Learning to ride a bike
Learning to ride a bike is a right of passage for most kids. Even though we tend to transport our children in our cars a lot more than a generation or two ago, a kids' bike is still a favourite play thing. Heading out with the family for a bike ride is also a great way to spend a sunny weekend - exercise, quality time, fresh air and a vitamin D top-up, all rolled into one! Parenting expert and father of five, Dr Justin Coulson, remembers what it was like to teach his kids how to ride and reveals the tips and tricks for getting it right.
Riding a bike is wonderful. You feel the wind rushing against your face, blowing your hair as you pedal breathless up a hill or race a friend. It's the ultimate freedom. Nothing enters your mind as you speed along paths enjoying the outdoors. Of all the things that feel like childhood, bike riding is certainly one of them.
Thinking back, though, learning to ride can be difficult, painful and sometimes bloody.
I’ve tried a bunch of tricks to help the kids master the bicycle, from using training wheels through to running along behind them with one hand holding their seat for balance. All of these ideas work. But they each involve multiple crashes and adhesive strips, a parent having a sore back from bending to hold the seat and exhaustion from running behind the bike.
The first bike
When our fifth daughter wanted to ride bikes with her big sisters we bought her a balance bike. (It's a bike without pedals.) After about 25 minutes we found she was riding beautifully. Within a few short sessions, she had transitioned to a bike with pedals at the age of three – no training wheels required.
Learning to ride a bike
1. Getting ready
Before we get into the bike riding, we want to reduce risks to minimise the likelihood of pain your child might experience. Does your child want to learn to ride? Riding is challenging and if your child is unmotivated it will be a horrible experience likely to end in crashes and tears.
2. The right fit
My local bike shop suggested that a child should be able to stand over the top of the top-tube with a small amount of room to spare (perhaps a few centimetres).
3. A good perch
My bike shop sales guy suggested keeping the seat low in the early stages so it’s easy to sit on.
4. Helmets are a must
So are shoes. Some parents encourage knee and elbow-pads plus gloves. Personally, this is too cumbersome for me and so far my kids have all done fine without them. (The worst crash we’ve experienced led to grazes down my daughter’s shoulder and arm. The usual protection wouldn’t have worked anyway.)
5. Find a large open space
Find a space where there is no traffic and a slight slope. It might be on the grass but a path or quiet road or car park will also work.
- You don’t need to buy a balance bike. You can simply remove the pedals from your child’s bike and it will work exactly the same way. (Note that the pedals are threaded in different directions.)
- Have your child stand at the top of the slope, straddling the bike.
- Encourage your child to sit on the seat and walk the bike down the slope while seated on it.
- Do this for as long as it takes for your child to be comfortable. As things progress, your child will start to glide, riding faster and faster down the slope.
- You may want to encourage this gliding practice for a few minutes, hours, days or weeks.
- Once your child is confident to glide up and down hills and along flat sections, put the pedals back on the bike (or put them on a regular bike if they were on a balance bike). Have them glide down the slope with their feet on the pedals and encourage them to pedal.
That’s it. Sounds easy, right?
Things to consider
Every child learns at different speeds. Some kids will pick it up in 30 minutes. Others may take a few weeks. Be patient and encouraging. Learning to ride is a real accomplishment. For most kids, the pedalling part will take a few sessions. Remember that younger kids will typically need a little more time. If they are uncomfortable, push them a little bit but make sure you don’t get too heavy-handed. Fear and failure can be de-motivating.
More than anything, practise. Bike riding is a skill that kids get better at through trying. The more they do it, the more comfortable they’ll be with it and the better they’ll get. Once they can ride, they’ll be able to enjoy the freedom and feelings that only come from being a kid on a bike.
This article was written for Kidspot by Dr Justin Coulson. Justin is a relationships and parenting expert, author and father of five children. Find him on Facebook, Twitter, and at happyfamilies.com.au.
This article is part of the Healing the Hurts campaign sponsored by BAND-AID brand adhesive strips.