Outsourcing how to ride a bike - Macleans.ca

Outsourcing how to ride a bike

Busy parents who don’t like to see their kids fall are forgoing ‘bonding’ and hiring experts


Josef Scaylea/ Corbis

One of the oldest rites of passage for parents may be going the way of the dinosaur. Thanks to Claudia Sjöberg, the founder of Pedalheads Bike Camps, parents can now pay someone else to teach their children how to ride a bike. The week-long camps, which started 15 years ago in Vancouver and then expanded to Victoria, Calgary and Edmonton, have been such a hit that this summer, Pedalheads is opening four locations in the Toronto area. The camps, which operate at eight levels, take children as young as two (the child must turn three by December) for an hour-long program called “Trikes ’n Trainers.” At age four, kids can enrol in half-day or full-day programs.

There are many reasons, Sjöberg explains, why parents are no longer interested in teaching their children to ride. “A lot of the time parents are older. Or they work a lot, so don’t have the time.” Parents also want their kids riding bikes at an earlier age, she says. “I don’t know about you, but I learned to ride a bike when I was nine. Most parents now want their children riding, without training wheels, by age four.” Safety may also be a concern. At Pedalheads, staff cover topics like trail riding, street riding and bike maintenance. “A lot of the safety rules are complicated and we want to ensure the kids know them.”

For Toronto parent Dana Fields, who runs the PR firm Fields Communications, the idea of being able to get someone else to teach her two children, ages four and six, has her giddy with relief. “Teaching them to ride is something I’ve been dreading. Especially because [my daughter] cries if the wind blows the wrong way. I can’t even figure out how to teach my son to move the pedals. I’ve already joked with one of my neighbours if they would do it for me, that’s how much I’m dreading it.”

Sjöberg understands. “Getting an expert to do it brings peace of mind.” But does she feel like she’s taking away a bonding moment for parents? “There are plenty of other valuable lessons and things you are teaching your children every day,” she says with a laugh, “so I don’t think I’m taking anything away.”
At Pedalheads, most four-year-olds, she says, will be off their training wheels within the week, if not on the first day of camp. “We call it the ‘Pedalheads moment,’ when we push them and they can ride on their own. It’s such a big deal for them.”

Debbie Chatzispiros, who works in the financial industry in Vancouver, watched her son have his Pedalheads moment after she signed him up when he was five. On his second day of camp, “I came to pick him up and he was like, ‘Mom! Look what I can do!’ First, he rode his bike down the stairs! Once I picked my heart off the floor, it was an amazing moment. I never would have thought to teach him to ride his bike down stairs, but there he was,” she says. Before signing her children up, she had attempted to teach them in a back lane on concrete. “I couldn’t bear the thought of them falling. The camp teaches beginners on grass and they also teach them how to fall properly. I don’t know many parents who want to watch their children fall,” says Chatzispiros.

She brings up another point in favour of hiring someone. “You know, not only was I nervous, which may have rubbed off on them, but they also didn’t listen to me. They tend to listen to people who aren’t their parents.” With two working parents, the kids also didn’t have the time to practise more than once a week. “It’s like swimming. If you go to a swim class just once a week, it’s going to take a long time for your children to learn to swim. But if they’re doing it every day for a week or two in a row, they learn much more quickly,” explains Sjöberg. And with other children around, children are more likely to get back up on their bikes if they fall.

Pedalheads offers private lessons, too. “Sometimes a child is 10 and hasn’t learned to ride yet,” says Sjöberg. “They’re too embarrassed to be learning with kids who are so much younger—or they have an unusual fear of riding.”
The younger kids who come to the camps are adorable, she says. “They show up with their little bikes and their baskets and bells. Some parents are very funny. They’ll pull out a bike from their garage for their child that looks like it’s from 1977. We’ll have to suggest that maybe it’s time to get a new bike. And it’s not like they can’t afford it.”

At the end of the day, says Sjöberg, parents are just “so grateful for our staff to teach their children. I mean, do you know any parents who still want to teach their teenagers how to drive a car?”


Outsourcing how to ride a bike

  1. Good for Peddleheads for their entrepreneurial spirit.

    In the old days, our parents would put us on a bike without training wheels and let us go down a hill; plowing into the bushes to stop (ha). I can see why parents would outsource this these days. Not me. I'd rather outsource the driver's ed stuff.

  2. What a great idea! Parents lives are so busy now….two careers and lots of options for activities….rather than teaching safety, correct technique (without any expertise) yourself, parents can have their "bike smart" kids enjoy a bike ride together. And the kids have fun together as well. Bonus! Well done Pedalheads!

