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A wheel. You know... For kids!
October 8, 2009 7:43 PM   Subscribe

A better way to get kids to learn to ride - a single training wheel. The folks at bikecommuters.com liked it too. Available December 1.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan (46 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Because apparently there's a huge problem of kids never figuring out how to ride bikes?
posted by delmoi at 7:47 PM on October 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


Gyrobike not catchy enough. Propose renaiming to the Whee!
posted by mannequito at 7:49 PM on October 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


So lets replace a $20 disposable part for $100 disposable part. Thanks technology.
posted by doctor_negative at 7:58 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Neither the article nor the comments at bikecommuters.com seem all that positive to me. And from the comments, it sounds as though there are some not insignificant technical problems (tilting to one side when you put a kid on it, for instance).
posted by Lexica at 8:02 PM on October 8, 2009


Or skip the training wheels entirely and teach the kid with a balance bike.
posted by jedicus at 8:03 PM on October 8, 2009 [6 favorites]


That video looks great and all, if you're training some sort of light-weight circus rodent.
posted by june made him a gemini at 8:07 PM on October 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


Would it be possible to use something like this for adults who cannot maintain balance on a bike for whatever reason (ie disability or disorder)? It seems like this could be potentially less embarrassing than adult training wheels for people who want to continue cycling but no longer have the coordination needed to support a bike properly.
posted by mccarty.tim at 8:12 PM on October 8, 2009


This is interesting. See, one of the things you eventually learn is that a bike wheel, all by itself, is a gyroscope. When you "get the feel" of riding a bicycle, you've internalized the physics of the spinning bike wheel and how it affects tilting and turning. You can perform the experiment yourself.

On the other hand, I'm not certain that there really is a major issue with children not learning how to ride a bike "properly" at first. It would be interesting to try some experiments and track riding habits and abilities longitudinally. Do the training wheels kids take longer before transitioning to a standalone bike? When they're older, do the gyroscope kids take more quickly, readily, or deeply to road biking? Etc.
posted by dhartung at 8:22 PM on October 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


I never learned to ride a bike. Now I live somewhere with terrific bike paths and a wife who'd love to utilize them if only I'd come along. I've tried and it was TERRIFYING. I never felt stable, threw my feet out constantly to catch my falling self, and even when I got up to speed and things were going well, I never felt in control. And the seat! How calloused a biker's taint must be to survive such discomfort! I've been on horseback for hours and came off feeling better.

I gave up. Maybe I need to find an abandoned parking lot and learn like I learned to drive a car. Away, so my shame is secret. Or maybe I need one of these things.
posted by unsupervised at 8:25 PM on October 8, 2009 [5 favorites]


Holy cow. I had never heard of balance bikes. The kids in the video here are kicking ass.
posted by xorry at 8:29 PM on October 8, 2009


Err, it's a gyroscope. On the front wheel.

What happens when you try to turn the front wheel?
posted by eriko at 8:38 PM on October 8, 2009


It took my 3-year-old about 15 seconds to go from tricycle to full balance bike capability. When he got a real bike, the transition was virtually instant.
posted by The World Famous at 8:40 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


We just took the pedals off a regular two wheeler and within a week, our kids were ready to have the pedals put back on.
posted by padraigin at 8:51 PM on October 8, 2009 [5 favorites]


I gave up. Maybe I need to find an abandoned parking lot and learn like I learned to drive a car. Away, so my shame is secret. Or maybe I need one of these things.

I feel your pain, though I've now mastered the straight line and now fear turning. Too much thinking, not enough feeling, like learning to ski for kids versus adults. Those little jerks who had begun at my skill level in the morning were zipping by me in no time, while I was learning to love powdery drifts.

Anyway: this does feel like a solution looking for a problem.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:53 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


On the other hand, I'm not certain that there really is a major issue with children not learning how to ride a bike "properly" at first. It would be interesting to try some experiments...

I'm pretty sure that the "issues" with training wheels were simply whatever justifications someone went fishing for to promote this new idea. Somehow, I doubt that cyclists have been kicking the dirt for ages saying, "Damn, if only we had a better way to teach these children." Most children, upon gaining the confidence and coordination to ride a bicycle, will go crazy testing out their newfound ability and rid themselves of any odd habits such as leaning away from turns.

For some reason, a sentence from this essay about Star Trek engineering (How's that for nerdy?) came floating through my head while reading the links.

"When their kids go to the beach, they probably take a portable forcefield generator instead of a bucket and shovel."

Cool idea, but the Gyrobike seems to be an overly complex solution to a simple problem.
posted by Avelwood at 8:54 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Err... this essay.

