Teaching Kids To Ride

Hi folks. We’ve been asked many times for advice and tips on the topic of getting young kids onto a bicycle, and I thought I’d go “long form” once more in an attempt to do the question justice. Gordo was with us a month ago when our daughter finally learned how to ride her pedal bike…


First, some disclaimers:

– Every kid is different. What worked for us may not work for you.

– There are many approaches to this, and if you keep at any one of them, eventually it will probably work.

– We only have one kid, so we are not experts. The internet is full of them, though, and they’re all ready & eager to tell you how to raise your kid, or to start a fight with you about helmets and knee pads and god knows whatall. We think you’re awesome just like you are, and we’d never do that to you. You complete us.

– Having a full compliment of our own genetic material, our kid is naturally exceptional in every regard, and thus the reader should not be disheartened when his or her less spectacular offspring fails to vault into the world of bicycle ridership so effortlessly.    -ahem-

Her awesome 4th birthday bike, a Joppo that's still a little too big for her.

Her awesome 4th birthday bike, a Joppo that’s still a little too big. Her homie Polar Bear is coming along for the ride.

Second, my specific problems with training wheels:

– While they do allow kids to work on one half of the learning pie needed to ride a real bike (how to operate pedals and a brake), they do not let kids figure out what I consider the harder half (balance). Training wheel bikes handle nothing like a real bike, and I cannot for the life of me see how a kid is supposed to figure out how to turn a real bike on something that cannot lean, even though I somehow did it as a kid.

– They’re very easy to tip over if the pavement isn’t level, or if there are cracks, or if the kid turns remotely sharply while underway. You wind up with your hand on their back 99% of the ride, pulling them upright as they start to tip over again.

So for us, training wheels turned out to be more trouble than they were worth. I know I had them as a kid and I don’t recall having problems, but in our experience now as parents, they were a massive hassle. Some people seem to love them, though, so… -shrug-

Next, Our Approach, And Why We Liked It

Here’s the short version: We got her a balance bike very early, and pretty much skipped training wheels. She then hopped on a 12″ wheeled kid bike and was able to ride it on her first try.

We certainly didn’t come up with that approach, but we did give it a shot, and it worked out well for us. And now that she’s able to ride a regular bike, I can see some particular aspects of what we did that, in hindsight, probably helped us a lot. So in no particular order, here they are:

Start Too Early

2.5 years old, Memorial Drive closed on a Sunday

We got her Skuut balance bike waaaaay too early, when she wasn’t even 2 yet. Call it an “aspirational” purchase. But even before she could ride it, she still liked to stand over it. It was hers, and ownership is a strong concept for most toddlers (to put it nicely). She looked forward to the day that she could ride it so much, and it was a powerful motivation to buffer her short fuse against the frustrations of those first attempts that inevitably don’t work. When she wanted to throw the damned bike down and give up, she’d tap into the vast reserves of Bike Lust she had built up and soldier on.

Put A Basket On It

Bike nasket, held on with 2 zip ties, purchased at some big box store for $5.99.


Not only does it make her bike look more like Mommy and Daddy’s, a little basket on the front of her bike also allows her to bring a dolly or stuffed animal along for a ride. Or, she can actually carry back a few small items from the store… most kids LOVE to help. We found this floral plastic thing at some big box store just before Halloween, and realized it would be perfect for her bike with a few zip ties. Redneck skills to the rescue!

Take It On Your Walks

Street Festival on Huron Ave.

Street Festival on Huron Ave.

We often have her ride her balance bike with us on walks. Grocery store, neighborhood playground, whatever. It means we get to walk quicker and farther than we could with her on foot, and she gets lots of practice. She also got to learn how to navigate through crowded sidewalks without running into people.


Talk About Safety

"I wanna hit the button"

“I wanna hit the button”

One of the other perks to having her ride her balance bike when we’re on walks is that with every driveway and street crossing, you get to teach and reinforce the street safety habits that will eventually save her life when she’s riding on her own. Make it fun, make it a game, but either way make it happen! This is a lot easier at the slower pace of a balance bike on a walk, and the repititions over many short trips help her learn.


Find That Perfect Little Downhill

Learning to coast downhill.

Learning to coast downhill.

