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Tips for Teaching Your Kid How to Ride a Bike

with RADKA KAHLEFELDT, Liv Racing Collective Triathlete

After our daughter Ruby had mastered riding skills on her balance bike, we got her a pedal bike. We were careful not to push her to start riding just yet. Instead, we put it in the garage where she could look at it and become “friends” with the new bike. She was about two and a half years old when she really showed interest in trying out the whole pedaling thing.

Ruby is now four and there are still things with riding a bike that we are working on, but here are some of the tips that have helped me when teaching Ruby to ride a bike:

1. Show your kid how a bike works.

For a child to understand how the whole “pedalling magic” works, they will need muscle coordination AND an understanding of how the bike works. Actually describing the whole bike, showing them every part of the bike and explaining how it works helped Ruby better understand how to ride.

Wheels: Turn the bike upside down and let them spin the wheels with their hands.

Pedals: With the bike upside down, let them pedal with their hands and watch the wheels spin. This is a great way to show them how it all works together.

Bike chain: Show them that when the chain moves, the wheels move and when the wheels are spinning, then the whole bike is moving.

Brakes: With the bike upside down and the wheels spinning, press on the brakes (hand brakes or back pedal brake, depending on what type of brakes are on your child’s bike). Show them how the brakes work to stop the wheels from spinning and how that will slow you down and help you come to a stop when riding.

2. Progress from the balance bike to  a pedal bike in small steps.

When Ruby first started to ask to ride her new “pedal” bike, she just wanted us to push her with the training wheels on. She would watch and feel what the bike does. We would explain how pedaling works, but she could only stay focused for a short period of time, so we would go back to her balance bike to have fun. This went on for a few weeks until she figured out how to pedal.

Once Ruby gained some coordination, after about a month working on pedaling with the training wheels, we bent the training wheels up. We quickly realized she was riding without the training wheels touching the ground, so it was time to remove the training wheels. We attached a bar that we could hold on to and help her balance/ push her. They make these that attach to the seatpost or to the rear wheel axle. Using the bar, we could walk or run next to her while she was riding to help her balance. Once we saw her gain stability and confidence, we would let go of the bar but still be in control of the situation. Then we just removed the pole and she rode off!

We actually still have her balance bike and a small bike with training wheels in the garage. She will still sometimes take that bike out for a ride for fun.

3. Focus on braking.

I found that braking was the most difficult part of the whole bike riding process. After showing Ruby how the brakes work, she knows that if she needs to slow down or stop,  she has to pedal backwards. But, sometimes it is hard for a little brain to connect the dots when under stress and suddenly going faster downhill! Once, she fell off the bike when going downhill and she told me she just couldn’t remember how to “do the brakes.”

To help her remember, we do a little braking lesson almost every time we ride. I have her show me how to slow down, stop, and put her feet on the ground in a controlled setting before we go on a ride where there might be a hill. The more you practice, the more it will become second nature.

4. Progress from giving your child a push start to having them start by themselves.

Once your child gets the hang of balancing, pedalling, steering, and stopping with you giving them a little push to get started, the last step is to teach them how to start the bike without anyone helping. Have them sit on the saddle with one foot on the ground, and one on a pedal. The foot that is on the pedal should be high, at a 45-degree angle to the ground. Have your child push hard on the pedal to gain some speed, find the other pedal, and start pedalling to maintain momentum. We are still in the process of doing it right! It will be easier to practise this on a slight downhill as the push off doesn’t need to be as strong.

5. Build confidence with encouragement and fun!

One important thing is to keep everything fun at all times. If your child feels like riding a scooter today or just wants to go for a walk, then so be it. Sometimes Ruby wants to ride her scooter instead of her bike, and so I will let her, but then I will also take her bike and after a while she of course wants to swap.

Motivation can come in many forms. Sometimes we will play “racing”. Ruby knows all about racing as she has been watching Brad and I race since she was born. We also watch logs of different races on TV. So, it’s a fun game for her to pretend she is racing, as she understands that is a fun thing to do. She will ask, “Mummy (or Daddy), can we have a race?”

We also always keep Ruby motivated by talking about what she will be able to do on her bike. For example, we will say, “Once you can ride longer, you can go and do the whole lap around the lake with Cooper (her best friend).” Or, “Once you know how to brake on the downhills, you can go ride with mummy or you can ride next to daddy while he is running.”

We keep encouraging her and every positive feedback builds confidence and love towards sport and biking.