A rite of passage for most children is learning to ride a bike. Kids love bikes and look forward to this moment, so the important thing to keep in mind is keeping it fun and safe so they don’t get discouraged. Here’s what you need to know to start your child off:
When they can start
Children can start to learn between the ages of 3 and 6, depending on their comfort level, physical and mental development and ability to follow instructions. Make sure they are always safe, expect a few spills and keep a positive attitude. You can always enroll them in a class if you don’t feel comfortable teaching them yourself. However, you should be present during these lessons and participate when needed.
Choosing a bike
Many parents think they should buy a bike that their children will grow into but this could pose problems for the learning process. A bigger bike can be scary, very difficult to maneuver and cause more injuries. A child should have a bike that fits right and makes it easier for them to reach the handles and plant both feet on the ground. They should feel in control when they ride.
Choosing a helmet
Make sure the helmet fits your child properly. It should sit in the middle of the forehead not more than an inch above their brows; if it is too low they won’t be able to see and if too high it won’t be protecting them properly. You may consider buying them extra protective gear such as shin guards, elbow pads and kneepads. Make sure the clothing they wear is safe as well. You don’t want a shoestring or pant leg getting caught in the wheels.
Where to learn
Pick a location that is large, flat, smooth and paved – away from traffic, cars and groups of people or dangerous edges they could potentially fall into like brick walls or cliff sides. An empty school parking lot during the weekend, empty basketball or tennis court, or a blacktop, driveway or park are all ideal spots for a child to learn to ride a bike.
Removing the training wheels and pedals
Your child needs to learn how to balance; just removing the training wheels won’t necessarily give them a sense of this. Removing the pedals will help them sit and stand on the bike and feel what it is like to hold it steady without the extra wheels. Make sure they have their hands firmly planted on the handlebars and can stand on one foot at a time while sitting on the bike to improve their balance. Have your child practice scooting and coasting by picking up their feet. Hop on your own bike and show them how to coast with legs lifted and out stretched side to side. Count to 10 while they do these exercises. Next, you should try coasting as you make big loops and show them how to turn. Set up cones or an object on the ground they have to go around.
Riding with pedals
Once they have perfected scooting and coasting, you can go ahead and reattach the pedals. Make sure your child’s seat is in a lowered position and they can put both feet on the ground when they need. Have your child close his or her eyes and whip their knees high above their waist and then find the pedals with their feet. Once they can search for the pedals without looking and have a good sense of where to place their feet they can begin to move from a stationary position. Encourage your child to do large circles when pedaling and advance to figure eights. Practice alternating stopping the bike fast and gradually coming to a stop. Play ‘Red Light, Green Light’ to get them used to the brakes. Once your child is comfortable pedaling, braking and following the leader when you ride with them, you can go ahead and adjust their seat up. As soon as your child really gets the hang of balancing, pedaling and braking, knows the safety rules and becomes more confident on the bike, cycling can become a favorite past time for you and your family. Happy trails!