Dr. Eugene Brink
There are many questions on how to teach your child to ride a bicycle. And to be honest, we’ve all forgotten the steps our own parents took to teach us to master this skill.
We could eliminate plenty frustration (for us as parents) and pain (for our kids) if we are willing to take some advice. Luckily, there are experts to show the way and answer some of our gnawing questions.
Isla Rowntree, former British national championships medal-holder and founder of children’s bike company Islabikes, says it will roughly take 45 minutes for your child to learn to ride a bike. However, this number can vary from child to child and depends on prior coordination development. “It’s important that you wait until that point [when the child has developed coordination] rather than forcing it because then it can become stressful,” she says.
As far as age is concerned, it is advisable that you teach your child to cycle between the ages of four and six. Yet again, this may differ as the child must be ready to learn but if you wait longer it may be difficult for them.
“If you don’t get them cycling pre-six then they seem to become more cautious about it. There’s a window when it’s easier to learn and I’d say that’s typically between four and six years old,” she added. “Children learn by copying others so it’s a good idea to do some riding in front of them so they can understand what they are about to do.”
Nick Pavlakis, an instructor at Pedalheads, a company that offers bike-riding lessons in Canada and the US, says if your child doesn’t learn this skill until he’s older, try not to turn it into an issue. He teaches cycling but didn’t learn to ride a bike until he was eight years old. “There’s no shame in learning at an older age,” he says.
First off, finding the right bike is imperative. Ensure that he can stand over the top tube with both feet planted on the ground. Don’t buy a bike that is too large – and which you hope he will grow into – as kids are afraid to fall in the beginning and they need the reassurance that they can step down if need be.
Your child should be able to reach the handlebars and handbrakes comfortably.
“Run or balance bikes, which have no pedals, are a good starting tool, as they teach kids balance and confidence. Or you can remove pedals from a regular bicycle; find how-to instructions on the Web. You can go the training-wheel route for a few weeks, but try not to let your child get too comfy with them; he can get frustrated because they’ll slow him down, or he’ll develop habits that will have to be broken when the wheels are taken off,” says Pavlakis.
Rowntree says when first teaching your child to ride a bike, choose somewhere that is quiet and has a tarmac surface. “Try to avoid anywhere that has slopes, no matter how slight. After all, you don’t want your little one picking up too much speed too soon. It’s tempting to choose grass as many feel it would aid a soft landing but that can make learning quite difficult, because he will have to push quite hard on a small bike.”
Then, when he is on the bike and ready to ride, hold onto the child’s torso or under their armpits.
“It’s important not to hold onto the handlebars, you will see parents trying to support them and make them feel more secure, but you end up fighting with them and that makes it more difficult. By holding onto the child and not the handlebars, he will learn how the bike reacts when leaning and you can accelerate that by gently moving his torso from side to side as he rides,” says Rowntree.
Pavlakis contends that once your child gets the hang of riding, teach him the “ready position”, where one pedal is up and a little bit forward, and have him stomp down to get the bike moving without your help. He’ll soon realise that to stay upright, he will have to build up speed quickly.
He suggests calling it a day when the training session’s fun is over, and trying again the next day or week.
Diane Peters, 12 June 2017, “5 steps for teaching your kid how to ride a bike”, https://www.todaysparent.com/kids/school-age/how-to-teach-your-child-to-ride-a-bike/.
Rebecca Charlton, 12 March 2018, “How to teach your child to ride a bike in 45-minutes”, https://www.cyclingweekly.com/news/latest-news/how-to-teach-your-child-to-ride-a-bike-in-just-45-minutes-video-186586#0I4pASmMqbOwi8Kg.99.
Karen Silhavy and Gina Kenny, 2019, “How to teach a child to ride a bike”, https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/teach-child-to-ride-a-bike.html.