Beyond Training Wheels: An Easy Guide for Turning Any Bike into a Balance Bike
And a few other options
If your child spends any significant time on a balance bike, the transition to a pedal bike is fun, fast, and basically frustration-free. But what do you do if your child never mastered a balance bike and is currently struggling to move past his training wheels? This problem can cause a lot of stress for both the child and the parent. Why is this so difficult??? Riding bikes should be fun, right??? But if your child isn’t rocking a bike like this four-year-old below, don’t stress, we’re here to help!
What Are My Options to Get My Kid off of Training Wheels?
There are several different methods to help your child move past training wheels, and we’ve found that some methods work better with different age groups or child temperaments than others. What every method has in common, though, is teaching your child to BALANCE a bike. Learning to balance is the hardest part of learning to ride a bike. A child can learn to pedal later… BALANCE FIRST!
Here’s our list of options, ranked by their ease and consistency of success:
(1) Take the pedals off your child’s bike and turn it into a balance bike
(2) Buy a larger-framed balance bike
(3) Pedal Magic program
(4) Use the Balance Buddy
No matter which method you choose, your child’s success and how long it will take them to master a pedal bike is highly dependent on their athletic ability, determination, and confidence when trying new things. A method that works easily for a confident, athletic child could take a timid child weeks or even months.
Option 1: Take the Pedals Off & Turn a Child’s Bike into a Balance Bike
When money doesn’t play a factor, we recommend getting a real balance bike rather than just removing the pedals from a normal bike. Balance bikes are almost always much lighter than a regular child’s bike and thus easier for anxious kids to maneuver and balance. However, if your child already has a pedal bike with training wheels, it’s understandable to want to use the bike you have and makes sense for you try this method before going out to buy another bike! Also, if your child is already in grade school, your options for a balance bike that will fit them are very limited.
6-Year-Old Learning to Stand, Walk, and Glide
Grade schoolers or taller pre-schoolers.
There are very few balance bikes that will even fit a child at this age and size. Plus, the goal is to get them onto a pedal bike as soon as possible, so a true balance bike usually isn’t the best investment at this developmental stage.
How It’s Done
(1) Remove the pedals from the bike.
While in a perfect world you would also remove the crank arms, this is a difficult and sometimes impossible process. We’ve found that removing just the pedals works fine and the crank arms generally don’t get in the way of your child’s legs.
Be aware that if you have a cheaper bike, it may be very wide. This means that your child will have more difficulty using it as a balance bike because their legs will be spread wider than is natural to walk or run. Depending on how wide the bike is, the crank arms of the bike could possibly hit their legs. This is another reason we recommend buying an actual balance bike when possible.
Remove Pedals, Leave Crank Arms
(2) Explain to your child how to ride the “balance bike”.
This will only work if the child is able to place both of their feet entirely on the ground while sitting on the bike’s seat. Kids will need to use their feet to stop the bike, so they must be able to fully reach the ground.
With the pedals off, have your child practice coasting down a driveway or grassy hill until the are comfortable gliding on the bike.
Once they glide, have them practice running and once they have mastered running and balancing the bike, put the pedals back on (but NOT the training wheels).
To ride the bike with pedals back on, have your child first run on the bike and once they have enough speed to glide, have them begin to pedal the bike.
If your child has already been riding his bike with training wheels for some time, learning to ride a “balance bike” may be a little awkward because they’ve been trained to use their feet to pedal, not walk or run, on the bike. Which leads to…
(3) Be patient!
The time this process will take will depend in large part on your child’s temperament and athletic ability. This pseudo balance bike is a great method for timid kids, but it will also take them longer to master balancing because they will be more timid with the bike. Let them work at their own pace.
Our first tester was a 6-year-old Kindergartener who took out a WOOM 4 20″ bike with the pedals removed. Over a three day period and probably only about 90 total minutes of using the “balance bike”, he progressed from walking very awkwardly on the bike to big grins as he glided with ease.
His balance was steady and he was gliding confidently, so on the third day I convinced him he was ready to try riding with the pedals. HUGE success – straight out of the gate he was pedaling the bike and staying upright! And as the afternoon progressed, he was flying down the sidewalk like he’d been riding a bike for months!
Confident Rider After 90 Total Minutes on “Balance Bike”
On the other hand, I have two additional kids that I’m still in the process of working with who are struggling to feel comfortable on the “balance bike”. They can walk, but running and gliding are still difficult. Both are in 1st grade and both kids are timid on their bikes with training wheels. This is a great example of how a child’s athletic ability, determination, and confidence when trying new things can make all the difference in how long this process will take.
