Passing on the Joy of Riding a Bike

Tips for helping your child learn how to ride a bike.

There is no feeling more exhilarating than learning to ride a bike.

When I was a child, learning to ride gave me the freedom to pedal around my neighborhood – the wind in my face – and enjoy my first bit of independence. Now I’m a parent, and I love passing my joy for riding on to my children. Currently, my four-year-old son is finding his “riding legs” on his run bike. And I can still remember the moment that my daughter first rode off on her pedal bike. It happened on her fifth birthday. After many failed attempts, it was as though something just “clicked.” She started pedaling; I let go of the back of her saddle; she was off. I was so proud, squealing with excitement at how happy she was to have overcome her fears.

While teaching children to ride can be a joy, it can also be a challenge. Here are six tips to help you get your youngsters on their way to their own two-wheeled adventures:

When is my child ready to ride?

Once your children can walk confidently on their own, they are physically ready to learn. You’ll know that they are mentally ready to learn when you ask them if they want to try, and they say “yes” or when they try riding bikes belonging to their friends or older siblings.

Am I ready to teach my child to ride?

Teaching children to ride is a lesson in patience. It takes time, and you must be ready to deal with the frustration of knowing that they are ready before they do. Find other parents who are also teaching their children to ride so that you can share your experiences – or teach your children together.

What can I do for tear-free teaching?

Go to a familiar place that your children can navigate confidently. Congratulate them often, and be specific about what they do right. This means applauding every milestone, from steering straight to how much ground they cover before stopping or falling off. And don’t hesitate to let go. While you don’t want them to get hurt, they will never learn the joy of riding independently until you let go.

What tools can help get my child riding?

Run bikes and children’s bikes (with the pedals removed) can help toddlers and young children learn to balance and steer while keeping their feet on the ground. Look for lighter models as they help make riding – and being transported by a parent – easier.

Trail-a-bikes help children experience pedalling and leaning into turns while being safely towed behind you. They are great tools for preschoolers and for school-aged children who are developing confidence on run bikes but aren’t yet ready for the road or for longer trips. Another bonus? By following behind you, your child can watch and mimic your hand signals and shoulder checks.

How do I get my little one to wear a helmet?

Make wearing helmets “fun” by letting them pick their own with flashy colors or designs. And talk to them, explaining that wearing a helmet while learning protects them if they fall.

How do I encourage my child to continue riding?

Once your children are riding on their own, continue to ride with them, especially on streets with little car traffic. Other ideas include: (a) starting a bike train with children in your neighborhood so that everyone rides together to school, (b) taking part in programs such as Safe Routes to School or looking into starting similar programs in your city (a great way to encourage more parents to get their children riding), and (c) taking action in your city to improve cycling infrastructure. Protected bike lanes and traffic-calmed bikeways are key to keeping more children safe and comfortable on the roads.

Good luck, and happy riding!

Melissa Bruntlett lives in Vancouver, BC. When not riding around with her family and enjoying life by the ocean, she writes for her blog Velo Family Diaries. | @VeloFamilyYVR

1 Comment

  • Chas

    I taught my daughter (3.5yr) and niece (3yr) how too ride. The best thing I did was too change the gearing of their bikes. Their bike were bought from GoodWill 12in wheel coaster brake single speeds. They came with I think 16 tooth rear cogs. The girls hardly have enough weight to standing on the pedal and make the bikes go. I believe, I change the gearing somewhere between 18 and 20 teeth on the rear wheel. They where both off to the races. I raised the training wheels full up and a few days later I even bent the training wheels higher. In a few days of riding we took the training wheels off and they were riding. One nice thing about changing the gearing is it slows the kids/bike down to fast walk speed but fast enough to ride. My daughter is on a 18in wheeled bike now and I changed its gearing so that she can pedal in the yard/grass easily. (22 tooth on the rear)

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