Should you use stabilisers to teach a child to cycle?

14 February 2020 - Learning to Ride

Should you Teach a Child to Ride Using Stabilisers?

What are Stabilisers?

Training Wheels, or Stabilisers as we call them in the UK, are the extra wheels that can be mounted parallel to a bicycle's rear wheel to help when learning to ride a bike. They assist by giving a more ‘stable’ feeling until the rider has developed a good sense of balance on their bike.

Although versions for larger, adult bikes do exist we tend to associate stabilisers with kids bikes. With the invention of the Balance Bike, it could have been expected that the use of stabilisers would become obsolete but that is not the case. Although not as common as they once were, they are still a popular training tool amongst parents when teaching kids to cycle.

All children learn differently and the question of whether to use stabilisers or not crops up often and can cause big debates among parents. So we thought we’d do a little research into the pro’s and con’s of these cycling stalwarts to help you decide what’s best for your child!

The Benefits of Learning with Stabilisers

  1. 🚴  These simple little wheels are possibly the least painful way to learn to pedal a bike. With the bike feeling immediately more stable it’s not necessary for parents to break their backs holding the bike saddle or their child to keep everything upright!
  2. 🚴 It’s one of the most cost-effective options. If you have already purchased a pedal bike and your child is struggling to get to grips with it, it is far cheaper to add stabilisers than it is to purchase a Balance Bike
  3. 🚴 Stabilisers will prevent the bike from leaning over and help your child stay upright and pedal sooner than they would without them, especially if they are struggling with balance. If your goal is to get your child pedalling unassisted as soon as possible then they will do this job
  4. 🚴 If you live on a quiet, flat, safe street then you will be able to get the biggest benefit from stabilisers. Safe, flat streets allow your child to practice cycling up and down with minimum supervision building up their confidence
  5. 🚴  You get to have that amazing moment of excitement and sense of achievement when they are ready for them to come off and ride without stabilisers for the first time!

In theory, as children get more confident you can raise the training wheels up a little. They will still be there, reducing any panic or anxiety, but are not so readily available to lean on. This should allow the child to learn to balance, gradually spending more time with both wheels off the ground.

This should make the transition from stabilisers to no stabilisers less scary. However, as you’ll find out in the next section this point straddles both the positive and negative aspects of using stabilisers.

How to Attach Stabilisers to a Childs Bike

Do you have a Frog First Pedal bike but are unsure how to attach stabilisers to a bike? This short video will help by taking you through the steps to attach them correctly.

If at any point you are unsure if they are installed correctly on your child's bike we would recommend visiting your local bike shop to ensure the bike is safe to ride.

Parent Dale Hall told us his reasons for choosing stabilisers for his daughters' bike:

“I decided on stabilisers because she was not interested in using the bike without them. I was hoping not to use them, as I didn’t with my son, but he showed more interest and used his balance bike a lot and my daughter didn’t.”

The Negative Aspects of Learning to Ride with Stabilisers

  1. 🚴 Stabilisers do not teach a child how to balance on a bike. This is possibly the most difficult aspect of learning to ride a bike
  2. 🚴 As we discussed above when the training wheels are raised the bike will become more unstable and ‘tippy’. If adjusted incorrectly they can make the bike unsafe and increase the risk of toppling when the bike is travelling faster than walking pace. Especially when their weight is shifted when turning around corners
  3. 🚴 A bike steers by leaning and stabilisers hold the bike upright, preventing it from leaning, stabiliser wheels also prevent countersteering. This can teach children to turn the handlebars the wrong way when steering which will have to be unlearned when the stabilisers are removed
  4. 🚴 They can be quite heavy and add extra weight onto the bike
  5. 🚴 A child can learn to pedal a bike with stabilisers but they don’t actually learn to ‘ride’ a bike. Once the training wheels are off the real learning begins and many parents find the transition to riding a bike without stabilisers is far from easy. The increase of wobbles and crashes at this time can cause a total loss of confidence

It is worth bearing in mind that if a child rides with stabilisers for some time they can be considerably taller when the stabilisers come off. This means their centre of gravity is higher on the bike which in turn makes learning to balance now the stabilisers are no longer present far more challenging.

We all learn at different speeds making it difficult to answer the question “when should my child start to ride a bike without stabilisers?” However, if after 1 year of riding with stabilisers they are still uncomfortable at the prospect of removing them, we would recommend trying another method or riding assistance tool to get their confidence up.

What Are The Alternatives?

There are 2 main alternatives to learning to ride with stabilisers: removing the pedals or starting with a Balance Bike.

Removing the Pedals

If your child is able to get their feet on the floor whilst sitting on the saddle then a great alternative to stabilisers is just to remove the pedals. This will allow them to effectively use their pedal bike as a balance bike.

Removing pedals is easy, you only need either a pedal spanner or large Allen key (depending on the pedals) and you can take them off in a jiffy!

The crank arms that the pedals attach to will still be in place, so you will have to be careful they do not knock their legs on these. Their legs should be wide enough apart for this not to be an issue.

Mum, Tasha Green told us why she chose this method for her 4-year-old daughter, Hali-Rai:

“Removing the pedals to allow Hali to gain confidence and get used to both the size of bike and the added feature of a front and back brake was the best decision we could have made. She’s gaining confidence by the day on her Frog Bike, so within a few more weeks her pedals will go back on and hopefully, we will be able to say Hali can confidently ride a bike.”

If you would like to try this then take a look at this park tools video to find out how easy it is to remove the pedals. (We would recommend putting a little grease on the threads of the pedals when you put them back on).

Balance Bikes

Balance bikes are a great alternative to stabilisers. Not only can you start children cycling at a much younger age (our Tadpole Mini is for ages 18months and up) but they also learn the all-important skill of how to balance on a bike from the very beginning.

Having both feet on the floor makes learning to ride a balance bike really easy and not scary in the slightest. They can start by simply sitting on, or walking with the bike, before progressing to scooting and finally gliding - putting their feet off the floor, once they’re super confident.

A Balance Bike unlike a bike with stabilisers can be ridden and enjoyed on uneven ground and even off-road tracks!

Children who start their cycling life on a balance bike only need to learn one skill when progressing to a pedal bike; to pedal! Many parents report that the transition from a Balance Bike to the First Pedal Bike takes no time at all, as little as 15 minutes with some children!!

Our Tadpole Balance Bike range even has a child-specific rear brake lever to teach children how to control their speed as well as how to balance. The brake arms are mounted on the top of the wheel to avoid feet catching and there is also a safety lock to prevent oversteering.

Would like to start your childs cycling journey with a Balance Bike? Hit the Frog splat to view our range! 👉

Most Importantly: Remember to be Patient

There is no average age when children master basic balancing. It can vary wildly from child to child, it may be as young as 2 or later at the age of 9.

Don’t push them too hard, remember cycling is meant to be fun! A bicycle trailer, TowWhee or cargo bike can let you enjoy cycling outdoors as a family without any stress if your child is finding it difficult to master riding solo.

It’s important for kids to learn at their own natural pace. This will increase their enjoyment and will more likely result in cycling becoming a fun activity you can all do together

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