RIDE 2: More short fiction about bicycles
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A bike with training wheels can be even more dangerous than a tricycle, because the child is higher up and the base width of the training wheels is fairly narrow. This means that if the bike gets going much faster than a walk, it will topple over if the child tries to turn a corner. Also, if the bike is turning even a little bit, weight is shifted from the rear wheel to the outside training wheel, so the braking power of the rear wheel is greatly reduced. Most people that use training wheels have them adjusted incorrectly. The bike should always have a little bit of lean.
If both training wheels can touch the ground at once, there is little weight on the bicycle's rear wheel. This can reduce traction to zero. On uneven ground, the child may get stuck because the wheel spins. Even worse, the brake may become useless. When the bike is new, there should be only a small amount of tilt from one side to the other. After the child has become accustomed to pedaling, steering and braking, the training wheels should be raised slightly, a bit at a time. It is probably better to do this without telling the child, who may object.
The bike will become more and more tippy, and the child will learn to balance automatically with practice. As the child becomes more adept, the bike will spend more and more time with both training wheels off the ground.
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The day will come when it is obvious that the training wheels are no longer doing anything, and they can be removed. If the training wheels are left set on their lowest position, the bike is in effect an oversized tricycle, and some kids spend two or three years on training wheels as a result. This is not only a waste of their time, it is really quite dangerous as they learn to ride faster and faster, because of the poor cornering and braking of a training-wheel equipped bike.
Eventually, the child will become heavy enough to bend the training wheel struts upward, making the bike suitably tippy. Then they will finally learn to balance.
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If a child has been using training wheels for more than two or three years, it is time to try something else. Putting training wheels on a 20" bike is usually a mistake, unless the child has a specific physical or mental disability. The training-wheel approach works best for families who live on very quiet streets or have large driveways, or live near parks or other areas where the child may be left pretty much unattended. For most families, this will not be the case, and a parent will need to accompany the child.
In this case, the "running-with-the-child" approach makes more sense, since children learn faster this way. The traditional way to teach cycling, by running along holding the child up, is still the fastest and best if an undersized bike is not available. The parent should hold the child by the shoulders and run along behind. It is important that the parent not hold the handlebars -the child cannot learn the feel of balancing if the parent is taking control of the bike.
If the parent holds onto the saddle or any other part of the bike, the child will not necessarily realize if they are leaning a bit to one side or the other, because the parent will be correcting for them. Instead, hold the child by the shoulders, so that as they lean to the side, they will feel the side pressure, and can learn to reduce it by turning into the lean.
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This should be done in a wide flat space, such as an empty parking lot. The parent should not make any attempt to steer the child, just let the bike go where it will. This is not much fun for the parent, especially if the parent is tall and has to lean over to reach the child's shoulders-sore back time! The parent will also have to be very careful not to bang into the bike or trip over it when the little creep swerves or puts on the brakes unexpectedly, but this approach is the fastest and most parent-involved way to teach basic balancing.
If running along holding the child by the shoulders is too uncomfortable, some parents like to make a handle out of a stick of some sort, typically wedged between the seat stays and lashed to the back of the saddle. This doesn't give as good feedback to the child, but it does work. There are also commercial products that amount to the same thing, but I don't generally recommend them.
The Web site startstanding. The parent really has to run or at least trot, because balancing a bike at a walking pace is quite an advanced skill. If the bike is moving too slowly, steering corrections will not move the bike sideways fast enough to correct an incipient fall. One correspondent suggested that the parent use roller skates, but I wouldn't suggest this unless you are an unusually good skater.
Each of these three approaches works, and which is best for a particular family will depend on where they live, the type of bike available, and the child's preference. The average kid learns to balance between six and seven, given the chance. It is not unusual for it to happen a couple of years either way. In many cases, a combination of approaches will work best. For instance, using training wheels is very good for teaching the child how to operate a coaster brake, so it is often best to start with the training wheels and then switch to one of the other approaches after the braking has been mastered.
The ideal bike for learning to ride, whether for a child or a deprived adult, is a bike that is "too small" for efficient riding. For learning purposes, the rider should be able to sit on the saddle with both feet flat on the ground and the knees slightly bent. The bike can then be used as a hobby horse or scooter, with the feet always ready to stop a fall. It may even be useful to remove the pedals at first, so that the feet can swing freely. In case you are new to all this and haven't read the pages about pedals on this site: the left pedal unscrews clockwise! Ideally, a bike for this approach should have at least one handbrake, so that the child can stop while using both feet for balance.
A good place to practice is on a grassy field, perhaps with a slight downgrade. Unfortunately, it is often difficult for parents to justify the expense of a smaller bike that will be outgrown shortly, so there is a constant temptation to buy a bike that is a bit too large on the theory that the child will "grow into" it. A scooter can provide an excellent alternative way to learn balance, and is probably a better alternative to training wheels, especially for a child who has been depending on training wheels too long. An additional advantage of a scooter is that it is less scary than a bicycle.
One foot is on the ground much of the time, while the other is only a few inches above the ground with no obstruction to a "bail-out". Any child who can steer a tricycle can operate a scooter at some level of proficiency. To start with, one foot can maintain nearly constant contact with terra firma. As skill is acquired, the pushing foot gradually spends less and less time on the ground, until the basic skill of balancing on two wheels has been mastered.
A "Razor" scooter with its tiny wheels and spoon brake can teach balancing, but a scooter with pneumatic tires and handbrakes, like the one shown, is more stable and will accustom a child to the brakes. A child who has learned balancing very young on a scooter may still find it hard to master starting and stopping on a bicycle. Setting the saddle low can help. These are a waste of time and money.
You can achieve the same effect simply by unscrewing the pedals from a real bicycle. You may have surfed here directly from the top of the page, so, again: the left pedal unscrews clockwise!
Smashwords – About Keith Snyder, author of 'RIDE 2: More Short Fiction About Bicycles'
Encourage kids to start out with proper safety equipment from the get-go. If a child gets used to wearing a helmet on a tricycle, the habit will become well established, and there will not be a later struggle about introducing a helmet. Especially when kids are first learning to ride, gloves and even knee pads can be very worthwhile. A child who falls and gets hurt may get turned off to bicycles at an early age, and at best will take longer to learn, because of fear.
Young children love to have their own bicycle gloves, it makes them feel really special. They make a much more useful gift than streamers, bells or baskets. I felt a bit silly buying them, but I did anyway. I was always confused by this. What satisfaction did his bike provide him?
It's only a bike, right? That all changed when I starting riding my bike. This summer, as I was rummaging through my garage, I noticed a bike that hadn't been touched since I moved to Colorado, which was nearly five years ago. I had been annoying my parents to help me purchase a bike for college. Scared but curious, I decided to try riding it.
I mean, wasn't it supposed to be easy? Alas, it was not. Think about it -- when was the last time you were on a bike, a real one, and not stationary? The adrenaline and the experience, is completely different. At first, I spent five or 10 minutes riding around, doing small turns or practicing shifting gears. The greatest moment of it all? My father was there with me, every step of the way. He ran up and down the street making sure my screaming wasn't due to a negative outcome.
I'll never forget those moments. Who says memories with your parents end before college? It was something we bonded over. And slowly, I was starting to understand why my father would wake up early on those Saturday and Sunday mornings. Then, college came.
The look on my father's face was priceless when he showed me how to lock my bike. Over various methods of communication, my father would ask: "Did you ride your bike today? I was hesitant. Failing miserably was not on my agenda.