Top tips to help your children learn how to ride a bike

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The saying goes, "It's just like riding a bike..." Well what if you haven't learnt yet? Most kids will, at some point, learn how to ride a bike. But how can you help them?

Riding a bike develops, unlocks or improves a wide variety of skills that every child could benefit from;

  • Coordination
  • Balance
  • Proprioceptive response
  • Developing core strength

Before we explore how to assist your child in their learning journey let's look into these skills in detail.

 Cambodian boys and their bike

    

Coordination

Coordination is also referred to as your gross motor skills, how you use your arms and legs separately or together. In this instance, children will be focusing on using both their legs to pedal along. Coordination is naturally used throughout all humans entire lives, obviously making it an invaluable skill.

Balance

This is core when children learn how to ride a bike. It also develops their overall balancing skills. Balance naturally grows as they grow themselves, but learning to ride a bike accelerates this process.

Proprioceptive response

Proprioception is the term used to explain how your body understands the space that it is in and how to safely move around it. Children living with additional needs such as ADHD often have enhanced proprioception needs. This might mean they will enjoy deep tissue massage, gym activities and, of course, riding a bike!

Developing Core Strength

Those gym goers amongst you will be aware that core strength refers to the muscles around the 'core' or midriff of your body. These muscles enable you to carry out greater physical tasks and ensure that your back is aligned properly. If children develop these muscles early then they are less likely to encounter problems in later life.

Teaching children to learn how to ride a bike

Helping your child learn to ride

So what can you, as parents, do to help your child learn how to ride a bike?

Usually children learn to ride a bike at some stage between the ages of 3 and 6. Generally they start off on ride-on toys or trikes. These options are great to allow them to get used to pedals and the beginnings of balance. But beware, it is easy to assume that if a child can comfortably use the pedals on a trike or ride on they will be able to use them on a bicycle. 

We love the Galileo Strollcycle. It's an amazingly adaptive stroller and tricycle that offers you 4-in-1 usability. See the video below for more information.

 

 

Whilst riding on a trike your child will be pushing forwards and down on the pedals, this helps them move forward as the pedals are directly attached to the wheels. When they move onto a bicycle, and a chain system is involved, the motion required is more of a downward style. This means they won't necessarily feel that the pedals are the same!

Plus once they get onto a bike things get a whole lot more scary! They are higher, less balanced and can feel that they will hurt themselves quicker. And whilst stabilisers make getting onto the bike straightforward they can, in the long run, make it even more scary when they come off!

So where to start?

It has finally happened. After a walk through the park or along your street your child has spotted another child on a bike and is now incessantly demanding a new bike! This is brilliant! It's time to embrace the enthusiasm and strike when the iron is hot!
The best place to start is with balance bikes. There are many varied versions of balance bikes, some are designed to replicate larger classic bikes and others focus on style and fun. 

Above: Super Star Balance bike and Vespa Balance Bike - click the images for more info.
   
Balance bikes are genius in their simplicity. By removing the tricky pedals children have less to worry about and are then able to focus on balancing and their forward momentum. Pushing their feet against the ground propels them forward and allows them to gain confidence.
     
Be wary of hills! These bikes are only suitable on flat ground such as a lawn or even your corridor if you're feeling brave. They have no brakes at all, but as they gain understand how the bikes work children will use their ingenuity to slow themselves down. Whilst this is all learning in action, you might go through shoes quicker than you used to... A great benefit of the bikes above is that they both come with an adjustable seat height, so they grow as your kids do.
   
These balance bikes fit perfectly into the gap between trike/ride on and bicycle. They might wonder where the pedals are initially, but if you explain that these are for children to learn on before they get a big kid's bike then they'll take to it without question! 
    

Ready to push off! Learning to ride

Balance benefits achieved! What's next?

Your child is zooming around on their balance bike and they seem ready to move on. What's the next step? Now is the right time to invest in that first big kid's bike! Once you've selected a pedal bike (don't forget to check out the brilliant infograph to guide you through purchasing below) it's time to get started.

First find a spot with a slight incline and make sure that it is grassy! There's no need more scuffed knees and hands on the first go! You could also get them to use some knee and elbow pads but these can sometimes restrict their movement making the whole process more difficult.

  • Step 1: Stand behind your child and hold onto the back of their seat. At this point you are their balance and speed anchor. The more you hold the more stable they'll be.
  • Step 2: Gradually begin to release the tension and allow them more and more freedom. If you feel them overbalancing in one particular direction feel free to adjust them back, but make sure you keep speaking to them and telling them what you're doing and why.
  • Step 3: Encourage them to pedal quickly rather than slowly. Firstly, faster moving objects are easier to balance on. This might sound backwards but it's true! Think about riding a bike that's just started moving versus balancing when you're gliding along. This is all down to balanced and unbalanced forces acting on the bike. If you're feeling the physics vibes here, have a read over at Mental Floss for more information. Furthermore, the more effort and speed the put into a movement the faster their brain will learn it as a motor activity stimulating their proprioceptive experience. They'll focus more on what they are doing rather than fear.
  • Step 4: Let them go!

 Teaching kids to ride a bike

 

Safety

Make sure that your child is always wearing a well fitted helmet and is visible if riding in darker conditions. This is an absolute must. Make sure that you check their bikes as if you were checking your own. That includes tyre pressure, equipment and if the brakes are working effectively. Sharing with them the details of the Highway Code can also be beneficial. If you're looking at road riding in the future we can highly recommend that you look into a cycle proficiency course that is being run in your local area. A quick Google search should provide numerous results.

It's as easy as...

There will be falls, there will be crashes, there may be tears. But it's all worth it in the end! They will have learnt a valuable skill that they'll be able to use for life! It's as easy as riding a bike.

Here is a bonus infograph all about buying an appropriate bike for your child, from the bike gurus Wiggle.co.uk

 

Wiggle Bike Size Guide

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 Top tips to help your child learn how to ride a bike

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