What is wrong with training wheels?

Distinct behaviors become predominant as the child “rides” his/her bike fitted with training wheels.

•Brake Slamming. The child will tend to slow down and routinely brake whenever the child perceives any danger of tipping or falling (I’ll call it “tippiness”).
•Upper Body Movements. The child will tend to use upper body movements and/or shoulder shifting as a pseudo-balancing mechanism.
•Erratic Steering. The child’s steering actions will tend to be erratic, abrupt, and even stiff at times, almost to the point that arms and elbows are frequently locked straight.
•Visual Preoccupation. Visual focus becomes fixated downward and on the handlebars in particular.

The above cause and effect relationships and fixations have been wired, by conditioning, into the child’s brain, muscular response and reflex systems. Moreover, all of these “learned” actions, or reactions, are a direct result of the child having had to deal with training wheels. In the final analysis, the training wheels have indeed been responsible for “training” or internal creation of motor reflexes. Such motor conditioning (or “training”) is harmful because (1) successful bike riding doesn’t happen by use of these conditioned motor responses, and (2) these conditioned responses impede the orderly transition to conventional bike riding. The normal transition to conventional two-wheelers can stagnate, as training wheels often become a crutch that isn’t readily given up.

Up to now, virtually no other alternative to training wheels has ever been available. Moreover, when the day comes that the child using training wheels needs to make the transition to a conventional bike, that transition is abrupt, exasperating, and often characterized by nasty falls.

For children with developmental delays and other physical and mental challenges, training wheels can be the equivalent of the end of advancement in bicycling skills. The challenged children that I have dealt with include those with Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism, and other disorders. Considerable portions of these children are simply left behind as the peer group rides away down the street with apparent ease.

Until now, few alternatives have been available to permit challenged-children to progress into the realm of conventional bicycling riding. Training wheels and patents for training wheels go back at least fifty years. Moreover, an early attempt to use barrel-shaped rollers as a training aid in lieu of conventional tires was patented by Cudmore [U.S. Patent 3,794,351, April 24, 1974]. Nonetheless, training wheels have become institutionalized to the point that bicycle dealerships and the mass-marketing stores routinely sell them, and families routinely end up buying juvenile bicycles fitted with training wheels. Others have addressed the search for a better way to get children to learn to ride two-wheelers. The editors of Bicycling magazine, for example, distribute a pamphlet describing methods such as removing the pedals to practice coasting and balancing, and then eventually progressing on to pedaling. One marketer has even introduced a pre-riding conditioning exercise that he calls “pedal magic.” [See ].

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