When the highlight reel of my life is played, this Sunday will certainly be among the clips shown as it marks one of the happiest and proudest days of my life.
As a father, there is no greater joy then helping your child learn a new skill or accomplish a great feat. For me, one of those milestones was reached when Emma rode a 2-wheeled bike for the first time unassisted.
As you may remember, when Emma turned four she received a bike for her birthday.
Well, now she’s five (going on six) and she finally mastered the thing this Sunday. I’d be lying if I told you it wasn’t an emotional moment as I watched her make the mental and physical connection required to maintain proper balance.
Seated two-wheeled balance is a difficult concept to convey. You have to get your center of gravity aligned just right and then dynamically shift your weight in response to road conditions and speed without over-correcting. All this has to be done quickly and efficiently in a way that is virtually impossible to describe. You just have to get a feel for it through trial and error.
Our Bike Riding Journey
Over the last couple years Elena and I would periodically take Emma to the park to practice riding her bike. One of the first things we did was adjust the training wheels so that one was an inch higher then the other. By doing this we hoped it would create enough instability that it would force her to find her sweet spot as she safely oscillated between the two training wheels.
What it did, however, was teach her some really bad riding habits as she would lean to one side so she could ride on two wheels (the main one and one training wheel).
Taking the training wheels off resulted in her going from total stability to no stability at all, making it extremely difficult for her to learn the subtle nuances of two-wheeled balance.
Realizing that wasn’t going to work I did some research online and found this thing called the Gyrowheel. Essentially it’s a gyroscope inside a wheel. If you’re a geek like me you know one of the neat properties of gyroscopes is that they resist perpendicular forces applied to their axis by applying an equal counter force on the opposing axis making them insanely stable. In laymen’s terms, they resist being tipped over.
By applying one of these wheels to the bike it would give Emma a little extra stability giving her time to learn the mechanics of keeping a bike upright. Keep in mind that this won’t keep a bike up on its own. In fact, the first time we tried it (back on August 18 of this year) Emma still couldn’t keep the bike up and I worried that it did not provide a powerful enough stabilizing force.
Secret To Our Success
On our second attempt, we both made some changes.
Instead of holding her under her arms I held her at the waist. This was a pivotal adjustment because it allowed me to physically show her where her waist needed to be at all times. Previously, when I held her under her arms, she would let her hips shift so much to the left or right it was like teaching Bernie Lowmax how to ride a bike.
I also explained to her how this was a skill she would have to learn by constantly adjusting her weight and manipulating the handlebars. She couldn’t just sit there and expect the bike to stay up. “In fact”, I told her, “the bike’s goal was to throw her over the side. It doesn’t want to be upright”.
By telling her this I had hoped to tap into her inner stubbornness which hates to be told what to do or controlled in any way. As a parent, you know what works for your kid, and in my case, that was just what the doctor ordered as she talked to the bike the whole way telling it, “no you don’t!”, “I’m in control here!”.
The ultimate goal is to have Emma ride her bike with absolutely no assistance. The Gyrowheel is great for helping kids get a feel for what independent bike riding should feel like but it too has to come off before you can say you’ve absolutely concurred the bike riding milestone.
From what I’ve read, this usually occurs within 3-5 sessions. The Gyrowheel has three different speed settings which control how much or little stability it provides. During our second session we were on the
highest (most stable setting) so during the next session I will take it down to medium, followed by low, followed by no Gyrowheel at all.
Actually, I just checked the manual and we were on the lowest stability setting (oops! I didn’t have the manual with me on Sunday so I was going by memory). A pleasant surprise. So my new strategy is to let her ride like that again and then perhaps on a subsequent outing turn the thing off altogether and see what happens.
Emma Riding Her Bike (after 3 minutes)
We got to the parking lot and road the bike. She got it on her second attempt. This is video shot 3 minutes after we started riding for the day. Both Emma and I are a bit shaky.
Emma 7 minutes later
Check out the marked increase in her confidence level.