Crap.
posted by Avelwood at 8:56 PM on October 8, 2009


mccarty.tim: Would it be possible to use something like this for adults who cannot maintain balance on a bike for whatever reason (ie disability or disorder)? It seems like this could be potentially less embarrassing than adult training wheels for people who want to continue cycling but no longer have the coordination needed to support a bike properly.

I guess it might work, but there are already pretty good solutions for situations like that. Three-wheeled recumbents seem like a good solution for poor balance - they're fast, efficient, can't fall over at all, and don't have expensive and fiddly motorized systems that could fail in the middle of a long ride. They have other good stuff for other disabilities too, like handcycles.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:09 PM on October 8, 2009


So lets replace a $20 disposable part for $100 disposable part.

...that requires a battery. So not only is it more expensive and complicated with a far greater chance to break down, it also consumes power and contains a part that's hard to recycle.

This is the stupidest bicycle-related idea ever. Do you know how hard it is to manage that particular feat? But they did it.
posted by mightygodking at 9:09 PM on October 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


I was never given training wheels. I had to inherit my brothers banana seat Stingray 5-speed when he got a ten speed. Which was kickass sparkly Bat-man midnight blue. And he never ever forgave me for getting his prized possion despite his getting vastly technologically superior bike.

My training wheels were my brother running along side me yelling "NORTHROP PHANTOM F-5 MOTHERFUCKER!"

And then him launching the bike as hard as he could with my tiny six-year old licorice-whip legs peddling as fast as they could. And then about thirty feet down the road I'd inevitably panic, wobble, and crash in a terrible heap.

Yes. I know what your gonna say. It's a Boeing Phantom F-4. And a Northrop F-5. I know.

I KNOW! And I told my dumb brother that constantly. Which is why he was launching me "off the deck of the carrier for my insolence in questioning a superior officer."

"NORTHROP PHANTOM F-5 MOTHERFUCKER!" WHOOOOSH!
posted by tkchrist at 9:16 PM on October 8, 2009 [28 favorites]


McDonnell Douglas Phantom F4. See. Brain damage.
posted by tkchrist at 9:18 PM on October 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


I think this is pretty neat, although for the price I'd prefer to teach my kid on a balance bike (Skuut for Christmas!).
posted by brain_drain at 9:35 PM on October 8, 2009


This is a solution for a problem that doesn't exist. As padraigin noted above, you take the pedals off and lower the seat, let your kid push along and then coast and get the feel of balancing the bike for longer and longer periods. It's simple, and costs nothing. We are truly the greatest generation...of pussies.
posted by planetkyoto at 9:53 PM on October 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


Wired has an article about an expensive solution to a problem no one has? Color me shocked!

But less sarcastically, I too belong to the club of People Who Learned To Ride As Adults. And it was humiliating, and I didn't half wish they had training wheels for grown-up bikes, except that training wheels would only add to the humiliation. So if this thing would have helped me learn how to ride without announcing to the entire neighborhood that "I am ridiculous and possibly suffer from a developmental disability," then I probably would have been in favor of it.

Unsupervised, re: taint of steel, I eventually learned that it's like crutches. The key is, no one really spends much time on the seat. Most of your weight is on either one pedal or the other. I don't know if this is how "real bikers" do it or not, but that's what worked for me.

Also, moving somewhere far away from Erika-compatible bike trails and giving my bike to a friend. That worked awesome.
posted by ErikaB at 10:02 PM on October 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Dhartung, I love those links. I've got to make something like this myself.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:45 PM on October 8, 2009


Uh didn't everyone do this? I remeber my dad took one training wheel off my little light blue 'Western Flyer' and me tooling round the park next door with one training wheel.
posted by PenDevil at 12:18 AM on October 9, 2009


A friend of mine had never learned to ride as a child, and my apartment complex features a paved hill that's chained off from traffic, so when one of her friends gave her her old bike, I took her over to the hill.

For maybe half an hour I had her start at the top of the hill and ride down, legs spead, feet out, ready to catch herself if she lost her balance. Once she got to the point of feeling comfortable with this, I had her start pulling her feet up onto the pedals. After maybe another half an hour or 45 minutes of practicing this, she started pedaling on her own, and it was just a bit of figuring out how to start from a standstill that did it.

Still took her a bit of wobbling about to get comfortable, but she was in a position to just go on her own after an afternoon.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:29 AM on October 9, 2009


I... I can't ride a bike either. Hold me.
srsly, it sucks
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 12:46 AM on October 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


I don't get the hate. It's such a clever idea.

As for the ecological issues, I could imagine a bike store lending one of these out with a new kids' bike purchase, in exchange for a deposit. Something hip like this might help a bike store's sales to parents and motivate kids to start cycling.

The wheel can be returned to the store and reused once the child has learned to bike without support, and batteries are certainly replaceable components.

