Reasons to avoid using stabilisers to teach kids to ride
Stabilisers fitted to a bike hinder a child from developing their skills!
Quite a big statement considering just how many children are still using bikes with stabilisers. Any trip out to a park, and I bet you will see young kids perched on bikes with stabilisers, trying to pedal and struggling to get anywhere.
In 2009, we discovered a better way to get our little ones cycling; a balance bike. This discovery was life-changing for our family and was just the start of our journey that led to the creation of Kidvelo.
Our daughter was nearly four and was pottering around on a big pink heavy bike with stabilisers, which was the norm, as we didn’t know any better way. After spotting a balance bike, we bought two and our daughter had balance nailed within a fortnight, and our toddler, within a few months. Our only regret was that the balance bikes couldn’t become pedal bikes. It was so mindblowing; it became our mission to educate parents as to the benefits of balance bikes.
Here are our main reasons to stop using bike stabilisers!
Stabilisers don’t allow a child to learn how to keep a bike upright and balanced.
A bicycle with two wheels is unstable. It will not hold itself up. This is why the concept of fitting two small extra wheels made sense. To keep the bike upright, these extra supports allow your child to focus on pedalling whilst not tipping over. However, learning to pedal can take 10 minutes to grasp, and balance, on the other hand takes months.
Once the stabilisers are removed, your child is a beginner again; falling off the bike, they haven’t been allowed to develop their balance skills.
Consider the riding position of this young girl who has just had her stabilisers removed.
She was used to leaning on her right rear stabiliser while pedalling away, believing she was making real progress, but look what happens once they are removed.
She’s naturally going to fall to the right but then automatically shifts her upper body to the left to compensate, and with her father’s assistance, she just about manages to stay upright
Once he lets go, it will end in an inevitable fall. The child then feels frustrated, anxious and disappointed. Tears are never far away, especially if she gets hurt. I am sure you would agree that this isn’t the best start if you want her to enjoy cycling.
Let us compare this little boy riding; concentrating on balance first, without stabilisers or a drivetrain,on a much lighter bike.
The child above is still perfecting his balance, but he is progressing independently, having fun and learning the correct riding fundamentals. Progress is quicker without distraction and concentrating just on a few skills at a time.
Note the correct upright posture of both the bike and rider.
He is only a few months away from being ready for the next stage! Moving onto a bigger bike, getting used to brakes before using pedals. We have made bigger balance bikes that include a pedal-kit, so the journey can continue via natural progression.
A bike with stabilisers is too heavy and therefore hard to move along.
A pedal bike needs pedals, cranks, a chain, chain-guard etc. These all add a lot of weight, so starter bikes tend to be heavier than necessary. Also, kids’ bike manufacturers tend to make kids bikes as cheap as possible to make them attractive to buy but disguise this by covering it with toy branding! Sure your little one might love the latest “Superman” or “Paw Patrol” bike, but if they can’t ride it properly and have fun, it is a waste of money. Unless you are a keen rider, you are unlikely to have considered the weight that you are asking your little one to manoeuvre. It isn’t until you try and put it in the car that you realise just how heavy they are. The lighter a bike is, the more expensive they are because lighter materials such as aluminium alloy are more expensive than steel. Bikes with stabilisers add cost and weight, look ugly and are impossible to carry home from nursery or when your child doesn’t want to ride.
Longterm, it is more cost-effective to spend your money on things that will help; such as a quality balance bike your child wants to spend time on, rather than tassels, baskets, stickers and stabilisers. In March 2020, we visited several popular stores stocking a good range of kids’ bikes and were horrified by the weights involved. In most cases, the bike’s weight wasn’t mentioned, or the bike weighed more than the rider it intended for. We found one modal weighing 14 Kg!
Kids Stabilisers teach bad habits.
To balance, a child needs to feel the shift in the bike as it falls to one side and learn to counteract it. A rider will naturally change their body position to bring the bike back upright, but this is something that gets learnt by feeling the bike lean. Kids Stabilisers don’t allow children to feel this, as the bike stays upright due to the training wheels. Worse, the rider tends to lean in the wrong direction to counteract the support wheels tilting the bike at an angle, as pavements are rarely horizontal. To give the clearance for pedals to turn, pedal bikes have a higher centre of gravity, which is unhelpful as it’s further to fall and the rider won’t feel safe and stable.
You may find this video useful, recorded with My First Five Years founders Jennie Johnson MBE, and childcare expert Alistair Bryce Clegg on why it is time to remove stabilisers on kids bikes
Bikes fitted with stabilisers make the ride slow and are no fun!
