how to teach a child to ride a bike: the big pedal

Learning to ride a bike is a key part of any youngster’s childhood. I can still remember crashing into tents and causing general havoc on the campsite as I was mastering the art one summer. As parents, we are aware that – along with using cutlery and washing our hands after using the toilet – how to ride a bike is one of those all-important nuggets of wisdom that we must impart to our children. The thought of that can be enough to leave some of us shaking in our saddles. Hold onto your handlebars, in honour of the Big Pedal, I’ve put together this guide on teaching your toddler how to ride a bike.

Aria learning to ride a bike

when to teach your child to ride a bike

If you love your bike, you’re bound to be excited about teaching your child how to ride a bike. Children can start to learn from 3.5 to 4.5 years, but don’t worry if your little darling isn’t ready to take on two wheels yet. If they’re struggling to get the hang of turning the pedals, it’s probably a bit too soon for them. To give them the bike bug, let them watch older siblings, adults or their friends. Seeing others ride a bike can help them to understand what to do, and they’ll be excited to cycle along with their family and friends!

When your little one is ready to make the leap from passenger to pilot, it’s time to get them on their own two wheels. Back in my day, we attached stabilisers to our first tiny bike and away we went. Today, it’s advised that toddlers start on a balance bike or small bike with the pedals removed.

Balance bikes help wobbly tots learn to balance and steer without having to take their feet off the ground and think about pedalling. Unlike stabilisers, they teach budding bicyclists to hold the bike upright themselves, instead of having the weight supported for them.

how to find the right bike and equipment

We all know just how quickly our babies can shoot up, but unfortunately, bikes are not something they can grow in to. That’s why it’s important to get a bike that fits. Little ones should have their feet flat on the floor if they’re sitting on a balance bike, or balance on the balls of both feet if they are learning to pedal. Having the seat too low can make pedalling tricky, as knees get tangled up with arms and complicate steering, which can make them lose balance. Don’t worry, you can adjust the seat and handlebars for tiny bodies that don’t stay tiny for so long!

little girl on her balance bike

When looking for the perfect place to practice, grass often comes to mind. Although it offers a softer landing, the bumpy surface can mean they spend more time on the floor! It’s better to find some smooth, reasonably flat tarmac that offers an easier ride. And don’t forget to clear away their water table and other outdoor toys first. The fewer obstacles for them to avoid, the better!

Even though most of the children in our photos aren’t wearing them, we always recommend your child wears a helmet, some riding gloves, elbow and knee pads and perhaps some long layers to protect even more against bumps and scratches! Head for somewhere safe and traffic-free, like a wide pathway or park, so they have plenty of room to safely perfect their steering.

starting to learn how to ride a bike

Ok, so the helmet is properly fitted, the saddle is the right height, now it’s time to learn how to ride a bike. Once on their balance bike, encourage your toddler to start scooting themselves along. Then they can try taking bigger steps, propelling themselves forward and eventually moving onto kangaroo jump pushes. Gradually spending more time with their feet off the floor develops balance and bike control. Practise on a safe yet slight decline to increase momentum for more freewheeling fun!

Once they seem to have mastered balance and steering, they can progress to pedalling. You’re probably not ready to let go yet, but try not to hold onto the seat or handlebars. Not only does running along holding onto the bike give you a sore back, it controls the way the bike leans and tilts.

two kids on their bicycles

Stand behind them, with your legs either side of the rear wheel and support your little rider lightly under the armpits, on the shoulders or holding the back of their top. This way you can make sure that they don’t come to any harm while allowing them to control the bike themselves. Tots will tend to look at their toes when they’re getting the hang of turning the pedals, so remind them to keep an eye on where they’re going.

When you can feel that they’re beginning to get it, slowly reduce the pressure of your hands until you can move them away completely. Keep running along so you’re ready to catch them if need be.

ready, steady, stop!

Mastering the go can be easy but it’s very important your child learns how to stop their bike. Practise walking along next to the bike and using the brakes. They may grip hard the first time and come to a sudden halt. Teach them to gently increase pressure to come to a slower, gentler stop. When they’re on the bike they may remember to brake, but forget to put their feet down, so catching hands at the ready!

Once they are comfortable pedalling and steering, it’s time to get the bike rolling on their own. Balance the bike between your legs, put the pedal on their favoured leg to 2 o’clock. Encourage them to push down hard, and to keep pedalling, looking forward as they go.

little girl learning to ride a bike

Learning to ride a bike isn’t always easy, and there may be some bumps along the road. No matter how long it takes, it’s important to stay positive. No matter how many times they may fall, always encourage your little one to get back on the bike!


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