In the long run, a reusable $100 part that can be used with many bikes seems better than a "disposable" $20 part that is used once and then chucked into the landfill, never to be used again.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:32 AM on October 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


They're clearly marketing this to the wrong people. Kids have no discretionary income, and, as everyone mentioned, they eventually figure out how to ride.

Alternative market segment: Make it more '80s looking (like, ironically '80s), and make unicycles.
posted by qvantamon at 2:32 AM on October 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Alternative market segment: Make it more '80s looking (like, ironically '80s), and make unicycles.

I was a teenager in the 80s. But I don't get this reference. Was there an 80s unicycle craze that I missed somehow?
posted by The World Famous at 3:02 AM on October 9, 2009


Just looking at the thing makes me cross. There's just no machine in the world that some junior Einstein can't screw up by adding a bizarrely-complicated motorized system to replace an elegantly simple mechanism that works in concert with a human brain. I have to give full credit to my father for his well-articulated disdain for the damn things, way back in the prehistoric past, in the opening stages of the malignant rise of the ninny parent.

You learn to ride a bike by falling off it.

Simple as that. You learn to ride by falling off, by crashing into mailboxes, lurching through the flower beds, and slamming headlong into your father's crotch as he's hollering "no, right, RIGHT!"

You learn to ride and you spend a fair amount of time crying and throwing your bike down, stomping away for a while, and returning with fresh determination. Without that, the commitment is nonexistent, the bond between the kid and the machine is never forged, and the bike's just another toy, another disposable piece of marketing junk, and it gets left behind the second something newer and more flashy comes along.

My bike was a machine to kill fascists, an escape capsule, an autonomous exploration vehicle to see what was in the forbidden world on the other side of the woods, where the kids went to a whole other school, and an object with the then-amazing ability to transport me to a place beyond the distance over which my mother could yell.

God forbid we let kids do that now, right? They'll all be raped and murdered and sold drugs the second they leave our sight. Without this magical balance machine, they'll get all banged up, and people will accuse us of child abuse!

A self-balancing wheel could be part of a whole lot of useful things, but I really don't think we need to do any more of this small-scale, seemingly-innocent damage to our kids, projecting our own hysterical fears onto the simplest interaction they'll ever have with a machine. Put 'em on the bike, watch them fall, say "aww, honey, I'm sorry," and make them try again.
posted by sonascope at 3:38 AM on October 9, 2009 [5 favorites]


Gyroscope, schmyroscope. What we really need is heated handlebar grips.
posted by flabdablet at 4:08 AM on October 9, 2009


I really don't think we need to do any more of this small-scale, seemingly-innocent damage to our kids, projecting our own hysterical fears onto the simplest interaction they'll ever have with a machine.

Come on, I think you're projecting, yourself, just a little. Some kids have a genuine fear of falling off their bicycle. Anything that allays their fears and encourages them to start a lifetime love of cycling is a good thing. And projecting our own hysterical need to hurt children to teach them life lessons or to "build character" doesn't help with this.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:08 AM on October 9, 2009


I taught two kids to ride a bike. It took two or three days of 5-10 minute sessions, and there were no training wheels involved.

My method is to just go for a brief walk up the sidewalk while the child sits on the bike seat and pushes themselves along with their feet on the ground.

The first time, just do it it for five minutes. This is long enough for their brain to start working on the problem subconsciously. The next day, go for like ten minutes. Do nothing to steady the bike. The more steadying you do, the longer it will take for them to figure this out. Do not encourage them to put their feet on the pedals.

Once their brain figures out how to use the handle bars to steer and keep the bike upright, they will start picking up their feet for short bursts and coasting (especially as they weary of getting whacked in the heels with the pedals).

After that, they'll rest their feet on the pedals for short bursts of coasting. Before you know it, they'll be pedaling on their own.

My kids never once fell down, they went at their own pace, and they were never scared, and I didn't hassle or hurry them in any way.
posted by popechunk at 6:37 AM on October 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


So lets replace a $20 disposable part for $100 disposable part...that is used once and then chucked into the landfill

After tyke teaching duty is done, I'll bet most of these get turned into gyro equipped homebrew steadicams.
posted by Enron Hubbard at 6:57 AM on October 9, 2009


I wouldn't say I have a hysterical need to hurt children to build character or teach them life lessons, and making it into a personal thing about me is the projection here. I also prefer my critics to use my own language when trying to parse what I'm saying, thank you.

