Moving on from the balance bike
If you read my previous post about why I was happy we didn’t give up on the balance bike, you’ll know my husband and I are avid cyclists. We chose to start our daughter on a balance bike because we had heard good things about them and wanted to skip the training wheels phase (and hopefully get G pedaling on her own much earlier than I did!).
The question was: how do we make the move from the balance bike to the pedal bike.
I had quite a few friends who started their children with the balance bike but moved on to the traditional pedal bike with the training wheels. When I asked why, most said the pedal bike was too heavy for their child, or the child was frustrated with the process of learning to switch.
I recently asked somebody with Pedal Heads Bike Camps what they suggest and was told in a message, “we actually recommend children get exposed to both a balance bike to work on balance, and a bike with training wheels to work on the pedaling motion.”
My husband and I didn’t love the idea. Call us stubborn, but we were stuck on our plan to make the move without training wheels. So we started to do some research.
Two Wheeling Tots is a great blog with a ton of reviews and articles to help you find the right bike for your child. In their blog about how to choose the right pedal bike, we came across some interesting points: 1 – the fact that most kids’ bikes are 50% their body weight, and 2 – the idea that “kids naturally pedal backward on a bike when they start to lose their balance, or when riding uphill.” The second point is likely moot if your child is used to riding a bike with training wheels because they get used to using the coaster break, but G had never come across one so that seemed like a good point to consider when buying her bike.
Anyone who knows my husband, will not be surprised by the fact that he then researched the various lightweight, freewheel bikes available for children and came across Spawn Cycles – a Canadian company based in British Columbia. If you click through to their site you will see the bikes are not cheap. Luckily, we found another crazy family in our city who had decided only the best bike would do for their budding cyclist and was selling a used Spawn Furi on Kijiji.
Step one: remove the pedals
G’s balance bike was too small for her, but she loved running and coasting along on that thing. To get her used to her new bike we removed the pedals and turned it into a makeshift balance bike. G was happy she could still run and coast, but the bike fit her better. She also got used to the weight of the bike.
Step two: perfect the balance
G loved riding down the ramp at a school around the corner, so we went often. She also loved visiting a small outdoor skate park where she could run and coast up and down the smaller ramps.
Step three: the test
One day we decided to put the pedals on and see what she could do. My husband had that moment: running alongside her holding her seat as she starts to pump her legs and then she was off! Our three-year-old was biking and she was doing a great job.
Speed bump: takeoff
Every time my husband helped G start she wanted to put both feet on the pedals. Obviously, that doesn’t quite work unless somebody is holding your seat. It meant she couldn’t get going without our help and it was a bit frustrating.
We took off the pedals again and had her try coasting. When she was up to speed we showed her how to bring her feet in to the middle of the bike instead of kicking them out. She was pretending to put them on pedals. We did this a few times before putting the pedals on.
Step four: run, run, pedal
I showed G how I could start biking by first running to gain speed and then putting my feet on my pedals. The next time I put her pedals on her bike I sat down to put the baby’s shoes on and when I looked up, G was biking in our circle! I couldn’t believe it.
Once she figured this move out, she was hooked. We had a cyclist on our hands. Four days later she biked 6 kilometres without any help at all.
I have watched her closely and noticed she does pedal backwards fairly often. I think if we had tried the move to a pedal bike with a coaster brake she would have been frustrated by the constant stops. I’m sure she would have figured it out, but it was a frustration we didn’t have to deal with.
That said, we have another friend who went from balance bike to a coaster bike without any problem. In fact, he was the one that showed us the ‘run, run, pedal’ move.
In the end, I think most kids are going to be able to bike on two wheels at some point. Knowing G’s personality, I think we found the easiest path to independent cycling. We avoided some battles and frustration.
Now the key is teaching her the rules of the road. Let the family bike days begin!