I can’t tell you how many times people stop us to ask how we taught Little to ride from such a young age. At three years of age she was riding on her own at large yet safe events such as Cyclovia Tucson, and now at four her bike is a part of her and she can truly ride a bike much better than I.
I have two kids and each learned to ride in a different manner.
Big did not get her first bike till she was 4 years old. We did not live in Arizona then and we never rode bikes. Santa brought her a Barbie bike from Target. A pink bike with streamers, a plastic thing on the handlebars that would hold a Barbie, training wheels and sooooooo heavy.
Something like this:
I saw this bike on an “amazing” sale in Target. I don’t remember the exact price… I believe it was something like $50 – $60, regularly $100. Too good to pass up. And what’s better than a bicycle under the tree?!
I believe we took Big out on that bike a total of 10 times that year. Ed and I would walk behind her while she slowly pedaled that heavy bike through our hilly Birmingham neighborhood… it was a pain in the ass.
By the end of the year Ed’s work relocated us to Tempe. Shortly after settling in we started commuting by bike. Big, now five, still didn’t know how to ride a bike, and she still had that Barbie bike.
Because she did not know how to ride she would ride in a tag-along. We used this set-up until we got our Surly Big Dummy cargo bike.
I was finally ready to go through what I was sure would be a traumatic experience.
Take the training wheels off.
I started Googling the dreaded “I’m still holding you!” method, but instead I found this video from REI that I found extremely helpful. I had never heard of taking the pedals off a bike. Sure I had seen balance bikes but I thought it was an expensive fad, and never thought about this strategy for an older child. After following the instructions on this video, Big was riding without training wheels in less than 30 minutes. I am not exaggerating at all! It was incredible just how fast she was going, fast and taking sharp turns. As fast as she could on that crappy Barbie bike.
The following Christmas Santa got her a Specialized HotRock.
Yes this bike cost more than the Barbie bike. However, the Barbie bike was $50 that went straight to the trash. She barely used it. While this bike she uses to this day and we use it almost every day! It is a great bike kids can really ride. It doesn’t weight nearly as much and has gears and brakes she can actually maneuver with her small hands.
Big is a great commuter. She can ride on her own on the road, can easily ride 10-12 miles, and likes to go “off-road” a little.
Little moved to AZ when she was one. She has pretty much been raised on a bicycle. She started with a front seat (Bobike Mini Classic, which I am selling on SteveBay and Craigslist btw) on my bike. I have dropped the bike with her on it more than once, and she sees it as normal.
Falling… is no big deal.
This, I have to say is the biggest advantage to getting on a bike from a very early age. This and the fact that they get hooked on the breeze on their little faces at a very young age. Little has to go on a bike ride everyday. I wish Big had experienced this.
That very first Christmas after moving here, the one that Big got her Specialized, Little got a bike too.
And… I can’t believe this but I got it in Walmart. I did it again!
I was looking for a balance bike for Little. After Big’s experience I had no doubt that we were going to go the pedal-less way. I couldn’t find a balance bike for less than $50, even used. And it really didn’t make sense to me to spend so much money on what would be a transitional “bike”. I was expecting Little to use this for three months tops before jumping into a real bike.
I found this 10″ Minnie Mouse Huffy for $10. TEN DOLLARS. My plan was to take the training wheels and pedals off and end up with a $10 balance bike.
Well there were issues.
- Even the 10″ was a little too tall for my 2 year old… even with the seat all the way down. They grow up so fast this was only an issue for a week or two, but still.
- Plastic wheels… like hard plastic.
- The main issue was that the pedals were non-removable. You cannot take the pedals off this bike.
- She used this bike much longer than I had anticipated.
So we taught her to not use the pedals and just use it as a balance bike… so far so good.
A couple of months later, for her 3rd birthday we got her a 12″ Specialized HotRock. Little is very agile so I assumed she would get to riding within 30 minutes, just like Big… but no.
Yes, she could balance but she didn’t know how to pedal. Even after learning how to pedal, her short little legs were not strong enough to get the bike going. I would push her and she would take off, but she couldn’t get started from a dead-stop.
It took her about four months with the HotRock to really get the swing of things. This meant that she played with the Huffy much longer than anticipated. Had I known that she would actually end up using the balance bike for almost a whole year I wouldn’t have thought the price (about $60-70) was that bad.
Once she figured out how to ride on that little 12″ bike there was no stopping her. She even rode on her own two wheels to the store by the age of three, about 2.5 miles roundtrip.
However, she mostly rode on my cargo bike. She was still very young and the 12″ bike is really slow.
This past December (now 4), Santa got her a 16″ Specialized HotRock. She had completely outgrown her 12″ (I was able to sell that bike in SteveBay in one day btw. Those bikes go fast.) Transitioning to a larger bike was no big deal. But wow does she love this new bike. She can go much faster and she’s constantly trying new tricks.
She can ride on the road and she loves to ride on dirt, in the house, on the mud and the grass, up and down curbs… on everything. She has never needed the tag-along and never used training-wheels.
Lately my cargo bike is mostly kidless 🙁 . Although I will put them both, and their bikes, on my cargo on major busy roads, if we are going on a long ride or if they get lazy and ask for a lift.
Hope this was helpful. If you still have questions let me know. If you have any tips I did not cover here please put them in the comments section below, I look forward to reading them. Thank you!
*** As you can see I am very happy with the HotRocks and recommend them. However, there is a bike out of Portland called Islabikes which is supposed to be the best commuter bike for kids. Have never tried one but I’m dying to!