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That moment you let go of the saddle and your kid pedals away

Everyone’s proud of their kids. There are times though when you’re pretty much ready to burst with the stuff, and one of those times is watching them ride away from you for the first time.

Balancing

It started with a balance bike, and I was told “I want it to look like daddy’s”, which was a red rag to a bull for me… off into the shed with the rattle-cans and some eBay-sourced decals and a mini-Cervélo S2 balance bike rolled out a couple of days later.  It got used and abused (and continues to be) until he started asking for pedals. We got a bike with pedals, (a 12” wheel Halfords Trax affair sourced second hand) we took the pedals off because he didn’t like them!

N+1

A bit of research into children’s bikes suggested that the bog-standard 12” bikes weren’t that encouraging for children to learn how to ride. It turns out geometry is just as important for stability and comfort for a kid as it is for an adult. My non-cycling wife even expressed distaste at the 12” Trax and suggested that the rampaging boy would need something sturdier. She also lifted it one day, nearly gave herself a hernia and expressed further distaste at the weight of it, though she was comparing it to my feathery carbon road bike.

Another red rag to a bull…

More research follows, mini-BMX’s are looked at (expensive ones, recommended by a BMX-loving mate), but the research all points one way. Christmas day arrives and there’s a shiny new Islabike Cnoc 14 tucked behind the curtain in age-old “LOOK WHAT SANTA LEFT!” style. Again, he doesn’t like the pedals so off they come!

One pedal

He’s still balancing well on the rattle-can-Cervélo, but not that interested in the sick-green Cnoc at this point. A couple of trips to a local school playground during wintry weekend on the Cnoc still don’t give him much inspiration so it sits in the shed for a while. A conversation with my clubmate, Andrew, who runs www.stirlingcycletraining.com gives me some more information: remove one pedal and get him used to that, then stick the other one on. One pedal gets removed. We do some single-pedal riding.

Two pedals

He starts scooting around the garden, he’s 4 now and a bit bigger, he’s getting the measure of the Cnoc. I ask if he wants the second pedal on and 4 year old reasoning tells me that he’s not interested in having another pedal just yet, but he will soon. This goes on for a couple of months. Then on Saturday, his best mate who’s 9 months older comes over and he can ride his bike… he decides it’s time for the fabled pedal number two. We install and off we go to the local playground after a trip to the dump.

Off we go!

This is how you see it happening in your head: you put the child on the bike, set him off and he just goes. No running along behind holding the seat. And that’s what happened! He went from not being able to ride a bike, to being able to ride a bike. I’m still astounded three days later. As the first line of this blog suggests, the pride that one feels at this sort of moment - especially poignant for a cycling dad watching his kid ride for the first time - is absolutely stratospheric. Cue lots of running alongside, taking pics, encouraging, taking video, laughing, loving every moment. And then the first crash… but don’t worry, he’s back on straight away and pedalling again!

Check out a vid of him riding here

Now there’s no stopping him, he’s done his first drop-off from a kerb and starting to challenge himself. It’s encouraged his extremely cautious and risk-averse older sister to want to learn how to ride her bike, we were back at the playground last night, and she’s doing great – small improvements, but she was never interested in her balance bike and has yet to master freewheeling, but it’ll happen.

As for the boy… I’m going to cherish this moment, because in a few years, he’s hopefully going to ride away from me again. And I’ll be super proud the first time I get dropped by either of my kids.

17 comments

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notfastenough [3732 posts] 3 years ago
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Proud indeed. I suspect I'll have something in my eye when the time comes. For now, they're both discovering the toddle in toddler.

Oh, and that balance bike looks ace!

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wstephenson [15 posts] 3 years ago
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Which mini-BMX did you (or your friend) look at? A friend got a Spawn Cycles Furi 14" for her son, and he's found it a lot harder to learn on than our Cnoc 14, and he now requires a longer seatpost for it. I think the 72 degree steeper head angle on it is a big factor. It would probably be ok to learn on if Mum or Dad are still committed BMXers and will get the kid riding OOTS but as a general purpose child's bike I also find it hard to recommend.

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SamShaw [268 posts] 3 years ago
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wstephenson wrote:

Which mini-BMX did you (or your friend) look at?

I looked at 12" ones, most can be seen here http://www.winstanleysbmx.com/category/8534/12_Inch_BMX_Bikes

Decided that it would be better to have more adjustability, which I thought the Cnoc 14 offered over the BMX's I looked at. I'm not a committed BMXer (not having ridden one in a few years or more) so it wasn't something I was wedded to.

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barbarus [536 posts] 3 years ago
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Lovely post. Your cervelo balance bike is fab! It's a great moment when they head off on their own.

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gmac101 [218 posts] 3 years ago
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My eldest struggled to learn, her early bikes were too heavy (she's built like a sparrow) and we made the mistake of using stabilisers, we finally got an islabike and she still struggled so I took the pedals off and she practised "gliding" around on it for a few evenings, watching her I spotted that moment when she began to balance and I said that at the weekend we would try pedals again. She balanced the bike to the park and I put the pedals on, she turned to me and said "I wish it was like the movies, you know, you give me a push and I cycle off" So I said "Like this" gave her a gentle push and away she went, I had to run to catch up and I think I got something in my eye.

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Flying Scot [1005 posts] 3 years ago
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I had one learn with stabilisers, the other on a bike with the pedals removed, in both case, as soon as they could go on their own we went up a size, the little bikes are just too ungainly.

Scooters are good for balance too.

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SteppenHerring [378 posts] 3 years ago
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It's a slippery slope. I remember the boy riding away for the first time. And now a few years later, he's kicking my arse on alpine climbs. On his Tarmac.

