Learning to ride a bicycle is a rite of passage for children around the world, as it is for the parents or other adults who teach them. While you may have learned by adding training wheels, experts now usually advise removing the pedals instead and working on balanced gliding. No matter the training technique you choose, remember that your job is to guide them, not hold or push them; and to encourage them, not intimidate them. Keep it fun and reward them (and yourself) with ice cream afterward!
EditEquipping Your Child and Their Bike
- Start training when your child is physically and emotionally ready. Some kids have the balance and physical skills to ride a bike by age 4, and most do by age 6. But each child is different, so wait until your kid seems physically agile enough to handle balancing on a bike.
- Some kids may take a bit longer to be emotionally ready to teeter along on a bike, and that’s okay as well. Don’t rush or force them; encourage them instead, and start training when the time is right.
- Use a bicycle that lets them place their feet on the ground. For most kids around age 5, a bike with wheels is ideal. When they straddle the seat, their feet should be flat on the ground with their legs straight.
- Training on a bike that’s too big or too small will only delay the process.
- Remove the pedals from the bicycle. This may sound a bit strange at first, but taking off the pedals lets kids focus first on balancing on the bike during forward movement. They’ll just push off and stop by using their feet on the ground.
- You’ll typically just need a wrench to take the pedals off, but follow the instructions that come with your bike.
- You can also buy “coasting” or “balance” bikes that come without pedals, but this is typically an unnecessary expense.
- Work with training wheels sparingly if at all. When you add training wheels, kids learn the components that tend to be easier for them first — pedaling, steering, and braking. But this leaves the hard part — balancing — for them to learn all of a sudden right at the end.
- If you work on balancing first, the other elements will seem like a piece of cake later on.
- If you really prefer to use training wheels, however, try not to use them for more than a week or two. Otherwise, the child will learn riding habits that they’ll have to unlearn to ride without training wheels.
- Choose a flat, open, paved training area. Sidewalks and streets offer too many distractions and potential dangers to make ideal training grounds. Instead, look for an empty parking lot on flat ground.
- A level grass field may seem tempting because it will cushion falls, but grass is usually too difficult for smaller kids to get moving in — either by foot or pedal power. The ground is also much bumpier than a typical parking lot.
- Use a properly-fitted helmet and other safety gear. Choose a helmet that is designed for biking and for a child’s head. It should fit snugly, and there should be no more than 2 finger widths’ distance from the child’s eyebrows to the front brim of the helmet.
- Also use knee pads and elbow pads designed for kids. Bicycling gloves can help prevent scrapes from falls as well.
EditStarting with Balance Training
- Lower the seat a little so your kid can push off the ground. For typical riding, you want the seat high enough that their legs are straight when their feet are flat on the ground. For pedal-less training, though, their knees should be slightly bent when their feet are flat.
- You’ll usually use a wrench to loosen the seat for adjusting, but your bike may come with a quick-release seat latch instead.
- Support them, not the bike, without holding too tight. Lay your hand(s) on their shoulders, back, or neck without gripping tightly. If they need a bit more support, place your hands beneath their armpits.
- Your goal is to steady them, not hold them upright or push them forward.
- Support them instead of holding onto the bike’s handlebars or seat.
- Let them push off and glide with your gentle assistance. Instruct them to use both feet to propel themselves forward. They’ll probably be very wobbly at first, so guide their body in a balanced position. Let them manage the handlebars so they can get used to controlling them while moving.
- Catch them and guide them down whenever they start to fall, instead of holding them upright. Otherwise, you are simply replacing what training wheels do.
- Once they get the hang of coasting, tell them to use their feet to stop when they begin to slow down.
- Instruct them to look ahead, not down. Their instinct will probably be to look down at their handlebars or front wheel, and possibly even the pedals later on. Practice having them look out ahead as they coast forward.
- If you have a second person available, have them stand several feet/meters in front of the bike and back up as the kid coasts forward. Tell the child to watch that person.
- Return the pedals and seat to their proper positions. Once the child is able to coast in a balanced position for as far as their foot-on-ground power will propel them, they’re ready for pedaling. Put the pedals back on as per the bike’s instructions, and raise the seat so that they are flat-footed and straight-legged when straddling it.
EditGuiding Them as They Pedal Off
- Teach them the “ready position” for starting. Spin the pedals so that one is slightly above and forward of the other. Looking from the side with the front wheel to your left, the pedals should be roughly in the 4 o’clock and 10 o’clock positions.
