Best Way to Learn to Ride a Bike

  • By Erin Dahlstrom
  • Posted 07.26.17
  • NOVA

With the Tour de France underway, a younger generation is already in training this weekend at the Strider Cup. How are they learning to ride?

Running Time: 02:16


Onscreen: The Strider Cup is this weekend. 350 athletes from 4 continents. The youngest is 18 months old. They're all on balance bikes.

What exactly is a balance bike?

Nate Ball: A balance bike has no pedals, and you sit with the seat at a height that allows your feet to just barely touch the ground.

Onscreen: The bike is just: two wheels, frame, seat, handlebars. Like a dandy horse, the original 2-wheeler.

Some kids are learning to ride on balance bikes.

But how do they compare to training wheels?

Training Wheels vs. Balance Bike

Ryan McFarland: Riding is staying upright on two wheels, balanced, using leaning and steering to make the bike go where you want it to go.

Onscreen: When you start to tip over, you lean in the opposite direction to keep the center of gravity over the base of the bike.

Training wheels don't teach that skill. But balance bikes do — without the wipe outs.

Balance bikes use a skill kids already know — walking. So they can focus on balance, and transition directly from walking to gliding.

Ball: This can give more of an incremental opportunity to learn versus a normal bike with training wheels.

McFarland: Then when you make the transition onto a pedal bike, the only thing that has changed is the propulsion.

Onscreen: What about training wheels? They can go faster, making them more stable.

Ball: If all you've got is flat ground, I think training wheels may give you the advantage.

Onscreen: Also:

Ball: A bike with training wheels is going to be usually a little bit taller than the balance bike. What that means is your center of mass is going to be higher, and that makes it easier to balance. It's like the difference between trying to balance a pencil on your hand versus a broom. A broom is a little bit easier because the center of mass is higher.

Onscreen: So which one wins? For Nate Ball, it's a toss-up.

Ball: It depends on what your kid is excited about.

Onscreen: And encouraging that excitement now and in the future.



Erin Dahlstrom
Editorial and Production Assistance
Ari Daniel
Special Thanks
Elena Renken
Kyla Wright
© WGBH Educational Foundation 2017


Strider Sports International Inc
YouTube: Andrew Mellenger Holger's Radsport-Fotos. rafeejewell, Internet Archive Book Images, and Ross Orr
Noun Project: Al D, Boris Belov, Edward Boatman, Ribbla Team Ahturner & Ronnachai Palas
Wikimedia Commons: Jürgen Schoner

Related Links

  • The Secret Life of Nate Ball

    Engineer and daredevil Nate Ball shows off his Batman-like climbing device and the sport of freerunning.

  • Zombies and Calculus, Part 2

    You're being chased by zombies, and understanding tangent vectors may save your life.

  • School of the Future

    How can the science of learning help us rethink the future of education for all children?

  • Memory Hackers

    Scientists are learning how we can edit memories—and delete our worst fears.