1 Make sure that they feel comfortable. Start them with a balance bike as young as possible, once they can hold their own weight in standing – you can help them to balance and the seat will support their weight as they learn. By having a balance bike as a toy in the house, they can get familiar with it whilst they’re playing, rather than seeing it as a specific skill they need to master.
2 Focus on three key prompts to keep it simple. Ask them to look straight ahead, make sure they’re sitting with their weight on the seat, and make sure they smile!
3 Make sure you choose a large open space to learn. Children on bikes are erratic and wobbly, but wobbling shows they’re starting to learn how to balance on their own! Riding on grass is harder, but when transitioning to using pedals short grass is soft enough to cushion the inevitable falls whilst still allowing relatively easy movement.
4 If it’s not going to plan, think about having external coaching, or taking them to an event or class, which are becoming increasingly popular. Children learn much more quickly when they’re surrounded by their peers doing the same thing, and it can help avoid them feeling any pressure from parents trying to teach them. Afterwards they’re more likely to be keen to show mum and dad exactly what they’ve learnt.
5. Use the balance bike as a fun way of getting to school. Scooters are great, but don’t promote learning how to balance, so the more practice they get picking their feet up, taking their weight and balancing, the better. Encourage them to pick both feet up once they’re moving, and once they can keep both feet off the floor for 10 seconds, they’re ready for pedals!
6 Starting to use pedals can be a really fragile stage, as a fall can quickly knock your child’s confidence. Start off by making sure that they know how to use their brakes. Keep instructions simple, like saying “3, 2, 1, stop”, ensuring they understand how to squeeze the brakes. Make sure the brakes are well adjusted; quality kids’ bikes come with specifically-designed levers for smaller hands.
7 To help them to balance, keep your hands on their shoulders. Don’t hold the bike, seat or handlebars as it takes too much control away from them. The more support you need to give them, the less confident they are. If they’re leaning on your hands, they’re not ready – go back to a balance bike, or take the pedals off and use the new bike in the same way. Give them as much control of the bike as possible.
8 Stay with them and keep in contact with them with your hands on them, until you’re comfortable they know how to start and stop by themselves. If they fall, get them back on the bike as quickly as possible.
9 Trying to teach family is always hard at any age – parents teaching children leads to more complaining compared to when they’re coached. So put the focus on going out for a bike ride together, and on the destination, rather than on learning to ride.
10 Praise! It’s so important. Regular and continued praise for every small achievement during the learning process.
Where does it go wrong?
There are a few common mistakes to watch out for.
Firstly, stabilisers remove the need for a child to balance, which is the most important aspect of learning to ride. Ideally stay away from using them – although they can be a handy backup if your child is struggling with the action of pedalling itself.
Secondly, make sure that you invest in the right bike. Proper children’s bikes are ergonomically designed and will speed up the learning process. Avoid getting a bike that is too heavy, and stay away from Dutch-style bikes for children as they’re very difficult to learn on. Don’t put the saddle too high and make sure the tyres are always properly pumped up.
Finally, always think about the language that you’re using – keep everything positive, and try not to focus on learning or skills. It might seem obvious, but phrases like “try harder” are definitely counter-productive. The main thing is to praise, support and encourage your children. If you think they’re taking a long time to do something, they’re just doing it their own way. They will get there. Be patient, and support them. Celebrate every little milestone.
Rob Reed is working with Ridgeback’s Kids Club to get more kids out enjoying cycling. ridgebackkids.co.uk