"It's like riding a bike!"
Is a phrase we often hear when referring to something you've already learnt that's easy to pick up again for the rest of your life. However we don't often ponder or reminisce on how we learnt in the first place! It usually starts with a patient family member, some protective padding and some bruised knees and egos. We touched base with our friends over at BikeExchange.com.au and Byk Bikes to find out the best ways to get your child ready to ride, because the bike coaches sometimes need coaching too!
While there is no denying teaching your child to ride a bike will take a lot of patience, encouragement and probably a few unsuccessful attempts, these 7 tips can help to make the experience a little bit easier for everyone involved:
1. Beginners Love Balance
When it comes to riding a bike, there are five essential skills your child will learn – balance, steering, pedalling, braking and shifting/changing, gears.
That’s a lot to learn, especially for kids aged between 1.5 and 4 who will typically only learn one motor skill at a time! Try not to teach all these skills at once and instead focus on one at a time. With balance and then steering the obvious first skills to focus on, balance bikes are a great option for children within this age group. Balance bikes allow children to become masters of their own domain before moving onto new skills.
These are a really great way to build a little person’s coordination skills and give them an excellent sense of how they would move on a bike. Balance bikes are not intimidating at all – they rely on a child’s feet to push the bike forward, as well as to literally balance and keep the bike upright. This is a great segue into a bike with training wheels, which can sometimes be a little scarier for a young novice. Check out our guide to buying a balance bike here.
2. Find the Right Fit
It is important your child’s bike fits them now, not down the track. If the bike is not the right fit now, then your child is never going to feel really comfortable. A badly fitting bike could turn a child off riding for many years to come. It's best to purchase a bike custom fit for your child - check out how to find the perfect bike fit here. However, if you get hold of a great hand-me-down or you’ve already bought your child’s bike, then I’d recommend you take the bike and your child down to a friendly local bike store, and get an expert opinion on how everything is set up. This is also a great opportunity to make sure everything is screwed into place and that the bike is safe to ride!
For a perfect bicycle fit, follow these guidelines:
Sit on the saddle and rest the balls of both feet on the ground.
Straddle the top bar with a comfortable clearance and with both feet flat on the ground.
Reach the handlebars with a slight bend in the arms when sitting on the seat. If there are handbrakes, your child should be able to grasp them and apply enough pressure to stop the bike.
3. Safety First: Get the Right Gear
Helmets are mandatory for all riders in Australia, regardless of their age, so make sure your child has a new and fully approved helmet.
I would never recommend a second-hand helmet as you just can’t be sure if it has already received a hard knock, and therefore had its protection compromised. A bell and some lights are also a great way to teach your child from an early age how to be a safe rider.
When first starting out, you may want to lower the seat even more so that their feet are flat on the ground entirely, not just the balls of the feet. This will give them more confidence straight away.
Make sure your child has comfortable clothes that won't hinder them getting on or off the bike. A skirt is not great as it can get stuck around the saddle. Baggy pants or wide legged trousers might also hinder riding. Check shoes are on securely and aren't going to slip off quickly. Check shoe laces are fastened.
4. Start Soft
If you can, avoid the empty car park and instead take your child to the nature park so they can get a feel for their new wheels. Or if you have some backyard space then even better. Spills are inevitable, unfortunately; they happen to the very best! But your child is more likely to get back on their bike following a spill on some soft grass versus unforgiving asphalt. Ideally opt for someone quiet so your little one doesn’t feel like their riding is on display for all to see.
Calls of “look up, steer straight, keep pedalling, use your hands to brake!” are only going to confuse your poor child and make the whole experience a whole lot more difficult than it needs to be!
By taking the time to teach each skill separately, your child will have a better chance of managing them all together when they are ready.
If you find yourself shouting out numerous instructions all at once, stop! Letting them learn at their own pace and in their own time will benefit both the rider, and take some of the pressure off the so called ‘teacher’ too!
5. Learn Balance Speed Without Pedals
Consider taking the pedals off to learn what it feels like to balance the bike while having the safety of planting your feet to the ground quickly to stop. Let your child 'walk' and then 'run' with the bike. At first, they may not even want to sit on the seat and instead will straddle the top bar of the bike, but once they feel comfortable they'll naturally sit down and begin to move their legs faster to reach a fast walking pace.
Tell them to begin to take 'giant' strides with their feet. "Fee Fi Fo Fum" is usually enough to let them know what you mean (and be the giant behind them saying this - the sheer fun of pretending to be getting away from the giant will almost surely make them pick up their pace!) Once they are taking big strides they will inevitably be starting to feel balance as they will be having moments of both feet off the ground at the same time. Try also getting them to scoot or propel with both legs at the same time (like a Kangaroo bouncing) - forcing them to lift both feet off for the duration of the legs having to come back to the front of the bike.
During this process of 'running' with the bike, remind the child to stop by putting one foot down on the ground, or use the hand brakes on the bike if possible. Some kids will keep their pedals off for 30 minutes, a few hours, a few days, even a few months.
Let the child dictate to you when they are ready to progress to the next level of learning. Having no pedals can be lots of fun for a lot of kids and all they need to get to the park or up to the shops, alongside their walking parent/adult carer.
6. Braking- The art of stopping without falling
If your kid has learnt, or is learning to ride on a balance bike, or a bike without the pedals, its safe to assume that they will probably be using their feet as the first form of braking.
But it’s a good idea, even if they haven't learnt on a balance bike first, for your little one to learn how to stop with their feet. It might sound counter-intuitive but you want them to know what it feels like as it will be their initial reaction for quite some time to use their feet on the ground, more often than their foot brakes or hand brakes.
Foot-Braking: This can be a 'touch and go' situation for kids - literally and psychologically! Many kids will pedal back as an instinctive way of attempting to slow down, not actually wanting to stop. So they can appear to stop-start their riding, much like a learner driver in a manual car! Some bicycle trainers actually recommend disabling the foot brake altogether!
Hand-braking: Encourage your child to use the hand-brakes as much as possible. They are more efficient at braking safely and children will have more control over simply slowing down the bike when they need to. To get them started, get them to get off the bike, and walk with it - with both hands on the handlebars - get them to pull the brake levers on and off. This way they will learn the feeling of compression and the result of how quickly the bike stops. They'll feel a lot more confident of doing it once they are back in the saddle.
7. You’re Doing Really Well – Keep it Up!
Encouragement is key. I don’t think many of us took to a bike like a duck takes to water on that very first ride. There is usually a healthy dose of fear involved as a child moves from training wheels onto a big kid’s bike – encourage them all the way and let them know that bike riding is all about getting back up and giving it another go. Once they get the hang of it, their sense of achievement goes off the Richter scale!
If you are concerned you're not the right teacher, as the parent, then consider someone else who the child trusts but will behave for and listen to better. As parents, we know all too well the scenario's of hearing our kids behaving soooo much better when they are at someone else's house/at school/with friends parents, etc.
Also consider peers who already know how to ride - having them come out on their bikes so your own child can watch and learn will make a huge difference and propel them to learn faster because they just want to have as much fun as the other kids!
Most of all – enjoy the time riding with your child. Bikes and childhood go hand-in-hand and can be such a wonderful time for your little one as well as for you!
We hope you found this article helpful. If you are ready to start building your wish list of products, then be sure to check out our kids bike range.