Biking has been a great way for our family to get fresh air while keeping our social distance during the Coronavirus. Many of you have asked how our boys began riding their bikes at such a young age so I thought I’d share the method, tips and tricks we used in this blog post. Sending you all virtual hugs and healthy thoughts during this difficult time.
The interesting thing I witnessed with both boys is that they were uninterested in biking until they became somewhat obsessed. For Parker (our first) he had no interest in his balance bike for almost a year, perhaps we jumped the gun at 1.5yrs old but I thought they would just naturally take to the bike which was not the case. So fear not if your child does not show interest, surround them with the tools I explain below and in their own time they will be inspired to try it.
There are three basic skills to learn which relate to the three types of bikes we used to teach our boys. I know 3 bikes may seem like a lot but it seemed to create a natural learning progression and saves everyone a lot of frustration. Plus, you can often find them as hand-me-downs or at local bike swaps.TRICYCLE | PHASE 1 Some overlook this early step but trust me, pedaling is not an innate thing. It must be learned and it is the easiest skill to learn early. We had this tricycle handed down to us and we loved it. Our boys started “riding” a push tricycle around one, and it was a great way to introduce them both to biking and to the idea of their legs powering their forward motion. I liked that it has an adjustable handle so that you are not bending over to help push them. We had friends that mastered phase 2 but skipped this first step and they had to cycle back to it. If you’ve already skipped this one, consider borrowing a tricycle for a few weeks.
BALANCE BIKE |PHASE 2 Balance is the #1 skill in learning to bike and I cannot stress enough how important this phase is for your child. A balance bike has no pedals and is propelled by the child using their feet on the ground. Kid’s bike sizes are based on the wheel diameter and starting with ~12in diameter is smart because it keeps their center of gravity low. If you have tall children (like ours) I recommend the SUN brand of balance bikes because they fit a taller rider with a higher seat post. If your kids are average height STRIDER is the most popular brand of balance bike. My younger son started riding his balance bike around our basement this winter at the age of 2.5, for both of my boys it took them under 6mo of practice to master gliding on the balance bike. For Parker this bike sat for close to 6mo before he showed any interest so don’t get frustrated in this phase it may take anywhere from 6mo-1yr. If you let them get comfortable on the balance bike and follow my very important 3rd step you will be able to skip training wheels all together.
PEDAL BIKE |PHASE 3 Once they have mastered pedaling and balance from phases 1&2, this is where you are going to think I am crazy, but trust me…DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT put training wheels on their pedal bikes. Get them a bike with the exact same 12″ wheel and seat height as their balance bike. For both of our boys this allowed for a seamless transition into biking. Look for local bike swaps, we really liked this Specialized bike that was handed down to us by our neighbor. Both our boys moved onto a pedal bike before their 3rd birthday which seemed crazy young to me but at that age they have no fear and by the time they are 5 they have been biking for over half their life and they don’t know any different. That said you should make the transition based on mastering the first two steps not age. If you are using training wheels think of that as phase 1 learning to pedal. Try going back to the balance bike for a week until they get their confidence back on balance. If there is a difference in wheel size/seat height between the two bikes do you best to make them as similar as possible and then go back to their pedal bike without training wheels. They will need your help at first to hold their seat while they get their feet on the pedals to get started. Let gravity be your friend and look for pavement with a very subtle decline (1-2% max). If you can’t tell which way it slopes place a ball on the pavement and see which way it slowly rolls, both boys did their first solo riding traveling with a subtle decline. There will be some crashes (usually at low speed b/c they aren’t able to go too fast on a bike this size) so have a small first aid kit at the ready for bloody knees etc. It took our first son a few weeks to go from us push starting him to solo biking. Our younger son who had been waiting anxiously to ride like his big brother went from us holding his seat to being able to push start himself within 24hrs.
- Helmets ALWAYS! We use the boys ski helmets in early spring and late fall because they are much warmer. Their bike helmets have better vetting systems to keep them cool in the summer.
- Kids need a flat paved space to learn to ride a bike. They will not be able to learn as easily on a gravel road or hilly space. Head to a local play space (preferably un-populated) or bike path once they are ready.
- When in doubt lower your kid’s bike seat. The lower their center of gravity the easier it will be for them. As a rule of thumb, make sure they can have both feet squarely on the ground while seated, even though their knees will be up to their chins. Most falls seem to happen when the bike isn’t even moving and they just tip over so this will help cut down on those. I so often see kids on brand new bikes with high seats struggling to re-learn a skill they were confidently doing on a smaller bike
- If you want to give your kids an extra boost of confidence invest in some elbow and knee pads. Scrapes are going to be inevitable and you can avoid some of the bumps and bruises/setbacks if you proactively put them in padding. This is a great option if you have cautious children.
- Typically I would say to surround your kids with friends or siblings who are learning or have recently mastered biking. Kids thrive on seeing others doing something and will want to join in the fun. For now show them videos so you can keep your social distance.
I would love to hear what worked for you in the comments below, please add your additional tips/tricks!