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How Doug Engelbart taught kids to ride a bike (without training wheels) (collectiveiq.wordpress.com)
55 points by jackcheng on Jan 9, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 24 comments

Apparently a much simpler way is to just take the pedals off the bike:


I recently helped somebody (adult) to learn to ride a bike, and I'm pretty happy with how I did it. The first and only thing I insisted on was how to stop, i.e. how to come from both feet on the pedals and bike moving (mostly pushed by me) to a proper stop with one foot down. Once he could do it from a reasonable speed on both sides... it was pretty much over.

I took the idea from a friend who once got on a motorcycle without a good idea of where the break was, with rather funny results. First concern should be how to stop. The rest can be trial and error.

I assumed he meant rotating the handlebars clockwise and anti' when he says "forward and back".

Both techniques are doing the same thing. The one in the post is explicitly guiding the rider as to the mechanism involved in keeping the bike upright. The "remove the pedals" method is allowing the rider to discover this themselves. The later method probably introduces a side-to-side motion by virtue of the mechanics of pushing off with ones feet; you twist and turn the handlebars automatically.

OT: Can't read that link at all in the default style, dark blue on black?

That's brilliant! Just the other day I tried taking my almost-three-year-old's training wheels off and tried to help her go straight without falling, but quickly decided she "wasn't quite ready". Maybe she still isn't, who knows, but this method sounds like a great idea -- I'm gonna try it tomorrow. :-)

Second grade I received my first bike, a pedal bike, which puts me at 8 years old. I recall, precisely and clearly the experience of being pushed on the bike, being told to pedal, and once it got going, pedaling to the very end of the road.


Actually turning around was a bit of an adventure, but I managed that (and precisely recall the experience as well) - and so, 5 minutes after being introduced to my bike, I had pretty much mastered the basic skill.

I wonder if there is an age at which training wheels really don't make sense, and how many children after around five years old or so actually bypass the training wheels stage - I'm guessing it's a majority.

I've got another anecdote to support this: I taught my girlfriend's little brother (age 10) to ride his bike in about 30 minutes one afternoon. He'd never ridden, not even with training wheels, and is not particularly athletic.

All it took was running along beside him and letting go, then following and catching if he started to tip.

Yep, I got my first bike for my sixth birthday and never had training wheels.

What's the point of giving a four-year-old a bike anyway? It's not like you're going to let 'em ride it anywhere interesting, or unsupervised.

This is a perfect example of scaffolding. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Instructional_scaffolding

I initially learned to ride a bike on a grassy area (much softer falls, I highly recommend this). As I got much better my dad graduated me to the road. Everything was going great during this transition until I saw a kid a couple years older than me pop a wheelie. I thought this was awesome and being very confident in my new found skills, I immediately decided that I should give it a shot. I yanked up and back hard on my banana seat bike, I don't think my dad had any idea I was going to do this, and we both quickly learned my mistake as I tipped over backwards and my face met the asphalt. With my front tooth laying on the ground and my dad likely standing there wondering what the hell happened, I bolted home in search of my mom with blood streaming out of my mouth. I was probably about 4 or 5 at the time. So my advice is make sure the person/kid is wearing a helmet and possibly even a mouth guard those first few trips out and beware of the pop a wheelie.

It doesn't hurt that the gyroscopic behavior of the wheels also makes it unnecessary to do steering corrections at high enough speeds. Once you're going fast enough, you can hop off the bike and it'll still go upright for a while.

Better than the way I was taught, My older brother gave my bike a shove and told me to pedal. It only took one fall to figure it all out :)

What age?

Was taught at the age of 4. From my experience (younger siblings also) 4-5 yrs of age is about average right?

I don't see how training wheels would help learning at all? Just wondering if there is an age when kids can not yet learn riding a bicycle, and then training wheels would enable them to use a bicycle anyway (like you wouldn't expect a 6 month old who can barely walk to be able to learn cycling, I suppose). That would be the only reason I can see for using training wheels.

Training wheels don't have to be in constant contact with the ground. With my kids I installed the training wheels several inches off the ground. The kids had to balance to use the bike effectively, but the training wheels would catch them when they leaned too far.

They're largely a confidence booster for kid and parent.

I wonder if there's an equivalent see-saw for inline/roller/ice skates. The only training wheels I had were knee/elbow pads.

The way I was taught to ice skate was to try and walk on ice with the skates, not actually try to slide along. I suspect this too is the minimum amount of complexity that still lets you get a feel for the situation and develop the ability to stay upright. I think it worked pretty well for me, I don't have any bad memories about it. (I was 6)

Learning to cycle was less successful. I distinctly remember crashing into a tree; in fairness, my dad's decision to teach me in the middle of a forest on uneven ground was probably not the smartest move.

They're called "balance bicycles" or "run bicycles" and they're readily available from dozens of manufacturers.


I don't know why anyone cares that Doug Engelbart discovered something already known by millions of people - that pedaling isn't the important part of learning to ride, balancing is - but hey, here's my golf clap for him. {clap clap}

I don't know who you are, but I came within a hairs whisker of meeting the man and it is one of the few things in my life that I honestly can say I regret.

That he 'discovered' something is a strawman, that's not what this is article is all about, if you had actually gone further than skin deep (say past the title) you would have seen that for yourself. That's not a claim Engelbart made, that's just something his daughter said (last line in the article).

And anybody that has driven a recumbent knows this too, but that doesn't mean you get to belittle all of them for pointing this out.

If you got nothing out of it because you already knew all of it then good for you, I've been riding bikes since I was 3 (hard to avoid when you're dutch) and only in my late thirties I finally fully grokked the dynamics of riding a bicycle, they're anything but intuitive.

The most interesting thing about bicycles is how we got them to be so 'right' without knowing that theory, it's a classical case of evolution in progress, nobody with the physics knowledge required ever sat down to design the thing, tons of weird designs were tried (and are still being tried) which led to a nearly optimal shape. And lots of the bits and pieces in that near optimal shape were used long before they were understood.

Incidentally there seems to be a disproportionate representation of the ability to juggle and ride the monocycle amongst mathematicians, why is that?

If anyone is interested in building one of these for their toddler, there is a great pattern located here: http://crumleydotorg.chattablogs.com/archives/038834.html

I used the above pattern to build 2 of them for my 2.5 year old twins... they love them and have great balance now.

Here's how mine turned out: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/113513/bikes.jpg http://dl.dropbox.com/u/113513/bike1.jpg http://dl.dropbox.com/u/113513/bike2.jpg

I broke-even in price, it cost approx. $60/bike which is what it costs to get a similar "elmo" bike at target: http://www.target.com/Elmos-Beginner-Bike/dp/B00155X3UI

If you're going to break the bank, it's going to be b/c you couldn't find cheap wheels. This is where I went wrong, since I spent about $11 per wheel at home depot. I later found them for $4 at a smaller local hardware shop. ;p

That's a good job you did there. And so much more satisfaction making your own than just going out and buying one.

What better gift to your child than something made with your own hands and on your own time.

Did you read the article? It's not celebrating that he found pedaling less important than balancing, it's telling how he came up with a method to explicitly teach balancing by steering constantly and therefore making the wobble-lean-steer-tilt relationship stand out and be the bit to focus attention on.

( Also, have a 'trying to be cool' sticker for your jaded cynicism: http://www.paulgraham.com/essay.html )

I learned on my own, but on the grass.

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