Learning how to ride a bike is a childhood rite of passage and can help open the doors to a lifetime of physical activity. But when should children learn – and how can parents help?
Riding a bike takes an extraordinary amount of balance and concentration, so take your time with this activity and wait until your child is interested and ready to learn. Most kids learn to ride between ages 3 and 6, but there’s no rush!
You can begin to prep your child with some of the key skills needed for cycling success even before they are ready to actually jump on a bike. Here are two to focus on:
- Strength: Children who spend lots of time climbing on a playground will likely be very successful at riding a bike. The muscles needed to climb up a ladder or cross a playground structure are the same core muscles that help children hold the bike steady and pedal.
- Balance: Balance skills are crucial to staying upright on a bike. Your child can practice balance using the following activities:
- standing (and hopping) on one foot at a time
- walking across a balance beam or the curb along the sidewalk
- walking up and down stairs
- jumping and/or playing hop scotch
- throwing and kicking a ball (yes, even these tasks require the core muscles in the body to build balance!)
Tip to consider: If your child is not yet ready for a bike with pedals, you may also try a balance bike to help build this crucial skill. These bikes don’t have chains or pedals and they help build the balance skills needed for bike riding.
Once your child is prepared to start riding a bike, here are some other important safety tips to keep in mind:
Wearing a Helmet
- Most importantly, always make sure your child wears a helmet when riding a bike, and make sure it fits properly. The helmet should be snug, level and stable on his head. And don’t forget to check the size every six months and adjust for growth.
- Your child will imitate what you do, so be sure to always model safe behavior and wear your helmet, too!
Selecting a Bike
- Take your child to a local bike shop for help with selecting the appropriate-sized bike.
- Don’t buy a large bike that your child will eventually “grow into,” because this can be dangerous and can slow down the learning process. Make sure that your child can stand over the top of the bike with both feet flat on the ground.
Learning to Ride
- Find a large, safe place that is flat, smooth and traffic-free – like a driveway, park path or empty parking lot.
- Check the bike’s tire pressure and lower the seat so your child can sit upright with her feet flat on the ground.
- Have your child stand over the bike with one foot flat on the ground, and the other on a pedal raised at the 2 o’clock position.
- Coach your child to press down on the front pedal to give the bike its forward momentum.
- Steady your child by placing a hand on her shoulder or the bike seat, but let her learn how to balance without too much help.
- Once your child masters balancing and pedaling, she can practice turns, starting and stopping, riding in a straight line, looking over her shoulder and signaling turns.
- Have your child practice stopping safely and using the brake appropriately. Make sure she puts her feet on the ground as the bike comes to a stop.”
Remember, some children will catch on quickly and others will want to put the bike up and come back to it another time. Be patient with your child, as learning to ride a bike takes time to master and refine. When your child is ready, find a paved bike trail and enjoy a family riding adventure together!