Learning how to ride a bike is an exciting milestone to reach but getting started can be scary. Here is how to get your child to become a confident and safe bike rider.
A balance bike is a perfect place to start for your young one if they are not ready for the pedals. If you already have a pedal bike, remove the pedals from the crank arms of the bike to use it as a balance bike! This is a great option if your child needs to get comfortable being independent on a two-wheeler. Your child will learn how to balance on a two-wheel bike, which is a prerequisite to a pedal bike.
- Your child’s feet should be flat on the ground when they sit on the bike saddle. Ensure that the seat height is low enough for them to ride safely and independently.
- Pick a lighter weight bike. Heavier bikes will be more challenging to maintain balance.
- Start your child sitting on the bike, helmet on, hands on handlebars, and feet flat on the ground.
- Start walking to roll the bike! Motivate them to do this as independentely as possible. Comfort levels around the bike will vary, so patience and positive affirmations are key!
- As they build confidence, motivate them to pick up the pace, and try to lift their feet off the ground for a moment to let the bike roll! This is where the balance practice comes in. Rolling down driveways or grassy hills is a great way for them to easily pick up speed and learn the feel of gliding and balancing.
- If they don’t have handle-bar breaks, they will have to use their feet to stop. A game of red-light/green light is perfect for practicing stopping control.
- Master the balance bike with turning. Start with small S turns while walking, and then try it with some speed. Build momentum, lift the feet, and attempt small, controlled turns.
- Be patient – every kiddo learns at their own pace. With a little, or a lot of practice, your child will be pedal-ready. Your child can upgrade to pedals when they can confidently balance while rolling long distances on the bike.
If your child feels confident balancing while rolling and can control the balance bike while turning and stopping, it is time to graduate to try a pedal bike! If you decide to skip the balance bike and hop right onto a pedal bike, it is still beneficial to build balance skills on the bike by lowering the seat so they can practice balancing while the bike is rolling.
10 Steps for Success:
- Safety first! Be sure to strap on a helmet. The helmet should fit snug and not wobble when your child shakes their head. Wear closed-toe shoes. Flip flops are not a safe biking option, even in the summer.
- For set up, the seat height should be low enough that your child can have their feet flat on the ground, but their knees should be straight. As your child progresses, you can raise the seat height, so they have a slight knee bend when their foot is placed on the pedal when the pedal is at its lowest position.
- Practice getting on and off the bike. Tip: Use the hand break to prevent the bike from rolling while mounting or dismounting.
- Practice breaking. If your child prefers the pedal break, get them to practice the back pedal motion while stationary. You can progress this by supporting the bike and slowly rolling while they practice breaking. Red-light/Green-light game is a fun activity for this.
- Try turning while stationary. Make sure your child is comfortable with keeping the handlebars straight and controlled turning before doing it on a moving bike.
- It is time to start pedalling. One foot should be on the ground and the other should be placed on a pedal. This pedal should be positioned at about 10 o’clock. The child will push off with their foot from the ground and press down on the pedal to start rolling the bike. Give support by holding at their shoulders or on the bike seat and help push them forward to get some momentum.
- Bikes balance with momentum, so motivate them to get a little speed or ride down a slope. The faster they pedal, the easier it is to maintain their balance.
- “Look where you are going” is a great cue to remind your kid to keep their head up to prevent crashes and looking down at their pedals makes balancing very difficult.
- If your kiddo is swerving around, a good reminder is to “keep your elbows straight!” This will prevent turning. Reminding them to look where they are going is also helpful.
- Add in controlled turning by going through a line of cones. Start by giving lots of space between each cone and get your child to master the skill by moving the cones closer together.
Learning to ride is a huge accomplishment, but it can be frustrating, so celebrate all the wins along the way. Everybody learns new skills at their own pace, so be patient and have fun. Our clinic is excited to be introducing a learn to bike program in the spring to help kids at various skill levels become safe and confident riders!
If you would like to book an assessment with a physiotherapist to work on balance, strength and coordination to help with biking, click here!
Written by: Kristin McElroy, BSc. Kin