Back in the 80s learning to ride a bike went something for me like this: my dad encouraging me to hold on to my handlebars tight whilst I nervously pedalled along and then suddenly pushing me with wild abandon into the street and beyond. This was the basic technique, on repeat, until the one time I did not miraculously fall and graze my knees and that was it, mission accomplished!
I am not sure if today’s parents are just kinder to our children or if that was just my childhood. Tips for beginning to cycle have come a long way and focus more on maintaining a level of confidence and trust so, upon teaching my son, I did a little research first.
As with learning any new skill, you have to start with the basics. Find a bike that fits your child well. They will need to be able to stand over the top bar without touching it and reach the handlebars easily. It can be tempting to have the feet resting flat on the ground but this will make the art of pedalling more difficult so, focus on the balls of the feet touching the ground. Test your child’s helmet by ensuring that the hat covers the forehead and the straps are tight yet comfortable. Ensure that the tyres are pumped and you are good to go.
Find a quiet place to start
Looking back, practicing on a pavement alongside a main road was probably not the safest, so find somewhere that is quiet and ensure it a safe space to practice. The surface needs to be fairly flat and away from obstacles and traffic, so ideally a quiet place like an empty car park or a cul-de-sac is a perfect place to start.
A balance bike from an early age is an excellent way to prepare your child for riding a bike as it teaches them to be in control of their balance, whilst also building up the confidence to go faster and steer themselves. If your child is older then consider taking off the pedals and lowering the seat to recreate a similar effect.
Once they are a bit more confident then reapply the pedals, readjust the seat and get them to practice scooting with one leg. This can be achieved by setting one pedal in line with the lower bar, placing one foot on that pedal and the other on the ground. Encourage them to scoot for short distances with one leg and to keep their heads up and focus on steering with their handlebars.
Once they are confident, then it is time to move on to the next step. Lightly hold under your child’s armpits so that you are supporting them, yet not interfering with the balance and control your child has over the bike. Next, encourage them to pedal. When you feel that they are getting steadier, prepare them by telling them that you will let go for a short amount of time. Keep close to your child with your hands still beneath the armpits but without contact, ready to catch your child if they have a big wobble. This may take a good few goes so don’t feel tempted to rush this stage. Once they are cycling for short distances, they will stop needing you as much and hopefully, in time, they will be able to do it independently.
Keep it fun
Be prepared that this may take a while and, keep in mind that the most important thing is that your child enjoys the experience. There may be days when they are not so keen, so pick up on their early signs of frustration and leave it there. Making up games, such as scooting or cycling to cones or other objects can make it feel more fun. Most of all, enjoy! This is a big milestone of your child’s life and one that you will both remember for years to come.
By Karen Olney