Kid dirt bike with training wheels

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Gentle reader, let your mind wander back to the day you first learned how to ride a bike. Who can forget such a magnificent moment? It’s an iconic scene: The child is nervous on his shiny new Schwinn, but he trusts his father—and his training wheels. On the sun-dappled day they are finally removed, the child is confident that his training wheels have prepared him to ride a bike—that they have trained him.

His father runs beside the bicycle, holding onto the seat, and then lets go. The child triumphantly sails forth—face down, into the pavement. For generations, training wheels have been the standard way of not teaching children how to ride a bike. It’s a time-honored childhood ritual: fumble with wrench, remove tiny wheels, watch child fall on face, repeat. It doesn’t have to be like this. It’s unclear when training wheels became popular, although historians suggest the early 1900s seem most likely. But it’s apparent why they became popular.

They were an obvious solution to an obvious problem: How do you convince someone to climb onto something that is obviously going to fall over? It’s easy to forget how counterintuitive the act of bicycling is. For starters, to steady a bicycle, you have to turn in the direction that the bike is leaning. This is so unconscious that when you’re riding a bike you don’t know you’re doing it. Children know they’re doing it, though, which is why they have such trouble. To make matters worse, in order to ride a bike, you have to be willing to embrace its precariousness.

So it isn’t surprising that aspiring riders wanted some greater stability, especially when bicycles were still a wondrous sight. German historian of technology Hans-Erhard Lessing explained in an interview. People would hardly dare to take their feet off safe ground. The impulse to solve this problem by adding extra wheels predates training wheels. To learn to bike, you must solve two problems: the pedaling problem and the balance problem. Training wheels only solve the pedaling problem—that is, the easy one. Training wheels only train you to ride a bike with training wheels.

It’s hard to see how training wheels can inculcate any of the desired balancing habits, unless they are off the ground. In the beginning, there was Mount Tambora. When the Indonesian volcano exploded in April 1816, it blew ash into the outer atmosphere, altering the weather worldwide for months. 1816 would be known as the Year Without a Summer. His Draisine was a wooden contraption with no pedals or chain. Instead, the rider would walk along the ground and push himself forward, moving faster than a pedestrian could. The invention swiftly spread across Europe and the Atlantic, inspiring numerous knock-offs.

To a remarkable degree, the modern balance bike is a copy of the Draisine. Draisine riders leaned forward against a board, not unlike the way children do today, pushed off the ground and sped away. Today, it is easy to see a bicycle in a balance bike. In 1816, no one could: The bicycle wouldn’t achieve anything close to its modern form for decades. There are more and more parents who are taking that shortcut.

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition runs a popular event that’s explicitly about junking the training wheels. They also have a good handout about how to do so. Balance bike models are proliferating and, according to bicycle dealers, sales are rising. Children learning to ride on a balance bike solve the balancing problem first. And they solve it easily: Kids on balance bikes are faster and steadier than the contraptions would seem to permit. They have the same confidence as a child on training wheels, but the confidence is justified: They actually do know how to balance themselves on a bicycle. So skip the training wheels and get rid of the pedals instead.

Instead, they are a paradigmatic case of a learning tool that teaches the wrong lesson. Once they disappear, only the makers of Band-Aids will feel the pain. Previously in Slate, Nicholas Day said that you should let your preschoolers cook dinner with you, and explained why his son would not be wearing a sledding helmet. Our Gear Advisors are Ready to Help. Please forward this error screen to sharedip-107180237. Enter the characters you see below Sorry, we just need to make sure you’re not a robot. They train kids how not to ride a bike!