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What, No Pedals!? How To Teach Your Kid to Ride a Bike the Modern Way

What, No Pedals!? Teaching Your Kid to Ride a Bike the Modern Way
Photo by Gabrielle Lutze / Stocksy

Kids today are learning how to ride a bike without training wheels, and that’s a big difference from even a couple of decades ago. Back then, it was just-add-training-wheels and go; today, there’s a much wider range of options for kids’ bikes (including many with no pedals at all, commonly referred to as balance bikes).

So it’s no wonder that parents may feel overwhelmed when it comes to putting their child on two wheels for the first time. Fear not! We spoke to cycling experts at two children’s bike makers (Islabikes in Portland, Oregon, and Spawn Cycles in British Columbia) to get the 411 on how to make one of life’s great milestones the best it can be.

How Do Kids Ride a Bike without Training Wheels?

“Training wheels actually prevent children from learning the balance necessary to ride a bicycle,” explains Maria Schur of Islabikes. Zureski agrees: “Training wheels…do hold you up while you learn how to pedal, but that isn’t the hard part—the hard part is balancing. With balance bikes, kids can transition to a pedal bike whenever they’re ready.”

Thanks to balance bikes (those cute bicycles without pedals), kids can quickly and easily learn how to balance—which means they’re also learning to ride bicycles at a much younger age than a generation ago!

But as with everything else involved with teaching your kid to ride a bike, don’t force it. Some kids really like the feeling of being aided by training wheels. And if that’s what keeps them happily pedaling along, don’t push it.

When Can Kids Really Start Learning How to Ride a Bike?

That depends on what kind of bike we’re talking about. Max Zureski, founder of B.C.-based Spawn Cycles, says his son was on a balance bike at 18 months.

“Once they can walk and are tall enough to see over the bike, it’s fine to let them try,” says Zureski. “The first six months they might just walk around with it, but eventually they’ll hop on the seat and get ready to ride.” If they’ve been practicing on something like a balance bike, kids as young as age three can ride bikes with pedals.

Photo by © Jovo Jovanovic/Stocksy United
Photo by Jovo Jovanovic / Stocksy

What Should Parents Look for in a Kid’s Bike?

Kids are lightweight and are still developing muscles and coordination—meaning the most important factor to consider is the weight of the bike. “Most bikes from big-box stores are going to be around 35 or 40 pounds, which is as much as an adult bike weighs—that’s a ton of weight for a kid to handle,” says Zureski.

The size and layout of the frame is also important. “A good child’s bike will have correct ergonomics for the size of the rider,” explains Schur, “like a low Q-factor (the distance between the pedal attachment points on the crank arms), short cranks, small handlebar diameters, and small brake levers set on a light trigger.” Confused by the bike terminology? A good bike shop can help you choose the right set of wheels for your little rider, and get you both on the road to happy days on two wheels.

What Are Your Top Tips for Teaching Kids to Ride?

Don’t try to force them to learn if they’re not having a blast. “It’s important to make learning to ride a bike fun, so if your child is not having a good time, it’s best to put the bike away and try again later,” says Schur of Islabikes.

And keep to easy terrain. “In the beginning, keep them away from hills, traffic, sidewalks…anything that can jostle them,” says Spawn Cycles’ Zureski. “Sometimes all it takes is one bad experience for kids to decide they don’t like riding a bike at all.”

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