Learning to ride a bike is, for many parents and families, one of the great childhood milestones. Not only is it a fantastic form of exercise and a cheap and environmentally friendly way to get around, but it also offers many chances for parents and their children to bond, from the learning process all the way to those future family bike rides. In fact, we’ve got a list of tips to encourage your kids to ride bikes right here.
But, of course, there’s one big challenge when it comes to teaching your child to ride a bicycle: at what age do you take training wheels off a bike?
How do training wheels work?
Before we get into all that, let’s take a second to break down what training wheels are and what they do.
Training wheels give children the space to learn some of the most basic elements of riding a bike. Attached to either side of the bike’s back wheel, they sit slightly off the ground, and as the child inevitably wobbles, the bike can lean into either wheel for support. The theory is that this leads to a feeling of imbalance that the child tries to rectify by learning to steady the bike on its regular two wheels. It also provides a safe environment for children to master steering, pedalling, and using the breaks.
There are, however, some limitations to using training wheels. While the idea of encouraging children to balance seems sound, it often makes the learning process take longer, as a child may instead lean into the wheels, as they feel the most secure there. It also almost entirely removes the possibility of falling off the bike – that might not sound like a bad thing, but as an emotional lesson, learning to get back up after a fall is important.
Training wheels also need to be used on flat, even surfaces, such as pavements and pathways, to be fully effective, and it’s very important that they are safely and securely attached to a suitable bike. Plus, they’re better suited to children around the age of 3 or 4, which means you’ll have to wait a while before you can even begin to teach.
There are alternatives to training wheels – and we’ll get to them later – but they remain a common, almost iconic, part of learning to ride a bike.
At what age do you take training wheels off a bike?
So now we know what they do and when they should go on, but when do training wheels come off?
The typical age range is between 4 and 9 – a rather broad answer, but the general idea is to do it as young as possible, so they have plenty of time to learn without them.
Of course, this all depends on both the child AND their teacher. Children generally do pick things up quickly, and with the right guidance, a lot of children can certainly master things at the lower end of that spectrum.
Some might take a little longer, and that’s fine too – the important thing is that your child is learning safe cycling habits, however long it takes. Remember that pushing them too hard in one direction might take the joy out of the process for them, and that would be a shame, especially if you’re envisioning the whole family zooming around outside on their bikes!
Assess how your child is doing, how coordinated they seem, and how much fun they’re having – what works best for them?
What happens when the training wheels come off?
Whether you feel like your child has learned as much as they can from the training wheels, or if you feel like they’re the wrong tool for them, the process is very much the same.
Once the training wheels are removed, you should lower the bike’s seat so your child’s feet can rest comfortably on the ground. This helps build confidence, as they feel in control of the bike, and also lets them regain balance quickly by putting their foot down.
The idea is to encourage your child to push off, lift their feet, coast for a little while on two wheels, and then be able to stop themselves by placing their feet back on the ground. Over time, they’ll learn naturally how to balance and will keep their feet off the ground for longer.
During this part of the process, you should discourage using the pedals. This might seem counterintuitive – after all, how else do you move a bike? – but the focus here is on balance, not powering the bicycle. Removing the pedals gives the child the option to start and stop the bike without them getting in the way, both mentally and physically – we can all agree a nasty knock on the ankle from a rogue pedal isn’t fun!
It’s important to find the right surface for those first attempts. Soft grass is great for cushioning falls, small slopes can build up a gentle amount of speed, and a slight uphill at the end of the slope can slow things back down safely.
And, of course, safety is absolutely paramount – helmets are a given, but we’ve got a few other bike safety tips for kids you might want to think about.
You can guide your child physically, either by holding the back of the bike’s seat or gently supporting them under the shoulders, but don’t be surprised when they start asking you to let go. It’s a milestone moment!
When you feel they’ve reached a solid point in this process, the pedals can come into play. Encourage your child to push off, get a little momentum going, and then try pedalling while the bike is in motion. By joining in with the natural movement of the pedals, rather than trying to kickstart it on their own, they won’t get overwhelmed and forget to balance themselves.
The key things are to practice and to make sure that if your child falls, they’re still excited to get back up and try again!
Alternatives to training wheels
Training wheels were definitely the norm for a lot of us growing up, but balance bikes have become a popular alternative in recent years.
Balance bikes employ a lot of the ideas used when training wheels have already come off a bike – they are low to the ground with no pedals and encourage the push off and cruise style of learning to balance. They can be used from a younger age than training wheels too, meaning children can potentially master two wheels even quicker.
Ultimately, there’s no cut-and-dried answer to the question of when to take training wheels off a bike – or even whether it’s better to skip them entirely. It all depends on what works best for your child and their learning journey. Find the right bike (we’ve got a great guide to finding the perfect kids’ bike right here), keep track of their progress, figure out what works for them, and the answer will reveal itself in time.
At the end of the day, if you’re hoping to instil a love of cycling in your kids, keeping them safe, engaged, and having fun is ultimately more important than when those training wheels finally come off!
- Liz Hall, 2021, “The Quickest Way to Teach Your Kid to Ride a Bike Without Training Wheels”, Kids Activities
- Natalie Martins, 2021, “Training Wheels: 10 Frequently Asked Questions”, Two Wheeling Tots
- 2018, “Help Your Child to Ride Without Training Wheels”, Petit Early Learning Journey
- 2017, “Training Wheels: 7 Things You Need To Know”, Rascal Rides
- 2013, “Take off the training wheels”, Paediatric and Adolescent Associates, P.D.C.
- “Learning To Ride A Bike With Training Wheels”, Schwinn Bikes