The outdoors and cycling are key features of a Kiwi childhood. Learning to ride a bike can help your kids to develop motor skills, balance, independence, the fundamentals of bike maintenance, and learn to value physical activity. Best of all the whole family can get involved!
Here are six tips to helping your child learn to ride a bike.
1. Set up your child’s bike correctly to give them the best possible start
Your child should be able to stand over their bike and be clear of the top tube. The bike should not be too high and they should not have to reach too far in front of them for the handlebars and more importantly the brakes. When sat on the saddle, your child should be able to reach the ground with both of their feet flat on the ground.
2. Getting on and off your bike
It’s very important to teach your child the fundamentals of getting on and off their bike safely. I would recommend the following approach.
When your child gets on their bike, encourage them to apply the brakes and lean the bike towards them. When getting off the bike, remind them to keep the brakes applied.
3. Striding and gliding or scooting along
Encourage your child to scoot along on their bike using their feet to push off before teaching them to pedal. This helps them to learn the feeling of balancing on two wheels. The aim is to push themselves off and keep both their feet off the ground for as long as they can.
Children who are too big for balance bikes should aim to learn to balance on their normal bikes without training wheels by pushing off with their feet and scooting along.
4. Starting and stopping
Children should be taught to use their brakes properly from the beginning even if they cannot ride yet. You can practise by having them walk along pushing the bike and using the brakes to stop. Braking is an essential skill, which ultimately will enable them to feel in control when starting out. Balance bikes do not have brakes! Your children should be taught to use both brakes evenly to assist with more control when coming to a stop. It is worth noting that although many children’s bikes will have a front hand brake it is often very difficult for them to apply the brake as little hands are simply not strong enough to do so. In this case you can teach children to stop using the back pedal or coaster brakes. The aim is to get them to be able to stop without wobbling too much.
5. Balance & vision
To give your child the best possible start, I would recommend balance bikes over training wheels. It’s hard to progress to riding until they learn to balance on two wheels. Training wheels shift the weight of the child from side-to-side and so it’s hard for them to learn the ‘balancing instinct’. Once the feeling of balancing is learned it doesn’t go away – it’s an internal mechanism that kicks in, hence the phrase “it’s like riding a bike”. Gaining this feeling early is invaluable as once they have it, a child will not lose it. Anything that involves balance is helpful. Scooters are good for learning to balance for older children – if they can scooter with both feet on the platform, they can learn to balance on two wheels. Encourage your child to look where they’re going. “Look where you go – go where you look” Get them to keep their eyes up and look ahead – the eyes control their inner-balance and direction. If they are looking down – it can make it harder to balance and get going when looking as it pulls you forward.
6. Pedalling work
Once your child has learned these fundamental skills and gained their balance, it’s time to start learning to pedal. Aim to have one of the pedals in the 2 o’clock position – the pedal ready position - in line with the downtube on the frame- , which will help them get started and gain momentum. You can run alongside them and help support from the front by holding onto the stem to help them keep their balance. You will feel it as well when this happens. Once they get the hang of it, get them to practice riding along and riding around in areas that are free of obstacles and hazards. You can add in some gentle turns to help with steering the bike where they want it to go.
A great way to teach them to turn is to setup some cones (a friend of mine uses rubber ducks!) two to three metres apart and ride in and out with gentle turns. They’ll soon pick up the techniques for controlling their bike. Use any opportunity to practice stopping using both the brakes.