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.

Tips to help kids learn to ride

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.

The riding

1. 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.)
2. Have your child stand at the top of the slope, straddling the bike.
3. Encourage your child to sit on the seat and walk the bike down the slope while seated on it.
4. 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.
5. You may want to encourage this gliding practice for a few minutes, hours, days or weeks.
6. 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 by Justin Coulson for Kidspot.

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10 Comments

  1. dawnblyth 02/12/2018 at 5:18 pm

    Both my boys went straight onto a bike with training wheels and loved it! Their transition to no training wheels was pretty smooth too so I think it definitely depends on the child and their ability as to whether they are confident and strong enough to push pedals or just use the bike as a balance bike. Taking the pedals off a regular bike and making it a balance bike is a fantastic money saving option.

  2. Shelz69 02/12/2018 at 9:23 am

    I love the idea of taking the wheels of the bike rather than buying a balance bike. My kids did not have balance bikes but watching my neices transition from a balance bike to a normal bike it was so smooth and easy. None of the tears and drama that I remember with mine. I just feel sad because my kids don’t really bike very often now and i remember fondly as a kid riding my bike around especially in summer holidays

  3. Alezandra 01/12/2018 at 10:49 pm

    When choosing between a trike or a balance bike…I had to do the research for my 3 year old. I knew that the balance bike was better and less prone to accidents coz it’s safely controlled by the rider. He had his balance bike since he was 2 (coz we won one from a contest – lucky) and he knows how to balance now. We haven’t transitioned him to pedal bike without training wheels. It’s down the line and when there’s a budget for it. 🙂

  4. SarahBlair 01/12/2018 at 10:12 pm

    My 6 year old has been asking to learn to ride a bike, first I will have to buy her one… I will refer back to this when the time comes, I might get mr 4 a balance bike to see if it makes the process easier for him

  5. kymmage 30/11/2018 at 10:13 pm

    Neither of my kids know how to ride a bike and I feel quite bad about it. My eldest is 11 and never showed an interest. Miss 6 is interested, and we might get her a bike soon. I’m definitely going to go and get her measured to a bike. I worry that my eldest will need training wheels as well if she does suddenly become keen.

  6. felicity beets 30/11/2018 at 8:30 am

    Great idea about not needing to buy a balance bike, just take the pedals off to start off with. I think we are a while away from bike riding. At the moment my son like to do stunt crashes off his bike and go yeee haa rather than actually trying to ride.

  7. MuddledUpMolly 26/11/2018 at 3:29 pm

    Our son learnt at 5 years but our daughter has a ‘big girl’ bike at 2 with trainer wheels and I imagine she will be riding without trainer wheels before her older brother as she is already more confident than him and more keen to be outside trying new things out.

  8. Mands1980 22/11/2018 at 4:36 pm

    All 3 of my children learned at different ages the first learned young around 3-4 but the other 2 simply didn’t want too they were scared of the crash’s but with persistence they began at around 6 years old and won’t stop now they love it.

  9. Shorrty4life1 20/11/2018 at 10:19 pm

    Both my children love bike riding they have been abit upset this week due to the bad weather stopping us from going on our daily bike ride. It’s great for me also because they are my motivation. If I say no they say no mum we have to exercise its good for us. We normally stop at the park on the way and have a swing and see who can get the highest. Great exercise all round

  10. Bevik1971 15/11/2018 at 10:05 am

    We were brought up on a farm and I can remember learning to ride – a big old clanger, we started at the top of a gravel hill and just careened down and hopefully stayed on! Haha we all had spills, even have some photos of 2 of my sisters who had come off their bikes and peeled a heap of skin off their faces 🙁 War wounds I say! My 6 year old isn’t that good at riding a bike, that’s because we live in an apartment in town and she’s never really ridden. She can ride, but not really well, we have decided to get her a bike though so we can take her to parks and she can learn to ride properly 🙂

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