06 July 2006

Talk amongst yourselves: How to teach a kid to ride a bike

Summer is bike-riding season! In our house, the training wheels are about to come off. Any tips on how to teach a kid to ride a bicycle?

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I would try focusing on one part of the whole "cycle" (pardon the pun) at a time. We started with JUST the balancing, and we made sure his toes could reach on both sides. We took a short length of the driveay, about where the 2 cars' back bumpers were, to the end of the driveway (about a good 25 feet) and we only do the balancing for now. Focusing on the one part, and keeping with it at the childs level of comfort, seem to be working well. Good Luck and make sure his/her helmet is the correct size (gotta keep their little noggins safe & sound!!)

I tried and tried to teach my son to ride, running beside him, holding on, letting go... nothing worked! Until the day I let him just scoot along with his legs dragging on either side, pushing himself forward and getting the feel of how his bike balanced. Within days he was off on his own, cycling and speeding along! And I could simply sit back, relax and watch him go. :)

Agreed. Once they've got the idea of the balance - that when they get moving, the momentum helps them balance - they should be good to go. Don't worry about pedalling to start with, just drop the saddle so they can get their feet on the ground comfortably and scoot along with their legs.

If you're really gung-ho about this, you could get them something like a Like-a-Bike (http://www.likeabike.co.uk/). Otherwise, just take the pedals off a normal bike. It's very straightforward with an adjustable spanner - the only thing to remember is that the right pedal has a right-hand thread (removes counterclockwise) and the left pedal has a left-hand thread (removes clockwise) - this is so the pedalling motion can't unscrew the pedal from the crank. More detailed instructions/pictures at the Park Tool website, http://www.parktool.com/repair/readhowto.asp?id=83.

Once they've scooted for a bit, bung the pedals back on and let them find out how pedalling works. Once they've got the idea of balancing, they should figure pedalling out pretty sharpish.

Their feet should be able to completely go down, flat-footed, on both sides. Yes, they don't have that perfect extension that we look for in adult bike fitting, but it is more important that a child learning to ride is safe and feels confident at being able to get their feet down and balance.

Hold the bike stationary and have them practice putting their feet up on the pedals, then back down. Then try having them pretend to backpedal a bit to engage the brakes, then put their feet down. You know how your kids like to repeat things they're learning to do, like walk around the coffee table a million times when they were learning to walk? They already understand that repetition enhances their muscle memory. This will also show them how easy it is for them

When you try that first solo attempt, try to find some close-cropped grass to do it on, rather than pavement. If they fall at low speed--it will shock them, but make sure they realize that it didn't really hurt and isn't the end of the world. They will be less scared for subsequent attempts.

Buy a good helmet you can adjust. You can get good quality children's helmets at bike shops that aren't nearly as expensive as you think they might be, and they will be more comfortable and safer, as they are adjusted correctly. Many bike shops will adjust the helmet for you if you ask nicely. Before you scoff at using a helmet, check your local ordinances. Not only is it smart to get your young children used to using a helmet on their bicycle for safety, it is against the law in many, many places for children under a certain age to ride a bike without a helmet on their noggin.

Then, before your child ever rides their bike when you are not literally running right next to them, make sure they understand the rules of the road. This:

http://www.helmets.org/kidteach.htm

is an excellent article that covers those basic rules of bicycling safety, as well as gives other tips for teaching your child how to ride.

For those of us who still feel the need to run alongside the bike panting "okay, you're getting it, look out, remember to balance, eyaah!"... I've found the Wallaby Kids vest (http://www.wallabykids.com/ ) to be a real back-saver. Instead of trying to grab the seat of the bike, you just hold on to a handle attached to a vest that your new rider wears. It's comfortable (so I'm told) and if the bike goes out from under him, you wind up just holding him like a suitcase, which is kind of fun for everybody. Fewer disheartening falls, scrapes and scratches make for better, longer practice sessions.

Wow . . . great advice and links . . .

Here's a couple more tips based on our experiences:

Grass is definitely the thing.

On the day you try it for the first time, make sure you have plenty of time so that s/he can experience some success. This is not a project for a busy weekend. It took us about 3 hours to get to that point, and then we did it again the next day.

Try not to let them give up right after a fall (unless they're really skinned up, of course). Even if it's just to scoot the bike back to the garage, it's important to persevere.

And most important--don't pressure them. Our son (6) was afraid to take off the training wheels, so we didn't do it until one of them broke about 2 months ago. He actually tried to ride it with one for a while! His sister (4) is already begging us to take hers off (we just haven't had the time to devote to it--see above). In contrast, one of my friends decided "it was time" several months ago and her son has practically stopped riding his bike altogether. They're humans. Let them do it at their speed.

