Cragmama "Not all who wander are lost…" JRR Tolkien

Toddler Bikes and the GOOD Kind of Peer Pressure…

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While most of our family’s recreational pursuits tend to revolve around rock climbing, it’s probably also fair to say we’re pretty avid bikers, especially in warm weather.  With that in mind, a balance bike was one of the first things on C’s birthday list when he turned 2.  For those of you that are unfamiliar with balance bikes, the concept is quite simple – just a bike frame and two wheels – no gears, brakes, pedals, or training wheels.  The rider propels the bike forward with his/her feet – at first just standing over the bike and walking, and gradually moving to a gliding type motion with the child’s bottom fully weighting the seat. Eventually the child is able to balance on two wheels and steer, using their feet only to push off for speed.  In theory, this makes the transition to a regular bike with pedals much easier than having to “unlearn” relying on a set of training wheels for balance.  For some action videos of C demonstrating proper balance bike technique, click here or here

While C initially tried his balance bike a few times, for whatever reason the concept never really seemed to “click,” and he grew disinterested pretty fast.  Though I would bring it up every now and then, I didn’t push, which means that for the past 15 months C’s bike has mostly just been gathering dust in the garage.  Meanwhile, C would happily ride just about anywhere in the bike trailer – I think he just categorized biking as one of those things that grown-ups do…But that was before C met “K.”

A new friend for C, K is an almost 4 year old who is passionate about exploring everything on two wheels (the big boy kind, complete with pedals and no training wheels!)  On their first playdate, C watched with envy as K biked circles around him (literally!)  But the next time they got together, C was ready, and specifically requested that we bring his balance bike along.  At first he was a little frustrated, as he was still in the “walking while straddling the bike” stage, so he didn’t stand a chance at keeping up with K.  But after a few peer to peer lessons from K along with some good old-fashioned practice, I was amazed at the progress he made in just an hour or so.  By the end of the playdate he was comfortably zipping along on his bike, pushing off and gliding along as if he’d been doing it all his life!

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Since then, C has been biking like a madman!  In a matter of days we’ve done countless laps around the neighborhood, ripping along the road and yard, zooming through puddles and over bridges.  He even biked THREE WHOLE MILES along our local greenway path last Friday!  

Many times our society looks at the idea of “peer pressure” with a negative connotation.  And many times that’s well-warranted.  But just as often it can be a very positive developmental experience, especially when it comes to younger kids learning from older kids.  C had been exposed to biking from infancy – he knew what a bike was for and all the things a bike could do.  But just watching mom and dad do it never sparked a passion.  Instead it was the positive influence from a peer that lit a fire under him.  

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C and K :)

I am thrilled about the progress C has made on his bike.  Firstly, it provides him with a whole new medium for exploring his world.  By the end of our greenway ride, we’d seen bunnies, ducks, millipedes, and even two crayfish!  Secondly, his recent successes have brought about a new confidence in his physical abilities.  I can tell that he’s proud of himself for learning a new skill (“I’m doing it Mommy, look!”).  And lastly, I’m excited at what C’s love for biking might mean for our family in the long-term – whether it’s bike-packing together out West enjoying spectacular mountain vistas, or just ripping some local singletrack together at home.  Biking will hopefully be just one of many ways our family will find common ground to stay connected from C’s childhood to youth and beyond!

What lessons have your children learned from (or taught) other children?  And how has biking or some other recreational pursuit played a bonding role for your entire family? 

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5 Responses to “Toddler Bikes and the GOOD Kind of Peer Pressure…”

  1. Since moving to SoCal we bought bikes and a baby seat and have loved biking around town or to work, even!
    Since having baby #2 i am having withdrawals (not really options to bike with an infant…).

    Looking forward to getting M a balance bike for his 3rd birthday and for A to be big enough for the baby seat (and a helmet)!

    We had a similar experience with our son and wanting to actually pedal his tricycle. One play date with a friend six months older and a couple big wheels and he was off!

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  2. I think our kiddo really embraced the balance bike primarily because there were several others in our neighborhood when he got his. He has a friend who lives in a different neighborhood and she never really “got” the balance bike. Her parents thought it was because they started her too late – she didn’t get the bike until almost 3.5. But I’m pretty sure she just didn’t have the exposure to other kids “striding” that our son did.

    I don’t think this is peer pressure as much as “inspiration.” In climbing and Crossfit and most other things in life, we really feed off of the energy from and slight competition with people around us. If all of your friends are active cyclists, you might be inspired to try it as well. If all of your friends hang out in bars and are overweight, you are more likely to be that way as well. It’s not really “peer pressure” as much as the influence of the people who surround us. “Choose your friends wisely” is true no matter what age!

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  3. Awesome post. B just made he maiden voyage on his balance bike today and it didn’t last more then five minutes. Maybe he needs to hang with his bud C and get some of that positive peer pressure.

    E

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  4. Erica

    Jill – As far as infants go, we started using our Chariot when C was around 8 months old…we had a special insert to minimize the side to side motion with his head, and made sure to stay on very smooth paths. He loved it, and took many naps in there!

    Kate – Wise words about choosing friends for sure! I agree that the best way to stay healthy and fit is to hang out with health and fit people!

    Ed – I’m sure C would be happy to oblige with a lesson or two :)

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  5. gosh, I almost feel like I wrote this myself, lol. I love positive peer pressure! It’s why I started an outdoor playgroup. My son has learned everything from how to balance on his bike to how to pee on a tree – all by following friends. It works sooo well!

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“Not all who wander are lost.” —JRR TOLKIEN