How to teach a child to ride a bike

by - Tuesday, April 09, 2013

As the old saying goes, "you never forget how to ride a bike". This assumes, of course, that you have previously learned how to ride a bike, and if you're reading this article I imagine you have a child in need of learning this lifelong skill.

Learning how to ride a bike without stabilisers can be very intimidating to children. There are so many things to consider at once: how to balance, when to brake, how to steer... and how to avoid that fast approaching lamppost!

Here is some advice to make the transition from four wheels to two a little less intimidating for both you and your child, so they may learn this important skill and begin to enjoy the thrill of riding a bike unaided.

Always insist on a helmet!

Whether your child is riding on public highways or the lawn in your back garden, you should always insist they wear a safety helmet! 

I doubt there is need to point out the reasons why head protection is of such importance here, though can attest from personal experience that it is better to begin wearing a helmet from day one than trying to persuade a confident child to wear their helmet once they've graduated to tarmacked surfaces. 

A bike helmet should fit properly: snug and comfortable - rather than something too large which you think they may "grow into" - and of course should bear safety standard markings. Take a look at this page from the NHTSA website for very clear advice about fitting and wearing bike helmets.

Be sure your child is ready

A child who feels ready to ride without stabilisers is far more likely to succeed than one who feels pressured into trying. Children vary vastly in the age they begin riding unaided: I've known children as young as three ride up and down their street whilst my son and I were both twelve when we finally felt ready!

There is no magic age at which children learn to ride their bikes. At the beginning of summer, your child may shudder at the thoughts of removing their training wheels, but after endless days of watching their friends ride by unaided they may realise their confidence has increased. Play it by ear and you'll know when the time is right.

Remove the pedals

By taking the pedals off the bike and lowering the seat, your child will be able to learn to balance much more quickly than when also considering leg momentum. 

At first, using feet to propel themselves may seem a little silly, but after building up a little speed your child will be able to pull their feet off the floor and discover the ease with which they keep the bike upright. Once this confidence has been built, they will relish being able to cycle properly with their pedals!

Consider a balance bike

Balance bikes are training bikes for younger children which have no pedals at all. The frames of balance bikes are usually more lightweight than regular cycles, either wood or light aluminium.

Until rather recently I hadn't heard of these marvellous bikes, but after seeing a little boy zooming around our local park on his cute wooden training bike we'll definitely be getting our youngest one of these for his second birthday!

Children aged between 2 and 5 are ideally suited for balance bikes, and you'l find a wonderful selection of styles and colours available. Try Kiddimoto for cute wooden bikes or Bikestar for a more traditional model. Don't forget to check out eBay for great bargains on both new and used models!

Ensure you have plenty of safe space

Not everyone lives on a quiet cul-de-sac with plenty of safe flat road on which to practise. Try visiting a nearby park or cycling around a sports field at first to allow your child to build confidence before having to worry about parked and moving cars. 

Learn to let go!

With my daughter, I was more worried about removing her stabilisers than she was! After watching her wobble around on her training wheels for weeks, I was convinced she'd tumble and injure herself, and at first wouldn't allow them to be removed even though she'd asked herself!

My other half realised that my concerns were holding her back and unbolted them when I popped out to the shops. Less than half an hour later, Princess was pedalling up and down the street on two wheels shouting "Look at me Mum, I can do it!". 

Chances are, your child is more capable than either of you realise. Be confident in your child's abilities and through your expression they will learn to be more confident in themselves. The scratches and scrapes encountered through the inescapable act of falling off become insignificant in comparison to the sense of pride at riding unaided!

Enrol your child for cycling proficiency lessons

Once your child has mastered the basic skills of riding a bike, you may want to consider enrolling them for a basic cycling proficiency course. These are often operated in schools and help your child learn essential safety skills for riding on public highways.

In the UK, the Bikeability scheme offers three levels of proficiency for children in primary school and older. Badges and certificates are awarded and children are encouraged to take all three levels. 

Final thoughts

Helping your child learn to ride a bike is an enjoyable and rewarding experience for both of you, and is a skill which will last for the rest of their lives. Whether you are teaching for the fun experience of childhood or so you can go on long bike rides as a family, I hope this article has provided some helpful advice.

Please feel free to add your own experiences, suggestions and comments using the form below.

Photo credit: chefranden, via Flickr

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