There’s a little-known rule for effectively teaching bike riding to kids: teach balance before you teach pedaling. With this method, plus a few simple steps, your student will be riding in no time. Though it’s possible for a child to learn to ride in two hours or less, it doesn’t have to happen in a single session. You can break the lessons down with these five simple steps into several sessions, as needed. Remember to take your time and make it a fun, memorable experience.
Steps to Teaching Bike Riding:
Determine a safe place to teach bike riding
Find a paved, spacious area free from cars and high pedestrian traffic—preferably a park with a flat or slightly sloping surface. Make sure your student is wearing a properly fitting helmet and that it is securely clasped under his chin.
Adjust the bike (see note below)
1) Remove the pedals
2) Remove the training wheels, if included on the bike
3) Lower the seat height so that when the student is seated he can place his feet flat on the
ground with just a slight bend to the knee
Note: Some bikes, called ‘balance bikes’, ‘pre-bikes’ or ‘running bikes’ are specifically made for kids to learn and hone balancing, steering and braking skills. These bikes do not have cranks, pedals, a chain or training wheels. If your child already has this type of bike, the “Adjust the bike” step may not be necessary.
Have the student sit on the bike and hold onto the handlebars firmly. If the bike has handbrakes, show him how to squeeze the levers so that he knows how to stop the bike. At this stage, however, most learners stop the bike by dragging their feet on the ground.
The goal for now is for the student to get comfortable being on the bike and get a sense of how it moves underneath him. Instruct him to walk while staying seated, pushing along with one foot at a time, propelling the bike forward, and remind him to look straight ahead. As another option to propel himself forward, he can push with both legs at the same time.
With practice, the student will be able to gain enough momentum to lift his feet up while the bike continues to roll. Have him practice until he is comfortable; at this point, he will have learned to balance the bike.
Teaching Balance Tips:
1) Do not become your student’s “training wheels” by holding him up while he learns to balance. It’s best to let him find his own balance while he practices.
2) Stay positive and offer lots of encouragement. Remember that learning to ride should be a fun experience.
3) Some kids learn to balance within an hour while others take longer. Take as much time as necessary for this step, even if your student has to practice for several sessions.
Reinstall the pedals. Have the student position the cranks and pedals so that they are parallel to the ground.
While the student is seated and holding onto the handlebars, instruct him to firmly push off the ground with both feet at the same time until he is going fast enough to coast, and then to place his feet on the pedals and turn them round and round. Remind him to continue to pedal and look straight ahead in the direction he wants to go. Repeat as necessary until the student is able to pedal and ride the bike on his own. Many students learn to pedal within an hour but some may require more time. It’s okay if he doesn’t get it right away and needs to try again another day.
Braking and steering – tips
Braking is typically performed by squeezing the brake levers towards the handlebar or by applying backward/ downward pressure on a pedal, depending on the set-up of the bike. A bike with two brake levers has a front and rear brake. The front brake has more effective stopping power than the rear brake and must be applied with caution to avoid a tumble over the handlebars. Braking should be performed while seated. The rear brake, with less effective braking power than the front, can be used to gradually slow the bike. To slow or stop the bike more quickly, both brakes can be applied simultaneously or with the rear brake being applied just before the front.
The student will, of course, have to steer the bike around corners or obstacles. Steering the bike at slow speeds will require more of a turn of the handlebar in the desired direction than at higher speeds. Higher-speed turns require less of a handlebar turn but in combination with leaning the bike. Have the student first practice steering around wide turns, in both directions, before advancing to turns with leans.
Did you find these tips for teaching bike riding helpful?
Written by Oliver Carbonell – Volunteer bike instructor with Bike New York and author of “Peter Learns to Ride His Bicycle”; an entertaining illustrated story about a child who learns to ride his bike using the method in this article. For ages 3 to 7 years. Available on amazon.com.