Check out any park; you always see some child pedalling a heavy bike with training wheels around the paths. They can’t go quickly, they can’t go over grass, and they certainly can’t go off-road. Skatepark and cycle trails through woods are out. It’s not a lot of fun; hence they get fed up and won’t go long distances on family bike rides.
In the picture below, the girl on the left is pedalling independently along the nice flat path. But the moment you move off-road, assistance is always required. Try cycling a heavy bike with stabilisers over grass, woodland areas, or even a nice holiday beach ride; it’s hard work. Within minutes the rider becomes very tired & grumpy, and you will get fed up carrying it! This approach immediately stops progress because now you have a child who is reluctant to ride & a parent who doesn’t want to carry a heavy bike home again.
As we all know, a good first experience encourages kids and is so important!
Consider the above picture on the right. This girl can effortlessly negotiate even the longest grass safely, while retaining perfect posture & control. Needless to say whether the ride is through paths, grass, woodlands or even the beach, your little one will be in total control. Your child will look forward to going out on their bike, progress is accelerated and before you know it their confidence and riding skills will be soaring
A happy, independent, confident child who loves riding = A happy parent!
Once you remove the stabilisers, the child still has not learnt any balance.
To start off, the child is supported upright. Then you remove the supports, but as no balance has yet been learnt, the child still can’t ride. Crashes, frustration, and wobbles lead to a lack of confidence and reluctance to cycle.
Bikes with stabilisers still require a parents’ intervention
The idea that you can fit stabilisers onto a kid’s bike and let them ride independently doesn’t happen in reality! The problem is, that the young rider will still need your help over curbs and across rough terrain and as the bikes are so heavy. We know parents are reluctant to let them be ridden to school as they are cumbersome to retake home.
Sustrans did a study that showed that only 2% of children cycle to school. Government-funded programmes such as Bikeability are improving the situation, with Primary school-aged children getting taught road safety. However, to be ready to join in with this, the child must be riding a pedal bike beforehand. We firmly believe that starting on a balance bike allows kids to learn to ride far easier than stabilisers. By starting children younger, we can encourage kids to use cycling as a method of transportation.
We appreciate a lot of parents can’t afford to buy a quality balance bike and then, a lightweight pedal bike.
That is why we designed our clever 2-In-1 Bikes. Use either with or without pedals by using one frame and an easy-to-fit pedal-kit to make the conversion. No bike rebuild required, easy for any parent to do within a few minutes and adjust to last for several years before being outgrown! Kidvelo has some of the lightest bikes around. Compare our 14″ Pedal Bike to any other, and you will save weight and money.
We promise your child will never need to use stabilisers!
Stabilisers act as a support and keep the bike upright
However, the rider can never truly learn the skill of balancing until stabilisers are removed.
By learning with feet safely on the ground, grasping the handlebars and walking the bike along, the child is developing skills all without realising it!
A better way. Teach balance first, then move on to pedalling.
Once you have the more complex skill of learning to balance nailed first, then it is easy to learn pedaling. Turning two pedals is easy when that is all you have left to learn how to do.
How do we do that? By learning how to ride a balance bike!
Solve the problem of having no balance first and as they are using their feet to control speed, kids feel safer! We cover this in detail in our guide to choosing the correct sized bike
Most parents remember their experience of learning to ride a bike, and for most, it includes painful memories of those heavy unstable bikes, but as we knew no different, it was fun at the time! It’s a new generation and a new method, but it works.
Frequently asked questions about stabilisers!
Q: What are stabilisers or training wheels on a bike?
A: Stabilisers are also known as training wheels and are two additional small wheels attached parallel to the rear of a two-wheeled bicycle. They support the bike and keep it upright and stable, preventing it from falling.
Q: What skills are needed to ride a pedal bike without using stabilisers?
Cycling on a pedal bike without stabilisers requires two fundamental skills; pedalling and balance. The cyclist must also learn to manoeuvre, brake and corner on their bicycle.
Q: Can you fit stabilisers on a balance bike?
A: Yes, you can. However, it is counterintuitive to do so. For example, on a balance bike, the child’s feet remain safely on the floor, replacing the need for stabilisers. If you do fit stabilisers, they support the cycle instead of the child, who can’t learn for themselves.
Join our mailing list
Get a free copy of our Parents Guide “How to teach your child to ride a bike” and exclusive offers and discounts.