Teaching kids to ride a bike
October 30, 2013

As a parent, you savor the moments when you are able to witness your child feeling the sense of pride and happiness that they get from accomplishing something that is a challenge for them. 

While I wasn’t the one to teach my older son Lucas how to ride a bike, I will never forget watching as my partner held onto the seat of Lucas’ bike while he pedaled along making her promise not to let go until he was ready to take off on his own. After a few falls and scrapes, Lucas finally rode off, without help, in the alley of our little neighborhood. Lucas has always been a more hesitant child when it comes to trying new things, so it took three summers after that first adventure until he was ready to get back on his bike for another lesson. As with everything, kids are very different when it comes to trying and learning new things. Some kids—like my toddler Miles, who fearlessly hopped on his tricycle soon after he could walk—welcome the challenge and love the independence that riding a bike gives them. Other children, like Lucas, take more time, which is completely normal and okay too. Miles, not quite 2, is already zooming around on a tricycle, while Lucas is perfectly content with other outdoor activities

We are lucky to be good friends and neighbors with biking expert and  Director of the Bethlehem Bicycle Cooperative Steve Schmitt, who reassured me that both boys are doing just fine as far as their interest in biking is concerned. He shared with us that children should not be pushed to get on a bike until they are comfortable and show a desire to learn to ride a bike. On the other hand, children who show an early interest in riding bikes can be taught at a young age to ride a bike well and will have early success. “The first time your child learns to balance and ride a bike is a magical, amazing time that parents will never forget,” Steve adds.

He recommends letting younger children stay on a tricycle as long as possible, since they learn the idea of pedaling and steering but can’t get going too fast. For other children, Steve suggests finding a grassy but level or very mild sloping area where you can push your child around but they will not get hurt if they fall. This way, your child learns to master pedaling, steering, and braking on a safer surface. I also found interesting that the Bethlehem Bicycle Cooperative does not encourage the use of training wheels for teaching children to ride a bike.  Steve and his instructors feels that these give children a false sense of security when they have not yet learned how to balance yet. According to Steve, kids have the illusion that they are balancing and can get going too fast with training wheels. They could therefore be hurt if they end up falling. “Learning to balance is the most important skill” says Steve. Once your child learns to balance, you can begin to let them practice without holding on.  Before you know it, they will be riding a bike on their own.  

For more information about bike education and safety check out the Bethlehem Bicycle Cooperative’s bike education page at http://car-free.org/bbc/class-basic-bike-ed.html


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