Remember your first bicycle? For me, it was one of the best gifts EVER! It meant independence and adventure. I think it’s pretty much like that for all children.
Children usually start learning to ride a bike between the ages of 3 and 6. Some take to it like a duck to water, others… not so easily.
As a parent or a caregiver, it’s also an important time for teaching. Not only do you get the opportunity to help a little one learn the basics of bicycling you also can help a child learn how to face their fear and conquer the unknown. I don’t really know which is more difficult… learning to ride a bike, or teaching someone how to ride a bike!
Experience will eventually fine-tune the roughness of beginning bicycling as long as you have the basics.
There are a couple of basic ways to teach a child to balance on two wheels: training-wheels, assisted two-wheeling, and un-assisted two wheeling. Each has its advantages, and best results will often be obtained by a mixed approach. You’ll need to adjust to your child’s learning style and determine what kind of practice area is available.
Smaller children will benefit from using training wheels. Training wheels require a smooth surface with plenty of space to turn. The child is higher up and the base width of the training wheels is fairly narrow. If the bike gets going much faster than a walk, he or she can topple over when turning a corner. Also, if the bike is turning even a little bit, weight is shifted from the rear wheel to the outside training wheel, so the braking power of the rear wheel is greatly reduced. Parents should be near-by until the child gets the hang of turning and braking.
Many times the training wheels are not adjusted correctly. The bike should always have a little bit of lean. If both training wheels can touch the ground at once, there is little weight on the bicycle’s rear wheel. This can reduce traction to zero. On uneven ground, the child may get stuck because the wheel spins. Even worse, the brake may become useless. When the bike is new, there should be only a small amount of tilt from one side to the other.
After the child has become accustomed to pedaling, steering and braking, the training wheels should be raised slightly, a bit at a time. As the child becomes more adept the bike will spend more and more time with both training wheels off the ground.
The day will come when it is obvious that the training wheels are no longer doing anything, and they can be removed.
Running along-side the child
The parent should hold the child by the shoulders and run along behind. It is important that the parent not hold the handlebars; the child cannot learn the feel of balancing if the parent is taking control of the bike. If the parent holds onto the saddle or any other part of the bike, the child will not necessarily realize if they are leaning a bit to one side or the other, because the parent will be correcting for them.
Instead, hold the child by the shoulders, so that as they lean to the side, they will feel the side pressure, and can learn to reduce it by turning into the lean. This should be done in a wide flat space, such as an empty parking lot. The parent should not make any attempt to steer the child, just let the bike go where it will.
Make sure you don’t bang into the pedals or trip over the wheels. Easier said than done- I know.
Think about the many times you’ve fallen while on a bike. When I was growing up, I didn’t have bicycle safety equipment. Gravel roads and bad sidewalks sent me tumbling more times than I can remember.
Teach your child the value of wearing a helmet from the very beginning. Gloves and kneepads can help prevent scrapes and cuts when the inevitable fall happens. Reflective clothing on the child, and reflective tags on the bike, can help drivers see a child who is riding at dusk or evening.
Foot bakes and hand brakes both have their strong and weak points. Foot brakes can get in the way if a child suddenly puts their feet down to the ground to stop their bike. Kids do this sometimes when they are scared they are going to fall. They forget to use the pedals.
Hand brakes require a certain amount of strength in the hands. Little hands may not be able to pull the lever all the way to a stop. Practice will tell you which one works best for your child.
Before your child ever gets on a bike make sure they know the rules of the road.
• Always ride with your hands on the handlebars.
• Always stop and check for traffic in both directions when leaving your driveway, an alley, or a curb.
• Cross at intersections. When you pull out between parked cars, drivers can’t see you coming.
• Walk your bike across busy intersections using the crosswalk and following traffic signals.
• Ride on the right-hand side of the street, so you travel in the same direction as cars do. Never ride against traffic.
• Use bike lanes or designated bike routes wherever you can.
• Don’t ride too close to parked cars. Doors can open suddenly.
• Stop at all stop signs and obey traffic (red) lights just as cars do.
• Ride single-file on the street with friends.
• When passing other bikers or people on the street, always pass to their left side, and call out “On your left!” so they know that you are coming.
• Learn hand signals for turning left-right, and stopping.
My bike provided me transportation, exercise and freedom. As I grew older – I grew into a larger bike. Great memories- exquisite fun. As your little one starts their own bicycle adventure – remember to have patience, be thorough and remember to smile – even when your back and legs are aching!