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All About Training Wheels: Parents’ Most Frequently Asked Questions

Training Wheels

Parents often ask me questions about training wheels in hushed voices.  I’m a big proponent of skipping training wheels in favor of transitioning directly from a balance bike to a pedal bike (more on that later), but I certainly don’t judge parents who have their kids on training wheels.  In fact, even my son tried out a bike with training wheels for a little bit before he learned to pedal.

Here are some of the most common training wheel questions I get.

Why are training wheels bad?

Training wheels are NOT bad.  I learned to ride with training wheels, and you probably did too.  Most professional cyclists probably learned to ride with training wheels, and they turned out okay!

The reason training wheels have fallen out of favor, and the reason that I don’t recommend them to parents, is that learning to ride is actually much easier without them.

With the advent of balance bikes, parents realized that if kids learn to balance first, before learning to pedal, the whole process goes much easier.  It is not uncommon for a toddler to start on  a balance bike at 18 months old and to be pedaling by 2.5 or 3 WITHOUT training wheels.  No tears,  no crashes – none of that painful process that you probably remember as a kid.

If you don’t believe me – here is a picture of my son pedaling sans training wheels at 2.5.

The other reason that training wheels aren’t great is that they make riding on uneven surfaces really challenging.  If a sidewalk is cracked or slanted, the training wheels get off-balance or high-centered – and the kiddo ends up spinning their wheels or tipping over.  This tends to be really frustrating for kids and can discourage them from wanting to bike.

Should I buy a balance bike or a bicycle with training wheels?

A balance bike!  Seriously, in almost all circumstances I’m going to recommend you start with a balance bike first and then transition to a pedal bike without training wheels.  Even if your child is older, still start with the balance bike – check out this article on the Best Balance Bikes for 3 to 5 year olds.

If your child is really athletic, and has exceptional balance (or you just can’t justify the cost of another bicycle), you could skip the balance bike.  Temporarily remove the pedals from their bike, and get them to practice scooting and gliding on the bike.  Once they have the hang of that, put the pedal back on and follow the instructions in this article on how to teach your child to ride a bike.

How do I transition my child away from training wheels?

If your kiddo is already riding a bike with training wheels, don’t panic.  You haven’t ruined them forever!  You have a couple of options at this point.  My first recommendation is to ditch the pedal bike and go back to a balance bike until they have a great sense of balance.  Then you can introduce them to the pedal bike again without training wheels.  If you don’t have a balance bike, just try temporarily removing the pedals from their bike and using it like a balance bike.

Some kids aren’t going to go for the balance bike idea – they are already attached to their pedal bike.  In this case, try raising their training wheels so that they tip side-to-side.  This will force them to begin working on their balance.

Once they have a good sense of balance, take the training wheels off and follow my suggestions in this article on teaching your child to ride a bike.

Another thing that can help is having them ride bikes with other kids that aren’t on training wheels.  Chances are they will quickly become frustrated with their inability to go fast and do tricks like the other kids.  There is nothing like a little peer pressure to get kids biking without training wheels.

At what age should the training wheels be removed?

As soon as possible!  The younger kids learn to balance, the easier the whole process is.  Take the training wheels off (or at a minimum, raise them).    If they don’t have great balance yet, put them on a balance bike or make your own by removing their pedals.

But my child LOVES their training wheels and doesn’t want to take them off.  What do I do?

Follow their lead.  If they are having fun riding their bike, that is the important thing. When you push them too hard, they will lose their joy and motivation for riding bicycles.  If training wheels make them happy, let them be happy.  I promise they wont ride to junior high on training wheels, and eventually peer pressure will do the job for you.

Are training wheels supposed to be uneven?

It depends!  If your child is uncomfortable with them being uneven, you may want to temporarily lower them so that they become more even.  As they get more comfortable with riding however, you should raise them again so that your child tips slightly side to side.  This forces them to learn to balance and will make it easier to remove and transition away from the training wheels.

How do you adjust training wheels?

To raise or lower training wheels, as mentioned above, you need to loosen the nuts that hold the training wheels to the bicycle frame.  Position the wheels where you think they should be, and then re-tighten the nuts.

Watch your kiddo ride the bike.  If they are still having difficulty, lower the training wheels to give them more support.  If they are rocking and rolling, continue to raise the training wheels over time to teach them to ride without them.

What training wheels should I buy?

If for whatever reason, you still feel that your child needs training wheels after reading this article, then I would recommend ones that are durable are easily adjustable.  My favorite is the Wald 1216 training wheels.  They fit 12″ to 16″ bikes and can be purchased at Amazon.com.

Have other training wheel questions?  Don’t be afraid to ask!  I’m happy to help – judgment-free. 



5 thoughts on “All About Training Wheels: Parents’ Most Frequently Asked Questions”

  1. My grandson has autism and he is learning to ride his bike but has some difficulty balancing because of fine motor skills. His training wheels are uneven, my daughter said it would force him to balance the bike. Is this correct. He is seven years old and loves to ride his bike.

    • Hi Sharon,
      Yes, generally, raising the training wheels (making them “uneven”) will help kids begin to get the feel of balancing and prepare them to ride a bike without training wheels. Of course, for kids with autism, this process might take longer. If he is ok with them being uneven, leave them as is, then gradually raise them even further as he improves. If he’s upset by them, lower them back down until they are even. The most important thing is that he loves to ride his bike. It might take a while to ride without training wheels and that is ok.

  2. My 4.5 year old has been on a balance bike only, since he was about 2. He really does shred on the balance bike and even goes off really small jumps. He is now so good at it he doesn’t even want to be on a pedal bike. It’s great to go on bike rides with him now! I do have a question though: after a mile or so, he starts to complain about a sore butt and tired legs. I tell him with a pedal bike he wouldn’t have to work as hard and could go faster and longer, but the pedal bike is “harder” for him and he doesn’t like it at all. I’m sure eventually he will want to make the change on his own, but he is so ready and just doesn’t know it. Do you have any tips on how to transition to pedals? Or should I just wait it out until it’s his choice?

    • Hi Michael,
      What kind of bike is he on? When I hear that kids are complaining that riding is too hard, my first thought is that the bike is too heavy and/or has poor geometry. If that’s the case, switching to a better bike could be the key. If he’s already on a high-quality pedal bike, then you might try giving him a tow with a TowWhee or similar device. Other than that, I’d just keep offering the pedal bike to him. Have him do a loop of the block on his pedal bike and then go home and switch to the balance bike. As long as you keep it light and fun, he’ll eventually want to make the switch.
      Cheers,
      KB

  3. What’s the difference between adjustable and non adjustable training wheels? We are attempting to get our 5 year old on a razor dirt bike and his balance is awful! He knows how to ride a bike w training wheels. We just want him to get the hang of this dirt bike soon! He’s pretty scared!

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