Learning to ride a bike can be one of the most challenging—yet exciting—experiences of early childhood. It's freedom and independence for your child, the ability to pick up speed and go places quickly, but it doesn't happen overnight! It takes trial and error, slips and falls, and just like learning to walk (although they likely don't remember this), you simply have to encourage them to get up and get moving more times than they fall down.
It's a rite of passage, parent and child bonding and you'll want to be there every step of the way to help them reach their goals and become a successful cyclist! But how? And when? And where to start?
We put together a few helpful tips to help your child learn to ride a bike. From knowing when to get started to helping them learn to pedal and brake, you're in for a journey that will leave you and your child smiling and ready for the next two-wheeled adventure!
Look to Them Set the Pace
Everyone learns differently and at their own pace. While you may have heard that a good time for a child to begin learning to ride a bike is around five years old, your child may be ready earlier or later depending on their coordination, development and ultimately, their interest. Look to them to decide: Where do you see them with their development of gross motor skills and coordination, and most importantly, do they really want to learn to ride a bike?
Pushing for your child to learn to ride too soon may cause them to face failures and frustrations beyond that which they can pull through easily. If they don't want to learn, it's more likely to be a frustrating experience than a successful one. The goal is to make bicycle riding a fun and life-long passion!
Nothing will pull them through all the falls, slips and tumbles of learning to ride a bike (no matter how coordinated they are off the bike to begin with) better than their own desire and motivation to succeed. So before picking up the bike, make sure they're interested and really ready (and willing) to learn.
Find the Right Bike
There is a lot to consider when buying a kids bike: wheel size, frame size, brake method, gears/no gears and not to mention the color/cool factor.
Buying the right size will have a direct effect on their success in learning to maneuver the bike. If it's too big or heavy, they're going to have a harder time getting going and will likely have more spills and falls. For beginners, a lighter bike where they can comfortably rest their feet on the ground while sitting on the seat is best.
As for the aesthetics—don't forget to include your kid in the selection process! This can even help drum up some excitement around learning to get them interested and invested in the process.
For more details on selecting the right bicycle and establishing good bike safety once they're up and riding, click here.
Make the Helmet a Habit
Speaking of safety, getting your child in the habit of wearing a helmet anytime they're on the bike starts with their very first ride. Along with having the right bike fit, make sure to also fit them for a bike helmet—that way you can start on day one with a "no helmet, no ride" rule of thumb.
While it may be tempting to reach for any helmet on hand (an older sibling's larger helmet or the helmet they wear for T-ball), it's important to remember that in order for the helmet to do its job, it has to fit your child correctly and should be designed for wear on the bike.
Click here for a helpful guide for selecting and fitting your child with a helmet to keep them safe on their new set of wheels.
When it comes to choosing where you should help your child navigate all the early wobbles in learning to ride their first bike, there are a couple things you'll want to keep in mind.
First, make sure there's enough space. It's ideal to have flat, wide-open pavement where you can use cones to add or remove barriers and turns. Some think to try riding on the grass first, but this can pose challenges of its own as it's harder to pick up speed and coast. Look for a large, vacant parking lot or wide-open park space.
Next, while it might be most convenient for you to take your child down to your neighborhood park or set up cones in your cul-de-sac for them to learn to ride, it might be advantageous to drive a bit. In your neighborhood the probability of someone they know coming by while they're working through the inevitable tumbles and spills can be distracting at best and discouraging at worst. Taking them somewhere less familiar allows them more privacy to work through the early failures that come with learning something new. Find a park in the next town over or an empty lot in another neighborhood. Doing so can even make the event that much more special—add in a little detour to get a treat together on the car ride home to really put the icing on the cake.
Balance Is Key
Many parents these days opt to start their child out on a balance bike as early as possible to get them used to catching themselves with their feet and coasting on two wheels. This is a great start to learning to ride a bike and can actually be similarly achieved on any child's bike by simply lowering the seat and removing the pedals.
Removing the pedals allows you to isolate the skill that your child is working on—learning to balance and pedal at the same time is a lot. With the pedals removed they can push themselves along with their feet and lift them up to coast when they're comfortable. You'll start to see them coast for longer and longer distances, gaining confidence and balance. Eventually you can add the pedals back on and support them as they focus in on adding this new skill to what they mastered on the bike without them.
Don't Forget the Brakes
Depending on the type of brakes you have on your child's bike, you'll want to make sure they practice with them before they really get moving.
If your child has handlebar brakes, they can practice with them while they're coasting and stopping on the bike without the pedals. Simply encourage them to try using the handlebar brakes, then put their feet down rather than stopping with their feet.
If your child has coaster brakes (brakes applied by pedaling backward), you'll have to help them practice this along with learning to pedal. You can support them by holding the bike stationary and having them practice pedaling backward to get a feel for the braking resistance prior to having them try them while moving.
Be Patient and Positive
In the same way we need to wait for our kids to want to ride a bike before we rally to get them out there, we need to allow them whatever time it takes for them to be successful. No two kids are going to learn to ride a bike on the exact same timeline. Be there to cheer them on and help them through the moments when they get bogged down by failure. Point out to them what they're doing right, keep things light and fun and know when it's time to encourage them to take a rest (ice cream break?) and try again tomorrow.
Helping them set small, reasonable goals that they can reach each day will help build their confidence and help them become fully independent on two wheels!
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