By: Scott Harvey, MPT
Did you know that training wheels for bikes were invented in 1949? Since they have been around for so long, are training wheels still the best option for kids to learn riding a 2 wheeled bike? Keep reading to learn about the pros and cons of training wheels, and to gain a better understanding of why another type of preparatory bike may be advantageous.
Advantages of training wheels: they help a child balance while riding, to help build their confidence with practicing other bike riding skills. With training wheels on, a child can practice pedaling, turning, braking, looking up and scanning their environment without worrying about losing their balance. Training wheels helps them develop the coordination to pedal with their lower body while steering with their upper body.
Disadvantages of training wheels: they give a false sense of balance and security while riding. When the training wheels are removed and they start practicing on a 2 wheeled bike, that transition is often very difficult and can take them a while to learn. This is because balancing on a 2 wheeled bike is usually the hardest component of bike riding skills. In order to balance your trunk while sitting on a bike with a narrow base of support, you need significant core strength, postural control and equilibrium reactions. Training wheels do not allow a child to develop the sitting balance required for riding a 2 wheeled bike.
Fortunately, there is another type of bike that helps children with sitting balance. And it’s appropriately called a balance bike! It’s simply a 2 wheeled bike without pedals, which teaches kids to balance and steer safely while controlling propulsion and braking with their feet on the ground.
There are many balance bikes sold online and in stores nowadays. Almost all balance bikes have an adjustable seat, and can go over uneven terrain or slopes, for which training wheels cannot. Toddlers can start riding a balance bike as early as 18 to 24 months, with assistance to begin. Once a child can push with their feet and glide on a balance bike with confidence, then the transition to a 2 wheeled bike will be much easier, compared to if they only practiced with training wheels.
With the above information in mind, if your child is 2, 3, or 4 years old, then a balance bike is highly recommended over training wheels. The earlier they can start on a balance bike, the sooner they will be ready to ride a 2 wheeled bike with confidence and safety. For older kids who come in to physical therapy and cannot yet ride a 2 wheeled bike, our PTs help them by removing the pedals on the bike. Without the pedals on, they can push with their feet and practice gliding to work on sitting balance. Essentially this is just a larger sized version of a balance bike!