The real meat of learning that you get with a balance bike is exactly that — balance. It starts with them just walking it along, but soon they get to the stage where they pick up their feet on the downhills — and it’s in the free coasting down hills that they attain enough speed to steer a bike the way you do above 2 or 3 miles an hour… that is, by leaning the bike into turns instead of steering directly with the handle bars. Initially they’re terrified of downhills, but once you find a short and gentle little hill like in this picture, they figure it all out. Her face there says it all – she was just learning to coast, and it’s thrilling. But to get there, she needed a short enough hill at about the right pitch so she could go at it over and over, and let her feet up earlier and earlier, until she wasn’t afraid anymore. Now she goes bombing around the whole circle as fast as she can. There’s even one stretch going to her school that has 30+ seconds of all downhill, and she carves perfect S-curves maneuvering around obstacles and onto the bike path. Pushing themselves on flat ground, they can’t learn this stuff.


Skip The “Take The Pedals Off” Trick

Not fun for her, but fun for us!

Matt goes for the gold at the first ever Leavenworth MiniBike Olympics

Several times, we tried the trick we’d read about elsewhere, where you take a 12″ pedal bike’s pedals off and let them ride it like balance bike. There are two physical problems with this method that you will face, and a psychological one you might face if your kid is anything like mine. Physical problems: pedal bike geometry is different from balance bikes, so the seat is much higher off the ground on the pedal bike. Her feet were barely be able to touch the ground, making propulsion problematic even if her balance was good. Second, her legs still hit the crank arms (which are NOT easy to remove unlike the pedals), and when the cranks get rotated even slightly backwards, they engage the coaster brake. The psychological problem was that our daughter saw me removing the pedals and flipped out. She was SURE she could ride with pedals (she couldn’t), and that I had robbed her of her chance to prove it. When she tried it and failed, I got tears, a sobbing fit, and a complete meltdown that ended any sort of can-do-ism. So my buddy Matt and I downed a few good beers and decided to have Mini Bike Olympics. ……Lemons, lemonade.

Figure Out How To Carry It On Your Bike

Vassar Street cycle track

Vassar Street cycle track

I say this one because if you’re already bikey people, then you’ll really enjoy letting your kid bike in other places besides right around your house. We would often bungee her Skuut onto one of our bikes, put her on the other bike, and go cruising around on weekend days. When we got somewhere safe, we’d let her ride along with us for a little while. She wasn’t always thrilled about stopping and getting back on our bikes, but she managed, and it was worth it. So get creative with the bungee cords and see if you can make this happen.

Find A Running Track For The BIG DAY

Running track at Danehy Park, Cambridge

Running track at Danehy Park, Cambridge

And finally, once you’re ready to get out and try letting them actually pedal a real bike, we recommend trying to find a soft, flat running track somewhere. Usually one of the parks or schools will have one. It’s nice to give them a shove to get them started, then be able to run along with them. And if they fall, it doesn’t hurt much on that surface. Another tip: Run in front of them, not behind or beside them. They’ll be so incredibly proud of themselves that they will want to look at you to make sure you see what they’re accomplishing, perishing the thought that you might somehow be missing it. In doing so, they’ll turn their heads to the side, likely causing a crash (or two, or three). Trot along in front so they look ahead. As with all balancing 2-wheeled vehicles, they tend to go where the pilot is looking, so you want to get the little bugger looking forward any way you can.

That’s it. Hope this helps. No comment fights, or I’ll turn this car around.

A brave new world

A brave new world

Pug-Related Links

Hello All.


We’re just back from a vacation, and we’re working on fresh content (another 9 Questions interview!), but in the meantime, here are two pug-and/or-bike links I have to pass along…

First, I give you a stunning sidecar bike build detailed on Velo Cult: http://velocult.com/2013/07/rando-pug/.


(Note the spelling… PUGeot). If his hair were a little shorter and his pug weighed almost twice as much (19 lbs vs. 31 lbs… good god Gordo is fat), we could almost be twins. I cannot say enough how impressed I am with the amount of work this guy did just to bike his pug around. I may have been out-done in the Equipment department, but until he and Rando do something like D2R2 together, I’m holding onto my Pug-on-a-bike crown.


And second, I present to you a long-form web comic that is so spectacular and strange that I don’t think I can describe it properly… BATTLE PUG.



As soon as I found it, I got sucked into reading the whole thing up to date, and now I am anxiously awaiting new episodes. Seriously, block off some time and go through these. The humor is very, very good and the guy is an incredible artist. A gigantic seal destroys a village, the Jeffersons get a cameo… just incredible reading.


