Learning to ride a bike is a rite of passage in your child’s life. This white-knuckle introduction into mobile independence is a huge step for them, and it’s a big day for you as well! When you take off the training wheels, it’s up to you to teach your child the basics of riding on their own. Make sure this big moment goes smoothly – and your cyclist feels accomplished! – by following this easy step-by-step guide for teaching your child to ride a bike.
1. Pick a practice spot
Some people recommend learning in grass. This seems logical, as the grass provides a nice, plush surface to cushion potential falls. However, it’s actually pretty hard to pedal on grass. Instead, find a flat, smooth area that’s free of traffic – a place that is freshly paved is ideal! A large parking lot is a perfect practice area, but make sure to go at a time when you won’t have to worry about cars coming and going. You could also try an empty tennis or basketball court.
2. Adjust the bike seat & your child’s helmet
It’s crucial that the bike is adjusted properly for your child. If the bike is too big, the process of learning to ride can be more difficult and intimidating. Your child should be able to touch the ground with the balls of their feet when they are sitting on the seat. If they can’t touch the ground, the seat is too high. If they can put their feet flat on the ground, it is too low. And don’t forget about their helmet! The helmet should sit level across the middle of the forehead, no more than one inch above their eyebrows. Check out REI’s expert advice article for more information on choosing and fitting a bike helmet.
3. Teach them how to brake
Before you let them try on their own, make sure they’re comfortable with braking. If there are coaster brakes on your child’s bike, show them how to rotate the pedals backwards to stop the bike. If there are handbrakes, show them how those handbrakes will stop the wheels. Have them practice squeezing the handbrakes gently, allowing the bicycle to come to a gradual stop.
4. Be a co-pilot for their first few tries
This is extremely beneficial for your little rider. They will get a feel for how the bicycle handles and gain confidence in their own ability to maneuver it. Here’s how to support them. First, don’t hold on to the seat of the bike, the handlebars, or any part of the bike at all. Instead, stand behind your child and place your hands under their armpits. The back wheel will be between your legs. You will prevent your child from falling, but the bicycle will be entirely under their control. As you help them, talk them through the act of pedaling.
5. Let them try on their own
Time for your little rider to fly free! After a few trial runs with your support, your child should start getting the hang of balancing, pedaling, and braking. Now, it’s time for them to fly solo. Show them how to start by putting one foot on the ground and the other on the pedal. Walk next to them as they begin to help them feel safe and supported. Remind them to place their feet on the ground after braking so they don’t topple over! Encourage them to practice until they feel comfortable and confident on the bicycle.
Your child may be fearless and master the art of biking quickly, or they may shriek with terror when you step an inch away from their bike. Whichever category your little rider falls in, do your best to teach them with patience and positivity. The entire experience will be much more enjoyable if your child has a positive association with bike riding. Most importantly, have fun!