How to teach a child to bike
The desrire to ride is the most important thing. Lots of encouragement helps.
Choose a smooth surface. A gentle slope helps the child gain momentum. It's harder to learn balance on grass as the bike is less responsive.
1. Set up your child’s bike correctly to give them the best possible start
Your child should be able to stand over their bike and be clear of the cross bar. They should not have to reach too far in front of them for the handlebars and brakes. When sat on the saddle, your child should be able to reach the ground with both of their feet on the ground.
2. Getting on and off your bike
Teach your child the fundamentals of getting on and off their bike safely. When your child gets on, encourage them to apply the brakes and lean the bike towards them. When getting off the bike, keep the brakes on.
3. Stride and glide
Encourage your child to scoot along on their bike using their feet to push off, before teaching them to pedal. This helps them to learn the feeling of balancing on two wheels. The aim is to push themselves off and keep both feet off the ground for as long as they can.
A balance bike or scooter will help your child master balance on two wheels.
4. Starting and stopping
Children should be taught to use their brakes properly from the beginning even if they cannot ride yet. You can practise by having them walk along pushing the bike and using the brakes to stop. Braking is an essential skill, which will enable them to feel in control when starting out. Balance bikes do not have brakes!
Your children should be taught to use both brakes evenly when coming to a stop. Although many children’s bikes will have a front brake it can be difficult for them to apply the brake as little hands are simply not strong enough to do so. In this case you can teach children to stop using the back pedal or coaster brakes.
5. Balance and vision
To give your child the best possible start, I would recommend balance bikes over training wheels. It’s hard to progress to riding until they learn to balance on two wheels. Training wheels shift the weight of the child from side-to-side and so it’s hard for them to learn the balancing instinct. Once the feeling of balancing is learned it doesn’t go away – it’s an internal mechanism that kicks in, hence the phrase “it’s like riding a bike”.
Encourage your child to look where they’re going. “Look where you go – go where you look” Get them to keep their eyes up and look ahead. The eyes control their inner balance and direction.
Once your child has gained their balance, it’s time to learn to pedal. Put the right pedal in the 2 o’clock position – the pedal ready position – in line with the downtube on the frame, which will help them get started and gain momentum. You can run alongside them and help support from the front by holding onto the stem to help them keep their balance. You will feel it as well when this happens. Once they get the hang of it, get them to practice riding around in areas that are free of obstacles and hazards. You can add in some gentle turns to help with steering the bike where they want it to go.
A great way to teach them to turn is to set up some cones (a friend uses rubber ducks) two to three metres apart and ride in and out with gentle turns. They’ll soon pick up the techniques for controlling their bike. Use any opportunity to practise stopping using both the brakes.
Your local Council may offer access to bike lessons. Or ask your bike shop or bike club.
Thanks Marilyn Northcotte for the tips.