Today, we’re going to show you how to teach a child to ride a bike. After basic skills such as walking, talking, reading, and writing, riding a bike is one of the next skills that children learn and take with them for the rest of their lives.
It’s a big deal!
First Bike Ride: a Rite of Passage
Take a moment and think back to when you first learned how to ride a bike . . .
At first, it seemed impossible. Though you had been taught each step and had spent days – even weeks – practicing, it just wasn’t working out. With every fall you added not only another scrape or bruise to your growing collection, but also another layer to your frustration and disappointment. And at some point, maybe you were ready to give up all together.
Until one time, you used all of the steps you had learned, in tandem; and suddenly, you were riding all on your own!
You might recall the immediate rush of adrenaline, or the wind blowing through your hair as you accelerated. Or you may remember your parents’ exclamations begin to trail off as you left them behind you.
The reason the scenes or emotions from that particular moment left such an indelible memory with you is because riding a bike is one of the first big accomplishments a child gets to experience. And now, as parents, we get the privilege of contributing to these special moments through teaching our own kids.
When it comes to bike riding, you probably have no shortage of questions. Should my child use training wheels? What kind of bike should I get for my child? What are the different steps I should teach them, and in what order?
Well, today we’re going to answer these questions (as well as a few more) as we show you exactly how to teach a child to ride a bike.
For the First-timers: Training Wheels vs. Balance Bikes
If your child is learning how to ride for the very first time, you might want to consider providing them with a training aid, to start. The two most commons types of aids are training wheels and balance bikes, and there is an ongoing debate between 2 different camps regarding which is better. (Training wheels were once the only option, but in recent years balance bikes have overtaken them as the most popular choice.)
To make that determination for yourself, you should understand the purposes that these aids serve. Without a doubt, the most difficult elements of bike riding are balancing and pedaling; so each type of aid takes away one of those skills in order to emphasize the other. Let’s look a look at each type and their benefits.
If balance is the part of bike riding that your child struggles with most, training wheels may be the perfect choice for you and your kid. With training wheels, your child will get the benefit of honing their pedaling, steering, and braking skills, without having to stop practicing all together due to a lack of balance.
The issue with training wheels, however, is two-fold. Far too often, parents wait months – and in some cases, a couple of years – before finally getting rid of the training wheels for good. This may be due a parent’s fear of their child falling, but it could also be due to the lack of progress the child is making.
Whatever the case may be, training wheels will only help your child if you’re willing to use them to develop your child’s skills, and to intervene if they aren’t showing signs of significant progress.
Training wheels are much like tricycles in that they allow kids to focus on riding mechanics, first and foremost.
Balance bikes are a more recent invention, and if you’ve seen one, its design might confuse you momentarily.
It’s bulky, awkward looking, and it has no pedals. But don’t let its design fool you. Balance bikes can be very useful in teaching your child, because they emphasize balance. To use a balance bike, have your child push off on the bike and work on things like coasting, steering, and braking. With no pedals, the bike never picks up enough speed to become dangerous (unless you’re using steep hills or declines), so it’s a great way for a child to learn everything except pedaling.
Check out this video that demonstrates how the worst balance bike is far superior to the best of tricycles when it comes to getting to your child to be confident and well on their way with learning to ride:
Choosing the Right Bike
When choosing your child’s first bike, you can go a number of routes. As we mentioned, there are training aids to consider. But another element to factor in is whether you want a bike that your child can grow into.
This has its pros and cons. In the long run, it might be better for your child. They will have that bike for longer and will become more familiar with its feel and tendencies. It will also be more difficult to learn to ride, which will require them to really hone their skills. And, of course, you won’t have to buy your kid a bike every year!
But a bigger bike might also stall development for a short time since there is such a large jump from never riding a bike to riding a bike that is oversized. Bigger bikes can also be intimidating to kids. It’s much trickier to maintain balance, and especially when your feet can’t touch the ground …
So a bigger bike is certainly an option. But if you’re looking for quick development at each stage of riding, a bike that is your child’s size can really help them achieve success at each level. Just be prepared to spend some more money on new bikes as your child grows older!
