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The Best Way to Teach a Child to Ride a Bike

Your dad might have taught you to ride a bike by holding your bike, running alongside you and launching you until you could stay up by yourself. This method, while it can be effective, often becomes a literal crash course, as it attempts to teach several skills at once. A more effective teaching method isolates those skills, letting your child slowly become comfortable with all aspects of bicycle riding. Most importantly, teaching your child to ride a bike should have a foundation in safety skills.

  1. Choose a fitting bike for your child. The International Bicycle fund recommends a bicycle small enough so that the seat can be lowered to where your child's feet can touch flat on the ground.

  2. Review basic bicycle safety rules with your child. This includes staying on the right side of the road, obeying stop signs and traffic signals and stopping before entering the street from a driveway. Running red lights or stop signs and riding carelessly into the street together account for about two-thirds of auto/bicycle accidents, according to the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute.

  3. Scope out a spot for your child's first ride. Ideally, you should find a wide, grassy spot with a slight slope followed by a long stretch of flat area. Barring that, find a paved area without traffic that is either flat or only slightly sloped. Make sure it is wide enough to allow for turns.

  4. Outfit your child with protective equipment. This includes a helmet along with gloves, knee pads and elbow pads to protect from scrapes.

  5. Teach your child to balance on the bicycle. With the seat lowered, have your child mount the bicycle at the top of the slope, keeping his feet flat on the ground. Without using the pedals, have your child lift his/her feet off the ground and remain balanced as the bicycle slowly rolls down the slope. Run alongside the bike if your child requests it, but avoid holding onto the bike to steady it. Repeat this until your child can go a good distance without falling or stopping the bicycle with his feet.

  6. Have your child ride down the hill with her feet on the pedals. After a few successful runs, have the child begin pedaling as the bike rolls down the hill. Incrementally raise the seat between runs.

  7. Move to the flat part of your training area and let your child start the bike from a standstill. Have him mount the bicycle and begin pedaling, trying to keep in as straight of a line as possible. Also use this time to teach the child to use the brakes.

  8. Teach turning skills. Stress that turning is done more with the body than the handlebars. Tell your child that, before a turn, she should slow down, lean slightly into the turn's direction and turn the handlebars slightly in that direction. Sharp turns on the handlebars are likely to cause spills.

    Tip

    Heap praise on your child after each successful run, and be patient and encouraging after mishaps. You can remove the pedals when teaching balance, though this is not necessary in most cases, according to the International Bicycle Fund.

    Warning

    Stay out of areas with traffic until your child masters riding without wobbling and can skillfully brake and turn. Even when following these steps, it's difficult to completely avoid falls. Giving your child a little background in gymnastics, particularly the tuck-and-roll, can help teach safe falling technique, according to the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. Training wheels are fine to let small children ride alongside their older friends, but they do little to teach proper cycling technique, according to the International Bicycle Fund. Even if your child already has been riding a bicycle with training wheels, still teach riding through all the steps above.

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Things Needed

  • Small bicycle
  • Helmet
  • Gloves
  • Knee pads
  • Elbow pads

About the Author

Michael Baker has worked as a full-time journalist since 2002 and currently serves as editor for several travel-industry trade publications in New York. He previously was a business reporter for "The Press of Atlantic City" in New Jersey and "The [Brazoria County] Facts" in Freeport, Texas. Baker holds a Master of Science in journalism from Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn.

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