I Want to Ride my Bicycle! I Want to Ride my Bike!

I remember my first bike.  It was red with sparkles on it.  It had a banana seat and it was the bike I learned to ride on.  My next bike was blue and had an even bigger banana seat with flowers on it and a basket on the front.  As a kid I spent a lot of time on my bike.  I rode to my grandparents' homes,  to friends houses, and even to the local gas station so I could buy candy!  I carried food in my basket, toys, and even my dog!

Learning to ride a bike is another one of those rites of passage when you are growing up.  It gives you more freedom and is yet another skill that you can say you have mastered.  Unfortunately learning to ride isn't always easy!  Our oldest son wasn't interested in riding his bike and didn't master it until he was around 8 years old.  Our youngest son was all in and just learned this week at age five.  There isn't any magic age to learning to ride a bike, but there are things that you can do to help your child learn to ride.

Here is what I have learned that can help:

  1. Find a balance bike.  Either buy one that will be used by all the children as they learn or try to borrow one.  These bikes can be pricey, but if you do a search for "balance bike" or "first bike" you can find some at Target and other local stores for less.  Here are a few links:  Strider Bikes, KaZaam, Wee Ride, Mini Glider - there are many more!  We borrowed a mini glider. These bikes are made for younger children so you can begin your toddler on these bikes, but older kids can ride them too.  They do not have pedals and are meant for the child to use their feet on the ground to propel themselves.  The idea is that the child will put their feet up on the side of the bike and learn to balance.  I wish I had known about these when Jackson was little!  I would have invested in one right away!   We borrowed one for Tyce and he learned in a day to ride his bike!  Once they have the balancing mastered, the pedaling will come easily!
  2. The right bike.  We have found that it is easier if the bike your child begins on is just a little shorter then what the stores advise you buy for their height.  Your child should be able to sit on the seat and touch flat footed on both sides.  This will give them a sense of security when learning to ride.  Most of the time you can lower the seat on the appropriate sized bike to make this happen.  Braking with pedals can be difficult at first so they will be using their feet to catch themselves and to stop.  If they can only touch on their toes you can be sure they will fall down and depending on their level of enthusiasm it may take them a bit to get back on the bike.
  3. Location.  Whether you have a balance bike or not it is easiest to begin on a small slope.  Do not have your child pedal.  The goal is to coast and balance!  We had our kids on small hills in the grass and on our driveway.  Jackson's first tries in riding his bike were on the grass at a park.  We picked a relatively smooth grassy area for him to try out. 
  4. The steps to riding
  5. Lola on the glider bike
    1. Begin without pedaling going down as small slope either on pavement or in the grass.  Again the key is to learn to balance! 
    2. When your child is comfortable coasting along have him or her put one foot on a pedal just to rest it there.  They should not try to pedal.  When they are comfortable with that they should coast with two feet on the pedals. 
    3. When it is finally time for them to pedal they may be ready to do it on their own as they coast down the slope or they may want help from you.
    4. Find a straight safe area where they can practice riding straight.  You will have to remind them to look where they are going and not down at the bike.  If they are looking down, chances are they will make the handle bars go crazy back and forth and lose control!
    5. I held onto the back of Tyce's shirt as he rode and was able to pull him to one side if he began to lose his balance.  This worked well because he was already doing well with balance and is small.  Otherwise you can hold onto the back of the bike seat and run along.
    6. Once your child can pedal and maintain balance on their own you will have to show them how to start out pedaling without you.  Tyce placed his pedals with one up higher in front and pushed the other foot on the ground to get momentum while pushing down on the pedal.
    7. Tyce (or is it spiderman) riding on his bike!!
    8. Practice, practice, practice, and use lots of praise and encouragement!!!

Tips and Common Mistakes in teaching bicycling 

  • Don't make learning day the first day on a new bike.  You eliminate some of the avalanche of new experiences and emotion, if you use a bike that they are familiar with (one they have had with training wheels or an older siblings), or one borrow from a friend.  The new bike can be a reward for mastering two wheels.  If you need to use a new bike put training wheels on it and let them get used to it for a couple weeks before trying two wheels.
  • Don't us the one-training-wheel method.  It doesn't teach balance and is not uniformly unstable.
  • If you use the hold-the-back-of-the-seat (better) or run-beside-the-bike method, don't trick your child by claiming you're holding on when you are not.  If the child crashes, you erode trust, which erodes confidence.  Before you begin a run, tell your child you plan to let go when he or she looks stable.  When they are stable, tell them again that you are going to let go BEFORE you do.  Make sure they stay stable before you release and then stick with them until they have substantially mastered the skill.
  • Don't expect the learning process will be crash-free -- though the steps described above likely will be.  Be ready to comfort, coerce, cheerlead and bandage -- and possibly to wait for another day.
  • Ryan helping Lola while she pedals
  • Always, always have your child wear a helmet! Even when you are in the practice stages have your child wear a helmet!  Getting into the habit right away makes it easier and safer! 
Life is like riding a bicycle - in order to keep your balance, you must keep moving.  ~Albert Einstein


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