How to teach a child to ride a bike

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Most parents’ memories of riding a bike consist of fear, frustration, and some battle wounds before they finally get that sweet sense of freedom. Fortunately, with the training wheels phasing out and the popularity of balance bikes, parents see their little ones switch to pedals as if it were a matter of course.

Instead of tears, there is an ear-to-ear smile and oops. My 4 year old changed a few weeks ago. I was amazed when, after his second attempt to spot him, he squealed: “Mom, let go!” And now, to the delight of my heart, he just wants to ride.

After my experience with my son, I thought I’d write down some tips and steps for those who take the plunge or are curious why Impellers take.

Training wheels: do you need them?

Balance bikes never need to use training bikes as balance bikes teach kids everything they need to know about cycling. The hardest part of learning to ride a bike is learning to balance, steer and stop.

Pedaling is actually the easiest and most intuitive part of riding a bike. After a few months or years with a balance bike, the children mostly speak the language of cycling fluently.

And as the last piece, pedaling only takes a few tries, as the hard work of balancing and steering is already rooted in you!

Training wheels, on the other hand, only teach children to pedal. And because they’re so heavy and not very good on uneven surfaces, it tends to negatively affect their confidence and natural ability to learn balance and control.

Photo credit: Chelsey Magness

From balance bike to pedal bike

While the transition from balance to pedaling can be easy, it is not the same for every child. Some are more cautious than others and that’s a-ok.

Before starting the steps below, my overriding advice is to be patient and encouraging. It will happen – maybe sooner (or later) than you expected – but your child will get there and learn a lot!

1. Make sure they are ready

After your child has been on the balance bike for a while, they are likely to show more signs that they have mastered the skill of balance by keeping their feet off the ground for extended periods of time.

Another sign that you’re ready to pedal is mastery of the steering. You can test this by placing the cones 6 to 7 feet apart. If you can easily dodge between the cones without lowering your feet or braking, you have surely mastered one of the toughest skills in cycling!

2. Learn how to stop before driving

It was very important to us that my son knew how to use the brakes. After turning him into a pedal bike, we knew it wouldn’t always be possible to put your feet on the ground to stop – or the safest option.

While there are pedal bikes with coaster brakes, I strongly believe in the front brakes as a lot of kids pedal backwards to regain balance and shore. Instead, if they step backwards and the bike stops, the children will fall over instead.

3. Driving time! Equipment matters

When switching to a new bike, make sure that the new pedal bike is very similar to the balance bike. For our son we got the next size of his favorite balance bike.

We lowered the seat as low as possible. Then we took the pedals off so he could ride around on them and get used to the bigger wheels and frame.

We also made sure that it is just a little heavier than its balance bike. Many balance bikes are much lighter than traditional target pedal bikes.

If you want your child’s transition to be seamless, consider spending a little more money and getting a lightweight first bike. Our favorites are Woom and Strider.

Child riding a pedal bike

4. Persuade her gently, but don’t be forceful

Depending on your child’s personality, they may be looking for something or they may be reluctant to make the transition. You know your child best, so lead them accordingly.

5. Take them to a pump track or park where children are their age

Our son is the oldest on our neighborhood street, so he was more than happy to be on his balance bike with his younger friends. However, after an older friend came to visit and demonstrated her skills, he immediately asked us to put the pedals back on his bike.

He had grown up with our bikes and even heard us ask several times, “Are you ready to ride a bike like mom and dad?” But he never really clicked that he too could pedal a bike until he saw someone his size slide around on one.

6. Gentle support is fine for the first while

If your child is like me and is quite cautious about new things, don’t hesitate to give them a little support.

However, if you give too much, you will never learn to pedal on your own. To make it easier for you to get on the bike, you can hold the handlebars or under the bike seat. Once you’re comfortable, switch to a light hand between your shoulder blades.

This gentle touch can be comforting for them as they orientate themselves on the new bike. However, once they start pedaling, ease your touch until you are barely there. And be ready for the “Let go mom / dad!”

Learn to ride a bike

7. Do not get rid of the wheel immediately

Although Max is very competent on his bike, he keeps asking us to get the bike out for him. I noticed that he likes to try harder or bigger things on his smaller wheel first. And the next day he’ll take out his bigger bike.

Even for longer hikes, where we know it will get tired and we will end up wearing it, we still choose the lighter balance bike.

Woom vs. Strider

For smaller and younger children we found that the Woom bikes were much more agile and lighter. The step-through height is not a problem for many one-year-olds and older people. We love the fact that it has a front brake so kids learn how to use it right from the start.

Strider are ideal for older children who can carry a little more weight. These motorcycles are indestructible and cheaper than the Woom motorcycles.

If you are not interested in the front brakes or want to switch your child to rear brakes, the pedal bikes are set up this way.

Woom bikesPhoto credit: Chelsey Magness

safety first

It is tremendous to teach your child about bike safety from the first time they get on a bike or on their own balance bike.

1. Make security a habit

Once my kids walk out the door, there is a 95% chance they will get it right for their bikes. So part of our dress code is a helmet. At first they moaned and moaned, but now they yell at me when I forget their helmet!

2. Develop a system and make it fun!

Although we live in a super safe neighborhood, I rely heavily on our systems when we are not home. When someone sees or hears a car, we all scream, “Car!” and go to the curb. As the car goes by, we make a point to wave and then scream, “Keep playing!”

And to stop, go and come back, we play red light, green light, blue light and black light. Red and green mean stop and go, blue means coming back (whoever it’s screaming at) and black light (which my son invented) means dance party!

3. Check your children’s bikes every now and then

Just as you hopefully check your wheels, handlebars, and seat every other ride, you do the same for yours Children’s bikes. Children are often heavier on their bikes than on ours.

After every accident and every other day, it is important to us to check our children’s bikes. And now our children are doing it themselves!

Repair bike

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