Look Ma! No Pedals!

When I started dating a cyclist years ago I had no idea the education I would receive about bicycles. Who knew there was more to bikes than two wheels and a handlebar? Apparently, there's a lot more. One area I've learned a lot about since we had children has been the benefits of using a balance bike rather than training wheels. I wrote an article about it for the Chronicle Herald's weekly paper.

This article was originally published in the Chronicle Herald's weekly community papers and has been republished here with their permission.

Spring weather is – hopefully! - just around the corner and that means many children across Halifax will soon be learning how to ride a bike for the first time. Training wheels have long been a popular choice when introducing children to cycling, but balance bikes have recently come into favour with some local parents who believe they’re not only safer for children, but that they can help children to become better cyclists at a younger age.

A balance bike is simply a bike that has no pedals and is usually aimed at children aged two to five, explains lola doucet, co-president of Bicycle Nova Scotia: “Children walk with their feet flat on the ground and learn to pedal later which allows the child to learn the hardest part of riding, balancing, while still being able to touch ground and find stability, in a safe and confidence-building fashion.” When a child learns on a bike with training wheels, doucet says, “the removal of the training wheels involves yet another learning curve, so the child has to go through two stages of learning how to balance.”  

Susanna Fuller, the co-president of Bicycle Nova Scotia, says, “Children can start to ride at a much younger age on balance bikes.” She taught her son to ride one at just eighteen months old and by four years old he could ride a two-wheeler independently. She says, “The most important skill is balance, and kids really learn balance, braking and stopping,” with this method; and “when it is time to transition, it is much, much easier.”

Dana Porter moved back to Nova Scotia from Europe a little over a year ago and was surprised that balance bikes aren’t as prevalent here as they are there. Porter started his son, Noah, on a balance bike just after he turned two years old and says he got it on the first try: “After a minute or two he was perfectly fine; going down hills, through piles of leaves, smiling and laughing.” He believes that because balance bikes are designed for children’s bodies, rather than miniature versions of adult bicycles, they are much easier for children to operate, and much lighter too.

Part of learning to ride a bike is learning the variety of bike handling skills related to cycling, Fuller says. Because a balance bike isn’t limited to smooth, flat surfaces, Porter spent a lot of time with Noah on trails while he was learning and he says that taught him how to be a courteous cyclist by sharing the path. He also learned how to assess risks with few, if any, falls or injuries along the way as his feet were always near the ground to steady him. This allowed Noah to understand his personal limits and handle a bicycle properly as he rode over bumps and went down hills.

Learning to ride a bike is a childhood milestone and the primary concerns for parents should be that the experience is fun and safe, and that it inspires children to continue being active and enjoying the outdoors. Just remember to get lots of pictures of those thrilling first moments when your child says, “Look Ma! No pedals!”