Over the past six years, I’ve watched and helped my oldest three daughters learn to ride a bike. My first and third daughters were on two wheels when they were four; my second daughter didn’t learn until she was six. In watching them, I’ve noticed seven things that helped them master this quintessential childhood skill. Here are my tips for teaching your child to ride a bike.
1. Start with a Runner Bike
A runner bike or balance bike is a small bike without pedals. Children learn to balance and steer the bike while propelling it forward with their feet. All of our girls have used a runner bike, especially when they see their friends or sisters riding bikes. This summer, my two-year-old is eyeing the pink runner bike and calling it her own.
Last summer, my four-year-old rode everywhere on her runner bike. If we were walking her sisters to dance or heading to the park, she wanted to ride her runner bike. It was a great way to help her keep up with us as we walked. As the summer progressed, she gained more confidence on it. Soon, she was flying down long hills with her feet in the air. I knew then that she was ready to transition to a pedal bike.
2. Move to Training Wheels
While friends of ours have had their children move straight from runner bike to pedal bike without training wheels, we’ve found that training wheels do help. There’s a lot of skills involved in riding a bike that we no longer think about as adults—balancing, pedaling, steering, stopping. It can be overwhelming for a child to put this together all at once.
Each of our girls went through a period when she had two bikes—her runner bike and her training wheel bike. The runner bike let her practice balancing, while the training wheels let her practice pedaling. Only when our girls were confident in both did we take off the training wheels and encourage them to ride on their own.
3. Ride with Friends
Children enjoy being part of a group and doing what their friends are doing. Having friends around who ride their bikes can encourage your child to get onto his own bike. Even if children are different ages and riding different bikes (pedal bike, runner bike, tricycle), they’ll have fun being on wheels together.
When my oldest was learning to ride a bike, we lived in a neighborhood with lots of kids. She had five young friends her age within one block, and they all rode their bikes up and down the sidewalks. She also had the chance to ride bikes, trikes and scooters at her preschool. My third daughter was eager to learn to ride because she saw her older sisters on their bikes.
If you live in a neighbourhood with lots of young kids, encourage your child to invite her friends out to ride their bikes. Plan a playdate with a friend and take your child’s bike along so the kids can ride together. Or consider signing your child up for a bike camp in the summer, where he or she will make new friends and have fun playing biking games with a teacher.
4. Plan Your Ride
Where you live can also have an impact on how your child learns to ride a bike. My first and third daughters learned to ride quickly because we lived in bike-friendly neighbourhoods. We had lots of flat sidewalks around us, where it was easy to ride.
When my second daughter was learning to ride her bike, we lived on the side of a hill. We couldn’t just ride bikes outside our door. Instead, we took the girls and their bikes to a school parking lot. It was flat and offered lots of space, without any worries about traffic. The girls could play follow-the-leader and my husband or I could walk beside them if necessary.
City bike trails are also a great place for beginner riders. Trails are usually flat and paved and separate from traffic. Many of the trails we like start or end at a playground, so we take a picnic and let the girls play after the ride. You may want to avoid the trails during weekends when they are more busy.
Look up a bike map for your city and see if you can find an easy trail to ride nearby. Drop by Let’s Go Biking! for easy, family-friendly rides around Vancouver.
5. Let Them Ride with You
Another way we’ve encouraged our daughters to ride bikes is to let them ride with us. Last summer, my two-year-old would go into our storage room and point at my bike to ask for a bike ride. She loves riding in her bike seat behind me and already knows that a bike ride is a lot of fun.
From the bike seat, we’ve transitioned our daughters to a trail-a-bike. While Jade is riding her own bike now, she still rides on the trail-a-bike behind Daddy for family rides. This gives her the feeling of riding a “real” bike while Daddy does the work of keeping the bike balanced. I think it helped her get used to riding her bike faster. We also encourage her to “help” Daddy pedal up all the hills.
6. Stay Positive
Learning to ride a bike is hard. Teaching a child to ride a bike might be even harder. I’ve known that each of my daughters was ready to ride a two-wheeler before they knew it themselves. While my oldest is willing to try anything, my next two daughters are a bit more cautious. It took a lot of patient encouragement to get them onto the bike. And there were some days when one or both of us was nearly in tears.
Stay positive. Remember that this is supposed to be fun. If you or your child is getting frustrated, take a break. Go play at the playground or grab a snack together. Offer tons of encouragement while your child is riding. Last summer, my older daughters got into cheering for Jade as she was learning to ride. Celebrate the successes, even if they are small, and forget about the failures.
7. Let Your Child Lead
As parents, we often watch milestones for our children. She’s supposed to be this tall at this age, read at that age, ride a bike now. Yet children develop at their own time and pace. Don’t push your child into riding a bike before he’s ready for it. Just as kids learn to read when they are different ages, so they’ll also learn to ride a bike at different ages.
We’ve provided our daughters with the bikes, but we’ve let each of them show interest in it when they were ready. Their personalities influenced when they learned to ride, as much as other factors such as our location and their friends’ bikes. Follow your child’s lead in learning to ride, and consider what will help him or her get onto two wheels.
Last summer, we invested a lot of money into new bikes for our family and bike lessons for our daughters. This summer, I’m looking forward to taking advantage of all that to explore Vancouver together on two wheels.
What tips would you share for teaching your child to ride a bike? How old was your child when he or she learned to ride a two-wheeler?
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Bonnie Way is a Vancouver mom with five children ages ten to newborn. She homeschools her oldest three daughters and enjoys hiking and rock climbing as well as biking. When she’s not busy with her children, she blogs about motherhood, travel and Vancouver life as the Koala Mom. Keep in touch by following her on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter!