Top 10 skills and drills
Once your child has nailed pedalling, it's time to take it to the next level with some special challenges. These exercises to refine their technique come loaded with fun and are a playful way to improve their riding. After all, whether on the trails, in the park or sharing the road with other users, the ability to securely handle their bike should never be underestimated.
So, go grab your bikes!
... wait, not so fast! You will need a few training tools, such as cones or buckets, some little balls, floor chalk or similar. Find a location that is free from traffic with ample space to create a small circuit, as well as extra space to fetch things. Before letting your child loose, you should demonstrate (or at least explain) each activity individually, as children pick up things well by imitating.
Challenge #1 – Cornering
Ride in a large circle, asking your child to keep at a short distance from your wheel. Gradually decrease the size of the circle with each loop.
Figure-of-8: Draw a large figure-of-8 on the ground and encourage your child to follow the line. This will help practise cornering in both directions. Your child will likely find one direction easier than the other – that's totally normal; we all tend to have a more dominant side.
Next level: Confident, advanced children can try both the circle and the figure-of-8 using one hand. Tip: Check out challenge #4 beforehand as this focuses on developing your child's one-handed riding skills.
Challenge #2 – Stay on track
As cyclists, we are often expected to ride within certain spatial confines, such as staying inside bicycle lanes or keeping within a trail's natural borders. Here's where staying on track is key.
Draw two parallel lines in a sort of corridor on the ground. Your child's challenge is to ride along the whole corridor without touching the boundary lines.
Next level: Decrease the width of the corridor as it goes along. Alternatively, draw it in the shape of a spiral and set your child the challenge of riding from the outside inwards – once again, taking care not to touch the lines.
Challenge #3 – Slalom
Dodging obstacles is an art that requires precise and confident steering.
To begin the Slalom challenge, place the cones at a generous distance from each other. Get your child to navigate left and right around them.
The closer the cones, the harder the exercise! Why not add an element of competition with a start and finish line? See who clocks the quickest time – guaranteed fun for your child.
Challenge #4 – Riding one-handed
Being able to ride confidently with one hand on the bars is a must-have skill for your child. It's crucial preparation ahead of riding in traffic where your child will need to make clear one-handed signal at junctions. As always, don't rush the process.
Step 1: Ask your child to ride at a comfortable, moderate speed without pedalling. They should then try to loosen the grip of one hand on the bars. When they feel ready, lift it briefly from the bars. Go by go, they can practise removing it further from the bars.
Next level: Once they have nailed that with confidence, they can try cycling one-handed while pedalling.
Step 2: Hold out your arm at the height of your child's shoulder with a ball in your hand. Encourage your child to work up some speed on the bike. As they pass by, they try to grab the ball without steering off-course.
Challenge #5 – Peripheral vision
When sharing the road with other users, it's imperative that your child is actively aware of their surroundings. This involves a shoulder check before reaching a junction or making a turn. Practising this sort of conscious checking with your child is a must before you hit the roads.
Here's what to do: Get your child to ride past you; as they do so, you hold up a certain number of fingers, or a small object, such as a pine cone or a ball. Their challenge is to glance over their shoulder and spot the number or recognise the object. Then call it out to you.
Challenge #6 – Pin-sharp braking precision
Whether at a stop sign or an unavoidable obstacle, controlled braking is a key skill for your child in order to ride safely on the roads. With a little bit of practice, your child should easily master this.
Draw a line in chalk or position some cones in a line. Your child then positions themselves for a run-up and rides up to the line with a bit of speed. The aim is to brake in a timely fashion so that they come to a halt before, or even better, on, the line. Repeat the exercise and mark where their front wheel finishes each time on the ground in chalk. This will allow them to monitor their progress. Their aim is to get closer to the line each time.
To take the difficulty up a notch, your child can increase the pace each time too.
Next level: Add an element of balance training to this challenge. Choose softer ground, such as a lawn or playing field. Your child rides towards you, then brakes in a controlled manner until coming to a standstill. The challenge here is to then restart their ride without touching the ground.
Tip: track-standing like this is much easier if your child keeps the pedals parallel to the ground.
Challenge #7 – Keeping balance
Going fast is something kids usually pick up quickly. But knowing how to ride slowly takes some practice. It's a great way for your child to fine-tune their balance.
Why not have a little competition? Take your places on the start line. Everyone starts at the same time, riding as slowly as possible to where you've marked the finish. It's a slow bicycle race, where the winner is the last one over the line without having put a foot on the ground!
Next level: Outline a rectangle on the ground. The challenge for your child is to stay on the bike, not touch the floor, and keep within the lines. As soon as a foot touches the ground, the game restarts. See how long they can last by timing with a stopwatch. Don't be afraid to have a go yourself.
Challenge #8 – 'The attack position'
Your child is going to spend the majority of their time on the bike in the saddle. But uneven surfaces and bumpy tracks are often best tackled out of the saddle so that your child's legs and arms work as additional suspension. What's more, most downhills should be ridden out of the saddle. Practice this position with your child is therefore important:
Find a flat, straight stretch and get them to ride at a decent pace – they then stop pedalling and free-wheel – position the cranks at an equal height – rise from the saddle – arms and legs bent slightly to absorb any bumps – elbows outwards – shoulders over the bars – hips over the bottom bracket – eyes looking straight ahead.
Challenge #9 – Popping the front wheel
Once learned, never forgotten! The art of lifting the front wheel from the ground for a moment makes it significantly easier for your child to pop up and over obstacles like pavement kerbs and roots. It's an advanced challenge, so make sure your child is ready to embark on it after having mastered the rest. The challenge here is all about timing – picking the right moment to lift the wheel in order to clear the obstacle. Before attempting a pavement kerb, it makes sense for your child to try and lift their wheel over something small lying at ground level, such as small branch or twig.
You should go first so they can copy you.
Place a twig on the ground. Your child should pedal towards the obstacle at speed, then lift the front wheel just before reaching it. This involves bending their arms and pulling the bars gently upwards. Tip: Try doing it on a very gently, even slope so your child can shift their weight towards the back of the bike and get the front wheel in the air. Once the front wheel is over the obstacle, their weight shifts forward again and the front wheel can land.
Challenge #10 – Drifting
Gravel can be pretty daunting for many children. This often stems from unwanted skidding due to a child's unintentionally excessive or abrupt braking. To avoid accidents, it's wise for your child to better acquaint themselves with a loose surface and discover how said surface responds to riding and braking styles.
Practise on a flat, quiet gravel or woodland track. Define where the stop line is. Begin by simply asking your child to ride at their usual pace and bring the bike to a standstill on the marked line using both brakes. Make sure that the line is clearly visible each time so that they can orientate themselves, and try to stop closer to the line on their next go.
If your child is feeling particularly adventurous, encourage them to pull harder on the rear brake to see how well they can control the bike as it drifts. After a bit of practice, it doesn't usually take long until kids are grinning from ear to ear with their skids.
Explain that in wet conditions, things can be extra slippery, such as the white paint of pedestrian crossings, leaves on the ground, cobblestones and tram lines. Make sure that you warn your child about these dangers and how best to react to avoid falling off their bike.
Tip: Having the right protective gear is a must. Crashes can occur even while practising, especially at the beginning. That's why your child should always wear a well-fitting helmet and gloves to ensure sufficient grip on the bars and abrasion-resistance in the event of a crash. To be extra safe, consider knee and elbow protectors too.
If you're still looking for suitable riding gear for your child, take a look at our KIDS Helmet, which has essential safety features and a comfort-led design, as well as our breathable TENS Bike Gloves.
Good luck and have fun dialling in these skills!