Developing a physical skill involves some degree of physical trauma by necessity, and turning the simplest useful machine yet devised into a ridiculous contraption of complex systems, destined to be thrown out once they inevitably fail, does more harm than good. This gimcrack just rewards a kid's fear, and amplifies it. Falling off your bike isn't that dangerous, or that painful, and you do it, you realize that, and you master the use of the equipment you've been given. It's not about me being an old man with a rake about it, it's just another absurd, overcomplicated solution to a non-existent problem, and not much of a solution, either. Denying the value of consequences just creates the illusion that none exist, and pushes the bar further towards adulthood, when kids are more inclined to take risks with bigger and more dangerous machines.

Frankly, the frustration with this comes from my experience with kids lately. I'm a bike person, love 'em, have half a dozen (including the third bike I ever owned, still on the road since the seventies, thanks to its sturdy simplicity), and I live in a neighborhood in a small town that's full of kids and empty of bicycles. We had lots of fears about our bikes, growing up, and lots of anecdotal and personal evidence of the injuries you could get on a bike, but we rode everywhere. A self-balancing bike isn't a solution to fears about bikes—for me, it looks more like proof positive to a kid that hell, that damn thing is so dangerous you need a special machine to make it safe enough to ride. Maybe that's a mild thing, but I see it as an insidious, infectious fear, perfectly dovetailing with every other message kids get about the world, even though it's never been safer for them.

Build and be damned, it's all fine, but it's all about marketing, not practicality.
posted by sonascope at 7:27 AM on October 9, 2009


I wonder if this will be made for adults. I'm not opposed to normal training wheels on an adult bike in case I should ever decide to learn to ride, and will probably just get those because they're cheaper, but this is pretty neat.

The funny thing is I never learned to ride because my mom didn't want to get me training wheels.
posted by cmgonzalez at 8:30 AM on October 9, 2009


I wouldn't say I have a hysterical need to hurt children to build character or teach them life lessons

You learn to ride a bike by falling off it... You learn to ride and you spend a fair amount of time crying and throwing your bike down

Come on.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:42 AM on October 9, 2009


Come on.

If the difference between an observation of typical behavior associated with the process of learning to ride a bicycle and some kind of mean-spirited joy in seeing children hurt isn't clear, than I'm not the one who needs to "come on." Frankly, if there's someone I'd like to hurt, it's my own generation of histrionic, terrified helicopter parents, who are single-handedly rearing a generation of kids who are missing out on life's richness because of their own inability to admit that growing up, learning, working, and being fully human is not a risk-neutral activity.

To return to the original rejoinder, I'll just point out my key objection again:

Anything that allays their fears and encourages them to start a lifetime love of cycling is a good thing.

How does adding a complex, expensive, short-lived "safety" feature allay a kid's fear that bikes are dangerous? Looks to me like it just reinforces their suspicions about bikes, with no real benefit. I'd actually be curious to see if anyone ever did a study as to what percentage of still-active adult cyclists learned to ride with training wheels versus those who didn't.
posted by sonascope at 9:10 AM on October 9, 2009


Interesting idea. I don't think it'll convince my 5 year old grandson to like riding without training wheels but it might be a good place to start my 3 year old. The fear of falling off a bike is too firmly planted in the older one but the younger one, who has never tried, could begin with the gyrowheel and never know falling.
posted by birdwatcher at 9:17 AM on October 9, 2009


Frankly, if there's someone I'd like to hurt, it's my own generation of histrionic, terrified helicopter parents, who are single-handedly rearing a generation of kids who are missing out on life's richness because of their own inability to admit that growing up, learning, working, and being fully human is not a risk-neutral activity.

That's a lot of anger, hyperbole, and over-generalization you have packed in there.
posted by brain_drain at 9:22 AM on October 9, 2009


Big babies. They should learn to ride a unicycle and like it.
posted by stormpooper at 9:27 AM on October 9, 2009


Vague googling yields nothing, but I remember a sci-fi book (I thought it was called The Ring, but maybe not) in which everyone had a ring that hurt them when they had bad thoughts or something. That's not the point. They ALSO drove around in monowheel cars. That's what this is for.
posted by cmoj at 11:04 AM on October 9, 2009


Gyroscopic forces account for less than 12% of the forces needed to turn a bike.
posted by hellphish at 11:16 AM on October 9, 2009


I was a teenager in the 80s. But I don't get this reference. Was there an 80s unicycle craze that I missed somehow?

Nope, there's a certain demographic who shall not be named who are fond of both ironic 80s-ness, and unicycles.
posted by qvantamon at 1:34 PM on October 9, 2009


My sister taught me how to ride a bike by holding it up for me and running alongside until it got going fast enough that I could kinda-sorta stay up. Then I would stay up for a while and fall down, and we would start again. I don't remember it taking very long or being very traumatic. I think my parents tried training wheels, but I always just bounced from one wheel to the other. I never really got how that's supposed to work.
posted by !Jim at 12:43 AM on October 10, 2009


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