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.
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.
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.