I was put off by the extreme price for the Likeabike, but I found the following similar product:
http://www.creativekidstuff.com/rarubi.html

I might give it a try for my three-year-old.

My neighbor taught all his kids by getting them on small, 2-wheel scooters first. He said it's easier for the kids at first, they can just step off when losing balance. Once they've learned balance and are going longer distances without putting feet down, it's an easy transition to bicycles.

My daughter is only two, but I plan on making the gyrobike her first two wheeler.
http://www.thegyrobike.com/
see the video at the website

Of course, you could probably hack the idea by finding some way to increase the mass of the front wheel to produce the gyroscopic effect. The testimonials have been pretty interesting- kids learning how to ride in an afternoon.

Here in Germany, it's most common to use a Laufrad (pedalless bike) like the one seen at http://www.kaleidoshop.de/produktkatalog/14282449.html. It enables kids to learn the balancing act while not thinking about pedaling. Using these bikes, kids as early as two learn to ride a standard bike.

I bought a Rolli Rider (http://www.rollirider.com/) for my son after reading the NYT article. It's the American version of Like-a-Bike (i.e. cheaper). But after reading Jack's comments, I'm hitting myself on the head (should have saved the $170 and taken the pedals off a normal bike)! Nevertheless, Rolli Rider's working like a charm because my 3.5yo son is easily coasting down inclines with both feet off the ground (after using it about 8 times).

There's also a great post from this dad who found money to be a great incentive:
http://www.raising4boys.com/2006/06/28/the-best-dollars-that-i%e2%80%99ve-ever-spent/

two things needed to ride a bike: balance and confidence. For balance, get your kid on a razor-like scooter. Teach them to glide/coast. For confidnece, teach them on grass. The soft ground really helps keep them upright and you'll have fewer brusies, scrapes, etc.

CONCEPT
Le vélo bugabike est le moyen de locomotion ludique optimal pour les enfants dès 2 ans, qui se base sur les capacités de motricité de cette tranche d’age.

Tout en jouant l’enfant apprend a se déplacer sur deux roues.
Dans ses premières expériences vélo motrices, votre enfant jouera comme sur un cheval a bascule.
Bientôt il s’assiéra sur la selle puis se déplacera doucement en avançant…!

Votre enfant prendra rapidement de l’assurance, son équilibre étant assuré dès qu’il touche le sol.
Fort de cette expérience, il saura maîtriser le vélo en quelques jours et se lancera dans l’aventure!

Quel plus beau sentiment pour votre enfant que de maîtriser son équilibre, tout d’abord avec la marche puis le vélo!

Plus tard votre enfant recevra un « vrai » vélo qu’il saura utiliser dès le départ, tout naturellement!

More pictures:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/bugabike-extreme/

Just wanted to reinforce the suggestion to take the pedals off and let her push with her feet (making sure the seat is low enough to put both feet flat on the ground, of course). It really, really works!

My daughter, who is neither particularly coordinated nor brave, got comfortable with the balance after about three hours of "riding" like this, and was riding for real, without help, within 30 minutes of reattaching the pedals.

I wonder now why children's bikes all come with training wheels. Instead, they should be delivered with a 15mm wrench and the pedals in a bag.

We tried everything when teaching my oldest to ride and had many unhappy moments. Finally, I put her bike in the backyard where we have a TINY slope in one corner. We positioned the seat as low on the bike as it could go -- it seemed waaay too small for her -- and left her to her own devices. After 10 minutes of coasting along 5 feet of grass and practicing picking up her feet for a second or two at a time she started to balance. Half an hour later, she was ready for the sidewalk! This is miraculous if you know my daughter was almost 10 at the time and we'd figured she just wasn't cut out for two wheels.

As others mentioned, we bought our son a pedal-less tricycle which evolves into a pedal-less bicycle (http://www.eveiletjeux.com/Produit-126262/tricycle-modulable.htm ). We started him off on the tricycle when he was 18 months old, and we've since turned it into a two wheeler - he's 26 months old now. It's old hat to him, since he began so young, and the sheer independence to get around, at such a young age, without being thrown into a stroller instills so much pride and confidence (this his primary mode of transport when we're running errands hanging around the neighborhood).

He'll receive his pedal bicycle in about a year, and his cool pedal-less will be handed down to his baby brother. I recommend these not only for teaching balance, but for giving them a little bit of monitored freedom to navigate streets.

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