August 12, 2014

Gliding to Success (or How I Taught My Son to Ride a Bike)

Exciting end of summer development:  Henry rides without training wheels!  It's been a long road to get here.  My firstborn has always been cautious when it comes to physical activities.  He loved his bike with training wheels.  When he turned six, I took them off.  A week later I put them back on.  He refused to even try to ride without out them yet I was convinced that unless he practiced on two wheels he'd never get the hang of it.  In the next year, I repeated the removing, reattaching sequence at least three more times.  Clearly, this was not working for us.

My epiphany came as I watched him speed down the sidewalk on his scooter.  He balanced his body perfectly and when he came to a downward slope, he gleefully picked up both feet and glided faster than fast.  He's aligning and adjusting slightly as he uses speed and momentum.   That's how you ride a bike.  How could I convince him that he already had what it takes?

Henry is seven.  He is much too tall and too old for the wooden strider bikes that are all the rage for young preschoolers.  Why can't I make a 16" balance bike? I asked myself.  It only took a few minutes to move from "I'm so smart to be the first to think of this" to "I really hope someone has done this before and made a YouTube video that shows how."

The first thing I realized after watching said video was that I didn't want to have to worry about putting the bike back together again.  (The video shows a 12 in bicycle but the procedure is the same with a 16 in.)  The pedals and the chain must come off.  It's a fairly big job but I could have done it in an uninterrupted afternoon.  Since I don't have one of those (ever) Grandpa graciously agreed to take care of this.  I'm pretty sure a bike shop would do this for its customers as well.

So back to the part about not wanting to worry about ruining the bike--I purchased a scratched and dented model at the thrift store.   Once the pedals and chain were removed, it looked like this:

We took the bike around the neighborhood, to the park and on bike trails.  It was most fun when there was a slight downward incline.  Henry figured out how to glide and spent lots of time with his feet up and out to the sides.  Coming back up the hills was tough but he was a trouper about it.  The funniest part were the looks given to him by serious bike riders on the trail.  Typically, they zoom right past the little kids but as they passed Henry, many would slow down and stare.   I was always several meters behind him and could read the faces of the other riders.  I imagined them thinking, "That poor kid.  His mom can't even afford to buy him a bike with pedals."  Well, actually, I'm sure most of them had it figured out by the time they rounded the next turn.  It's fairly intuitive if you think about it.

One of our favorite trails and Henry's last ride without pedals

 After a month of confident gliding, I decided that it was best to transition to pedals on a bike that was the same size (instead of the new-in-the-box 20 inch bicycle stored in the garage).  I now had to go back to the thrift shop.  I was very lucky and found this 16 inch Hot Wheels bicycle in great condition for under $8.

And the rest is history!  I'm so proud of my little boy! He is now speeding down the trail with nary a backward glance.  Almost like he's been doing this forever.  You know, one of those overnight successes that actually takes a lot of practice.  Go, Henry!


  1. Wow, that's an awesome idea! My oldest hasn't been on her bike since we took the trainers off. I think we'll try the pedal/chain removal next! Love the thrift shop bike idea!!

  2. This is such a wonderful idea!! It's amazing the confidence a balance bike gives to children. I am amazed by how well E has done on hers!

  3. That's so awesome Lara!! So excited for Henry!!