Stabilisers: Just Say No!
Back in the early 1800’s, when I was a boy, I recall all the kids tearing around on little bikes fitted with stabilisers. It was what we did then. Like the 3 day week, or 3 TV channels that closed down at 11pm or pounds, shillings and pence in your pocket. Luckily, times move on (although 400 channels broadcasting pap 24 hours a day might be seen as a mixed blessing).
I’m not sure when balance bikes as we know them now became commonplace, but they are still new enough to be greeted with the occasional look of surprise, mirth, or, sometimes, expression of suspicion. “Just a marketing trick by the bike companies”.
Put simply, in the vast majority of cases, a balance bike is far more effective in helping a child to learn to ride a bicycle than fitting stabilisers to a small pedal bike. A good quality, lightweight balance bike will teach a child how to use his or her body to control a bicycle. Starting off, moving on two wheels, turning and stopping are all fundamental skills a cyclist needs. Balance bikes help children discover how to do all these things.
Bikes fitted with stabilisers do not teach any of these skills. In fact, they teach children to use their bodies and their weight in ways totally at odds with what is needed to ride on two wheels. Clearly, they do not have to balance (surely the most fundamental skill of all). When cornering on a bike with stabilisers, often, with one training wheel on the floor, the rider will naturally shift their weight the opposite way. Not what you want to do when cornering on two wheels!
Most balance bike graduates will find moving onto their first pedal bike a relatively quick and painless experience. Stabiliser graduates find they have to learn the primary skills – balance and how to shift their weight on a bike.
When we started The Little Bike Company, we had a vision of not supplying stabilisers. Very quickly, Christmas was upon us, parents wanted bikes with stabilisers and with our The Customer Is Always Right approach, we fitted them. Regret came all too soon. We had a problem with stabilisers on one bike we supplied and decided we have to have the courage of our convictions.
We now refuse to fit stabilisers to a bike – even if we lose the bike sale. There are exceptions; where we have fitted them to bikes for children with additional needs. But that is it. We are militantly anti-stabilisers.
Because: they are a waste of time and money; teach children how not to ride a bike; and often encourage parents to put children on bikes which are too big, for them “to grow into”. Do they buy shoes which are too big motivated by the same thought?
Balance bikes are the best way to learn. If a child is too big for a balance bike, then take the pedals off a pedal bike (very easy to do) and get the child to scoot around like a balance bike. Once they have mastered balance and how to use their weight, then fit the pedals back on. We have advised dozens of customers to do this and it works.