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June 19, 2018 - TCO

6 tips, 2 wheels and a lot of fun

Learning how to ride a bike is a childhood rite of passage. But unlike other physical milestones, such as crawling, walking and running, it doesn’t come naturally to us. Still, according to Today’s Parent, many kids have the balance, dexterity and strength necessary to start pedaling at age 4 and are ready to ride on two wheels by age 6.

However old your child is, if they’re showing signs of two-wheel readiness, they’ll definitely need your guidance and support to go the distance. Here are 6 tips to help you—and your child—make the first bike ride safe, successful and super fun!

First thing’s first: Choose the right bike and helmet.

Balance bikes, which don’t have pedals, are an easy way to start, especially if your child is younger than 4. Training wheels are also an option, but starting with a balance bike usually eliminates the need for them.

When it’s time for a two-wheel bike, make sure it’s the right fit. Avoid buying one your child can “grow into.” They should be able to stand over the top bar with both feet planted on the ground. And don’t forget the helmet! The right fit is about 1 inch above the eyebrows. Check out this article for more tips on shopping smart.

Find a safe, open space.

Choose a traffic-free, preferably paved area—an empty school parking lot or basketball court works great. The terrain should be flat, smooth and free of obstacles and distractions, including overly playful siblings! Consider making this a special, one-on-one activity with your new two-wheeler.

Don’t forget to remove training wheels and make sure the tires are full of air. Like car tires, there should be a recommended PSI on the tire sidewalls.

Get the camera ready—this is going to be fun!

As with teaching any new skill, there are bound to be a few setbacks. And that’s OK! The important thing is to be patient and always try to keep it fun. Taking pictures is one way to help you both relax and go with the roll, so to speak. Plus, you’ll have a great memento of this milestone. You can also incorporate games into the training, like follow the leader and timed “races,” to make the experience more playful.

Scoot, coast and steer.

If your child started with a balance bike, they’ve probably mastered this step. If starting with a two-wheel bike, you’ll want to remove the pedals and lower the seat so that they can sit upright with their legs straight and feet flat on the ground.

Start with simple scooting. Once they gain speed, they can practice coasting by holding their legs outright in front of them, using their feet to stop. REI has a great video demonstrating this and the next few steps. Once they get the hang of this, move on to steering. Try setting up a few markers, like orange cones, and have your child coast and steer in between them.

Before moving on, make sure your child can coast and steer while focusing on what’s ahead instead of looking down at the ground.

Practice pedaling.

If needed, replace the pedals on the bike, but leave the seat low. Practice taking off from a stopped position. While standing over the bike, your child should have one foot on the ground and the other on the raised pedal. From there, they can press down on the pedal to gain momentum. You can hold the back of their seat to keep it steady as they get going. The key is for them to learn how to balance and stay in control without your assistance.

Set. Go!

Now comes the really fun part! Remind your child that they can always stop the bike by putting their feet down. Then, holding on to the seat, let them get started and then run alongside them as they keep pedaling. Once they have enough speed, let go. If they take a tumble, offer comfort but encourage them to get back up and try again.

Once your child is happy with pedaling and steering simultaneously, practice braking. You’ll know they’ve mastered it once they can brake without wobbling. And at that point, you can raise the seat back to the right position.

At TCO, many of us have had the opportunity to teach our kids to ride a two-wheel bike. We know firsthand that it can take a weekend or weeks. If it stops being fun, just take a break and start up again when everyone’s ready. Parents Magazine has great advice when it comes to “calling it quits.” There’s no right time for learning how to ride a bike—let your child’s skills and abilities lead the way. And the best part? Once your child learns how to ride a bike, they’ll never forget!