It’s just like riding a bike, the adage goes. And until you can ride that bike, the adage means squat. Many websites and guides will promise you can teach a kid to ride bike in a day or in as little as 30 minutes. Below is my guide to knocking out bike riding in right around 3 years of practice and patience. While my recommendations may take 900 days more than the top google search article, I think it will pay off. Riding a bicycle is going to be the main mode of transportation for children for such a long time, and I am so happy to have a child that is riding right along me at 4 years old. Having fun as you learn to ride will make the whole process a fun one and hopefully allow for a faster learn time as little ones master the two wheelers.
Learn to Ride a Bicycle in 2 to 3 years!
Super catchy title! This guide is meant more as a set of suggestions for parents of children that are barely walking up until they turn 4. I walk into kindergarten rooms all the time and ask if anyone can ride a bicycle, a few proud students say “YES,” and then when I follow up with them, they add “but I do have training wheels.” My goal was to teach Dalton how to ride a bicycle before he turned 4. I missed the goal by about two months. It was not until the end of summer, after turning 4, that he could confidently ride on two wheels all over the neighborhood. For the remainder of this guide I am going to go over the following milestones and tools:
- balance bikes to make walking more fun
- embracing the tri bicylce
- our first bicycle
- training wheels and the day we were tragically robbed
- keep on training
We bought our first balance bike as a Christmas present for Dalton when he was about 18 months old. It got very little use those first 6 months, but that all changed once he was tall enough to walk around with it under his feet. Once he was tall enough to walk around with it, he used it pretty constantly. The first few months of using a balance bike, were tragically slow. He would sit on the seat, take tiny steps to maintain his balance, and just sort of go in a straight line, often failing to turn the handlebars to avoid obstacles.
Once he was comfortable though, I raised the seat up to a point that his feet couldn’t both be flat on the ground at once. This forced him to work on that balance, while also allowing him to stop the fall on either side if he lost his balance. And just like that, we were off. I could walk the dog at full adult casual walking speed, and he would keep up with me. If we were going down a hill, he could easily get ahead of me. When he was worn out, or we were going up a hill, the bike was small enough for me to just carry.
Eventually we taught him to put his feet up on the frame when he was going downhill to really coast. It did not take long for him to get good at balancing. Going for walks, cruising the neighborhood, and just playing in the driveway all became much more fun.
Trying out the balance bike!🚲🎥 pic.twitter.com/Fds0GFrk4X
— Preston Spratt (@PrestonSpratt) June 1, 2018
The idea behind a balance bike
The name pretty much says it all. This bike helps children to develop those balancing skills. As they ride more and more, they learn to look forward and how to position their weight. Stopping on the balance bike is relatively straight forward. The child will put their feet on the ground to slow themselves. In the process they learn that they should put their feet out to hold the bike up when they are at a stop. Always have your child wear shoes with a balance bike, the braking power is all in the feet.
Embrace the Tricycle
Both of our kids loved their secondhand tricycle. One fondly called it his tribicycle. The great thing about the tricycle is that it is pretty safe overall. No balance to worry about, just pedal and steer. The main things to consider when picking out a tricycle are whether or not your child can reach the pedals. A child on tricycle can feel like they are bicycling, developing their legs, and get quite a bit of practice with steering handlebars.
We used our tricycle right alongside the balance bike. It seemed like once our son could stand over his balance bike, it wasn’t long until he was able to reach the pedals on a tricycle. He rode them both pretty interchangeably. I found that he almost liked the tricycle more, because he was successful at it every time he got on. There were periods of time where the tricycle would have to be hidden so that he would work with his balance bike.
What they learn and what you should know
The tricycle offers a chance to be successful with pedaling right out of the gate. Use the tricycle to teach pedaling and steering. A few things to keep in mind with a tricycle:
- weight. These things can be heavy and are a pain to carry home when a tantrum erupts.
- braking. Some do brake when you pedal backwards, while others just assume the child will put their feet down.
- hills. Super difficult to go up a hill for young children. If you live in an area without flat spots, maybe stick to balance bikes.
The first bicycle
Once our son was able to ride his balance bike from our house to the playground, coasting the majority of the way, we knew he was ready for a real bicycle. I wanted to buy him a solid bicycle, one that was well-made and would hold up as well for our second child a few years down the line. He and I headed over to our local bicycle shop, Treads, to look at what our options were. The three things that I was looking for were:
- Is it the right size, can he sit on the sit and have his feet touch the ground with the seat all the way down? Do not get a bicycle to grow into, it won’t be fun during the crucial learning phase.
- Is it made of aluminum? We want a bicycle that is lightweight to be easier on all of our hills.
- Does he think it is cool? This is his bicycle, he should pick it out.
We stuck to the used bicycle section of the store. We walked out of there with a used Trek 20” (tire) bicycle for $75. It is black and orange, fairly worn rubber on the tires, a foam pad on the frame, chain guard, and no training wheels. We proudly loaded up the bicycle and took it home to test it out.
Lessons from our first ride
Downhill as a pro, uphill no dice. We made it to the playground balancing and occasionally pedaling. It was all downhill. I had to hold him up the whole way back.
Brakes!!??!?! When we got to our first stop sign his feet went off the pedals. He tried to stop by putting his feet down, and rolled into the middle of the street.
Searching for success. He just wanted to go back to balance bike and the tricycle.
training wheels and the day we were tragically robbed
check back soon for the remainder of this post. [June 3, 2018]
keep on training
check back soon for the remainder of this post. [June 3, 2018]
Photo by Clark Young on Unsplash