The Stabiliser Debate
The arrival of spring sees the annual ritual of blowing the cobwebs off that fantastic machine with two wheels that has been trapped at the back of the shed.
It is also the season for parents to teach their children that all important life-skill, How to ride a bike! This is when you can walk slap bang into the middle of a minefield!
First decision - Balance bike or pedal bike?
From personal experienceI went down the pedal bike route. I did consider a balance bike, and have in fact sold plenty over the years. I chose a pedal bike purely because I'm tight! I didn't want to spend the best part if £100 on a balance bike and then have to buy a pedal bike anyway. it is worth pointing out though, that I have never heard a bad word said about a balance bike from any of my customers.
Once settled on buying a pedal bike I then had the ultimate decision (and main point of this article) - stabilisers or no stabilisers?!
Given that both of my daughters were three at the time of teaching them, most of the bikes for that age range come with stabilisers.
Indeed the Dawes bike that I eventually settled on came with them. So why did I decide to take them off pretty much from the beginning? This decision was based on experience and I will list the pro's and cons of stabilisers below.
Stabilisers immediately offer a comfort blanket for the child, especially if they are young.
They can save the parent from having a bad back.
The child has more independence and can ride at their own speed - not at whatever speed mum or dad can waddle along, holding the back of the bike.
Stabilisers can encourage the child to get lazy and over reliant on them.
Despite stopping the child from falling over, stabilisers don't necessarily encourage balance. I've lost count of the number of times I've seen youngsters flying around on bikes with stabilisers with a definitive lean to the side.
Stabilisers have size and weight restrictions. Ideally stabilisers shouldn't be fit to a bike with a wheel larger than a 20".
With all of this in mind, I took the stabilisers off and congratulated myself on being the progressive father type. Little did I realise the short term hell I was about to unleash on myself. I had prepared myself for a few wobbles, maybe even the odd tantrum, maybe even the odd tantrum, but no way was I ready for the absolute maelstrom that ensued. Lesson 1 - EPIC FAIL!!
Lesson 2 however was a different story altogether. Not being the type to give up easily, I was fully determined to crack on with my plan, broken back or not. However, a chance remark to a customer buying a bike for her teenage son completely changed my tactics. Her method, involved a pair of reins which she then used to steady her child if he looked unsteady. Goodbye back ache and hello to independent cycling.
One minor problem (we never used reins with either child) was soon overcome by finding a bodywarmer with a hood. Sunday morning, bike in boot and off to Cannon Hill Park we go. A quick deposit of partner and youngest child in the café and we are set. We make a point of getting her pedals set in the ready position, a 3-2-1 countdown and off she goes. I don't quite know what I was expecting but it certainly wasn't to be 10ish metres further down the path with my child pedalling away and me struggling to keep up. Lesson 2 - WIN!!!!
What then followed over the next few weeks was a very rapid reduction in me needing to use the hood to correct her balance and a gradual increase in distance covered. I also noticed my child had the ability to make up and sing a variety of different songs as we rode along. That, and the need to collect every leaf we come across. It didn't take long for her confidence to grow and I could ride along with her.
When it came to younger sister learning to ride it was a case of lessons learned, hooded bodywarmer at the ready and the bribe of a Peter Rabbit magazine and back to Cannon Hill we went. Thirty minutes and two minor strops later and she had it. Now we just have one challenge remaining, getting their mum to ride too.