People say, “you’ll never forget, it’s like riding a bike”. But what happens if you never learnt to ride a bike?
I never had a balance bike, only a tricycle. I started to learn when I was about 6 with the help of training wheels. It was all nice and easy, but once my Dad took off the training wheels, it was different story. There was no more safety net and a lot more wobbling and scraped knees. The ultimate test came when I was gliding along, minding my own business, when a magpie decided I was in its territory and started diving at my helmet. I don’t remember peddling much, more running along with the bike trying to duck out of the magpie’s way. Nevertheless, it helped me gain confidence and within a few weeks I was riding solo around the block with ease.
As there’s not many magpies in central London, there’s the VeloBalance class at Lee Valley VeloPark to help build confidence.
Date Visited: Various dates – generally Sunday mornings
Location: Lee Valley VeloPark, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Abercrombie Rd, London E20 3AB
Getting There: Closest train – Stratford station (25 mins walk). There is free parking available on-site if you register your car with the centre
Cost: £5 per session
Review: We were introduced to the VeloBalance bike sessions through one of Cara’s best friends. As it allowed Cara to socialise, keep fit and learn a new skill, it was a no-brainer signing up for the classes. You’ll need to register online and book a date and time, with weekends being a lot more popular.
Driving there is quite easy and accessible, with free parking available for those attending a session at the VeloPark. Be sure to register your vehicle once inside, otherwise you’ll be fined. The first time we attended we ended up paying for parking as we did not realise it was free.
Once inside, you sign in and provide consent as the parent or guardian, while the kids receive a colourful wristband. Then you’re directed into the velodrome, where all the magic of the London 2012 Olympics happened. The classes are provided in the centre section, and if it’s your first time there, you realise how steep the banks are for cyclists. Luckily, Cara will be learning on a flat surface.
After a brief introduction, the instructor starts the warm-up with a few laps around the circuit and some stretches. This is followed by balancing on some blocks. Helmet fitting is then completed for each child in the session, even if you bring your own, with lots of helmet tapping to ensure they work. Cara is then sized up and provided with the appropriate balance bike.
At this point, the ‘riding’ begins. Starting off from walking with the bike, to more advanced skills like bunny hopping, lifting the legs up and steering. Cara took about two lessons to gain the confidence to walk the bike by herself. There’s usually two type of kids;
- Those that are happy to ride by themselves and go as fast as they can, or
- Those that want you to walk beside them or hold their seat for support
Unfortunately for my back, Cara falls into the second category, especially during the initial sessions. There’s a lot of encouragement from the instructor and it’s always a proud parent moment when you see them gain the confidence to ride by themself. Cara is still on the balance bike stage, however once they reach a certain development point, the instructor can add pedals to the bike.
Cara always has a fun time there and seems to be picking up the skills each session. Pretty good way to spend a fiver.
- Ensure your child is wearing comfy clothes and shoes. It’s also a good idea if you are too in case you need to support them!
- Given the physical exertion, bring some water and snacks. Cara tends to take a break halfway through the session and the cafe within the centre is not that close
- Make a day out of it. With VeloPark near Westfields Stratford, we tend to pop by for lunch after each session. Alternatively, you can follow one of the paths and depending on the weather, have a picnic in the park
Lee Valley – https://www.visitleevalley.org.uk/
Lee Valley VeloPark – https://www.visitleevalley.org.uk/en/content/cms/london2012/velo-park/
Burn Time: 3 out of 5 – VeloBalance bike sessions are approximately 60 mins, including warm-up, balance bike selection, and helmet fitting. If including the post-balance bike visit to Stratford, then it can potentially take up a whole day
Value: 5 out of 5 – fun, social and affordable activity that provides the foundation for bike riding skills
Overall: 4 out of 5 – Great skill for children to learn while getting them tired at the same time