How to Teach a Kid to Ride a Bike in 90 minutes
We all know the saying “it’s like riding a bike” — something we’ve learned, haven’t forgotten, and can pick up anytime. But learning how to ride a bike isn’t as simple! And neither is helping a kiddo learn this new skill for the first time. How to teach a kid to ride a bike? Let’s dive in.
Teaching your child how to ride a bike doesn’t have to be filled with tears and tension. It should be an exciting, coming-of-age experience for you, your new Rider, and your family. Riding a bike should be fun. You won’t get very far if you or your child are stressed out and trying to force it to happen! Keep sessions short, offering guidance and focusing on these proven best practices. And, of course, give lots of encouragement and affirmation!
To help you confidently approach the teaching process, one of our favorite cycling instructors, Doug Ballew, shares his best tips. He has coordinated several bike safety and education programs with schools and communities and now spends his spare time teaching children how to ride with private lessons in Austin, TX. Doug is passionate about coaching parents to help their kiddos start soaring down the sidewalk with a smile!
How to Teach a Kid to Ride a Bike: Balance Bikes Are Better Than Training Wheels
When you were a young Rider, you possibly learned to ride with training wheels. This was the go-to way to learn for many years. But in recent years, the value of balance training has come to light. We’ve discovered that focusing on balance without training wheels and pedals leads to much faster learning than starting with training wheels! Because of this, we recommend Doug’s balance-first method of teaching.
How to Teach a Kid to Ride a Bike: Teaching an Older Rider vs. Younger Rider
Teaching your child to ride a bike — no matter their age — means thinking on their level and understanding their cognitive and physical ability. Older children generally may pick it up more quickly than younger children, but younger children can also be successful when they stick with it.
How to teach a kid to ride a bike? Let them set their own pace. Three-year-olds may just not be interested yet, and that’s OK. The key is reducing barriers by providing kiddos with an environment and the gear to learn without pushing them into it.
How to Teach a Kid to Ride a Bike: What You’ll Need
Having the proper gear makes learning to ride a bike easier and safer. Here’s everything you need to help your new Rider pedal into success.
A Beginner Bike
Sizing is the main factor when purchasing a bike. For learning balance, your kiddo needs a lower seat when they’re first learning and a higher seat when they’ve learned to balance and pedal easily. The woom bike catalog has overlapping size ranges, so it's best to err on the smaller size if your child falls between sizes when they are still learning.
The woom 1 is perfect for these early days of riding for kiddos as young as 18 months old. These balance bikes have no training wheels or pedals, lower seats, and a rear brake to practice braking right from the get-go. If your child is a little older or bigger when learning to ride, upgrade to the woom 1 PLUS.
We also know that not all kids learn to ride a bike while they are small enough to use a balance bike. All new woom bikes arrive with their pedals in a separate box. If your kiddo isn’t ready for pedals yet, Doug recommends waiting to install them at first, so your future pedaler can begin with balance, too.
Safety is of the utmost importance, even if your Rider is not soaring down the street solo yet. Make sure your child has the right-sized helmet and adjust it to fit securely. The woom KIDS’ Helmet has a unique magnetic closure system that’s super easy for kids to hook up themselves!
Just like adults, children should wear snug-fitting, close-toed shoes while riding. Once they start pedaling, make sure any laces are securely tied and not dragging long enough to catch in the pedals or gears.
Extra Protective Gear
Almost every new Rider will take a tumble off their bike at some point, and scratches and scrapes leave some kids nervous about getting back on the horse. The NEEBOWS Knee Pad and NEEBOWS Elbow Pad sets, plus a pair of TENS Bike Gloves, can provide extra protection in sensitive areas that will take the sting out of the fall and avoid serious injury.
No, we’re not telling you to buy an actual surfboard to teach your child to ride a bike. We’re talking about woom’s SURFBOARD Footrest! This extra accessory comes with the woom 1 PLUS and is compatible with the woom 1. It makes practicing balancing more comfortable and secure-feeling for young ones. By providing kids a place for their feet to rest, novice Riders can extend their coasting time and get used to sitting in a more upright position. Plus, it boosts the fun factor and allows them to glide longer when they get the hang of balancing!