  3. This has got to be one of the most depresing observations of the state of Canadian parenting that I have read in a long time.

    • It is depressing. In my neighbourhood I see a lot of supposedly well off people outsource child rearing. I see a lot of nannies from half a world away. Are these nannies a status symbol? They are after all human beings. Is "career" so important as compared to child rearing? Knowing what I know about the modern workplace it shouldn't be. Everyone I've worked with was, in management's view, just a piece of meat with eyes, a glorified temp to be ruthlessly downsized or, better still, offshored to India. A woman once wrote that she would no more hire another woman to raise her kids than she would hire another woman to have sex with her husband. I thought it was funny but maybe she's onto something.

    • People can be so cynical. How does not being able to teach your child how to ride translate into bad parenting? Seriously? Get over yourself.

      I too am a single mother and my daughter didn't learn how to ride when she was younger, she outgrew her bike before she did and at the time we didn't live in a town like I did growing up, there weren't a lot of safe places to go riding.

      She was involved in several other activities and now that she's finally gotten a new bike at age 9, she is too big for me to teach her. I'm not a very tall person and she is very tall for her age, already more than half my size, so helping her balance (holding the back of the seat like my dad did) is very difficult.

      I've been searching everywhere for an alternative because I really want to her to learn how to ride so that we can go out on the trails together. I think this is a great idea!

  4. So after the kids learn to ride what do the parents do? Send them out on the street by themselves? Once your child learns to ride you need to spend time with them while they ride. A 2 week course does not a roadworthy 5 year old cyclist make. So how do these parents who outsource this childhood milestone ensure that their kids continue their cycling education? These are parents who don’t have time to teach their kids to lose the training wheels, but that is the shortest part of “learning” to ride. The real effort comes after they have learned to balance and need to learn the myriad of safety rules, skills judgement and basic route planning (through the puddle or around?) that a cyclist is engaged in constantly.

  5. Great idea! I do not have kids but I sure do like the idea of having them (little bikers) knowing the how too ride & behave (code of conduct) on the streets right from the start. I move 17 years ago to Vancouver. I see more & More educational material distributed to educate the adults on the how too behave on a bike & when we are driving. Now the "little bikers" have the knowledge to bike safely on the street. Eventually, they will transfer that knowledge to drive safely with the bikers.

  6. Great idea! I do not have kids but I sure do like the idea of having them (little bikers) knowing the how too ride & behave (code of conduct) on the streets right from the start. I move 17 years ago to Vancouver. I see more & More educational material distributed to educate the adults on the how too behave on a bike & when we are driving. Now the "little bikers" have the knowledge to bike safely on the street. Eventually, they will transfer that knowledge to drive safely with the bikers.

  7. My father was older than many dads by the time it was time to teach me to ride a bike (age 8) and his expectations were often somewhat ahead of what I could manage. The result; slower learning and not altogether a fun experience. Pedalheads seems to have solved that issue for older parents and, indeed, for all those parents who simply weren't born teachers. Congratulations pedalheads. Any chance of expanding to the Okanagan?

  8. Anyone who is so busy they don't even have time to teach their child how to ride a bicycle, probably shouldn't have children in the first place. Parenting is a full-time job. If they don't understand this, don't have kids.

    S. Wolf

    • Dear S. Wolf,

      I appreciate what you're saying. My own father taught me how to ride a bike …. endlessly running beside me, encouraging me to pedal! pedal! pedal! I am 47 years old and I remember it clearly.

      However ..

      I'm a single mother. A working professional. A caring, nurturing parent who LOVES my 7 yo son more than life, but at 48 and with a bad foot that often has me limping, I can't easily do what my father did at 30-something. I took my son out this past weekend and spent the better part of Sunday nursing a sore back and foot.

      So … I prevailed upon his father to buy him a bike … I'm going to buy myself one when he learns to ride his and plan on sharing hours riding Toronto's bike trails. Are you really going to hold it against me if I dont teach him to ride? Am I less of a parent because if I choos to subscribe to this service?

      Does it count that I've taught him to cook? Tie his shoes? Dress himself? Potty trained him? Read? Write his name?

  9. Surely a sign of the coming apocalypse – not to mention more obese children living in sterile, car-dominated communities. Hats off to the people who saw the money making opportuntiy – but shame on the parents who cannot make time to teach their own children to ride a bike safely in their own neighbourhoods.

  10. Great illustration of your point Rebecca. Very well written too. I really enjoyed reading your article.