I’m sure I was at least 5 if not older before I learnt to ride a bike yet now a days, you can see 3 year olds whizzing around on two wheels. My son was one of them so I thought I’d write my tips to help you if you’re wondering how to teach a child to ride a bike. This is how my son learnt to ride a bike at 3 years old. I was amazed.
Actually, Bear was zooming around on two wheels at 2 years old – two wheels and no pedals, on a balance bike but was 3 when he had his first go and mastered riding a two wheel bike with pedals.
How did he do it? It was quite frankly easy and I can’t claim the glory as he practically taught himself.
Here’s how to do it yourself.
- Start when they are 2 years old by buying them a balance bike. Don’t forget the helmet!
Don’t worry if your child is older though – you can get balance bikes that are big enough and suitable for 4 year olds. If your child is too big for a balance bike, skip to ‘So when you get a bike with pedals…..’
Start looking for a balance bike that is light and as small as can be. As parents, we want to get the most of our money and quite often buy something like a bike that is as big as our kids can possibly manage, to account for growing room and getting our money’s worth however you need the opposite almost for a balance bike in my opinion.
Your child needs to be able to sit on the bike, with the seat and handlebars at the lowest height, with their feet flat on the floor. They need to feel as confident as possible. If they can only just touch with balls of their feet, they are going to feel wobbly and unsafe and reluctant to try.
The wooden balance bikes are gorgeous and were the first balance bikes that I remember seeing in the UK but they are often quite heavy and cumbersome – much better for an older child or a child that is already confident.
He started using it the day of his second birthday.
As you can see, he started just walking on it in the house. I’m lucky that I have an open plan house so this was possible but if you don’t have the space, just start on the pavement. Don’t expect to go far and don’t push them to sit straight away, the more they play, this will just come.
- Find somewhere where you feel safe. This is really important! You need to allow your child the freedom to stride off. You need to feel safe enough for them to go a few metres ahead of you or jog / bike alongside them. If you won’t let them go out of arms reach, they will never get the speed and confidence they need to start balancing. Try to avoid grass as this just causes resistance. If they can touch the floor comfortably, they are unlikely to fall off.
That’s it for now. Take the bike wherever you can and let them practice as much as possible. Let them walk for as long as they want. Encourage them to sit on the seat and ‘walk’ and in time, they’ll start to get a little faster. If they don’t start to sit and speed up, the bike may be too big and so wait for them to grow or try to get a smaller one however, try not to get frustrated with them and try not to rush them. If they are happy, their confidence will come.
Try and make it as fun as possible. My brother in law made Bear a set of ramps with some scrap wood. I’m not saying that you should go to that far but oh does he love them!
Keep going like this and before long, you’ll notice them balancing as they gain speed.
- When you think they are ready, it’s time to buy a bike with pedals.
This is where I’d like to share my experience with you. I bought Bear a small 12 inch (wheel) Fireman Sam bike, second hand for £15. It was the perfect size for him (if not a bit on the small side but for my son, he needed that for confidence) and indeed, he had his first go with pedals before his 3rd birthday but he found it hard.
The smaller ‘character’ style bikes that you buy with stabilisers on the high street, are really hard work to pedal. It’s not just that your child isn’t strong enough but the small wheel size and short chain make them so much harder to learn on. These bikes are also often very heavy (in relation the the balance bikes). The weight difference might not sound much but on a child’s bike, it can make the difference. I’ve known a lot of children really struggle with these kinds of bikes but when I was a nanny, I didn’t know why, nor that there was anything else on the market.
He kept trying and was doing ok on his cheap bike but couldn’t manage on the grass which was a little frustrating as we usually have the dog with us and go off road into the fields. My son’s best friend’s Daddy is a keen cyclist and had done his research and bought their son a fabulous bike. Watching the boys side by side was hilarious – to every one one turn of their son’s feet on the pedals, my son was doing two or three and having to cycle like the wind to keep up! Their son could whizz over fields and poor Bear just gave up. That’s when I decided to invest.
I tried eBay but as my friend had said, the bike that they chose really holds their value and with petrol, the cheapest one near me would have cost the same if not more than brand new.
With the help of Nanna and grandad and all his birthday and Christmas money, I decided to go for it and purchased my son an Isla Bike. At £279 it was such a lot of money but it was well worth it. It is lightweight, has larger wheels and has easy brakes for little hands. He can manage fields, riding through woods over tree roots, cobbles and off road tracks as well as the streets and uses it almost every day. Their design is all about the child – their pedals are designed to rest at the perfect angle to start pedaling. How cool is that?!
Only you know if it is worth it for you but bare in mind the resale value on eBay. When you subtract that from the original cost, it can make it a cheap bike. There are other lightweight children’s bikes on the market but this is the one for us. I’m not working with Isla bike, I just love it!
So when you get a bike with pedals…..
Start them on the new bike with no pressure to use the pedals. Explain how to use them and let them have a go. They may give them a go or may not. You can often unscrew the actual pedals if you like an just let the get used to the new bike as a balance bike. With pedals:
- Start by asking them to stand astride the pedal bike. Put the back wheel between your legs and ask them sit down and to lift their feet up and put them on the pedals. Explain that you’ve got them and that they’ll not fall over. Get them to practice lifting both feet up from the ground and onto both pedals over and over until they can do it without looking as they will most likely start off on the pedal bike as if it is a balance bike, by using their feet on the floor to build up speed and then lift their feet onto the pedals and start turning them.
- Next, this is when you need some energy, walk or jog beside them, holding them under their arms and ask them to try peddling, just to get the feel of it. Try not to hang onto the bike as they need to be able to control it. You can steer them by leaning them either way.
You can start to teach them how to get going from a standstill, the way you or I would by leaning to one side, lifting one foot onto a pedal and pushing off. They need a bit of strength in their legs but will quickly get the hang of it.
Before you know it, you will probably have a 3 year old that can ride a bike, just like my son and his best friend. Now they are 4 years old and they bomb around the local skills track at speed and are quite precise and controlled. Recently, Bear had a go on a BMX and rode up a ramp, across and down the other side, multiple times. I was so proud of him and he of himself. He wants to take part in the time trials when they return to our practice track and although it’s just a bit of fun, I will encourage anything that gets him outdoors and keeps him healthy!
I hope you find this useful,