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?”