'Look! No pedals mum': New way to teach children how to ride a bicycle

Why bicycle training wheels are ineffective

If you're teaching your child how to ride a bicycle, there's a much better way.

"I would quite happily melt down every set of training wheels in the world," says Rob Berry. "Training wheels inhibit children from learning how to ride bicycles."

Mr Berry is in a position to know. He's part of the team at the Balance Bike Clinic, a bicycle training school that fast-tracks the learning process for children to transition from tricycles to two-wheeled bikes by using small bicycles without pedals. 

The City of Sydney, which operates the clinic at Sydney Park in the city's inner west, says it is the only centre of its type in Australia.

Five-year-old Toby on a balance bike. Unlike most bicycles used by younger children, it doesn't have pedals.
Five-year-old Toby on a balance bike. Unlike most bicycles used by younger children, it doesn't have pedals.  Photo: Lester Ranby

About 4000 children between the ages of three and eight enrol every year, and there are no fees for attending.

So what's wrong with training wheels, the age-old method that has been used to teach generations of children to ride?

"If you ever watch a child riding a bike with training wheels you'll see that they're always propped up on one of the training wheels," said Mr Berry. "Basically, they're not learning how to balance the bike themselves."

Dr Julie Hatfield, research fellow at the University of New South Wales, agrees.

"Pedalling is not the hard bit," she said. "The balance is the hard bit and possibly pedalling while balancing."

Instead of training wheels, the clinic uses balance bikes, two-wheeled bicycles that have no pedals so children can keep their feet on the ground.


Dr Hatfield feels the reason balance bikes are more effective is because they build on what the child already knows and provide a bridge to get them to the next level.

"Kids know how to walk, and riding is completely foreign to them," she said. "So if you can put them on a balance bike they are essentially using their legs in a way that's more like walking, and they can then gradually build up the balance before they have to get on a bike."

Susan Gopperth has brought her five-year-old son Toby to the Balance Bike Clinic for the first time. She admits she's somewhat sceptical, having already tried for six months to get him to ride a real bicycle.

Five-year-old Toby becomes a bicycle rider.
Five-year-old Toby becomes a bicycle rider. Photo: Lester Ranby

Toby finds the running motion of the balance bike very easy. Within half an hour he starts lifting his feet off the ground, an action called gliding. Once a child can glide and turn at the same time, the instructors transition them to a pedal bicycle.

At first Toby is unsure of himself on a bicycle, turning the pedals the wrong way and activating the brakes. But with his mother, Susan, running alongside, and lots of encouragement from Mr Berry, little Toby begins riding long arcs while pedalling at the same time. With onlookers clapping, Toby has become a bicycle rider.

"I thought it was incredible, said Susan. "And just the leaps and bounds that he made in that session was nothing short of miraculous, to be honest."

Toby, still beaming, thinks his achievement deserves a reward. "Can I get an ice-cream?" he asks.