Option 2: Buy a Larger-framed Balance Bike
Balance bikes are, hands down, the easiest way to teach a child to ride a bike. They’re also the most fun! For a full explanation of why balance bikes are so great, check out our article – Training Wheels Don’t Train: Why You Need a Balance Bike Instead.
If your child already has a pedal bike, we know you don’t want to hear that you need to buy another bike. This is just one option – a more expensive one – but a very good one.
Tall Preschoolers and Pre-K kids
At this age and size, your child is too big for standard-style balance bikes, but is a great fit for the small number of larger balance bikes on the market. They’re also young enough that you don’t need to be in a rush to get them onto a pedal bike.
How It’s Done
The best course of action is to try to limit your child’s use of training wheels immediately and introduce them to a balance bike. Since balance bikes have a steeper learning curve than training wheels, it can be difficult to convince kids to stick with a balance bike while they’re still learning to ride it. With enough encouragement, time, and limited (or no) use of their training wheels, you child can transition to a balance bike.
We also encourage you to search for a used balance bike if cost is an issue. Because balance bikes are such simple little machines, there’s very little that can break or go wrong with them. Especially with the brands we recommend, the quality is high so buying second-hand is a great option.
Larger framed balance bikes are sized for 3 – 6 year olds. Even though it might be a hard pill to swallow to buy another bike while your child’s pedal bike sits back and collects dust, we promise it will be worth it in the long run. Especially if you buy the larger balance bike when your child is only 3 or 4, they’ll get at least 2 years out of it, and then you can advance them directly to a 16″ pedal bike.
Remember that the fun and adventure your child can have on their balance bike far exceeds any clunky pedaling up and down the sidewalk that they’ll do with their training wheels. We’ve been at this for 8 years – we’ve seen it over and over again!
Option 3: Pedal Magic Drills
Don’t let the look of PedalMagic.com fool you – I think it might have been one of the first pages ever posted on the World Wide Web. The video is long (20 minutes) and from an era of square TV screens and VHS tapes, but the method is solid! Pedal Magic consists of a few very simple drills that an adult coaches a child through on a bike. In the span of about 2 to 10 minutes, a child can learn to ride a bike!
Pedal Magic Video Drills and Our Tester 5 Minutes After Finishing!
Children old enough to follow directions for the drills you’ll be doing. We’d say at least 4 years old, but you’ll probably have more success with a child at least 5 or 6 years old.
How It’s Done
Pedal Magic is a patented, scientific method for teaching kids (and adults!) how to ride a bike. It’s remarkably simple and focuses on teaching a child to successfully make corrections with their handlebars when they begin to lose balance. The entire premise is (like with balance bikes!) that balancing is the most important skill when learning to ride a bike and everything else will fall into place.
We actually can’t explain the drills here because of the patent, but head over to PedalMagic.com and see the magic for yourself. 🙂
Our first test subject was an 8-year-old and the entire process took only 5 minutes. She had previously only attempted to ride without training wheels ONE time and had fallen over and quit trying. She actually had no desire to learn to ride a bike the day we tried Pedal Magic because she was so afraid of falling again. I was completely shocked at how easily she just rode away after she successfully completed the Pedal Magic drills.
A 6-year-old tester did not have the same experience. While she seemed to complete the drills successfully, she wasn’t able to translate them into riding a bike. She really enjoys riding her bike with training wheels, so Pedal Magic might be more successful when she has a desire to ride without training wheels instead of being pushed by her parents to try.
Option 4: Balance Buddy
The balance buddy is a U-shaped handle that you attach to the rear axle of the bike. It allows a parent to easily follow behind a child on a bike and help keep them upright. Essentially, it just makes it easier for a parent to keep a child balanced without having to bend over awkwardly to hold onto the seat of the bike. It’s less than $20 on Amazon.
Because the Balance Buddy doesn’t really teach a child to balance, it’s best for those rare situations when a child is having difficulty learning to pedal.
How It’s Done
(1) Attach the Balance Buddy to the rear axle of your child’s bike.
(2) Walk and run with your child, holding them balanced as they pedal the bike and move forward.
The Balance Buddy was more of an enabler than anything. It was as if our tester still had on training wheels – he still couldn’t balance on his own and wasn’t being encouraged to do so.
While we didn’t test the Balance Buddy on a sporty, confident kid, based on our experience, the Balance Buddy would probably work with a child like that. In that case, you’re really just teaching a child to ride a bike the old-school way, but you won’t have to bend down and kill your back.
If you’re in the market for a bike or a helmet, be sure to check out our Top Picks lists: