Teach bike riding without training wheels.

Jan 8, 2010 at 20:40
by Radek Burkat  

Doug Engelbart is an American inventor and early computer pioneer, most notably known for inventing the computer mouse, hypertext, computer networking, and many others. He also was an avid bike rider and combining with his analytical nature here is his way to teach a kid how to ride a bike, without ever using training wheels.

Details inside,

When Doug Engelbart was a kid, he and his brother used to practice trick bike riding. They got so they could bend over and scoop something off the ground while riding (without losing speed and without squatting down), ride their bikes backwards seated on their handlebars, and other fancy feats.


When it came time for his own kids to learn how to ride a bike, at a time when most kids would go from riding a tricycle, to riding a bicycle with training wheels, and finally riding a bicycle without training wheels, Doug figured he could just skip the with training wheels part. After all, their only function was to keep the bike from falling over!

Doug knew from practiced experience and an inquisitive analytical mind that as you pedal along, all it takes to keep the bike from falling over is steering. In fact, the reason you don’t fall over is you are constantly making tiny corrections, and sometimes last-minute bigger corrections, with your handlebars (or, if you’re a big shot riding with no hands, by shifting your weight). What you’re actually doing without thinking is sensing the bike starting to tilt, and reacting by steering the bike in that same direction just enough to un-tilt your bike and straighten out more or less, over and over again. This becomes very evident as you slow down to a stop, if you keep your feet on the pedals you will automatically try to use steering to keep the bike from falling over. Somehow everyone who ever learned to ride a bike learned this.

It turns out, you don’t have to steer if you just get a gentle, even back and forth see-sawing motion going with the handlebars as you roll along, the back and forth motion usually corrects the tilting soon enough and you won’t fall. In fact, someone with little or no bike riding experience at all can just see-saw their handlebars as they pedal and mostly not fall.

So this is how Doug taught kids to ride. First he would show them how he could see-saw his handlebars back and forth while he pedaled slowly on his bike. Then he would ask them to try the same thing as he walked alongside, holding onto the bike loosely just to help it maintain a reasonable speed, and to keep it/them from falling when they over- or under-corrected. As long as they kept moving forward and see-sawing the handlebars, they would naturally start to get a feel for this direct relationship between tilting, steering and untilting, and gradually start refining the motions, and pretty soon off they’d go.

He found it helped to have the kids play around with how gentle or exaggerated the see-sawing motions needed to be to stay upright. It also helped to practice in a wide open space to avoid having to make any turns or run into stuff — a quiet street, empty parking lot, or even a mowed field will do. Practicing how to stop is important too.

So that’s the trick to learning to ride without training wheels. As a matter of fact, training wheels can actually impede the learning process by interfering with the tilting-steering-untilting cause and effect experience, either by keeping the bike from tilting, or with looser training wheels, by training the kids to keep the bike from falling by leaning into one training wheel or the other rather than steering.

Doug’s inquisitive nature, adventurous attitude, compassion, and patience were a key part of his success with this method. He never coined a term for it, but in later years one of his daughters referred to it as his "wibble-wobble method" — one of his lesser known but highly endearing innovations.

www.dougengelbart.org
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48 Comments

  • + 3
 That's an interesting take on things - both of my kids also learned to ride without training wheels, but not using this wobble technique. The trick is to start them off on a coaster bike (Like-a-Bike or Puky learner bike) without pedals so they learn to balance first without complicating issues with pedaling. Once the balance is mastered the pedaling just comes naturally.
  • + 4
 i cryed and had a hissy fit for my grandad to take my training wheels off, i wouldnt ride my bike with them on ! lol
  • + 3
 When i was a kid my dad was switching the training wheels off my bike to a bigger one. and while he was doing that i took off on the bike he took them off of. It was all going great untill i got some terrible road rash
  • + 2
 I agree with yerbikesux. My little girl learned on an islabike balance bike and went straight to a proper bike with no problems. She was about 3 and a half when she did that and now loves it....
  • + 1
 I also learned without training wheels, just started going down a slight slope to get my baance right, and with time started pedalling down the slope, to get used to pedaling. works.
  • + 1
 i just jumped on my bike and started having a go at in on grass, and it just seemed to all go right Smile
  • + 1
 I learned without training wheels, I just got my dad to push me while I steered. I figured out how to balance without having to worry about falling down, and after a while I could coast, and then eventually ride, on my own. Now my first V brakes, that was a different story. I panicked and made it most of the way through our garden before I remembered.
  • + 1
 Been trying to get comfortable riding backwards and really having a hard time with it. I wonder if this technique could help... Gotta find a place with no snow and try it out!
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  • + 1
 This is how i learnt to ride as a kid, i distinctively remember being in the carpark and seeing an older kid ride by, always corrrecting. so i tried to copy, firstly i went mad going left right left right the whole way. then i gradually brought it down and look at me now. its a natural act to ride.
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  • + 1
 I wish stuff like this was known better 10 years ago. I managed to fall of my bike with stabilers and becuase the bike didnt fall over it carried rolling and being 5 didnt let go. I still have scars on my shoulder from being dragged along. I never wanted to ride again until i was 10 and was given a bike. After a day i had learned.. But then i snapped my front teeth. And being ten those were adult teeth. Theres a moral there somewhere but i cant figure it out Razz
  • + 1
 The moral is "Chicks dig scars"!
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  • + 1
 I learnt on a normal bike and no training wheels using this method: I would walk the bike to the top of a long ramp. I would straddle the bike and then roll down the ramp with my feet off the pedals. It would pick up speed quickly, enough for the gyroscopic effect of the wheels to makes it stable (not that I knew that at the time). After doing this a bit I could roll further and further at slower and slower speeds, then I started putting my feet on the pedals.

I guess I sorta learnt backwards: started fast and learnt to go slow. After thirty three years on a bike, I can go REAL slow now!
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  • + 1
 One of my friends never learnt as a kid and started learning a few months ago. Was pretty fun trying to help him out. He set up a blog so his family and friends back home could see how he was getting along. learnwithlaurence.blogspot.com if anyone wants to check it out.
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  • + 1
 Ive just tought my 8 and 6 year old how to ride.The 8 yo didnt want to use training wheels so i just walked behind her holding under the seat making her do all the pedaling,then i made her steer left and right while pedaling.She had never been on a bike before but within 1 hour she was riding on her own doing laps in the car park.Then you teach them how to set off on their own Smile

As soon as she could do that i took the wheel off my 6yo and tought him the same thing,again within 1 hour he was doing laps Smile
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  • + 1
 I just got my 16-month old a Strider bike. You straddle it, hold the handlebar and walk along until you are confident enough to sit or stand on the foot rests and coast. It definitely seems like the easiest way to learn bike skills.

Does anyone have any thoughts/recommendations for teaching toddlers how to ride? Any thoughts would be appreiciated.
  • + 2
 Yes my daughter and son both learned to ride with this method.
I took a old bike from my brother in-law stripped the crankes off and my kids did just that.
holding the handlebar while walking along.
In no time at all they were sitting and throwing their legs off the bike while just coasting along.
It all has to do with this method thats explained in the story.
Kids need to learn the balance of the bike more than just peddaling.
my daughter was off and riding at 3and a half she is 6 now and rides very well!
my son was peddaling with no training wheels at 2years 8 months.
here is a link of my son this last december his is 3 years old now! but shows him using this very method!
www.youtube.com/watch?v=yr9lnca4O1s
www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXzXbnm2uQI
  • + 2
 Thanks. It all seems straightforward. My child doesn't freewalk for more than a step or two now; as soon as he does, I'm going to put him on the strider bike and just let him walk with it.

Thanks for the videos, too. The kid is destined to shred!
  • + 2
 Thank you! The cool thing about kids is they will learn whatever you teach them. Im pretty sure if I would have pushed it more they would have been up much sooner as well! Both of my kids did ride training wheels as well but like in the story its just hinders them from remembering correct balance. cool!
  • + 1
 NIKO loving the barspins etc. in the second video.
  • + 1
 hahahhah! Thank you! Dads got to have fun too ya know!
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  • + 1
 Great article. This spring I will attempt to teach my 3rd and final child to ride a 2 wheeler. Each one gets easier. I will definitely give this a try. I skipped the training wheels on my second because I felt like it hindered my first.
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  • + 1
 have to agree with you guys. I call it my "flinstone" method. no cranks or just simply where the grom or anyone for that matter can be flat footed while seated to "run" on the bike. similar to that seesaw method which your feet need the ground to "seesaw" against anyway. once they find their balance points for straight lines and turning they can "run" on the pedals. no need for special bikes just get the right size or one size up to grow into maybe.
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  • + 1
 Genious is often so simple and so obvious. I'll definately implement this in the spring, when I intend to finally learn how to ride a bike myself. JK, but I will teach this to my kids.
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  • + 1
 Ye my dad brought me out to the garden the told me to keep pedaling and dont let go of the handlebars, he gave me a push and ive been hooked on bikes ever since
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  • + 1
 This is my second son on his run bike. He is almost 2 in this video and had the bike for about 2 months. Now he is really good.

