I came across this article today on Slate. The headline grabbed me, “Training wheels don’t work.”
I never would have believed that. I mean, didn’t we all learn to bike with training wheels? But in a rare effort to be super cool, we bought our son, Jack, a Strider balance bike for his 3rd birthday last year. We ordered it through Spoke N Sport in town.
When we gave Jack the bike, he looked at us like, uh, whatever. And I was pretty worried. It was $100, and essentially the only gift we got him for his birthday. I had pinned all our birthday hopes on this bike.
He tried it a few times, didn’t quite get it. He would scoot with his feet, but wasn’t coasting on it, like he was supposed to. The theory is pretty simple: Balance is the most difficult part of learning to bike. And a natural reaction to being off balance is to put your foot down. And kids aren’t coordinated enough to manage pedals or strong enough for hand brakes.
It seems obvious, right?
But it wasn’t immediately so for Jack, and we worried a bit that we had wasted a ton of money and should have gone for a tricycle.
About a week or two later, he picked his feet up. And coasted. Just a little bit. About a week after that, I realized I had to wear my running shoes when he wanted to ride his bike, because he was getting away from me pretty quickly and I had to run to catch up.
Now? He can easily ride 1-2 miles along, and coast about two blocks without touching his feet down. Yesterday, I watched him weave on the sidewalk — not in an oh crap way, but in that joyous, bike-cruising kind of way. Weaving around for fun. Because you can. Because you’re in control.
It was pretty awesome.
And I confess: Jack is REALLY small for his age, which is one reason we went with the Strider — it is lower than most other brands for his stubby little legs. But people see him and stop. And they always ask, “How old IS that kid?” I try to answer them, as I run behind, pushing Genevieve in the single jogging stroller, trying to catch him before he rams into someone’s heels. (He’s not so great on figuring out when to stop yet — and the other day he rode into the street.When I yelled at him to STOP, he turned and said “NO! Boys don’t wanna stop riding their bikes!” Stinker!)
But man, I love it when people want to talk about the bike. It’s pretty cool. He loves it. I can’t wait until Viv is old enough to ride it — maybe by then he’ll have graduated to a real bike.
And here is a video of a kid mountain biking on his balance bike. It’s pretty awesome, and makes me want to take Jack to Newton Hills, where I think he could kick some serious trail butt.
Of course, last time I rode my bike in Newton Hills, about 11 years ago, I panicked, hit my brake on a downhill, and completely flipped over my handle bars and landed about 2 inches from a huge pile of horse manure, so maybe we won’t do that after all.