Teaching a Child to Ride a Bike Part 1:
The Balance Bike
By Michelle Ogilvie
Getting it Right the First Time
Riding a bike should be fun, right?! This statement is absolutely true but learning to ride is often a completely different ball game.
Here at Frog Bikes, we have spent years researching the biomechanics of children whilst on a bike. We even created our own bike jig to ensure Frog Bikes have the perfect geometry to make riding and learning to ride fun and easy.
If you are teaching your child to ride a Balance bike (also known as Toddler bikes), these simple steps and tips from trained Cycle Instructors will make teaching your little one how to ride child’s play!
Learning to Ride a Balance Bike
Riding a bike is a complex task of coordination involving balancing, pedalling, steering and braking. Traditionally, we have been taught to pedal first with stabilisers attached to the bike and then gain balance by removing them. An increasing number of parents are now moving away from this approach, preferring to teach children to balance first.
Many children feel more confident on a balance bike, largely because they have control. With both feet on the ground, they have a sense of security and the reassurance that they are firmly in the riding seat! They are liberated to explore and push themselves at their own pace while benefiting from the freedom to choose their own comfortable speed.
Learning to ride a Balance bike can be broken down into 3 simple steps: SIT, SCOOT and GLIDE.
Step One: SIT
Let your child sit on the bike and familiarise themselves with their new equipment. This can be done indoors, just walking up and down in the living room or kitchen! We find most children prefer to just walk along with the bike, maybe not even sitting on the saddle. As their confidence grows they will begin to sit down, pick up speed and challenge themselves.
This initial stage is all about exploring and gaining confidence, to help build up the courage to just go for it!
Step Two: SCOOT
This is where things start to get real, so be prepared to get your running shoes on!
As your child develops more confidence, they will instinctively begin scooting along, the development process from sitting to scooting will differ from child to child. What they require from you at this stage is motivation, be sure to overload them with plenty of positive encouragement!
Step Three: GLIDE
Now that they are a scooting pro, get them to raise their feet for short periods of time and glide. This is how they will master the skill of balance.
A great way to encourage this is to let them ride down slopes - they will naturally begin gliding to make the most of the ride! Once they develop greater confidence you can then head over to pump tracks and skate parks where they can really test their gliding skills.
When gliding is second nature a world of adventures awaits! A good balance bike will handle most terrains, even mountain bike trails, so you can get those family bike rides started super early!
Expert Tips for Learning to Ride a Balance Bike
For many children learning to balance can often make the transition to pedalling a lot quicker. Steve Miller, Cycling Officer at Newport Live, told us just how important balance is when learning to pedal a bicycle for the first time.
"Balance is the core skill to achieve to make riding a bike easy and more successful. If you lose your pedal while learning to ride, being able to balance will give you the time to reset and go again without stopping."
Minibikers deliver courses to local authorities, schools, nurseries, leisure centres, community centres and community groups, with a vision to get as many children cycling as early as possible.
Their founder, Yasin Imir, told us at Minibikers they prefer to start the cycling journey on a Balance bike.
"Balance bikes with a brake are great for teaching children the braking skills, this helps a lot with the transition to a pedal bike.
Choosing the correct size of Balance bike is also very important. If the bike is too big it can be scary and off-putting as children don’t feel in control. If the bike is too small it is hard to ride and lighter bikes are so much fun!"
Emily Groves is a cycling coach who has taught over 2000 children in the Bradford area how to ride a pedal bike. Over the past few years, Emily has been working more with pre-school and foundation aged children. She works on helping them to develop their balance and bike handling skills from an earlier age. She does this with the use of a balance bike.
Her top tip for getting your child confident on a balance bike is just using the bike as much as you can.
"At first in the hallway, on the drive and then progress to short trips to the shop or on the school run. The bikes are so light it doesn’t matter if you have to carry them for a bit. All these mini journeys build essential strength and coordination skills ready for riding for life!"
Balace Bike or Stabilisers?
If you are unsure whether to use a Balance Bike or a Pedal Bike with training wheels to introduce your child to cycling take a look at our previous blog post HERE. This may help you to make the right decision for your mini rider.
If you already have a Balance bike whizz at home who is eager to learn how to pedal their first ‘big’ bike then keep an eye out for part 2, coming soon!
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