That’s it. See you all soon. Gordo says Hi.

Pugvelo does D2R2

New format this week… The whole family rode D2R2 (a bike ride, not a dyslexic robot) again this year – including Gordo of course – and as usual it was wonderful and we had so much fun and we wanna do it again tomorrow and we’re gonna gush about it now.


The food tent at night

D2R2 stands for Deerfield Dirt Road Randonee, and it is an annual benefit ride for the Franklin Land Trust. If I heard correctly from a visiting German who was swimming in the river with us, this is the 9th year they’ve held the event.


Sand castles in the camping field


Be Like Jon: Use D2R2 as an excuse to go to The Peoples’ Pint at least twice

Essentially you go camp in a big empty field, get up Saturday, and ride one of 4 routes. You can choose a gentle 44 mile loop which runs mostly along the Green River, a 100 kilometer loop, a 115k, or a 180k. The longer loops tend to be much more hilly and race-like, where as the 44 mile route is a lot more mellow and gentle. The event organizers provide breakfast, lunch, and dinner Saturday. Proceeds go to farming out there, and to keep the land beautiful. It’s a lot of fun, and for a great cause.

Camping by candle light

Camping by candle light

Again this year our car-having, bike-riding, craft-beer-loving, lifestyle-encouraging friends Jon and Jess drove us out. This is our second year in a row coming out with both The Girl and Gordo on our bikes for the Green River route. Last year, Gordo and Nico were the only dogs we saw on the ride, and this year it was just Gordo. We also didn’t see any other children attached to their parents’ bikes, though there were some older kids riding their own bikes (and haulin’ butt in a few cases… some of those girls were QUICK.)



The view looking up: lots of busy airplanes

The view looking up: lots of busy airplanes

Starting line

Starting line

The first few miles include a corn field

The first few miles include a corn field

Gordo enjoys this stuff, and as always I love to bring him out with us. I sometimes wish he’d sit the hell down and be still, because when he gets excited about something, he dances around a little. 30 pounds of pug shifting around on the front rack is a lot to deal with. Imagine a full case of beer on your handlebars that grunts, snorts, sneezes, and shifts around left and right everytime you go fast down a hill.

At a rest stop by the river

At a rest stop by the river


We stopped anytime we felt like it, and cut a slow pace all day. She Handler was a little under the weather and had much less moxie than usual, but still soldiered on with The Girl on the back of our old 80′s Maruishi. Cough drops and liberal doses of m&m’s helped.




Lunch has been cleverly located at a small park by a gorgeous covered bridge, and all but the longest of the routes has been designed to overlap at this spot at the same time. So it gets crowded, but you get to see your friends who are on a different route and compare notes.

Lunch by a covered bridge

Lunch by a covered bridge

Weary cyclists at lunch

Weary cyclists at lunch








The experience of doing the ride with a 3 year old and a pug is wonderful. The other riders almost unanimously gave us thumbs up, asked to take Gordo’s picture, and generally encouraged us. The day was one long stream of “oh hey a PUG!” and “now THAT’s what I’m talkin’ about” as people whizzed past on dirt roads. It’s one of the most uplifting, positive weekends we have every year, and I am growing to cherish it.


Pug ear lift


A well-deserved stretch break








When he sneezes at full speed, you can actually see the spray in the sunlight just before you feel it blow back against your forearms. I wish to god I didn’t know that.



Eventually, we were done. If you ride as slowly as we did and take breaks, then the 44 mile loop takes something like 7 hours. And at that pace, your heart rate never really gets up, so really it’s saddle fatigue or ergonomic issues you have to worry about, not muscles or nutrition / hydration. If you’ve got a bike that you’re “all day” comfortable on, then there’s really no reason you couldn’t do this ride.

Finish Line

Finish Line


If you’re thinking that this looks like fun, but you’ve got doubts about whether you could do 44 miles, stop thinking about the mileage. Speaking from experience, mileage always sounds worse than it really feels. What matters most is your pace, and the hills. And in this case, there are only gentle hills to climb once in awhile, and you can set your own pace all day — there’s plenty of time.



Gordo made a lot of friends

Gordo made a lot of friends

Every year new people decide to try the ride out and fall in love with it. Gordo would love to meet you here next year.


So if you see him, come say hi. He digs it.