Going Car-light With a Reluctant 7-year-old

There was just one problem with my family going car-light: My reluctant 7-year-old saw no reason to learn to ride a bike.

I had a plan in place. My family would go car-light – relying on our bicycles more than our car for short trips. Living in the sprawling Silicon Valley – where things move fast and mostly by car – I wanted to slow down and spend more time with my daughter, Kira. It was important to me that Kira was a part of this change. We could do something fun together and I also hoped to instill in her a love of riding that would get her to reach for her bike instead of car keys later in life.

There was just one problem: My reluctant 7-year-old saw no reason to learn to ride a bike. Instead, Kira was set on roller-skating everywhere.

Early attempts on a bike with training wheels – watching her lean in one direction while the bike leaned in another – made my back hurt in sympathy. Off came the training wheels and I tried my father’s technique of pushing from behind and then secretly letting go. Kira just couldn’t keep her bike upright even while I pushed so letting go wasn’t an option.

A friend’s father recommended that I take off the pedals, turning her princess-themed bike into a balance bike. That sparked an action plan.

STEP 1: REMOVE THE PEDALS AND CRANKS.

After an hour and a half and two minor injuries, I had the pedals and cranks off with the chain duct taped out of the way. Kira watched me intently the whole time. She climbed on and immediately scooted down our short hallway with a big smile spread across her face. Rejoice; she liked it!

STEP 2: KEEP HER MOTIVATED.

The promise of a new bike kept Kira, who had just finished her princess phase, enthusiastic about learning. We set a target date for her to learn by, practicing daily to meet it. If she could ride her bike at the local bike shop by the date, she could get a new bike. If not, it was back to scooting until she was ready to try again.

STEP 3: KEEP HER INFORMED.

The goal was to ride our bikes more because it’s fun, cuts down on pollution, and is an activity we can do together. Kira and I talked about biking a lot; something I think excited her to learn: she was on board.

When the day arrived, Kira hopped on a bike right away. She test rode several bikes, settling on a Bella model from Giant. Her bike is blue with purple accents and came with a bell – features that met all of her demands.

We now ride together to the grocery store, to our friends’ homes, and anywhere else we can. Kira’s proud of her accomplishment and wants to ride as often as possible.

Every parent knows how difficult it can be to convince your child to try something new. In this case, a little perseverance and the promise of a new bike did the trick. Who could say no to that?


Colleen Valles blogs about making time for what you love and living the good life at colleenvalles.com. Follow her adventures on Twitter at @ColleenValles

4 Comments

  • John Ciccarelli

    I and many instructors use the “take off the pedals” method for students of all ages — I’ve personally taught over 900 kids and (mostly) adults, up to early-70s, in 1-on-1 private lessons and also multi-instructor group Learn To Ride classes in SF and the East Bay. Find a bike that fits, lower the seat so the new rider can sit flat-footed (including both heels) with knees slightly bent, remove pedals (no need to remove cranks), and if needed adjust the reach (handlebar distance) so both arms are neither too long (which inhibits turns and corrections) nor too bent, nor too high (not above the diaphragm). Find a schoolyard or traffic-and-obstacle-free parking lot with a gentle grade, such that a basketball or soccer ball will keep rolling but not pick up speed. Have the student sit upright (“shoulders back, chin up”) with arms extended (neither “floppy” nor “stiff”). Take little steps that don’t lift your tush off the seat. And stay with it — it can take anywhere from a minute to over an hour to “get” the feel of the steering corrections. Oh, and abandon all hope of a straight line, at least at first — letting the bike “wander” actually helps your brain discover how to correct the path.

    John Ciccarelli / Bicycle Solutions / San Francisco

  • Colleen

    Hi Mark,
    Great question — there’s nothing wrong with roller skates, and Kira still uses them all the time. But in our area, where things are fairly spread out, they’re not as practical for running some errands. Riding a bike helped maximize our options.

  • Mark

    whats wrong with roller skates? why force her to ride a bike when she has already chosen something she likes?

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