This is totally off topic, but every time I tell people this story they love it and say they’ve never heard of this idea before so I thought I’d post it here. I didn’t make this method up (I can’t remember who told me about it, but living in the cycling capital of the US – Boulder, CO – it could have been any one of a hundred different people). We taught our two daughters how to ride using this method when they were around 4 and will have one more shot at it in the near future with our 3 year old son. The idea behind this method is that kids know how to pedal (they’ve been doing that just fine with training wheels) – what you really need to work on is balance and the easies way to do that is to take away all the other distractions so they can just focus on that one thing. Once they have that down they’ll be good to go. Both of our girls learned to ride using the method below in a few hours start to finish (where finish = riding around the block for the next hour by themselves).
Bike prep – Take the bike your child has been riding and remove the training wheels. Now take the pedals off and lower the seat so your child’s feet can very comfortably touch the ground when they are seated on the bike (the bike shouldn’t have to lean over at all for them to do this and they should be able to sit on the seat and touch the ground flat-footed).
Find the right training ground – You’ll need to find a concrete (NOT GRASS!) area for your kids to practice. It should be straight, have no bumps or obstacles and be slightly inclined (very, very slightly). 50 feet should do it.
Learning balance – Starting on the uphill side of your training area, have your child push off on their own down the road. You shouldn’t need to run beside them and you should definitely not hold or touch the bike at all. Their balance will be off and they’ll need to use their feet often to keep upright, which will be easy to do with the bike configured with a low seat and w/o pedals to get in their way.
Repeat – It may take a few times, but your child should start getting the hang of this relatively quickly. As the frequency with which they need to put their feet down decreases, encourage them to lift their feet off the ground a bit more. As they get more comfortable with it you may want to slightly raise the seat so the act of lifting their feet off the ground doesn’t throw their balance off.
Ready for pedals? The step above may take a bit and, of course, you’ll want to be giving plenty of encouragement. Our daughters thought this was a blast (I think they thought it was funny to ride without pedals). We let them do it for a while – making sure they were completely comfortable with balancing their bike. Once your child gets the hang of it, put the pedals back on the bike, but keep the seat low so they’ll have no trouble getting a foot down in case they need to. In our case, our kids took off around the block the very first time they tried to ride with the pedals back on. In other cases you may want to run the incline a few times while they pedal so they have the hang of it.
The best part of this method is that neither my wife nor I ran behind a bike holding onto the seat a single time. Seriously – not once. The kids had fun and they felt a great sense of accomplishment learning to ride so quickly. Two years later they are trail riding (this is Colorado, mind you).