How to Teach a Kid to Ride a Bike: Where to Practice
Find a flat, paved area with plenty of obstacle-free space for your kiddo to practice riding. Parks with level, paved sidewalks, basketball courts, or empty parking lots are all great options. Just make sure there isn’t a lot of traffic nearby or a basketball game in progress.
How to Teach a Kid to Ride a Bike: Learning to Balance
Step 1: Take a Seat
Have your child sit on the saddle (seat of the bike) and push their feet down flat on the ground, keeping all of their weight on the seat. They should be able to sit comfortably with their knees bent and both feet planted flat on the ground. To move forward, have them “walk while sitting down,” keeping all their weight on the saddle and pushing the bike forward with their feet on the ground.
Step 2: Look Ahead
Now that they’re comfortably seated and familiar with the feel of their new bike, tell your kiddo to look straight ahead to where they want to go (about 25 feet). New Riders may be inclined to drop their gaze down to the front wheel. So gently remind them to “keep your head up” and “look ahead.” As with many other sports and activities, we end up in the direction we are looking, so having a goal of where to go is helpful.
Step 3: Practice Braking
Doug suggests teaching the use of handlebar brakes during the balance stage, so it’s already a habit by the time they’re pedaling at faster speeds. Explain what the brakes do and have your Rider practice pulling on the brake levers several times to get a feel for them without moving. If your woom model is equipped with front and rear brakes, have them pull on both brake levers to stop or slow down. You may consider playing Red Light/Green Light with your child walking their bike and pulling the brake levers to stop when you say “red light.”
Step 4: Feet Up and Glide
Encourage your little learner to start balancing. Ask them to pick their feet up and let the bike glide forward as long as possible. This will be a short distance at first, but once they can glide 30 feet or more without putting their feet down, they’re ready to learn to pedal!
How to Teach a Kid to Ride a Bike: Learning to Pedal
Step 1: Take a Seat
Adjust the bike’s seat height slightly higher than it was while they were using the bike as a balance bike so your soon-to-be pedaler can have both feet flat on the ground with their legs straight. Once they’re confident with pedaling, starting, and stopping, you can raise the seat in small increments until they’re up on the balls of their feet while sitting on the saddle.
Step 2: Review
Review balance and use of hand brakes, playing a little game of “Red Light, Green Light” to get the feel of coasting and stopping at this new height. Remind them to keep their head up and look ahead at where they’re going — not down at their handlebars! — to stay balanced.
Step 3: Give Them a Push
Once your kiddo is ready to ride, give them a gentle push with their feet on the pedals and have them start pedaling. They’re doing it — they’re riding a bike! (And give yourself a pat on the back, too.)
Remember to keep cheering on your Rider! Encouragement is everything: even if they fall, they’ll know you have their back.
Step 4: Do It Themselves
Once they’re pedaling confidently, have your child learn to start and stop by themselves. Teach them how to position their bike pedals in the “power pedal position” that lines up the crank arm and pedal parallel with the frame down tube. Have them propel off the ground with one foot while pushing down on the pedal with the other to kick it off and start pedaling. Make sure your cyclist knows how to use brakes to stop and slow down, as they’ll be going much faster now than ever before.
Hit a roadblock? No worries. Remind your kiddo (and yourself!) to take a deep breath. Take a snack break, reset, and then try again.
How to Teach a Kid to Ride a Bike: Learn to Ride Lessons
If this all feels like a bit much, it’s OK! Sometimes, the best thing a parent can do for their child is to find the best person to help their kiddo learn a new skill.
A professional cycling instructor like Doug can be the best step in how to teach a kid to ride a bike. With a background in health and safety, he has decades of experience with safety and bike riding education. Doug offers one-on-one and group instruction to children in the Austin, TX, area. For pricing and class information, email Doug at [email protected]. If you’re not native to Texas, the League of American Bicyclists has a guide to help you find an instructor near you!