Learning to ride a bike is one of the rites of passage of childhood. At some point, nearly everybody does it. Riding a bike on two wheels opens up whole new worlds to explore and adventures to take. As Spring weather warms up and the sidewalks clear, many families start to think that this is the year their little one learns to ride – but how do you know WHEN? Further, how do you teach someone to ride a bike? For most of us, the last time we dealt with this problem, we were on the other end. Our staff get asked all the time how to teach and what sort of tips and tricks we recommend to learning. We will discuss in general some of what we’ve found to work.
Start ’em young!
The easiest approach of all is just living it. I was amazed one day as a two-year-old came into the shop, grabbed a balance bike off the rack and made laps around the store, barely touching his feet to the ground. In his case, and many more I’ve seen, kids spend only MINUTES on training wheels after learning on one of these. The newer style of balance bikes (i.e. run bikes, walk bike, etc.) are actually one of the oldest styles of bike in existence. Balance bikes like the Haro Z10 allow young riders to practice balancing a bike before they need to learn and pedal it. By the time they are looking to step into a pedal bike, they only have to learn one concept since they already know how to steer and balance. In Minnesota and Wisconsin, where the riding season is shortened by snow and cold temperatures, the Haro Z10 is a great choice because it has a foam rubber tire that is non marking for indoor surfaces.
When’s the right age?
It can be frustrating for parents who love to ride when a child doesn’t immediately share their passion, but the key is patience and readiness more than age. Some kids are natural riders who show an interest at an early age, and that should be nurtured. Take the kid below for example – at four, he clearly shows a love for riding and a lack of fear typical of some kids. The best thing to do in their case is put them in a helmet and stay close giving encouragement and advice when needed.
For just a snippet, watch the first minute and a half. There’s even some good laughs involved.
If your child is older, and more cautious, the same concepts of the walking bike can be applied to just about any bike that is properly fit and in good working order. Go at their pace, and know when to call it a day. A lot of damage can be done by pushing TOO hard. I’ve seen that the best teacher is someone close to the child – whether or not they have taught a lot of kids to ride a bike – because of the level of trust and patience involved.
We’ve seen kids as young as 2 who are ready to ride, and people in their 30s and 40s just learning, so the myth of a right age is simply that; a myth. Riding is all about fun and freedom, and that is an important thing to keep in mind.
Doing it right!
The first thing to do is to select the bike that is right. If you don’t have a bike, Erik’s expert staff can work with you to select one. We also are really good at keeping secrets for bikes that are presents, and our layaway program allows for hiding it until the big day. If you already have a bike, bring it into one of our locations for a safety check. We’ll make sure the brakes work, the tires are safe, and the bike is adjusted properly for the rider. Here are some considerations:
- Lower the seat – a new rider should be able to touch the ground with their feet flat.
- Adjust the handlebars – the bike needs to be easy to control; there is such a thing as TOO BIG
- Remove the training wheels – they do not encourage actual balancing of the bike.
- Keep it tight – more than just on the bike, your student should have no loose shoelaces or clothing.
- Wear a helmet – The brain is instrumental in bike-riding, as well as other parts of life: protect it!
- Find a safe space – grassy parks with gentle slopes and flat areas are ideal
When you’ve got all of the above, it’s time to learn. Start slow by allowing the rider to go down a gentle, open slope and “drag” their feet. The key at this point is gentle and slow – you are building the basics of balance. As they become more comfortable, encourage your rider to lift their feet and put them on the pedals (if applicable), or introduce turning the bike slightly from one side to the next. If the bike is equipped with brakes, introduce these as well. Keep an emphasis on fun, encourage often, and focus on the rewards (maybe a family bike ride for ice cream, a ride with a friend, or a new bell or horn for their bike).
As the rider gains confidence, you can raise the seat to allow for better pedaling, or for a young rider on a balance bike, you may consider a 12″ bike with a coaster brake. For older riders, continue introducing brake mechanisms, shifting, and other items unique to their bike. Even when riders can finally move the bike capably, it is important to know that they still cannot ride as far. Build distance by feet, blocks, and miles until you’re cruising along and enjoying the fun and freedom!
We’d love to hear your experience of learning to ride a bike or teaching someone else to. What worked for you?