Learning to ride a bike no easy task
Kennedy Lamer, 3, of Lawrence, is comforted by her father, Chad Lamer, after a spill on her bicycle.
Helmets a must
Safety is first — no matter what your method of teaching is.
“Your quality helmets from Gyro or Bell are going to start in the neighborhood of $30 dollars,” says Gary Long, owner of Cycle Works, 2121 Kasold Drive. “That’s not a big price to protect something as precious as your brain.”
Helmets should be snug and fit level on a child’s head, according to the Bike Helmet Safety Institute.
They say you never forget how to ride a bike. Maybe you never forget how you learned to ride, too.
For most of us, learning to both ride and crash was a monumental time. We had a bike that was far too large for us; after all, our parents wanted us to “grow into the bike,” right? And most of us had training wheels.
“I remember having training wheels when I was a kid,” says Lawrence resident Chad Lamer, who didn’t get the balancing act down until he was about 5 years old.
But Lamer has dropped the wheels from the lessons he is now giving his 3-year-old daughter Kennedy.
Over the years, methodology is changing right along with the times, altering the way our children are learning to ride. While children’s bikes can still be found sold complete with training wheels and pedals (averaging $75 dollars at your local retailer), a European version of a children’s learning bike has make its way into the mainstream. It’s a method most bike experts advocate as more riders are getting away from the use of training wheels.
“With that method, I have seen kids that had it with the first time out, others it might take two, three or four times,” says Gary Long, owner of Cycle Works, 2121 Kasold Drive. “With the training wheels, it can go on for years.”
Paul Davis, general manager of Sunflower Outdoor & Bike, 802 Mass., is also an advocate of going without training wheels, a method he grew up on — bruises and all.
“It was no training wheels, too big of a bike, mom or dad holding onto me to get me going and then letting go and tumbling once or twice,” Davis says.
Today, a growing number of children are learning to ride the European bike design with pedals and minus any contraptions used for balance assistance. It’s commonly known as a “balance bike.” The idea is to allow the child to learn the sensation of balance on their own.
Simply put, many of today’s kids are primarily self-taught.
“I think it’s the way to go,” Davis says. “They know exactly what to do. They hop on it and start running with it and pretty soon the legs come up and they’re balancing.”
This popular “pedal-less” method completely skips the whole stage with training wheels. It also seems to allow parents to better enjoy the learning experience.
Lawrence resident Silvia Liu, 3, says she can’t wait to play with her “balance bike.”
“Its super fun,” she says. “The best part is turning.”
Her father, Kevin, agrees that this method, which they first researched over the Internet, is allowing her to have much more fun with the process.
“We’ve seen her get more comfortable with the bike beneath her,” Liu says. “She’s more used to how the bike moves from side to side and how she can balance herself on top of it, even how to recapture her balance if she starts to lean too far.”
Experts say the first step in teaching a child to ride is to let him or her walk around with the bike underneath and get the feeling of how the bike moves.
“We just kept her on it all the time,” says Stacey Lamer, of her 3-year-old daughter, Kennedy. “We walk downtown a lot and so we would just have her ride her bike. ... Hours on the bike was really the key.”
Using this method, it’s likely the child will go straight from the “balance bike” to a bike without pedals without the use of training wheels. The child’s feet actually serve as the training wheels, giving the child full control of the bikes movement.
Long has taught several children how to ride and fully believes teaching without pedals is the best method.
“What I recommend is to put the seat down as low as it will go so that they can have their feet on the ground and put them on a gentle decline and let them get going so they can put their feet down if they feel like they are going to fall,” he says.
Once your child is cruising around the neighborhood at light speed on his or her “balance bike,” the only remaining step is to introduce a bike with pedals. All involved say with the right timing, the transition can be virtually seamless.
“We gave her a little push and she was able to go, so basically she was self-taught,” Chad Lamer says.
Kevin Liu adds: “It’s great. It’s getting her outside. It’s a fun time together with the three of us and a great way to share a moment just being outdoors.”