Is your child about to embark upon the adventurous childhood milestone of riding their first bike? Check out our three-step method to success.
It’s a big moment in every parent’s life when your child graduates from a tricycle to a “real” bike. Some children just hop onto a two-wheel bike and take off. The majority, though, will need a bit more coaching. Age four to six seems to be the magical age for readiness. To see if your child is ready to learn to ride, check whether they’re able to turn the pedals in circles quickly and consistently.
Before you begin
Buy a bicycle that’s the right size. Your child can should be able to stand over the top tube of the bike with both feet planted on the ground. The helmet should sit level across the middle of the forehead, no more than 2.5cm above the eyebrows. Push the helmet from side to side or front to back– it shouldn’t move. If you’re worried about scrapes, dress the child in long sleeves and long pants, or consider buying knee guards and elbow guards.
Training wheels: Yay or nay?
Training wheels, sometimes called stabilisers, are popular our culture. However, many experts argue that training wheels don’t teach the child to balance properly. It’s fine to use training wheels to let your child get used to the seat and the pedals, but remove them as soon as your child is ready to learn the “real deal”.
3 STEPS TO SUCCESS
Balancing and braking on a balance bike
Balance bikes are like two-wheel bicycles, but without the pedals and with the seat lowered so that the child can touch the ground flat-footed while seated. You can buy a balance bike or modify your child’s normal bike by temporarily removing the pedals yourself. Find a traffic-free area that is large, flat, smooth, and paved, like a footpath in a park, a schoolyard, or an empty carpark. Although it’s tempting to choose grass as it’ll cushion the falls, soft surfaces are harder to pedal on.
Let your child scoot on the balance bike so that they get the feel of balancing. Once confident, they can lift their feet and coast for a second or two with their legs outstretched as counterbalances. Eventually they will be able to coast while balancing until the bike stops moving. To teach braking with their feet, find a low, grassy hill with a gentle slope. Let them coast down and stop the bike at the bottom.
Steering a balance bike
Once your child can scoot and coast, show them how to turn gently and make big loops. Progress to slightly sharper and tighter turns. Set up safety cones on a gentle curve, and challenge your child to follow the line. Once they’ve mastered that, ask them to weave between the obstacles. Train your child to scan the road ahead: Draw a chalk cross on the ground three meters away and ask them to run over the cross with the bike. Repeat it for five meters, then seven meters.
Now add the pedals and show them how to use the brakes. Tell them to walk alongside the bike and pull on the brake levers to see what happens. Demonstrate the difference between hard and soft braking. Now they’re ready to hop on.
By Yvonne Walus