www.pinkbike.com/video/118226
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  • + 1
 i say just give ur kids motor bikes so they can master the balancing and speed, and them give them a bike with no training wheels to master the pedaling, Big Grin
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  • - 1
 too heavy, one carbon fibre frame its the best to learn how too ride a bike, take out the chain protector, the fenders, the tapes in the bar and the basket! without this you will lear how to ride without training wheels xD Razz
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  • - 1
 Thats an interesting technique, I do agree with yerbikesux though that run-bikes would be better. It would teach kids how to balance as they run, so there is less chance of them tipping over because they already have their feet on the ground, and eventually they just learn to coast, once they learn the balance on there its straight forward for them....Thats atleast the kids i have seen on run bikes. Definitely an interesting method forsure, great for those who cant afford the added cost of a run bike.
  • + 1
 yeah I think that's why specialized and other brands created run-bikes... based on this confirmed theorics... Am I wrong?
  • + 0
 You're close ish, They were really popular when small boutique brands made them, so spec and other large brands latched on... They didn't invent it or anything like that, they just took the boutiques idea and started mass producing them since the boutiques were selling them in high demand.
  • + 1
 yeah i know that this "format" was created a long time ago before big brands selling it but i said "created run-bikes" like "produced run-bikes" and not "invented run-bikes" but thanks anyway...
(I remember that in bicycle history the first one was like a run-bike or a push-bike...)
  • + 4
 There doesn't have to be an added cost of a run bike. Buy a bike and take the cranks off until they're ready.
  • + 0
 Not always possible. Regular bikes are heavy, and I've seen intergrated cranks in kids bikes.....
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  • + 1
 I dont understand exactly what is meant by the "see-sawing" of the bars. Does it mean rocking weight forward and backward on the bars? or turning them or what?
  • + 1
 I believe it's sitting down on the seat and moving the bars, back and forth quickly, maybe 20 degrees or so.
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  • + 1
 my lil bro would suit up n my full face and googles and hit my 3 ft jump rite after traing wheels got taken off at about age 3
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  • + 0
 my dad said the day i ride up my road without training wheels he would buy me a motorbike, didnt take me long to get the training wheels off after that Razz
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  • + 1
 Any kids bike can be a run bike. All you have to do is remove the cranks and chain.
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  • + 1
 i taught myself to ride a two wheeler when i was two. no training wheels. scared the shit out of my parents.
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  • + 1
 Just start with a coasted bike (running Bike) My son is droping curbs on his already..
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  • - 1
 Frown
yes sure, so when they fall off every 5 seconds, and get horrible road rash , they'll surely want to go biking again.
*face palm*
  • + 1
 progression ALWAYS comes with a little price(or sometimes a lot)of pain for all levels PERIOD
  • + 1
 maybe,but if all the kid does is feel pain, compared to using training wheels first, then i will quess that he or she will only remember falling , compared to having fun PERIOD Razz
  • + 1
 You don't let the child ride without assisting them first until they have the confidence to go by themselves. That is why he said "he would ask them to try the same thing as he walked alongside, holding onto the bike loosely just to help it maintain a reasonable speed, and to keep it/them from falling when they over- or under-corrected. "

I did this with my son when he was 1.5 years old on his push/run bike and gradually he did it on his own. Of course he fell a few times once he was moving faster but that was after I stopped holding onto the seat with him. If the child is into riding, they will get up and go again. Guaranteed.
  • + 1
 i guess what i mean is the parent at some point has to let go for that first solo ride otherwise we can't learn to walk/ride. slish is right it is guaranteed they go for it again it's the core of being a healthy fun loving kid.
  • + 1
 Falling off and making mistakes is part of learning anything, my kid fell after a tank slapper on his balance bike when he was 2 and a half and got back up only to do the same thing again! He hasn't fallen since and rides his bike as much as he can, it's just too much fun.
How many of you have fallen off your bike and given up riding? Didn't think so.
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