next bike, part 1: learning to ride

We are shopping for new bikes for our 4- and 6-year-olds.

When our first child was a baby, I heard about balance bikes. They were supposed to be great because the child wouldn’t need to use training wheels (more on that later). She would learn to balance first, and then pedal, because balancing is the hard part about riding a bike. The pedaling is easy. So for her second birthday, we bought her a Strider balance bike. She walked it around that summer. At three she was coasting with it, and at four she begged for pedals.

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I thought to myself, “I use a bike. I am going to buy my daughter a nice bike.” So we went down to a local bike shop and I bought her a 16″ Trek with training wheels. It’s purple, and decorated with flowers, streamers, and a white basket. I offered her the “boy” bike, but it was decorated in some angry manner and she wasn’t interested. Neither was I, really. The bike is nearly as heavy as mine. She rode around the store on the training wheels, and we took the bike home.

At home we took the training wheels off, took her to the neighborhood park where there’s a grassy hill, and she freaked out. It was too big and overwhelming. $15 later we had a 12″ Huffy from Craigslist. We tried taking the training wheels off of that one, too, but she was uninterested, and kept going back to the balance bike. I spent that summer encouraging her to ride the new bike, and she spent it balance biking.

Also that summer (2012) I discovered the world of family biking, and learned that there were other options for kids. Bikes that were designed with kids in mind, and were not just miniature adult bikes. I’ve regretted the purple bike ever since.

The next summer (2013) I was pregnant with twins, and there was very little biking.

Then spring rolled around, our twins were six months, we started shopping for a family bike, and got our kids back out on their own bikes. By then I’d come to realize that while some kids might be able to go straight from balance bike to two-wheeler, my daughter (who had been on the late side with all large motor skills to date) was not one of them. She needed some time with training wheels so she could learn to pedal, and I needed her on training wheels so she could learn to brake. So the training wheels went back on the purple bike, set low so she wouldn’t lean, and I signed her up for a week of Pedalheads at the end of July.

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She is now riding on her own on the quiet streets of our neighborhood, and her brother has moved from balance bike to 12″ pedal bike with training wheels. So why are we shopping for new bikes? Well, I’d like her to be on a lighter bike with gears, to perhaps expand our range beyond the top of our hill. And he is having trouble figuring out the coaster brake, which is not a long term skill anyway. Plus, he’ll have a much easier time riding a bike with better geometry.

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