Now, with regards to sizing, there are a couple of important measurements that you should know about. The first is height and the second is inseam. It’s good to have your child’s height because bike companies will often post height recommendations by each of their various models. This will at least help you narrow the pool down to a few models. But the most important measurement is the inseam, and bike companies will provide this information as well.
If for some reason you don’t have access to this information, there is also a way to select a bike without any measurements. Have your child sit on the bike and try to plant their feet on the ground. If the balls of their feet lay flat, the bike is a good size (or even too small, depending on how bent their knees are); and if only their toes touch, the bike is likely too big (or at least oversized).
That’s the criteria for a normal bike, but for a balance bike you want to measure a little differently. With a balance bike, you don’t want anything too large. So if your child’s feet aren’t planted firmly on the ground, it’s not the right fit. A balance bike also gives you more leeway in terms of how bent your child’s knees are while their feet are planted. As you know, balance bikes don’t have pedals, so a bike that is slightly shorter won’t cause your child’s knees to knock or wobble anyway.
Choosing the Right Gear
First, let’s start by emphasizing that bike safety is of the utmost importance, especially when it comes to kids who are still learning how to ride properly.
No matter how invincible your child might think they are, know that there will be plenty of falls and teaching moments along the way. Safety should be a point of focus from the very beginning.
The most important piece of safety gear is the helmet.
When you choose a helmet for your child, the fit is particularly important. Some helmets don’t protect the front of the head very well. Make sure the front of your child’s helmet sits approximately 1” above the eyebrows. Parents also tend to pick out helmets that are either too loose or sit too high on the head. Look for a relatively snug fit, but one that covers enough of the head without being overly restrictive.
The helmet is a must, but there are also other pieces of equipment that can help protect your child during falls.
Gloves can be an extremely handy addition (no pun intended) to your child’s biking gear. 9 times out of 10, we break our falls with our hands. Avoid those nasty cuts and gashes by getting your child a pair of reliable gloves to wear.
Elbow pads and knee pads can also help. Once your child has grazed their hands a few times, they might try to avoid grazing them the next time they fall. The next areas that hit the ground are usually the elbows or knees. Pads provide extra protection, and they’re not as bulky as they used to be!
(Buying tip: Schwinn sell a very economical complete set of knee & elbow pads and gloves.)
Safety tip: Before your child rides, be sure you check that their shoelaces are tied and that the hems of their jeans or pants aren’t flapping around or too long. Especially when it comes to bikes with pedals, such oversights can lead to bad injuries!
Prepping the Bike
You’ve bought your child a brand new bike, along with some key safety gear. Now it’s time to get the bike ready before attempting to ride, and there are a couple of things to check:
- Tires – make sure both bike tires are fully inflated to the right pressure levels. Flat or even semi-deflated tires create subtle balance issues and make the bike more difficult for your child to maneuver
- Seat – make sure you adjust the seat to a position where your child is comfortable. Check the height and make sure your child has enough room to pedal, but not too much room that they can barely reach. Also, even more important than the height of the seat is the angle of the seat. It needs to be in a position where it doesn’t irritate or create blisters after a long session.
- Brakes – make sure the brake system is in good order. If the brakes aren’t as responsive, troubleshoot what the problem might be and make adjustments until the bike is in suitable riding condition.
How to Teach a Child to Ride a Bike
We’ve discussed everything from training wheels to bike preparation, and now we’re finally ready to learn how to teach a child to ride a bike!
Bonus tip: If at any point your child starts to get overly frustrated with the process, don’t hesitate to call it quits for that day! If they’re not enjoying it, they won’t get it …
Riding itself is not actually very difficult at all. It’s the multitasking aspect of riding that children struggle with the most. At a given time, bike riding requires you to perform a number of functions at once. So, focus on teaching your child these functions one by one; and when they have mastered each skill, then you can work on piecing them together.
