Once you learn you never forget. Fixing bikes around Crouch End, Hornsey and Muswell Hill, we’ve never seen more proof of that old saying than in this past year. Customers of all ages, fitness levels and needs picking up bicycles for the first time in years or decades and re-discovering the joys of pedalling.
But when it comes to first learning, it’s really important for toddlers and kids to start correctly from the moment they sit in the saddle. This can turn them into confident, safe and comfortable riders from the very beginning – and keep them pedalling strong throughout their lives.
Most of us at Butternut Bikes learned to ride on training wheels. But nowadays, we usually recommend that you start your toddler on a balance bike, skip the stabilisers and graduate straight to two wheels. This of course depends on the child’s individual needs – sometimes training wheels are the way to go.
One of the biggest reasons is that training wheels make it harder to steer and teach bad habits. Think about it: you steer your bike by leaning (great explainer here). But stabilisers interfere with this leaning and teach the rider to stay upright. Then, with one training wheel on the ground while going around a corner, the child learns to lean the opposite way to counterbalance it – which is the opposite of what we do on two wheels.
Overall, training wheels are meant to keep the cyclist from tipping over, but as a result they prevent the child from learning how to balance – making it harder once the stabilisers are removed.
As long as the balance bike is equipped with working brakes (like the Frog Tadpole bike we fixed in the picture!) and the child’s feet reach firmly on the ground, she or he can cycle longer distances, over uneven terrain and around corners more easily. Add to that the fact that balance bikes usually fit toddlers better than a 12-inch bicycle with stabilisers and they’re lighter and more nimble.
With balance bikes, kids are usually ready to pedal on two wheels around four years old. Once they do, the saddle height becomes an important part of helping the child cycle comfortably and confidently.
There’s a common (and understandable) misconception that the saddle should be low enough for the child’s feet to step flat on the ground. This is wrong. We understand the temptation – it’s nerve-wracking to watch your child speed off and wobble around!
However, low saddles make it harder for any cyclist to pedal, because it forces you to turn your leg while in a squat position. That restricts the power you and can exert from each pedal stroke, and causes knee problems in the long term.
The ideal saddle height for any cyclist leaves a slight bend in the knee when the leg is extended. As long as you can get one foot on the ground when you stop, you won’t tip over.
Get that mini cyclist in your life starting strong and you’ll be setting her or him up for a long, happy, healthy and comfortable cycling future!
(And we look forward to seeing them whizzing confidently around Priory Park, Alexandra Palace and all of our lovely North London spots!).
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