For Christmas, Andrew was given a balance bike. He wasn’t quite 2 years old, but this ‘lite’ version of the Early Rider is designed for children aged 20 months plus. He had a go on it with grandparents helping him when we were staying with them for the Christmas break, but when we came back home, he didn’t seem too fussed to ride it much for a couple of months. He didn’t mind if one of us pushed him on it, but he didn’t seem to want to try riding it himself. It probably didn’t help that it was a cold winter and there weren’t exactly ample opportunities to take it out, especially as I still had a small baby in my care as well as him during the week.
Then, all of a sudden around Easter time, he started to show more interest again. The days were getting longer, the weather was, well, still not great but hey, and Joel was being less demanding in terms of feeding all the time. So we had more opportunity to take the bike out in the garden and to the park. One day, he went from insisting that one of us held onto the saddle to riding it all on his own with no help, just like that. And it didn’t take long before he was really confident, enough to lift his feet up when going downhill and ride it like a ‘real’ bike.
I’d heard about balance bikes before he was bought one by Granny and Grandad – the theory is that they help toddlers learn what it feels like to ride a bike before pedals are introduced, so that when they are big enough to get a pedal bike, the biggest part of learning to ride it, the balance, is already in place so they just have to add in the pedalling bit and away they go. I was recently talking to a friend whose son is about a year older than Andrew and he has successfully done this transition with ease. A trike teaches pedals but not balance, so it would take longer for the balance to come when moving onto a bike. In theory, there shouldn’t be a need for a pedal bike with stabilisers once balance has been mastered on a balance bike, though they may help for a short period whist the skill of pedalling is being mastered.
For now Andrew is happy on his balance bike, but I can see already that it won’t be long before he can take the next step (and Joel can have his balance bike). Where we live (Cambridge) you see lots of kids cycling, many from very young, I guess because there is such a culture of cycling around here. In our pre-kids life, Tom and I cycled everywhere, and Tom still does on his own. I’m not keen to take the boys on a bike myself, as I personally don’t feel that child bike seats and trailers look particularly safe, and I wouldn’t say I’m confident enough at cycling on the road with them. So I haven’t cycled since Joel was born when I stopped going to work on my bike. But one day I hope that we will be able to go cycling together as a family on the cycle paths down by the river, for example.
Now that the evenings are lighter, our favourite late afternoon activity has become getting the bike out and Andrew riding it around the garden and on the drive in front of the block of flats we live in. He would do this for hours if we let him, but at some point we do have to coax him back in with the promise of dinner! (Food always works in his case.) The drive is off a very quiet cul de sac, so a car hardly ever comes along at that time of day, and when they do there is the most evil speed bump in the world to slow them down. In fact Andrew loves bumping up onto that and coming down again, a bit like a skate park ramp for toddlers. On the drive there is plenty of space for him to ride around. There is also a slight incline in the paving which he loves riding down and that’s where he’s learnt to take his feet off the ground and just free wheel down the ‘hill’ (as he calls it – hardly a hill, though by Cambridge standards it’s pretty hilly).
Like many life skills, such as swimming and learning languages (two of my favourites), I think cycling is one of those things that the younger you learn, the easier it is. So I’m glad that Andrew has taken a liking to it already, and I think he will beat Daddy and me in when we learnt to ride a bike – I can remember it, so I must have been about 6 or 7.
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