Preparing Your Child to Ride a Bike With Confidence

boy in a helmet riding bike

Bicycling is one of the most healthful and fun activities you can teach your child to do. From the moment kids start learning to ride a bike, they discover a fun way to stay active. What’s more, according to a study published in the Journal of Preventative Medicine, children who ride their bikes to school, particularly boys, are more active in general. By teaching them to ride, you are giving them added energy, a low-impact workout and a skill that can later translate to sports like BMX, motocross, and mountain biking.

Getting Ready for Bicycling

There is no specific age to get a child on a bicycle. Much will depend on the child’s age and personal abilities, such as balance and confidence. The general age when children are ready is between 3 and 6 years old. Balance bikes can greatly increase a child’s balance and accelerate the learning curve. These training tools, available at motocross shops and bicycle retailers, typically have no pedals and no gear assembly. The child simply pushes with his or her feet. Some models have brakes. The idea is to get children used to the feel of the bike before teaching them to pedal one.

A helmet is a must, even if it is just for riding a balance bike. The helmet should fit properly. According to the NHTSA, the helmet should be snug, sit no more than two fingers’ width above the eyebrow and the strap should be tight enough that only one or two fingers fit between the chin and the strap.

First Real Bike/Training Wheels

The first step in teaching a child to ride a bike with pedals is to pick the bike. Your child should be able to stand over the top horizontal bar with both feet solidly on the ground. The seat is usually adjustable, but your child will have a hard time hopping on a bike with a frame that is too big. Moreover, your child will be able to use the bike like a balance bike without pedaling if it is the correct size.

Training wheels are great when your child is just starting to pedal. Try to emphasize that they are a teaching tool to keep her pedaling and not a safety tool. This way, she will feel less like they are the only thing keeping her from crashing. As she gets more confident, adjust the training wheels so they are higher off the ground. When it comes time to remove them, remove both at the same time. Leaving one training wheel on will only make her lean to that side.

Riding Without Training Wheels

When it is time to ride without training wheels, your child needs to learn to turn comfortably. This is easiest on a smooth surface. Find some flat pavement and set up a few easy obstacles. You can use sidewalk chalk to draw gradual curves on the ground. You can place some of her favorite outside toys on the ground and tell her to steer around them. Her instinct is going to be to jerk her arm, pulling the handlebars at a sharp angle, when she is taking a corner. Show her how slight movements will keep her upright.

Written by David Ross: Freelance writer, hybrid enthusiast, cyclist.

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