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How to teach a child to ride a bike

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Kids have been learning to ride bikes for years, but like many milestones, teaching them to do it can drive you crazy.

Going straight from balance bike to pedal bike is the easiest way, but life isn’t always like that. We stupidly let a child who was amazing with a balance bike have stabilisers and ‘failed’ to use a balance bike on our first child, so here instead is the benefit of the long road of hindsight.

Firstly, accept all kids are different. They will learn when they are ready, but you can break that process down for them and teach them to ride without breaking your back.

Accept it might take time. Short regular bursts, rather than one long afternoon may be the way to go. It’s like learning to drive as a grown up, allow time for brains to process and consolidate what they are learning to do. Balancing, Steering and Pedalling is a big ask.

Lots of people will tell you the best place to go to learn. Hoisting bikes into the boot or onto a bike rack and making a pilgrimage to said spot will often end in everyone feeling cross and disappointed. For us the often unused car park down the road was perfect as it was only 5 minutes walk so we got into the habit of going regularly. If anyone lost their temper we could be home for hot chocolate in a jiffy.

Try to learn when you have time to commit to it, we were always busy doing other stuff, so we’d pick odd Sundays where we suddenly decided to ‘learn to ride a bike’ – they always failed.  It was chipping away with regular slots leading up to and during the Easter holidays that worked.

Make sure the bike is good to go, get used to using a spanner to adjust the seat and even removing the pedals to help your child gain confidence.

Unless a child has mastered balance, holding onto them while they try and learn is just going to break your back, instead we ended up breaking it right down and focussing on one skill at a time.

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For my daughter – we put the seat at a height where she could put feet her on the floor easily and took the pedals off, we let her practice balancing for several sessions. We pushed her off gently at first, and faster as she got confident, if they feel confident, you can try this on a slight slope.

She then practised steering the bike, still without pedals, round obstacles. Wide spaces are really important as kids take a while to master steering with any precision.

When she felt ready we added the pedals, she was scared at first, but there was a real difference, having mastered balancing and steering, and within 15 minutes she was cycling herself. Having a child cycle round you in circles while you hold them, or having them cycle across a big open grass space can help here, as can holding their torso steady while they adjust to balancing, steering and pedalling.

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For my son – we kept raising the stabilisers each time we went out so that he was back to balancing himself more and more.  The problem was his small bike and heavy stabilisers made it really precarious to pedal, steer and balance. In the end he cracked cycling with me holding him on his sister’s bike which was too big for him, but much easier to pedal. Once he could see how easy it was we raised the seat and removed the stabilisers on his bike and he suddenly found it really easy to cycle.

Little confidence tricks that go a long way.

When they’ve cracked that it is time to think about braking, and steering safely on smaller paths and pavements.

Do you have any tricks that worked? If you are one of those people whose kid cracked it in an hour on their own that’s truly brilliant, but please don’t rub it in, here is not the place.

How to teach a child to ride a bike

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16 Comments

  • Reply SeasiderClare

    This is just what I needed to read today. Jacob has never cracked riding with stabilisers so I think we’ll just take them & the pedals off and start again.
    The news that there is a new Beaver badge for cycling is a big incentive

    23/04/2014 at 12:40 pm
  • Reply parentshaped

    I think stabilisers made it harder for G after he had got so used to the freedom of a balance bike. I think age is a big thing, a fear seemed to suddenly hit at 5 and a bit, that hadn’t been there before – that took ages to get round! Good luck – rewards are a great idea!

    23/04/2014 at 1:50 pm
  • Reply Mummy Barrow

    I love this! The pictures are brilliant!

    24/04/2014 at 11:03 am
  • Reply Katy Hill

    LOVE this! Just cracking it with my youngest. It’s such a tough thing to learn – I actually made a video about it for Netmums which is on my blog http://www.katyhill.com! Yeah, I know – NOW I tell you! Congrats you lovely lady x

    24/04/2014 at 11:12 am
  • Reply Sonya Cisco

    I need to remind myself how to ride a bike too, dont think I have been on one since my teens! My ten year old refuses point blank to even try, he is happy in scooter land, but I remember how proud my eldest was when she first went solo without stabilisers! Syd has a balance bike at the moment, but wont be long before he graduates to a bike I am sure!

    24/04/2014 at 11:20 am
  • Reply Becky

    great tips and well done all!

    24/04/2014 at 12:17 pm
  • Reply otilia

    thank you so much for sharing this. I am really bad at riding a bike so it is really hard to teach my 5 year old.

    24/04/2014 at 2:01 pm
  • Reply Emma

    Brilliant tips P! 🙂 I think the thing that helped our two was being of bike riding age when we lived in Denmark. They learn to ride bikes as soon as they can pretty much run (sans stabilisers!), so there was no holding them back! 😀

    24/04/2014 at 3:22 pm
  • Reply Trish - Mum's Gone to

    Do you know, it’s such a long time ago I can’t remember how we taught our son but I know he had stabilisers only for a short while and then surprised us one day.
    I like the idea of taking the pedals off to get used to balancing and steering.

    24/04/2014 at 8:03 pm
  • Reply maggy, red ted art

    Such an important life skill to teach! We went from balancing bike, straight to normal bike, no stablisers. Worked a treat!

    24/04/2014 at 8:06 pm
  • Reply Mari

    Perfect timing! The twins have outgrown their bikes with stabilisers, we were lazy plus they had scooters so we never got round to letting them learn to cycle, their birthday is in July and we’re buying them new bikes, our mission this summer is to teach them so this post is perfect! Thank you x

    24/04/2014 at 8:37 pm
  • Reply Kirsty

    Congratulations! Sounds like an Easter holiday well spent! We have heard horror stories from friends with older children so we were lucky that Father Christmas bought the little one a balance bike when he was just 2 and a half and he goes flying down hills and round corners with his feet high in the air. I really hope that this means that when he goes up to a pedal bike it will click quickly but I expect that your tips still apply – little and often practice and keeping confidence high. Well done for cracking it with your kids without breaking your back 🙂

    24/04/2014 at 9:27 pm
  • Reply HPMcQ

    really got to get ronnie’s stabilisers off his bike, so i’m going to follow your tips and get going, fingers crossed!

    24/04/2014 at 10:00 pm
  • Reply Jane @ northernmum

    Oh lordy, just realised we need to do this a third time… *heads desk*

    24/04/2014 at 10:41 pm
  • Reply Mammasaurus

    We’re starting out on the whole n’no stabilisers’ thing at the moment so this post couldn’t have come at a handier time Penny – thank you x

    25/04/2014 at 9:23 am
  • Reply Pinkoddy

    We also stupidly went from a balance bike to stabilisers. Then I stupidly took him on the school run whilst holding millions of bags and it has knocked his confidence. Great advice in the post.

    25/04/2014 at 9:50 am
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