I remember learning how to ride a bike when I was about 5 years old. Back then, there weren’t 4 easy steps to riding a bike. It was just tears (of frustration), training wheels, and eventually success. On the day I took off on my own two wheels, I was wearing pink jellies and I rode up and down the neighborhood yelling, “follow me, I’m the leader,” but of course I wasn’t. My Dad had run countless miles holding on to my bike seat, helping me learn to balance. And there were the training wheels. Wobbly, clunky training wheels. Kind of like a crutch when you’re too afraid to just put some weight on a new skill. But eventually, I kicked the training wheels and as they say, now it’s just like riding a bike.
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I’m not super talented, I’m not highly skilled, and I am not overly adventurous and daring on a bike. But I enjoy riding bikes. Mountain bikes, road bikes, cruiser bikes, you name it. And it was a given that my kids would learn to ride bikes early on so they could share in biking adventures with me. But I definitely wanted it to be an easier process for them to learn how to ride a bike.
Just before my daughter’s first birthday, we got a Thule Chariot Cougar Double Bike Trailer. We specifically picked this one for its versatility beyond biking (stroller, jogger, ski sled). Having a bike trailer allowed me to take my kids on bike rides and get them used to wearing a helmet.
As each of my kids grew out of the early toddler stage and became more stable, we began to provide them with opportunities to develop basic skills to help them with bike riding. By the time my daughter was three and when my son was two (video below), they were speeding down the road on their two-wheeled pedal bikes without ever having used training wheels, without us constantly running behind them holding their seat, and without tears and fears! They’ve inspired numerous friends and neighborhood kids to ditch the wobbly training wheels and get rolling.
There are some key steps we’ve found helpful for teaching kids to ride bikes. If you break down the foundational skills and allow your child to focus on one skill at a time, it is advantageous for their bike riding development and much less frustrating for everyone involved. And while there certainly doesn’t need to be a rush to get very young kids on bikes, if you have the opportunity (location and time), they have the desire to practice, and they are developmentally ready, it opens up a lot of fun times for your family.
Teach Kids How to Ride a Bike in 4 Easy Steps
1. Alternating leg movement (12 months-2 years)
Get your child on something to give them the idea of balancing and moving their legs around the house. This can be a simple 4-wheeled ride-on plastic toy or something like the Pewi Ybike Ride on Toy. These help your child learn alternating leg movements and the beginning elements of steering. It might not seem like this is an important step, but the alternating leg movement, shifting weight, and propelling themselves forward are key elements for riding a bike.
2. Balance (18 months-3 years)
Use a Balance Bike to introduce your child to a two-wheeled bike. They start off straddling the bike and walking/pushing it at a slow pace. Then they will learn to sit down and continue walking with alternating feet. As their balance improves, they will pick up speed and eventually they will be at a glide, with both feet off the ground between strides. This will help them to develop their understanding of balancing with alternating leg movement. It also allows them to practice steering and the correlation between the handle bars and front wheel movement.
3. Speed, leaning into turns (2 years-5 years)
There are a lot of kids who skip this step, but I think having your child trail behind your bike is an important stage in their bike riding development. By utilizing an attachment that connects their bike or a ½ bike to an adult’s bike, kids have the opportunity to ride faster, learn pedaling, and practice leaning into turns while the adult is in control. It helps to build their confidence on the bike, gain a better understanding of leaning into turns, and become comfortable riding at higher speeds. It also helps to reinforce the concept that it’s easier to balance if you’re moving faster.
I really like the Trail-Gator Child Bike Tow Bar because it attaches the child’s bike to the adult’s bike. You can have your child practice their individual bike riding skills, then simply pull the attachment arm out to connect the two bikes when they get tired. It raises the front wheel off the ground which allows the adult to be in charge of steering. The child can pedal and practice braking, but the adult is doing the primary work. Another option is the WeeRide Co-Pilot Bike Trailer, but this only allows for trailing since it obviously doesn’t have a front end to the child’s bike. Additionally, it is larger and may be too big for a smaller/shorter child. But many people use and enjoy this attachment and it still gives children the opportunity to practice speed and leaning into turns.
4. Putting it all together: Riding a Bike (3 years-100years)
Once your child has mastered balance, they are ready to start pedaling! They’ve already practiced the alternating leg movement, mastered balancing, and possibly even pedaling while trailing you. With these fundamental skills underway, adding them all together is pretty easy. Balance, pedaling, speed. Within the first day on a pedal bike, your child could be genuine bike rider, without a training wheel in sight!
Kids’ Pedal Bikes: What you need to know
One key element to easier bike riding skill acquisition is bike selection. There are several great blogs that go in-depth into bike selection for kids. But the basic point is this, if your child is riding a lightweight, properly sized kid bike, they are more likely to attain success quicker and enjoy longer bike riding sessions. The average bike from a superstore (Walmart, Target, Toys R Us…) weighs around 30 pounds. That’s almost how much my daughter weighed when she started riding her bike! Can you imagine hoping on a bike that weighed as much as you and riding it up a hill or even just get it moving? No way! But we expect our kids to be able to do so on these heavy bikes.
The lightweight kid bikes are almost half that weight, around 17 pounds for the mid-size bike. Unfortunately, these lightweight, child-proportioned kid bikes are still a specialty item rather than being mass produced like those in the superstores. That comes with two issues: (1) they are expensive and (2) they may be backordered leading to a month delay in getting a bike. But if you think of it as an investment where you can recoup a large portion of your cost when your child outgrows the bike, and if you plan ahead for the bike riding season by ordering early, it is absolutely worth it! They are lightweight, come with simple gearshifts, easy to reach hand brakes, are versatile enough for single-track riding or paved trails, and are well made. My favorites are Islabikes, which is what my kids currently ride, and Woom Bikes. Both are appropriately sized for a child, lightweight, easy to maneuver, and durable.
Can your child learn to ride on one of those 30 pound bikes? Absolutely! Are the expensive, lightweight bikes for everyone? Nope. I get it. What really matters when teaching a child to ride a bike is to try to focus on developing one skill at a time so that the whole process isn’t overwhelming. Ride often. Have fun. Be patient. Be safe.
And just as a friendly reminder, we also practice the following safety rules when bike riding (or skating, scootering, etc.):
4 Tips for Bike Safety and Success
1. Wear a properly fitted helmet (kids AND parents)
2. Ride in safe areas away from traffic
3. Wear closed-toed shoes and gloves (provides protection in a fall and offers padding for longer rides)
4. Ride often/Have fun
I can’t say enough how much fun it is to be able to go out for a bike ride with my kids. Every year they are developing their skills and I’m pretty sure by this time next year my daughter will be able to outride me. If you enjoy biking, don’t hesitate to get your kids on bikes and share the bike bliss! Happy riding!
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