Very little has made me more proud than watching my son pedal away from me for the first time, but how easy is it to teach your kid to ride a bike? Here’s how we did it…
I should stress from the start that this is simply what worked for us. Not every child will have the same experience. Some will pick up riding bikes quickly, some will take a while longer. Some will love it straight away, some will need a bit of warming up.
But the key things from my experience when you’re ready to teach your kid to ride a bike are patience and not pushing them too fast, too soon. When your child is ready to ride, they’ll do it. You’re just there to show them the techniques that will help them along the way.
But where do you start? Here’s how we did it.
Start with a balance bike
Balance bikes are just like normal bikes, minus the pedals, which encourages your child to propel themselves along using their feet. I honestly can’t stress how great they are. Our son started riding his balance bike at around two years old and as well as teaching him the basics of balancing and steering on a bike, it also opened up the world to him. All of a sudden he was able to push himself to nursery every morning and race around the park, all the while teaching himself skills that would transfer to a pedal bike later.
Don’t rule out stabilisers
If you use a balance bike first, the big benefit is that some children are able to go straight onto a pedal bike without having to use stabilisers. That wasn’t quite the experience we had because although Sonny was definitely ready to step up to a pedal bike, he didn’t have the confidence to pedal without extra support. So we put the stabilisers on his new bike to help him get started with pedaling, and it wasn’t long before he was ready to take them off.
Don’t cheap out on your first bike
I was very guilty of this. One of the most exciting things aboiut teaching your kid to ride a bike is choosing their first proper pair of wheels, but the choice – and range of prices – is a bit bewildering. We went to our local bike shop and were stunned to find out that top- and even middle-of-the-range kids bikes can cost over £200. What I did instead was go for a cheap Disney themed bike from Halfords and immediately regretted it once we felt how heavy and clunky it was. On the plus side, Sonny loves it, but I’m pretty sure his learning experience would have been better if we’d picked up a better quality bike off eBay or Facebook Marketplace.
Make sure the bike is the right size
It’s always tempting to go for a bike that’s slightly too big so your child will grow into it and use it for longer, but this is likely to slow down how long it’ll take you to teach your kid to ride a bike. If you drop the saddle too low they’ll struggle to pedal, and if they can’t put their feet flat on the ground they’ll struggle to start and stop with any confidence. Trust me, we’ve been there!
Bet VERY patient
If you’re anything like me, you’ll think you’re a master bike teacher who’ll get their kid riding in about 10 minutes. That might happen for you, but our experience took plenty of patience. Sonny was a nervous learner at first and didn’t want to practice regularly, and when he did it was only for a few minutes at a time. But when he was finally ready to learn after a couple of months of riding with stabilisers, he probably only took a couple of days to master it.
Practice in short bursts
We probably never did sessions of more than 10 minutes. The mixture of nerves, tiredness and a short attention span (and that was probably just me!) meant that Sonny was usually ready to stop after a few runs up and down our street. I always made sure we stopped before he stopped enjoying it, because I figured out early that if he didn’t want to practice, it was never going to happen. There’s no point pushing them!
Make it fun
Teaching your kid to ride a bike can be frustrating, but from my experience the key to success is keeping calm and making sure they’re enjoying it as much as possible. The second it feels like a chore to them (much like everything you do with children) they’ll lose interest very quickly. If you keep them happy, entertained and engaged, you’ll see results much more quickly. Vary the places you ride, and include some cool locations to make them feel like they’re really exploring on their bike even at this early stage.
Practice somewhere safe
We’re quite fortunate to live on a quiet cul-de-sac, and that’s been a great place to learn. We don’t have cars zipping past and narrow pavements to worry about, just plenty of space and a flat, smooth surface to ride on. Quiet car parks are good for the same reason, as are local parks with wide cycle tracks. Basically, you want plenty of space and a fairly smooth surface.
Find a small slope to roll down
This was absolutely key for us. Sonny mastered pedaling and balancing on his bike quite quickly, but what he struggled to get the hang of was setting off and getting the bike moving by himself. What made the difference in the end was using the little slope on the end of our driveway for him to start rolling down, then pedaling away once the bike started rolling. Once he got the hang of this, it was probably only about 10 more minutes of practicing before he’d totally nailed riding his bike.
Don’t go too far too soon
And finally, once you do teach your kid to ride a bike, don’t immediately think they can handle that 10-mile local ride you love doing. Our 4-year-old has bags of energy and pretty quickly worked himself up to riding a few miles, but an energy crash was never too far away. Keep it fun and simple and build up the distances slowly, and the big rides will come quickly after.