of the road. Wear a helmet, obey traffic signs and laws. Ride with the traffic not against traffic. Of course, if they are too little, keep them off the streets unsupervised. Happy riding.
Other transit usability articles:
Transit Usability Testing Article List. Articles about bikes, buses, trains and transit.