Teaching a Child to Ride a Bike Part 2: First Pedal Bike
By Michelle Ogilvie
In this blog we are going to explore the different stages of learning to pedal and break it down into sections. If your child is moving on from a Balance bike then you may not need to spend as much time on the learning to balance phase.
Wherever your mini biker is on their road to cycling superstardom we hope you’ll find this breakdown and tips from qualified trainers helpful.
Ready - Getting used to the bike
Whether this is their first-ever bike or the next step from a Balance bike, a bike with pedals will be a totally new concept.
Cycle Coach, Emily Groves shared a fantastic tip with us.
Show them how the pedals power the wheel and keep you moving. Get them to turn the pedals with their hand so they can see which way works. I find saying push down as each foot reaches the top is more helpful than just shouting “pedal!” Which especially with younger children is quite a new concept!
You can even lift the back wheel up whilst they are sat on the bike so they can practice pedalling or mount the bike on a homemade stand like this one if you’re a DIY whizz!
You’ve explained the concept of pedalling to your mini racer, now it’s time to sit on the bike. Having the right-sized bike is crucial at this stage. Yas, founder of Minibikers suggests the first starting point is simply to position your child on the bike with their feet flat on the floor for control and stability.
If the bike is too big for them they will find they only just have their tiptoes on the floor or worse still, can’t reach the floor at all. This situation is scary for many young riders and should be avoided. At this stage of a child’s cycling life, the 2 key factors to remember are building confidence and maintaining motivation.
Steady - Finding Their Balance
It is wise to ensure they have their balance on two wheels first. This may be from progressing straight from a balance bike or by removing the pedals from their pedal bike until they can lift both feet up.
If you would like to take the pedals off your child’s bike head over to our previous post discussing Stabilisers for instructions on how to do this.
When the pedals are off it allows them to learn how to use their brakes too. If they did not have a Balance Bike or had one without a brake we would recommend starting with the pedals off. Sometimes this is only necessary for 10 minutes but it makes all the difference in their confidence and enjoyment. Once they are whizzing around and lifting both feet up then it’s time to reach for the pedals.
child cycling with only one foot on the pedals and smiling taken by instagram @kids_life_coastal
You can even put them back on, one at a time. If they have a preferred foot that you can see they are happier lifting, pop that pedal on. Get them to scoot as they were before, but this time with one foot on the pedal and the other being used to propel.
Introducing the brake levers early on not only ensures your child uses them correctly but also gives them the reassurance that they have control. Learning how to brake and stop and will instantly build confidence once those pedals are back on.
Best Surface to Learn How To Ride a Bike
Derek Smulders (Bike It Derek) teaches children how to ride in schools all over the borough of Bedford. His biggest tip is to teach your child to ride on a large expanse of tarmac. If it has a very gentle slope this is even better as it will help them to get comfortable balancing.
We often favour grassy areas, after all, it makes for a softer fall! However, if you’ve ever cycled on grass you’ll know it takes a lot more energy and power to do so. Grass goes come into its own when it comes to practicing flying down hills though!
So head to a quiet path, car park, tennis court or street to get your child started and leave the grassy park for when they have got the hang of pedalling and balancing.
Many of us remember learning to ride with Mum or Dad holding onto the bike and feeling very unstable and unsure of the whole thing. It’s best to avoid this technique!
Running alongside and holding on to the bike can cause it to wobble, counteracting their ability to balance which is so key at this time. There are a few items you can use such as a Balance Buddy or Balance vest which won’t unsteady the bike as much and will give that sense of security some children need at first. Alternatively, if you must hold on, hold under their arms, not onto the bike.
Another top tip comes from parent Deborah Lunt from Plymouth. We used a bed sheet with our daughter. Wrapped around her waist, held tight and walked next to her as she rode. We started to loosen it until she was riding on her own. It was amazing, took a very anxious 8-year-old (who had always refused to learn how to ride the bike) 2 hours to ride unaided!
Get them to set the pedals up in a good position to generate movement. Put the top pedal at 2 pm (10-minute position on the clock) and the bottom at 8 pm (40-minute position on a clock).
They can then place one foot on the top pedal and push off using the foot still on the ground. This allows them to put weight through the top pedal. You can help here with a little push or get them to run with the bike first then pop their feet on the pedals.
If these steps are a little confusing then don’t worry, children learn at different speeds. Break it down further, to the simplest element, just like learning to surf videos where people practice standing up on the shore! Support them underneath their arms for balance, get them to repeatedly take their feet off the ground and place them on the pedals as quickly as they can.
We’re a big fan of Bike It Ray's simple, yet fantastic, video on how to pedal.
Now they are up and running, or pedalling we should say! Remind them to always look up and look ahead. Where the head looks, the body (and bike) will follow, if they look ahead then it will be much easier to keep a straight line and not go whizzing into the curb, dog or you!
Hannah from Kids Mountain Bike school Pedal2Pedal tells us the secret is Practice makes perfect. When her kids’ classes are in session she sets little challenges for the time between each class.
She told us that this keeps kids on their bikes during the week until the next session. As children need an hour of exercise a day if they have a goal to reach for the next week they are far more likely to get up of their own accord and go ride around their garden or ask if they can go biking at the weekend.
If you would like some ideas of skills they can practice during this time at home head over to our Small Space Skills blog post for lots of fun things to practice.
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