The Isla Bikes are great for the kids though. Thoughtfully put together, no excess weight on stuff they don't need.

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Podc [113 posts] 3 years ago
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My eldest wanted to learn how to ride a bike when he was about 4. He gave it about 15 minutes, got in to a massive strop and left the bike on the floor. I pushed it back home and it remained where I left it for a couple of years. He then decided he was going to try again but didn't want any help or anyone watching. 30 minutes later he had it sussed, but I missed 'the moment'  2

He has now developed a taste for mountain biking. But only the downhill bits!

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EK Spinner [129 posts] 3 years ago
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Mine both did it with stabilisers, by chance they were cheaper which bent out of shape as they got more confident in corners, the higher they got then the less they used them. More rigid stabalisers tend to keep the bike too upright.

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Martin Thomas [384 posts] 3 years ago
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Loving the Cervelo balance bike - good dadding! My two both learnt the balance bit by being shoved down a (not very steep) grassy hill without pedals. Then they graduated to pedaling down the same hill fairly easily, at which point there was no looking back - or signalling, or anything else remotely sensible. Now my son's 14 and he's (whisper it...) completely uninterested in cycling! Where did I go wrong?! Luckily my 12 year-old daughter is just beginning to discover the delights of mountain biking. Well, it's a start.

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DaveE128 [1007 posts] 3 years ago
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How does riding with one pedal work? My 3 year old will soon be tall enough to move from balance bike to pedals, so I'm keen to understand this idea.

Thanks.

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SamShaw [268 posts] 3 years ago
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DaveE128 wrote:

How does riding with one pedal work? My 3 year old will soon be tall enough to move from balance bike to pedals, so I'm keen to understand this idea.

Thanks.

Just take one pedal off the bike and let them scoot around on it. They use one foot on the pedal and the other foot to push themselves along. It gets them used to 'setting the pedal' for pushing off (teach them to get it to the 3 o'clock position before setting off). The other thing I think it helps with is learning to be off-balance - they go from using both feet, to using one foot to push off and then getting the bike to balance, just as you do when setting off with two pedals. After a while (when confident enough) put the 2nd pedal on and hopefully they take to it like... riding a bike!

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alansmurphy [1919 posts] 3 years ago
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My eldest delight has autism and a heightened fear of failure, getting him riding was one hell of a challenge. At the age of 9 we had the difficulty of grass (harder going but softer landing) versus tarmac (vice versa) and he was struggling with fully committing to a turn of the pedals.

His little brother aged 6 wanted to show him how it was done on a bike considerable too large for him (pretty standard bmx). He made me lift him onto the seat, lean him towards the handlebars, push the bike and let go. His balance was incredible, off he flew; 10m, 15m, 20m - basically as far as momentum would carry him. Crash, down he went, full roll, wearing the bike. He crawled out from underneath, big grin on his face, turned to his brother and I, took a bow ad simply said "See"...

With brothers like that...

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arfa [859 posts] 3 years ago
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Alan, my youngest is autistic and initially his sensory issues prevented him from balancing without stabilisers until around the age of 8 when he just wanted them off. We had quite a few crashes initially like the ones you describe and then it just clicked that he had to focus to ride the bike and he never looked back. I'd go as far to say that it really helps on the sensory front and his concentration has improved massively. 2 years later we mountain bike pretty much every weekend and he maintains his enthusiasm whatever the weather. I hope your boy sticks with it as it gives me great pleasure to see him thrive and share a hobby just as any other parent would with their child. I have the opposite of your situation as my boy likes to tear off at great speed down trails to terrify his older sister who struggles to keep up !

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DaveE128 [1007 posts] 3 years ago
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SamShaw wrote:

Just take one pedal off the bike and let them scoot around on it. They use one foot on the pedal and the other foot to push themselves along. It gets them used to 'setting the pedal' for pushing off (teach them to get it to the 3 o'clock position before setting off). The other thing I think it helps with is learning to be off-balance - they go from using both feet, to using one foot to push off and then getting the bike to balance, just as you do when setting off with two pedals. After a while (when confident enough) put the 2nd pedal on and hopefully they take to it like... riding a bike!

Thanks, I get what you mean now! I'll try this!

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OldRidgeback [3022 posts] 3 years ago
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Congratulations - it is quite a feeling when your child rides a bike properly for the first time.

Reading the piece plus the comments did raise a few points however. First off, if you're holding the saddle while the child is on the bike, you are holding them back from learning how to balance. Don't do it, as it doesn't help, quite the reverse in fact. Instead, hold them under the armpit or better still, have the child wear a backpack so you can hold onto it at the top. This allows the bike to move under the child so the rider can experience how the bike will lean, while you are also preventing the child from falling.

My kids learned at four and three. They both had about a year with the balance bike before making the switch to a bike with pedals and then took just a few hundred metres. I've taught several of their friends to ride too (with parental approval of course). The tip about using one pedal is a good one.

As for stabilisers, leave them in the shop.

Regarding autistic kids, we have several children on the spectrum riding at our BMX club and I know of several at other clubs too. It can take kids on the spectrum a little longer to learn to ride initially, but once they're on a bike they can lean fast and some I know of have become highly ranked UK riders. BMX (and cycling in general) can be a really good way to give them useful social skills as the person's own riding is the prime focus, while they are also part of a wider club. Cycling becomes almost a social icebreaker for a lot of kids on the spectrum.

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Ziptie [22 posts] 3 years ago
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Proud moments indeed. Mine was watching my boy tear around the pump track at Hadleigh Farm (2012 Olympic MTB venue) laughing so hard all the club riders turned and watched.