Green Trails, Greenways, and an Ecosystem of Trails
Seeing kids on mountain bikes brings a different kind of joy. Mountain biking allows kids to be outside, meet new friends, develop life skills, and help create a new generation of trail advocates.
We often get questions from parents about how to get their child to ride. This blog is based on our personal experience working with kids on bikes. It is meant to serve as guidance and suggestions for parents. There is no wrong or right way to teach a child to ride, and one kid’s experience when learning to ride can be very different from another’s.
When can I start teaching my kid to ride?
Toddler age is a great time to start a child on a balance bike. At 18 months to 2 years old, they will most likely have mastered walking and running, both necessary skills to be able to use a balance bike. At 18 months, a child is also tall enough to fit on a small balance bike.
Every kid takes to a balance bike in their own way. Some pick it up and immediately start experimenting. Others need to be shown how to use the bike. Bike playdates are a fabulous way to sway an uninterested toddler. Watching other kids on two wheels acts as a demonstration for learning toddlers and helps to motivate toddlers (children have a special way of motivating each other).
Keep in mind that forcing a toddler to ride (or for that matter, forcing any kid to do anything) risks taking the fun out of the activity. Riding a bike should be fun! So gently encourage your child to ride, give them opportunities to ride and put them around other kids who are riding, but be careful about pushing too hard.
What is a balance bike and why use it?
Balance bikes, sometimes referred to as run bikes, are bicycles without pedals designed to introduce toddlers riding. Balance bikes require both feet to be placed firmly on the ground so that the rider can “run” with the bike under them. They are a more efficient, safer, and less intimidating method of teaching bike riding than using training wheels or even tricycles.
Learning to ride a bike involves three main skills: balance, steering, pedaling. Tricycles and training wheels may teach pedaling, but pedaling is a skill that kids tend to pick up very easily. Balance, on the other hand, tends to be a much more difficult skill to master. Balance bikes offer kids a non-intimidating opportunity to focus on balance and steering.
Many of today's parents learned to ride a bike when a parent picked a moment to remove the training wheels from a bike and encouraged them to be brave. In that era, the emphasis was on working through a moment that was scary for the child and frustrating/exhausting for the parent.
Balance bikes have changed that. They allow children to learn balance at a comfortable pace.
How do I know when my child is ready to transition to pedals?
There are two prerequisites for learning to ride a pedal bike:
- The child must have the strength to manage a pedal bike.
- The child must have mastered balance on a bike with no pedals
The child must have the strength to hold the bike up unassisted. The child also needs to have enough leg strength to spin the pedals while riding. If a child has a bit of difficulty accelerating, you can try just giving them a little help by gently pushing on their back. Try to push the young rider in a way where you aren’t aiding or interfering with their balance – just use a flat palm on the rider's back.
For some very young kids, pedaling can challenge their coordination. We have a hack–we have a 14” bike on a bicycle trainer that we put kids on to get them spinning well.
If you don’t have a bike trainer and you are strong enough, you can have a kid sit on the bike while you lift the rear wheel off the ground by lifting from the saddle. The idea is to just let the young rider learn to spin the pedals without worrying about moving or balancing.
You can also have the rider practice taking their feet off the pedals, letting them hang, then get back on the pedals and spin. (Some kids with great balance struggle to find the pedals and get pedaling quickly, which causes them to run out of momentum before they can pedal) Finally, remember that learning to ride a bike can be an awkward experience. A little bit of patience can go a long way.
What if I never got my child a balance bike and they are too tall for a balance bike?
Children older than 3½ can often learn balance on a pedal bike with the pedals removed. Once your child is confidently coasting on the bike, put the pedals back on. Instruct your child to give three running strides to give themselves a little momentum, and then “pedal, pedal, pedal!”
Avoid running alongside your child. Let them understand that they are in control and can always put a foot down to prevent falling. And remember, lots of cheering when they start riding all by themselves! Possibly even some ice cream.
Is your kid already confidently riding on trails? Stay tuned for our next blog where we talk about safety tips for young riders including proper helmet fit, gear shifting, and braking.
Content for this piece was originally published on several blogs at prevelo.com.