Riding a bike is a great lifelong activity that kids can carry into adulthood. Hobbies and personal interests go a long way in creating a rich, balanced life. Teach your kids to ride a bike now and they'll enjoy it for years to come.
An obvious first step, buy your kid a bike. Children grow quickly and it might be tempting to buy a larger bike they can “grow into.” That can be a great idea for an already skilled rider, but for a first bike, it’s best to get a proper fit. With the seat at a low position, your child should be able to stand over the bike with both feet comfortably touching the ground. If you're concerned about cost, consider a hand-me-down from a friend.
Balance bikes are a growing trend and great option for developing balance. They’re pedal-less and great for the youngest learners. Consider a balance bike for kids 1.5 to 4 years old.
A Good Helmet
Find a well-fitting helmet and encourage your child to always wear it. Scraped knees and elbows are no big deal but a helmet will protect them from more serious injuries.
Choose a flat, smooth surface for first learning to ride. The less intimidating the terrain is at first, the more likely they'll be able to focus on the basics.
Learning to Ride
Coasting and Balancing
Skip the training wheels and forget the pedals. Balance is the most difficult skill to master when learning to ride. By not depending on training wheels, kids will first learn the most difficult piece of the puzzle. Removing the pedals of a standard bike is easy and will allow your child to focus on fundamentals. A balance bike is already without pedals and designed specifically for learning these skills.
Position the seat low, where both feet comfortable touch the ground. Have them start by scooting along with their feet on the pedal-less bike. They’ll basically walk around to establish a feeling of control. Then, challenge them to coast with a big step and then extending their legs out straight on either side of the bike. Gradually challenge them to coast further. Show them on your own bike how to coast.
Don’t forget stopping! Teach kids to gradually put their feet on the ground to slow the momentum of the bike. Show them that when things get wobbly, a good solution is to just stop.
Introduce big, gradual turns first. Play follow the leader, or use cones or obstacles to create big S turns. We like this idea from REI: place a cracker on the ground 15 to 20 feet from the bike and challenged your child to crush it, then place another in another 15 feet. They’ll learn to continuously look up and put the bike on the path they want.
Learning to Pedal
Once they’ve mastered coasting and balancing, it’s time to learn how to pedal. Reattach the pedals on your kid's bike.
Have your child stand over the bike and position one of the pedals at 2 o’clock. The seat should still sit where they can comfortably reach the ground with both feet. They’ll place one foot on the pedal and the other on the ground. Encourage them to scoot forward and put pressure on the 2 o’clock pedal.
Steady the bike by the back of the seat as needed but allow the child to feel how the bike balances as the pedals move. Start slow, and have them stop pedaling and feel the tension of the brakes.
Once they feel good pedaling in a straight line, challenge them to simple turning games and games to stop and go, like red light, green light. Use cones or obstacles or play follow the leader.
It’s good to quite literally set boundaries for where they can and can’t ride their bike. Once they get moving, they could be hard to stop. It’s good to explain the dangers of moving vehicles and the possibility of falling. Maybe toddlers must stay in the driveway and older kids are allowed down the block. Clear and decisive boundaries will make things easier.
Creating a Lasting Hobby
Get cool accessories
Adding accessories to a kids bike can make them feel that much more cool, confident and can keep them entertained longer. Something as simple as a piece of plastic making noise against the spoke can be fun, or a flashlight attached with a rubber band. Also consider, bells, led lights, baskets, or pegs. Let kids get creative in personalizing their ride. They’ll take pride in their bike.
It feels great to be able to do something on your own and gives a great sense of pride. Let kids gradually increase their boundaries and explore their independence via bike. Riding a bike to school together can be a great way to promote healthy habits and lasting independence.
Build a Ramp, or Obstacle Course
Say their boundaries are a bit limiting, it’s likely it won’t be long before your little bike rider is needing a little more of a challenge. Create simple obstacles with yard toys or “bumps” out of flattened cardboard boxes. They’ll slowly get the feel for different surfaces and how the bike reacts. Gradually increase the box to a piece of plywood supported by 2-inch wood blocks. When they’re ready, build a ramp or jump in the backyard, they’ll be catching air off a ramp in no time.
Consider changing the terrain entirely. Maybe there is a local dirt track with kids night or perhaps there's a grassy neighborhood hill they could try to ride down.
Worried it's too risky? The challenge and accomplishments of new obstacles and skills will keep riding a bike interesting and engaging. Learning to assess and accurately gauge risk will be a skill they’ll carry through life. Challenges and new terrain are also a great introduction to Mountain Biking, BMX biking and more advanced road biking. These are the more specific hobbies that they’ll likely cherish later on.
Many people remember when they first learned to ride a bike and it's a skill that usually lasts a lifetime. With children's health issues at an all-time high, exercise and outdoor time are essential in combating the epidemic. Riding a bike is a fun way to keep them healthy and happy! Remember, there are many ways to learn and all kinds of teaching methods.