From cycling games to the all-important stopping, become your child’s bike-riding guru with these tips
As milestones go, riding a bike is up there with the most memorable. The tumbles as well as that first wind-in-your-hair glide across the garden…
When you teach your child is obviously up to you. It could be as early as three but is generally around five or six.
‘The process is often smoother if a toddler has used a balance bike (one without pedals) as it helps her learn about stability and pushing herself forward,’ says Sustrans School Officer Andy Casson, who teaches children in London.
So, the rain has (finally) stopped for an afternoon. Ready, set, go.
Do the prep
There’s a guide called an M Check, which you can run through to make sure everything’s working on the bike.
Don’t fall into the trap of buying one that’s too small. ‘I see lots of parents do this and then raising the saddle, but it can make her wobbly and unsafe if it’s too high,’ says Andy. Get advice from a specialist shop if you’re unsure.
A helmet is sensible – check it fits properly, is on the right way round and has a CE safety standard mark.
Location, location, location
Grass may seem the obvious choice (softer landing…) but it’s actually quite hard to pedal on – plus, it can be a bit bumpy.
‘Look for a piece of tarmac and somewhere with a very slight slope to help your child gain momentum,’ says Andy.
Begin with stopping
Your small person is finally flying on her bike *proud face* and then you realise she doesn’t know how to stop. Ah. So, teach her this first.
Your small person is finally flying on her bike *proud face* and then you realise she doesn’t know how to stop
Sit her with her feet on the ground (not the pedals), hold a handlebar and support her back gently with your other hand. Encourage her to propel herself forward and then brakes on, feet down.
‘As well as teaching her how to stop, this is about breaking the cycle of her putting her feet on the pedals straight away,’ says Andy. ‘It’s a habit formed by stabilisers, which aren’t there anymore to stop her toppling over when she’s not moving.’
Encourage her independence
It’s counterproductive for her to lean on you too much while she’s riding, so lightly support as opposed to actually holding her.
‘Gauge how she’s getting on by introducing a bit of pedalling, perhaps four or five bike lengths, before a stop,’ says Andy. And practice.
The key with steering is looking where you want to go and keeping movements small. A dramatic 180 spin isn’t on the agenda right now.
‘Encourage your child to do gentle gestures with the handlebars, using your fingertips on them to show her if needs be,’ says Andy.
When she’s more confident, make a game of riding in a circle around you in both directions.
Manage your expectations
Some kids pick up cycling quickly; others take longer, so go back a few steps if things aren’t quite clicking.
‘Be ready to use whatever coping strategy helps when she’s crying – chances are there’ll be a few falls,’ says Andy.
Bring in the fun factor
Whether it’s involving friends or an older sibling, make things low pressure and enjoyable.
‘Keep motivating and introducing games,’ says Andy. ‘The Stop Game is good – she just has to stop when you say. It helps her practice braking, but is also handy from a safety point of view if you’re ever near a road.’
Have you been teaching your child to ride a bike? Let us know how you're getting on below!