How to Teach a Child to Ride a Bike

Creating a Fun, Successful Experience for Kids and Parents

Learning to ride a bike is a rite of passage for kids as well as their parents. Chances are you want to make this a fun, safe and victorious experience. While there are several techniques to learning how to ride, a few basic principles will help set up your child for success.

When is a Child Ready to Learn?

Family on bikes

What Age Do Children Learn to Ride a Bike?

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Kids are ready to start learning anywhere from about ages 3 to 6, although it is not unusual for them to be older. Every child is different, and some will feel comfortable learning to ride much earlier than others.

The experience should be fun and never forced. While you may want to nudge him gently if he’s hesitant, take your child’s cues if he feels overly frustrated or scared. You can always try again later.

Where to Learn How to Ride

Before you dash out with your child’s new bike, consider your surroundings. In general, you child is going to have a much easier time a on a flat, level surface. Flat residential streets with minimal traffic and empty parking lots are ideal because they will have fewer bumps, slopes and other potential hazards.

Some people recommend starting out on grass with a gentle slope as a way to help kids get used the the feel of balance without worrying about a hard fall. If you decide to learn on grass, only use it after your child has graduated from training wheels, and make sure there are minimal bumps, rocks and roots on your chosen hill.

Starting with Training Wheels

Family on bikes

Putting Boots on a Toddler

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While it isn’t absolutely necessary, many children begin riding a bike with training wheels. The extra wheels can be helpful because kids can learn how to pedal with coordinated muscle movement and appropriate strength without worrying about how to balance.

You can make the process easier by using a bike that fits him well. He should be able to reach the pedals and place his feet flat on the ground without difficulty. You may need to adjust the seat’s height.

As your child discovers how to operate the pedals and move forward, stand nearby and provide instruction. Coach her through skills like turning and braking, as these take some additional practice. You may have to push her if the bike gets stuck in a sidewalk rut or if she is having a hard time keeping momentum going. How quickly she learns may depend on her age, maturity level and desire to learn.

Once your child is comfortable pedaling with training wheels without assistance, she may be ready to take them off.

The Big Moment: Learning How to Balance

When it’s time for the big day to ride a bike without training wheels, the main skill your child needs to learn is balance. You may want to take the pedals off so he can focus on it without distraction. Alternatively, you can use a balance bike, which doesn’t have pedals and can help kids grow confident with the feel of a bike first. In fact, some parents prefer to have kids start on a balance bike rather than a bike with training wheels.

While you may desire to hold on to the bike as your child learns, this may actually delay him. Use techniques that encourage him to balance on his own. When he’s not using pedals, he can catch himself with his feet. This is why it is important to have the seat low enough so that he can place his feet flat on the ground.

One way to start learning balance is on a gentle, grassy slope. Ideally you should have about 30 yards to roll down, with a flat or uphill area at the bottom that can help slow your child’s momentum. Starting at the top of the hill, encourage him to lift his feet and slowly coast while he gets comfortable balancing. Once he gets used to coasting in a straight line, have him try turning the handlebars.

Alternatively, you can start your child on flat pavement. Have him start out by scooting and coasting by pushing off his feet. Once he gets used to balancing, challenge him to lift his feet for longer periods and over longer distances. Then start to encourage turning. Remember, it should be fun! Make up some challenges and games.

How long it takes to learn the basics of balance and turning depends on your child. Some kids may learn over the course of an afternoon, while others may need to practice over a few days or weeks.

Pedaling and Braking

Once your child is comfortable and confident balancing and turning on a bike without training wheels, she can start learning how to pedal and brake. If she was already familiar with these skills on a bike with training wheels, she should pick them up again fairly quickly. You may have to remind her that when she brakes she needs to put her foot down after she slows down so that the bike won’t tip over.

Safety Considerations

Your child should get into the habit of wearing a helmet from the first time he gets on his bike. Make sure that the helmet is properly fitted and sits snugly on top of the head with the chin strap firmly in place. Since children grow quickly, it’s important to check fit regularly and either adjust the straps or get a larger size when needed.

Aside from a helmet, kids should wear appropriate clothes and shoes while riding. Avoid long skirts or jackets than can get caught. Closed-toe athletic shoes are ideal (no sandals and flip-flops!). Make sure that laces are tied and tucked in so they won’t get caught on the pedals.

It’s also important to teach your child about her surroundings from an early age. When she is first learning, remember to choose an area with minimal or no traffic. Once she is riding independently, supervise her and teach her about traffic safety.