Training wheels were designed to simplify the process of learning to ride a bike, but they often lead to more confusion! Although balance bikes are becoming much more mainstream year by year, bicycle training wheels are still the standard “go-to” for many families.
As a result, we often get a lot of questions about them, especially in regards to how to use them and how to get rid of them! If we missed your question or if you have additional questions, please leave your question in the comment section below.
1. Do training wheels work?
Training wheels help kids stay upright on a bike and pedal at an earlier age. If your goal is for your child to pedal a bike while assisted, then yes, they work.
But if your goal is for your child to learn to ride a bike, the answer is no, they do not work because they don’t actually train kids to ride a bike. As soon as they come off, the real training begins! From running beside your child while holding onto the seat, to the numerous pep-talks after crashes, transitioning a child off of training wheels isn’t easy.
Why? Because training wheels don’t teach a child how to balance a bike, which is the first and most difficult requirement for learning how to ride a bike. People often assume learning how to pedal is the first requirement – it’s not. One can easily “ride” a bike by sitting on the seat and running with your legs, no pedals required.
The emphasis on training kids to balance over training them to pedal is why balance bikes have become increasingly popular. For more information, check out our detailed explanation of the differences between riding with training wheels and a balance bike.
2. Are balance bikes better than training wheels?
Yes! Balance bikes teach kids to balance and allow them to independently ride a bike as young as 18 months old. Fast and nimble, balance bikes can take kids of all ages up and over jumps, curbs, and hills, as well as over various terrains.
Bikes with training wheels, however, require kids to be older and taller to start riding (typically around 3 or 4 years old) and they are also limited to riding on flat surfaces. Kids who graduate from a balance bike don’t ever need training wheels to master a pedal bike – they typically just get on the bike and grasp riding within a couple of minutes.
3. At what age do kids use training wheels?
Kids typically begin riding a bike with training wheels around 3 to 5 years old, but the age range spans from 3 to 8. Training wheels are generally available on 12″, 16″, and sometimes 20″ bikes to accommodate kids of various ages.
While many 3-year-olds may be ready for a bike with “stabilizers”, finding a bike small enough to fit them comfortably can be challenging. In order for a child to properly “fit” on a bike with training wheels, they should ideally be able to touch the ground with both of their feet at the same time while seated on the bike.
3-Year-Old on Balance Bike vs. 12″ Bike with Training Wheels
4. Can you put training wheels on any bike?
Bicycle training wheels are mounted on the rear axle of a bike and do not work with every bike. While most kids’ bikes found at big-box stores come with or can accommodate them, many higher-ends kids’ bikes cannot.
In order to accommodate training wheels, the bike’s rear axle needs to be long enough to support the arm of the training wheel as well as an additional bolt and washer to hold them in place. These two bolts are located on the outside of the bike frame. Bolts located between the rear tire and the inside of the frame play no role in supporting training wheels.
If the rear axle on a bike is too short to hold an additional bolt, the bike is not compatible. Most higher-end bikes, such as woom, are not compatible as most of their riders are moving up from a balance bike, so they aren’t necessary.
5. Can you put them on a 24-inch bike?
While there are training wheels that will fit 24″ bikes, most 24″ bikes do not have a rear axle long enough to fit them. As a result, specialized training wheels, like these adult training wheels, are usually required.
If your 24″ bike is geared and has a rear derailleur, you must have training wheels that attach to the frame, rather than the axle.
Frame-Mounted vs. Axle-Mounted Wheels
6. Are bicycle training wheels supposed to touch the ground?
Training wheels should always be set slightly higher than the rear tire. While this does cause the child to tilt from side to side on the bike as they ride, this uneven riding is oddly necessary for safety reasons.
If all three wheels were touching the ground (two training wheels + bike’s rear tire), it would be impossible to consistently keep most of the weight on the bike’s rear tire. If the weight of the bike is on the training wheels rather than the rear tire, the rear tire will not be able to maintain proper traction and braking power will be limited.
The vast majority of kids’ bikes with training wheels have a rear coaster brake (back pedal brake) that stops the bike, so it is essential that the rear tire always be in contact with the ground and with as much weight on the back tire as possible.
In theory, as a child becomes a more confident rider on the bike, the training wheels should be moved up higher to encourage kids to balance the bike without them. Unfortunately, without continual guidance and encouragement to not lean to one side while riding, raising them rarely helps kids learn to balance the bike on their own.
What usually happens is that as they are raised, a child just leans more drastically to the side and gets freaked out! Raising them rarely encourages a child to stay more upright and balanced. As a result, most kids do not learn to balance a bike until after the training wheels have been completely removed.
7. Are they supposed to be uneven?
Bicycle training wheels are set at an equal height above the rear wheel. While they are even with one another, the rider feels uneven because they are constantly tilting to one side.
Because both training wheels can never touch the ground at the same time, a child must ride at a tilt for one of the wheels to make contact with the ground and maintain stability. This unnatural tilt is designed to encourage kids to stay upright, which in theory would help them learn to balance a bike on two wheels. Unfortunately, we’ve never seen it work this way.
8. What are the best bikes with training wheels?
If you plan on purchasing a bike with training wheels, Guardian Bikes are by far your best option, and can be purchased online. Their bikes are insanely easy to assemble, even if you have absolutely no experience with bikes. The quality of their bikes are in a different realm than anything you’ll find at Walmart or Target.
The Specialized Riprock 12″ and 16″ are our top bike shop picks.
9. What are the best ones if I already have a bike?
If your 12″, 14″ or 16″ bike did not come with training wheels, it’s very likely that the bike is not compatible. Prior to purchasing any, be sure to check with the bike manufacturer to ensure the bike is compatible. Often times, the rear axle on higher-end brands is too short to mount training wheels.
If your bike is compatible, “heavy duty” training wheels that have an additional stabilization bar between the mounting arm and axle arm are your best bet. Several brands are readily available, such as the Fortop or Little World.
Heavy Duty vs. Standard
For those who need training wheels for a 20″ bike or larger, it’s very likely that the bike will not accommodate traditional training wheels that attach to the rear axle. Special adult training wheels are likely needed.
10. How do I get my kid off training wheels?
There are several different methods to help your child learn to ride a bike. Our favorite method is to remove the training wheels as well as the pedals of the bike, and essentially use the bike as a balance bike.
Using this method, you lower the seat of the bike so that the child can stand over the bike with their feet flat. You then have your child practice running and gliding on the bike. With enough practice, they will learn to balance.
Removing the pedals of the bike is not essential, but it prevents kids’ legs from hitting the pedals during their stride. If your child is hesitant to start running on the bike, practicing on a grassy hill is a great way to help them quickly get the feel for gliding.
Once your child can successfully run and glide on the bike, it’s time to put the pedals back on! With the pedal backs on, have the child once again run and glide on the bike and then start pedaling. It’s much easier for kids to balance and pedal a bike once it’s moving, so do not have the child attempt to start pedaling a bike from a standstill (that will come with time).