Teaching bike riding in a snap! (Pedcast)

Pedal less bike

Matthew, age three, learning to ride a “pedal-less” bike

Dr. Paul Smolen here. I am the creator of DocSmo.com because I wanted to give parents a little more information and discussion on anything pediatrics than I can provide in the office setting. Practical, portable pediatrics is always my goal… a few smiles and ‘ah ha’ moments wouldn’t hurt either. Today, I am going to continue my blog roll with what I hope will be a very practical one: I am going to share my secrets on teaching children how to ride a bike. I love riding, and I want every child to be able to enjoy the freedom and joy that a bicycle offers.

I got the idea for this post when one of my office staff, out of the blue, asked me if I knew any tricks for teaching a child to ride a bike. “As a matter of fact, I do,” I told them! I used the method I am going to describe to you to teach both of my children to ride… and it worked great, so I thought I would share it with my blog followers. Before you get started with my training method, you need to make sure your child is ready to learn…that they have the necessary skills to be successful. They need to have good balance and strength to ride a bike. If your child can balance on one foot for five seconds, react quickly to having a ball thrown at them, peddle a tricycle, can run fast enough to make you run to chase them, and is motivated to learn and follow safety rules, they are probably ready for this training. Most children have these skills are usually in place by age 5-6 years.

The key to learning to ride a bike is mastering the control of the handlebars and balancing one’s body over the center of the bike as it shifts and weaves. The only way to learn to do these things is to practice “righting” the bike as it moves. If a parent stabilizes the bike by holding the handlebars or the seat of the bike, the child will not learn to make these fine adjustments themselves. Holding the handlebars or the seat as your child rides slows down the learning process. It’s like learning to swim with a flotation device attached…you just aren’t going to learn.

So, here are my secrets to facilitating your child’s mastery of the bicycle:

  • Put the seat all the way down, making sure their feet can touch the ground easily.
  • Next, make sure they know how to stop the bike. Practice this!
  • Much of your child’s fear while learning to ride can be eliminated by having your child’s early riding being done on the grass, not pavement. Falling on grass is fairly harmless, but pavement…that’s a whole ‘nother story.
  • With your child sitting on the bike but not moving, let them practice balancing the bike as it loses equilibrium from one side to the other. Teach them to move their body in the opposite direction to the falling direction to keep it balanced. This can be accomplished by holding onto theshirt or jacket but not holding onto any part of the bike. Repeat.
  • Next, let your child glide while controlling the bike’s balance and direction, again only holding onto their shirt.
  • Once you think they are getting the idea of balance, it’s time to let them start riding slowly by pedaling, on the grass of course, while you provide minimal balance by gently holding onto their shirt or jacket. They are balancing the bike and they are learning to control the handlebars because you, the parent, are not controlling these parts. They are truly doing what it takes to ride the bike, while you are merely giving them a little help to avoid falls.
  • Once you think they are ready, it’s time for them to try solo riding on the grass. Most children are OK with a few tumbles on the grass, getting right back up, and trying again should this occur. They should be ready, because they have learned to control the balance of the bike with their shifting body weight and the direction of the bike with the handlebars.

Before you know it…voila…presto…eureka! Your child is riding. I hope you find this method as easy as I did with my kids. Now don’t forget, make sure they get started correctly with their biking career by wearing a properly fitted helmet anytime they ride. And by the way, make sure to set a good example–and also protect your own brain–with a properly fitted helmet. I have seen many a parent permanently injured from falls off their bicycles. Your children need the best parents they can get! Just because you may not have worn a helmet as a child doesn’t mean you shouldn’t now. Check out my post on bike helmets if you need convincing about the worth of helmets.

Well, that’s it for this installment of DocSmo.com. I welcome your insights and comments on my website, www.docsmo.com. Thanks for joining me, and feel free to check out the hundreds of other posts waiting for you while exploring practical, portable pediatrics at my website.

This is your pedcast host, Dr. Paul Smolen, hoping you can take it in stride, teaching your child to ride.

Until next time.