Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Starting Your Child in Cycling

There are a few new parents out there who have asked me about how I got my little guy on the bike so quickly. First off, I only got into cycling just after Lachlan was born.  This was mostly because my older son, Kevin, thought it would be a good idea for me to get a mountain bike so that we would have some additional activities to do together, but I also wanted to stay in shape so that I could keep up with Lachlan as he got older and cycling would be a great opportunity to do that. 

When Lachlan turned one, I got a helmet for him and I pulled him around in a Chariot behind my bike. It was a great experience to get him out behind the bike, getting fresh air and enjoying nature. Lachlan quite enjoyed riding in the Chariot and there were a few instances by the end of the year (when he didn't fall asleep) where he would yell "faster Daddy, faster!"

That fall I figured that Lachlan would be ready for his own bike the following spring.  I did some research over the winter to see what would be the best option that he would enjoy and what would help him transition to a two wheel bike the easiest.  As we all know, there are several options you can choose when introducing your child to cycling. I'm sure most of you have similar memories that I do of riding around on either a tricycle or a bicycle with training wheels as a child.  But transitioning your child to a two wheel bicycle can be a difficult experience as neither the tricycle or bicycle with training wheels develop balance.

During my research I came across something I had never seen before - a run bike.  A run bike (or balance bicycle) is a training bicycle that helps your child learn balance and steering. It is built without pedals, crankset and chain, and no training wheels. You can also use a normal bicycle by removing the pedals and related parts, but the frame typically doesn't come as small as a run bike.

With a run bike, the rider learns balance first, pedal last.  Although opinions differ regarding which learning sequence is easier for most riders, it is generally agreed that a bicycle with pedals is too difficult for most very young children and that training wheels may encourage the rider to learn some behaviors which later must be unlearned.

A run bike must be small enough that the rider can put both feet flat on the ground and walk the bicycle while sitting comfortably on the saddle. Eventually, the rider feels comfortable enough to run and "scoot" while riding the bicycle, then to lift both feet off the ground and cruise while balancing on the two wheels. Children as young as 18 months can learn to cruise a balance bicycle within a few hours' practice.

Lachlan turned two in 2009 and I got him an Adams Run Bike for his birthday.  It didn't take him more than a couple tries to go from walking tentatively to a full run and lifting his feet and gliding.  He rode it all over the neighborhood and wanted to ride every day.  That basically ended him travelling in the Chariot as he now had his own wheels. 

There were a couple of instances that stood out for me the first year Lachlan was on his run bike.  The absence of fear when we were camping that summer was a sign of things to come.  Lachlan started by going down some short (2-3 feet), steep hills for the first time.  He couldn't even get to the top by himself but once he got his bike up there he would count out '1, 2, 3!' and push off, lift his feet and down the hill he went.  Once we got home I took him to the little jump/pump area at Capilano.  Lachlan was a bit tentative at first but he quickly got the hang of what he needed to do and soon he was going down the hills and up the other side.  I have to say, there are few prouder moments in a father's life.

That winter, Lachlan's Grandpa got him a Smart Cycle for Christmas.  A Smart Cycle is like a stationary bike for kids that interfaces with the television as a video game.  Lachlan struggled quite a bit with the mechanics of pedalling but after a few tries he got the hang of it. He still didn't understand the control interface but as long as he was on the games he only had to pedal and steer he was okay.  Now he can play all of the games on the cartridge that comes with the system and he is on it about 2 or 3 times a week.  There was a new Super Friends cartridge under the tree for him this year that lets him drive the batmobile and shoot Lex Luthor's evil robots so he has been on his Smart Cycle even more.

 In 2010, Lachlan turned three and he wanted to ride his bike to the playground on one of his first rides of the year.  It is about 3.5 km to the playground he prefers and to my surprise, he rode his run bike the whole way!  He didn't quite have it in him to make it all the way back, but he rode the better part of 6 kms on his own.  It was only big trip he made that year though as he really isn't interested in going that far at this stage.  Lachlan is so much more interested in going down hills and rolling over some small teeter-totters and jumping off some small ramps we made.  In fact, he rides all winter long as we back the car out of the garage and he rides around in there over the jumps and teeter-totters.  Keeping it fun is the key as any riding that kids do at this age is building skills and confidence. 

We did take his bike camping again last summer and it seems he gets more adventurous away from home, trying things he won't try at home.  It seemed to renew his enjoyment for his bike and he wanted to ride his bike anywhere we went.  There aren't too many moments that stick out in my mind (compared to his first year) but the most memorable bike moment of 2010 would have to be at the last Spring Series race at Terwillegar.  There were no racers in sight so the volunteer staff said it was okay for him to ride his bike across the finish line.  With everyone cheering for him and ringing their cow bells, Lachlan's face lit up as he rode across the line.

One of Lachlan's favorite things to do is visit the local bike stores.  Whenever we go to River Valley Cycle the first thing he does is head to the run bikes and terrorize the store at mach speeds.  He weaves through the bike and clothing racks and shows off for the staff.  We commute past RVC every day and he asks if we can go to the bike store every time we drive past.  We went to United Cycle a couple weeks before Christmas to see Santa and since we got there a bit before Santa was ready, we went to check out the bikes they had upstairs.  He went straight to the run bikes and rode them around the store for a bit but then decided that he wanted to try a bike with pedals.  He jumped on a little bike with training wheels and he was off like a shot!  But with his feet on the pedals he didn't know how to stop.  As he came into the spot where he needed to park the bike, he crashed into the wall.  Once I explained to him that he has to pedal backwards to stop (and after trying it a few times at slow speeds,) Lachlan figured he needed to try it while going fast.  He got a bit of speed going and slammed on the brakes - weeee!  I remember burning a few rear tires off doing the exact same thing on my driveway as a youngster so seeing my little guy do it with a grin from ear to ear didn't surprise me in the least.

Looking ahead to next season, I can't help to think that Lachlan should be able to ride a two wheeler before his birthday in June with no training wheels.  My cousin was kind enough to give Lachlan a hand-me-down bike which fits him nicely.  It needs a bit of TLC along with a new rear tire, but in general, it is in decent shape for seeing two boys prior to being handed down to us.  Santa brought Lachlan a set of training wheels for the transition, but I suspect he won't need more than a couple weeks, at the most, before he is down to two wheels.  I'm sure he'll still get on his run bike from time to time as his confidence on that is what started his love for the sport at such a young age.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome article man... Can't wait until my guy is old enough to start enjoying some of the same adventures :-D