John Lennon once said, “As a kid, I had a dream — I wanted to own my own bicycle. When I got the bike, I must have been the happiest boy in Liverpool, maybe the world.”
Learning to ride a bike is just as much a childhood prerequisite as it is a rewarding experience. The first few meters that your kids pedal is a memory to treasure – it is then that they experience what it’s like to be on their own. In this rite of passage, it is up to you to teach them the ropes of traveling on two wheels. At the same time, you score the opportunity to bond and have fun with your kids.
Fun shouldn’t be the only motivation! According to the US Department of Health and Health Services, children spend almost a third of their day sedentary, either in front of a TV or computer screen. Biking is a great physical fitness habit to encourage because it improves both physical and mental health. This exercise doesn’t add to the carbon footprint either!
Is your kid ready to learn bike riding? Typically, parents consider the age range of 3 to 6 years old at the appropriate time to impart the skill of bike riding. The teaching method is not one-size-fits-all; it depends on a child’s pace and ability to escape his or her comfort zone.
Here is a simple walkthrough on how you can get started.
Teaching kids mean that you are teaching little people with developing motor coordination. They can be curious and careless, so it is best to proceed with foresight.
In bike riding, the fit of your gear is as crucial as your skills. Lighter bikes, while a bit pricey, are more appropriate for children as they require less leg power. The bike is at the right height if your child can firmly plant his or her feet on the ground while standing over the top tube. Check the tires – ideally 14-16 inches for kids’ bikes – if they are inflated to the correct pressure.
The helmet should be, at most, an inch above the eyebrows and must be snug (but not tight) around the head. You can also throw in some knee pads, gloves, and shin guards for extra protection.
The location should be roomy, flat, and paved. Living in the suburbs gives you plenty of space to practice; otherwise, just look for open space with no traffic, like a school playground or an empty parking lot. If you’re lucky, you might even find a vacant tennis or basketball court.
Balance is key
One effective method is to start by training your kids to balance themselves on their bikes before teaching them how to pedal. You can use balance bikes or simply remove the pedals for a makeshift model.
Why learn balance first? Pedaling is a simple two-step motion, but balance takes longer to grasp. Some children may be anxious or may have trauma that prevents them from freely leaning how to balance. You know your child best, so be patient and follow his or her pace.
Scooting and coasting are two fundamental movements to learn and aid your child in gaining confidence on the saddle. Primarily, children learn through observation, so try to set an example on your bike and see how well they follow you. Coasting is a bit more complicated than scooting, so be attentive. As your child becomes more comfortable performing these two basic movements, start guiding him or her through large looping turns.
If your child gets demotivated along the way, spice up the lessons by playing games. For instance, set a goal for the amount of time your feet remain raised while coasting, then increase that time limit as you go on. For turning, set up an obstacle course that will challenge your kid to swerve around objects or run over them. Be creative – use safety cones, crackers – but pay attention to safety.
Before embarking on this next milestone, keep the seat lowered so your child can still plant his or her feet on the ground. Practice pedal awareness by seating children on the bike with closed eyes, then letting them find the pedals.
Take your time in teaching your kid to pedal. While standing over the bike with one foot on the ground and the other on the pedal, ask him or her to push down from the 2 o’clock position. This will push the bike forward, and your child can apply the scooting skill he or she learned earlier. Give your kid room to master it independently but show that you are around by placing a hand on his or her shoulder or bike saddle.
While your kid slowly becomes more accustomed to pedaling, teach him or her to steer by tracing figure 8’s on the ground. He or she should look ahead to steer straight.
Finally, have your child practice braking by slowly applying pressure on the coaster brake until he or she can manage without wobbling. Explore creative ways to teach this skill, like playing “Red Light / Green Light.”
The right time to reposition the saddle to the standard position is when your kid becomes comfortable with using the brakes. When raising the saddle, make sure that the child’s leg is only slightly bent while resting on the bottom of the pedal stroke.
Teaching your kids anything requires patience, attentiveness, and a lot of positive reinforcement. Multiply those by three for bike riding! Even so, the joy that comes from spending time with your family is worth it. The skill of bike riding gives your child a free pass to a lifetime of adventure.