As adult cyclists, we get involved in many debates. Carbon or steel? Campy or SRAM or Shimano? Spandex or civilian wear? Helmet or no helmet?
Turns out that there’s a special debate for “cycling parents:” Balance bike or training wheels?
This debate took me a little by surprise, because until I spawned I was mostly unaware of it.
Turns out the new hotness for teaching kids to ride is the balance bike. It’s like a bike, only no pedals. Kid is supposed to be able to sit on the seat and go flat-footed to ground from it. Child can scoot with feet down, push off, and learn balance. The argument is that it allows kids to focus on balance, counter-balance steering, and control without having to worry about what can be a fairly advanced motion: Pedaling.
Meanwhile, the training wheel crowd is sometimes criticized because training wheels allow kids to screw around with the handlebars with fewer consequences, and doesn’t force kids to learn balance. They can contribute to some habits that later must be unlearned. On the other hand, most kids do all right pretty quick on training wheels and feel capable quickly.
Of course, these are purist controversies. There is no way in heck I could have made my son buy into a balance bike. They have no pedals. When he was younger, he liked to just roll the pedals on my mountain bike. He’d have instantly announced that the bike had no pedals. Game over.
There are other issues with balance bikes, in my view. One, many of them are pricey. They’re made of wood and bamboo and all sorts of eco-tastic stuff. While there are cheaper available, they have limited utility once the kid gets stuff figured out. So then you’re on the hook for the bike with a chain and pedals. And if you kid rejects the balance bike, like mine would? Whoops.
As a result, I’ve kind of embraced Sheldon Brown’s delightful middle ground: Buy a kid’s bike. REMOVE THE PEDALS if you’re into the balance bike mythology. Pow. You have an instant balance bike that converts back to a “real” bike with a few twists. And if your kid rejects the balance bike? POW. Install training wheels. Total win-win. So everyone needs to stop making this an outpost in the cyclewars and just put their kids on bikes. Now.