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I have a 3.5-year-old son, and now I'm trying to teach him to ride a bicycle. He already can ride a balance bike. Now he's able to pedal quite fast, but only with training wheels. The issue is that he strongly refuses to try to ride without those training wheels.

I don't want to push him, but I think that he is really capable of riding without training wheels, since he is able to ride a balance bike even from some small hills. How do I convince him to try without being too pushy?

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    Training wheels are bad. They give both the wrong muscle memory for riding a bicycle, as well as a false impression of being able to ride. They should not be called "training" in the first place.
    – fraxinus
    Jul 4 at 8:54
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3.5 is on the young end to learn to ride a bike, but not impossible certainly. The challenge a 3.5 year old will have is pedaling strength; you can help a lot here by having a lighter bike (most of the "Walmart specials" that 3.5 year olds tend to get are made from very heavy materials, not many people want to spend $200+ on a bike for a kid to ride for six months).

The approach that I recommend for kids this age who did ride a balance bike is fairly common, I think. Starting out, here are some preparation points:

  1. Don't use training wheels at any point. Obviously too late for that, but perhaps for someone else... my kids went straight from balance bikes to regular bikes, and it worked very well.
  2. Padding! Not just a helmet. Knee pads and elbow pads and padded fingerless gloves. This does two things: it reduces the chance of them being hurt, and it gives them psychological help as well. We're not talking serious injuries here of course - but little "ouchies" can slow things down a lot. Having padding, and telling them that the padding will make things not hurt, and showing them, make a world of difference. I actually had my kids fall on purpose before we started, so they could know that it indeed wasn't an issue!

Then when you're ready: start with the pedals off. Guess what that means the bike is? A balance bike! Let them get used to balancing on it. This can take a few weeks. The bike isn't the same as their balance bike - it's probably bigger and heavier, and it's just different.

Once they are comfortable with that, then add the pedals. No training wheels - even if you used them before, don't add them back. We had a friend who did this (had training wheels, removed them AND the pedals, then added back pedals) and it worked fine - just make a big deal of "You know, I think you're ready for pedals now - you're not falling off the bike any more. What do you think?" Let them "balance bike" a bit even after the pedals are on (feet on the floor still), just so they can feel that it's not really any different - a bit heavier, but otherwise the same. Then, don't forget to raise the seat a little - not a lot, but balance bike relies on foot-flat-on-floor while pedal bike foot, even for a new kid, shouldn't quite be flat; more height means more leverage!

When you add pedals, remember that the thing they're missing that helps keeps a bike upright is forward momentum. Particularly at 3, they're probably not strong enough to start pedalling. So - do that for them. Hold the bike from the rear - the seat - and sort of run up a bit with them, get them going while they pedal and you're pushing. You don't provide too much stability here - just a bit, but as soon as there is some speed, let off on that part.

Then, from here on out, what we did was measure distance. For my two, we went to a sidewalk, and I'd let them go and then count how many sidewalk squares they could go before stopping (or crashing). It would start at zero. Then one. Then two. Then five. Then twenty. It tends to go like that - it just clicks at some point and then there's no stopping :)

They'll need a "start" for a while, possibly for a year even given their age. You can help with the "start" by raising the seat some, but of course that makes it harder to stabilize when stopped, so it's a tradeoff. Many kids manage by using the curb, if you're on a very quiet street; the curb lets them have a stabilization point above the ground, so their seat can be higher and still be able to start.


The other piece of advice I'll give is: don't push them beyond what they want to do. 3.5 is very young for this - so it's totally okay if they don't really want to do pedal bike quite yet. They'll get there! My oldest started just before his fifth birthday, because a girl down the street had her first bike, no training wheels, so of course he had to also. My youngest started at four - because his older brother was, and of course he can do anything older brother can. But in both cases we waited until they wanted to - and now they're biking all over creation...

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  • Thanks for the reply! We have just went to the park and found a small hill - most of the time he can roll down without training wheels. The bike is quite light (specialized hotrock). Good point on the padding - will definitely go find some in addition to the helmet
    – k102
    Jul 2 at 13:48
  • @k102 Good luck! And yes that's a very good choice for that age. Rolling down is not a bad idea, as long as it's not too steep that it makes it scary!
    – Joe
    Jul 2 at 13:54
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    Oh, one more question: on his bike training wheels have 3 positions, so they can be moved further from the ground level. Could it help to raise them so that he will roll more on his own?
    – k102
    Jul 2 at 13:56
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    @k102 Yes, that's the idea - at the highest point the idea is they won't be in contact with the ground at all except if he needs them. The lowest point they're always in contact basically. That said, with a kid coming from a balance bike I wouldn't necessarily go through those stages - I'd try to "reset" instead without the wheels. Should be much faster and easier.
    – Joe
    Jul 2 at 13:57
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    Thx, will give a couple of tries with training wheels in the upper position, if no luck - will convert it to a balance bike.
    – k102
    Jul 2 at 14:06
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Joe's answer is great and very much matches what we did with our son -- started riding without training wheels at 3 3/4, is now 5 3/4 and enjoys rides of up to 2 miles regularly.

I'll add one more thing: In addition to not being ready to start on his own, your child may not be ready to stop on his own. There was a period of several months where, whenever I anticipated a stop coming up, I would pedal ahead, jump off my bike, and crouch ready to catch his handlebars and help him climb off. He then learned to steer onto grass and slow to zero before stepping off and letting the bike fall; I think it was at least 6 months before he stopped normally.

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