- If they’re right-handed, the right pedal should be forward, and vice versa.
- Let them build their own forward momentum. While supporting them but not gripping tight, have them put their dominant foot on the forward pedal. Tell them to push on it as they lift their other foot onto its pedal. Remind them to control the handlebars and look ahead as they do so.
- Don’t push on them or the bike to “get them started.” Practice with them until they can build up their own forward momentum.
- Loosen your contact but remain alongside them. Your kid’s first attempts at pedaling forward will likely be short-lived. Eventually though, they’ll be able to sustain forward motion. As they improve, reduce your contact with them steadily while walking or jogging beside and slightly behind them.
- As before, catch them and guide them down during a fall instead of holding them up.
- Make sure they know how to steer and stop. Practice making slight balance corrections and gentle turns with the handlebars both before and while they’re in motion. If they turn too sharply and begin to fall, guide them down and try again.
- Likewise, practice how to use the brakes — whether they’re pedal or hand brakes — both before and while the child is in motion.
- Stay close by until they are confident riding solo. Some kids will want to take off and leave you in the dust, while others will feel better with you right beside them even after they’ve mastered pedaling forward. Act as a source of confidence, not as a crutch that holds them up and keeps them pointed straight.
- Accept that they’ll fall a few times. Even when they’re ready to ride without you by their side, they will almost certainly “wipe out” here and there. If they’re on a flat surface, going at a low speed, and — most importantly — wearing the proper safety equipment, their chances of serious injury are minimal.
- Check that they’re okay, but don’t go overboard with coddling or consoling them.
- Say something like “Whoops! Are you okay? Everything seems alright, so let’s get back on the bike and give it another try — you’re doing great!”
- Learning that you can fall and get back up is a valuable biking lesson and life lesson!
EditKeeping It Fun
- End a training session when it stops being fun. Some kids will master biking in an hour, but it will take several sessions for others. If they’re losing confidence or interest during a training session, call it quits for now and try again later in the day or the next day.
- Some kids may be eager to practice for hours on end until they get the hang of it, but most often you should plan for single sessions to last for about 30 minutes to 1 hour.
- Don’t set artificial deadlines or exert undue pressure. Help your kid learn to ride at the pace that’s right for them. Trying to force them or shame them into learning quickly may turn them against the entire notion of learning to ride. Don’t say things like:
- “All your friends ride bikes, so it’s time you learned too.”
- “Your sister learned to ride in an hour, and so can you.”
- “We’re going to stay out here all day until you learn this.”
- “You want to be a big kid, right? Well, big kids ride bikes.”
- Be positive and encouraging at all times. Learning to ride a bike should be fun, not a chore. Praise them every time they achieve a new milestone along the way, and offer a pick-me-up whenever they struggle or fall. Say things like:
- “That’s the way to hold the bike steady — good job!”
- “Wow, you really coasted a long way that time — and straight ahead!”
- “You did a good job catching yourself from falling off the bike that time. Try not to turn the handlebars so sharply next time.”
- “We’ll be ready to bike together to the ice cream shop soon!”
- Let someone else do the teaching, if necessary. Some kids simply respond better to a teacher who isn’t a parent. If they’re close with a relative or family friend who’d be happy to help out, let them give it a try. 
- Don’t feel bad — remember that the goal is to get them riding. Once they do that, you can go on lots of bike rides together!
- Don't force your child to ride a bike if they don't want to. If they aren't interested, they won't learn no matter how much you force them to try.
- Instead of removing the pedals, consider buying a pre-bike. This is a lightweight two-wheeler without the complication of pedals, etc. The child learns to balance, scoot, and then glide along, potentially from a very young age. When you child is ready you can then introduce a bike with pedals.
- Make sure that the brakes are working properly and tires are in good conditions.
- Always make sure your child wears a helmet when riding their bike.
EditThings You'll Need
- Correctly-sized bike
- Safety helmet
- Knee and elbow pads
- Biking gloves
- Patience and a good attitude!
- Ride a Dirt Bike
- Ride No Handed on a Bike
- Ride a Horse
- Ride a Fixed Gear Bike
- Draft on a Bike
- Ride a Bicycle
- Be a Cyclist
- Convince Your Parents to Let You Walk Home Alone
- Prepare your Child to Walk Home from School
EditSources and Citations
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