For some parents teaching their kids to ride a bike is as stressful, exhausting and time-consuming as toilet training. But it doesn’t have to be like this! Follow these simple steps and in no time at all your child will have mastered the enjoyable art of getting from A to B on two wheels like a pro.
1. Don’t force it
Generally speaking, most kids start learning to ride a bike between the ages of three and six, but each child is different, and it depends on their physical and mental development. So if they’re not comfortable or resisting the process, then perhaps it’s best to wait until they’re a bit older and ready to learn. Believe us, this will happen quicker than you think, especially once they see their peers riding their bikes!
2. Get the right bike
Don’t be tempted to buy a bike that’s too big for your child so it will last longer as they grow; this will make it harder for her to learn and possibly turn her off the idea altogether. When your child is standing above the top bar/tube, her feet should sit flat on the ground. Also, avoid a second-hand bike that’s broken or has flat tyres – this will also hinder progress and make learning to ride less enticing.
3. Forget training wheels
Despite what we’ve been led to believe, in the long run, training wheels (or stabilisers) don’t actually help your child learn to ride. Instead, they let her get comfortable and used to riding on four wheels, which then makes learning to balance a lot harder. What kids need initially is less support, not more.
The best thing to do is remove the pedals so your child can get used to the feel of their weight on the seat and what they need to do to stay balanced. You can also buy a balance bike specifically for this purpose, but why buy an extra bike when you can take the pedals off? Just be sure to lower the seat too, so their feet can reach the ground.
4. Scooting and coasting
Once you’ve set up a bike with no pedals or training wheels, make sure your child has a safety helmet that fits correctly (i.e. doesn’t sit too high up or move more than an inch when you push it from side to side). Then it’s time to get scooting! Go to a safe spot like a bike track or an empty driveway or carpark and let them ‘scoot’ around, using their feet against the ground.
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The next stage is coasting. Show her how to lift her feet up and drift along for a few seconds at a time. A safe, gentle slope is perfect for this and can really accelerate their understanding of how to balance.
5. Cracker crunching
Turning and steering are next on the list. Some fun ways to help a child master these actions are to set up markers or obstacles to scoot or coast between. Or, place crackers on the ground that she can try and run over (getting further away each time), teaching her to look ahead and aim for a target – fun and practical!
5. Pedal to the medal
Once she’s scooting, coasting, steering and turning with no dramas, then it’s time to pop those pedals back on and try riding a bike for real. Keep the seat low initially so she can stop with her feet if she needs to, and get her to practice finding the pedals with her eyes closed while you hold the bike. The next step is to practice starting the bike from a stationary position, from one foot on the ground to both on the pedals and moving forward – feel free to hold her shoulder for extra balance if she needs it. However, all that pedal-free scooting should make this fairly easy. Once again, a slope is an excellent place for her to learn as it pushes the bike forward. Once she’s off and away, the final step is to get her to practice using the brakes instead of her feet on the ground.
6. Keep it fun
Last, but most importantly, make sure learning to ride a bike is fun. Don’t yell at her or make her feel scared or out of her comfort zone, such as pushing her down a hill when she’s not ready, or making her keep going after a heavy fall or ride in the pouring rain. The more fun it is, the easier it will be for her to learn to ride (and less stressful for you!). And feel free to grab your wheels for a joint ride along. She’ll love trying to keep up with you!