When it comes to difficulty, coasting is at the bottom of the list. Your child can learn how to coast, even without mastering their bike balance.
Start by simply pushing your child on their bike. Most importantly, this will get them feeling more and more comfortable with their bike and its movement, and how it responds to the terrain.
Coasting is where a balance bike can be extremely helpful. Have your child scooter and then coast for very short distances at a time. Because they can use their feet to start and stop, they have proper control of the bike. Over time, they will be able to increase their coasting distances without stopping.
The most foundational elements of most activities are “go” and “stop”, so it makes sense that these are the first 2 riding skills that your child learns. After they have a handle on coasting, show your child the brakes and how they work.
It used to be that some bikes didn’t have hand-braking systems. Instead, we would have to backpedal in order to stop the bike . . . Remember that? Well, that technique is mostly a thing of the past, and for good reason. Almost all bikes are equipped with hand brakes today.
At first, your child might instinctively clamp down the hand brake as hard as they possibly can. Of course, the bike reacts by coming to a screeching halt, almost launching your child from the seat. So, instead, have your child practice clenching the brakes slowly, so as to come to a gradual stop.
After your child has mastered this, introduce coasting back into the equation. Have them coast and brake for short increments, reminding them how to stay alert at all times.
While still an intermediate level step, turning is the first task that your child might need some time to fully grasp.
It’s all about timing. It’s not as simple as twisting the handlebars one way in order to change direction. You should be looking to teach your child about when to start turning, the angle on which to turn, and when to complete the turn.
There’s certainly a learning curve to using all 3 of these mini-steps in concert, so introduce a few exercises that will help your child understand. Pick a corner or area where your child can perform a full 90-degree turn. With them coasting at a certain speed, mark out the point (with a cone, piece of tape, or other safe and recognizable object) where they should begin the process of turning. Then, mark the point where they should have finished completing the turn. The space in between is where your child will need the most practice; so give them plenty of feedback on their turns!
You might recall us talking about the elements of pedaling and balance when we discussed training wheels versus balance bikes. These 2 skills are the most difficult for small kids to master, so you can expect there to be hang-ups, errors, and a few falls along the way.
You can introduce pedaling in a few different ways. At first, the motion of pedaling might feel awkward to a child. It tests their strength and motor skills. Start by having them pedal on a stationary bike, whether at home or at your local gym. This can be a safe way to learn pedaling without moving or running out of room.
Once they’re accustomed to the motion of pedaling, hold them on their bike while they focus solely on moving those pedals forward. This will feel like coasting, and will allow you to introduce the additional steps of braking and turning, all while you continue to hold and direct them.
The next skill, and perhaps the most difficult skill to learn, is balance. Balance isn’t just physical. It’s mental. Any number of things can disrupt a child’s balance, whether it’s a lack of confidence or even an abundance of confidence.
Many parents make the mistake of neglecting to teach proper balance all together. Braking? Check. Turning? Check. Pedaling? Check. Now, let’s put it all together and ride!
If you’ve tried this, it probably hasn’t gone the way you had envisioned . . . And at the very least, it delayed the process.
Spend proper time teaching your child proper balance. Start by building their confidence and emphasizing positivity. Then, teach them how to maintain good posture and symmetry while straddling the bike.
Once you sense their confidence growing and a knack for good balance, have them introduce pedaling while you stand next to them and guide them.
And then one day, just as you did all those years ago, they will start riding on their own. Sit back, look on with pride, and take in their joyous expressions as they pedal around for the very first time.
Now that you’ve learned how to teach a child to ride a bike, why don’t you get started? As long as your child is at a suitable age to start learning, it’s an activity that you will both enjoy teaching and learning together.
Have you ever taught your child to ride? What was your experience? We’d love for you to share with us in the comment section below!
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