Bicycles are a fantastic piece of technology. I recently learned from my local brewery that suffragists / suffragettes referred to the bicycle as a freedom machine. I love this term for a bike. Freedom machine rings true for me and it is how I think of my bike. It is how I think of my time on a bike as a kid after my parents helped me learn to ride.
As a kid I rode my bike to friends’ houses, and then with my friends we roamed the neighbourhood and because of our freedom machines, we could cover a good-sized piece of territory. We used our bikes to travel from place to place, competed with one another to see who was the fastest, who was the bravest (going over jumps) and my personal favourite, who could leave the best skid marks. By the time I graduated to my second bike, the rear tire on my first bike was literally threadbare. I had worn away enough of the outer rubber that you could see the threads of the walls of the tire. I frankly have no idea how I managed to ride without getting a flat tire.
As someone who other people periodically identify as an adult, I ride a bike to work whenever possible. I love the feeling of freedom I have when I ride my bike. I pour on as much power as I have in my body to move myself along. I have three bridges to cross on my ride to work and that means I have three hills in succession to climb and descend. They aren’t big hills, but if I am against the wind on the way home at the end of the day those hills seem ten times higher, and I have to draw on my reserves to get myself home. Even on those days I feel great after I catch my breath.
Share the Freedom: Teach Your Kid to Ride a Bike
There are several different ways to teach your child to ride a bike. I know a lot of people swear by Balance Bikes as a great way to teach a kid to ride a bike. These bikes allow the rider to push themselves along and build up their balance as they scoot along. Then they theoretically can adapt to a pedal bike much easier.
We didn’t use the balance bike method. We did have a small starter bike with training wheels that our oldest two each used when they were three or so. When I was their age I was riding a tricycle – it was a big one that periodically tipped over when I got over ambitious racing it.
We moved from the starter bike to regular two wheelers with no training wheels and taught them balance and how to ride a bike the same way my partner and I learned when we were kids – probably the same way many of you learned. Our parents held on to the bike handlebar and seat while running beside us to steady us. Gradually that shifted to just holding the seat and finally releasing us into the wild while we thought they were still holding on.
Learn to Ride a Bike with False Courage
It is easy to ride a bike when your confidence comes from the fact that your dad is running beside you, holding you up, until of course you realize he is lying to you and isn’t actually holding on to your bike seat anymore. The shock of being lied to either results in a crash or soaring away with your newfound freedom.
Teaching a Kid to Ride a Bike Safely
When you are the parent, there are steps you can take to ensure safety – namely yours. Unless you are a short marathon runner, your creaky body is going to get tired from all the running back and forth and your back is going to get sore from bending down to hold on to the bike.
The first step to any good educational session is the stretching. Limber up your body so that you are ready for the demands for “More daddy! Do it again daddy! Why are you lying on the ground daddy?”
Once you are all loosened up, you’re ready for this exciting (read: frustrating) teaching moment with your kid. One good lesson should get them from learning how to get on to bike to fearlessly roaming the streets on wheels. Of course by one good lesson I mean weeks and even months of running up and down the sidewalk, driveway or residential street. It will be good fun had by all.
It is important and even the law in many jurisdictions that cyclists wear a helmet.
Steps to teach your kid to ride a bike
Choose the bike wisely
Pick a bike where they can easily touch the ground. If the bike is too big, they will not be able to put their feet down and are more likely to tip over. It may even be worth starting on a bike that is a little too small for them. Consider whether to get a bike with pedal brakes or hand breaks. There are pros and cons to both. I was a fan of pedal brakes as a kid – better skid potential. They can however result in unexpected stops if the new rider gets mixed up and pedals in the wrong direction. Handbrakes eliminate that problem, however they require hand strength that many children don’t have when they start riding. If they can’t apply enough force, the bike won’t stop leading to more crashes as they try to panic stop.
Provide soft landings
We did some of our training in the park and from our driveway onto the lawn so that if they were going to fall it would be on grass instead of on a hard or gravel surface.
Build trust & build confidence
If you are teaching with the running alongside their bike and holding them up to start, make sure they know you are there and that you won’t let go until they are ready. If they ask if you are holding on – that is a good time to be holding on.
Praise their progress in pedalling, control, braking and balance. Give them small victories and pep talks to counteract the frustration that will come as they discover they can’t just hop on the bike and be able to ride right away.
Teach them how to stop
Stopping is a critical skill when riding and learning to ride a bike. Make sure they know how the brakes work and include it as part of your lessons. Once my daughters were able to balance and ride we moved on to stopping lessons. At first they rode from pavement on to grass to learn how to apply their brakes and inevitably tip over. Then we worked on putting together the pieces so they could find enough coordination to stop and put their feet down without crashing.
Practice, practice, practice
The thing is – learning to ride a bike is not as easy as riding a bike. It takes practice and lots of it, until one day, it all comes together and they are riding a bike. When we hit this point we went to an empty parking lot and ran drills, riding at various speeds and stopping at a specific point, turning, swerving, riding in circles, everything I could think of to provide experience and help my daughters develop control. Even once they learn how to ride it is a good idea to give them practice space and time at the start of every new biking season. Remind them of the rules of the road, test their stopping and control and remind them they know how to do this stuff so that they are safe.
Sometimes, everything goes well.
Sometimes the runner should wear a helmet.
Eventually your bent-back marathon will come to an end you and you will be able to set your kids off on their freedom machines to travel the neighbourhood and expand their horizons. Family bike rides, exploratory trips and bike rides to school are now opportunities to explore and adventures to be had.
This is the stuff of childhood memories.
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How did you learn to ride? Have you used balance bikes to teach your kids or did you use the hunchback marathon technique like us?
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