Thinking about teaching your child to ride a bike but unsure where to begin? In this article, Tom de Pelet – cycling expert and founder of Hornit, a leading cycling accessory brand for adults and children – shares his insight and practical experience on teaching children to ride a bike. Plus there’s a chance to win a fantastic bundle of cycling accessories for children worth £55. Perfect for encouraging children to learn to ride their bikes, keep safe and have fun!
How times have changed. Learning to ride a bike for me was more like bobsleighing: the experienced person, my mother in this case, did the running and pushing, but didn’t jump on board, leaving the 4-year-old pilot to go down the grassy park bank and end up in a heap when the momentum ended. Repeat.
Having taught two children to ride a bike in somewhat different conditions, there are some pointers to get your little one up and running safely in their own time.
Getting started with teaching your child to ride a bike
The importance of balance
It helps to understand what makes riding a bike for the first time tricky. The main thing is simply not having the balance that someone that can ride a bike takes for granted and not knowing how to pedal. If you can crack the balancing first, pedalling is much easier to master.
First things first. It’s all about the bike when you teach your child to ride a bike: the balance bike to be precise. Balance bikes are wonderful because your child will be able to start getting to grips with balance from the age of 2 or 3. In the early days adjust the seat height so they can sit on the bike and touch the floor with both feet and just walk the bike round. As they gain in confidence, gradually increase the seat height so they can easily take bigger strides, but still touch the ground with both feet.
What about stabilisers?
A word on stabilisers: don’t! The child will learn habits that massively hinder balancing and has to unlearn these before being able to get a sense of balance. If you already have the pedal bike, just remove the pedals and turn it into a balance bike. Please don’t be tempted into getting stabilisers.
‘Gliding’ or ‘free-wheeling’ with their feet up is what you’re aiming for. Encourage them to take longer strides or bunny strides (both feet push off at the same time) and glide as much as possible. One day they will suddenly ‘get it’ and be able to ride on a slight downhill slope without touching the ground, but remember, a lot of balance bikes don’t have brakes, so the gradient should be gentle.
A world with pedals
Balance mastered, now they’ll be ready for a bike with pedals.
Check they can reach and operate the brakes.
Tell them to put one foot on a pedal and use the other to kick forwards to give momentum – just like they did with the balance bike. Then when they’re ready get them to put their other foot on the pedal and cruise without pedalling. Again, just like they did on the balance bike.
Knowing they won’t fall over when they stop is key so be ready to catch them those first few times while they get used to free-wheeling and braking. Taking their feet off the pedals should be automatic as this is what they will have been doing naturally on the balance bike but be there just in case!
The faster the bike is going the more stable it is. So, at very low speeds, wobbling around is normal and you should be on hand to catch them, but with a little momentum (you can hold them under their arms and push) or on a flat or slightly downhill stretch they will have the balance to remain upright.
Now for the pedalling phase. Often the child will struggle to push the pedal all the way round, instead going up and then backwards on the way down. The concept can be quite alien. You may need to show them that their leg needs to push the pedal forwards (physically do this for them) in order to get the pedal past the 12 O’clock position. An extra adult could be handy.
For a child to feel confident on a bike they need to feel in control. Part of this is knowing that they can stop at any point, if they want to, by using their brakes. Most children will pull too hard on their brakes initially, so it is a good idea to first show them how to use them while walking alongside the bike. That way they can get a feel for how sensitive they are.
Needless to say, with so many elements to remember your little one isn’t going to get it right first time. When you teach your child to ride a bike, there may be a few tumbles even with you by their side, so it is important to wear a good quality helmet that fits properly on their head. You may even want to invest in some knee and elbow pads!
It also helps to watch other children, so from time to time put your bike to one side and just observe others. You can point out the things that they are doing well and then practice them yourselves. This also gives your child a well-earned break because learning to ride a bike can be exhausting both physically and emotionally (and for parents too!)
Are you looking to teach your child to ride a bike? What has been your experience so far? Or perhaps you’re looking to gift them a bike this Christmas and wondering where to start? Do share in a comment below.
We’ve teamed up with Mini Hornit to give one lucky reader the chance to win a fantastic bundle of cycling accessories for children worth £55. Perfect for encouraging children to learn to ride their bikes, keep safe and have fun!