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How to Teach Your Child to Ride a Bike

Top tips you don't want to miss

Published on: April 04, 2019

Father teaching his son to ride a bike

Editor's note: This article was sponsored by Pedalheads.

Family biking resources

As I was running alongside my daughter’s bicycle, gripping her handlebars, teaching her how to use the brakes, I realized just how many different parts of the brain and body are required to learn to ride a bike. She was getting overwhelmed trying to pedal, balance, steer and brake. One fall on the concrete, and I feared she would give up.

As your child’s teacher, it is imperative that you gain their trust by building a sense of safety and fun every time they attempt to ride. We are a biking family, so I have a fair amount of experience teaching kids to ride a bike — here are some of my top teaching and safety tips.

Take into account your child’s learning style

Sometime between the ages of 3–6, your child may show an interest in learning to ride a bike. If your child is an auditory learner, they will hear everything you say, so be sure you are breaking the steps down into simple directions. A kinesthetic learner may have an easier time using their body to figure out how to balance, but may want speed before learning to turn. The visual learner will need to watch others learn to ride. It will be helpful to point out each individual component: balancing, coasting, turning, pedaling and stopping.

Safety first

Correctly fit a bike to your child by having them stand over the top tube with both feet planted on the ground. The right fit means it should be easy for them to control the bike at all times. Your child’s helmet should sit level across the middle of the forehead. Tighten all straps so the clasps for the straps are under their ear lobes and the chin strap is secure. Next, ask your child to shake their head. The helmet should not move more than one inch in any direction; if it does, it’s too loose and you may need to try a different size. Tuck in pant legs and floppy shoelaces.

Seek the open road

Choose an open area with no traffic. When my daughter was learning to ride, she appreciated the soft grassy area of a local park with a slight incline. There she was able to use a small hill to confidently glide and steer with her feet on the pedals. She was less concerned about falling since the grass made for a soft landing. My son, on the other hand, loved the smooth pavement inside an empty tennis court, where he was able to pick up speed and learn to make wide turns.

Balance first, pedal later

Have your child learn to scoot and coast on their bike to build confidence. Start with a balance bike or modify their bike by removing the pedals with a pedal wrench and lowering the seat. Once they learn how to coast while picking up their feet, show them how to coast with legs outstretched as counterbalances. See if your child can remain balanced while you sing a full round of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”

Clear steering

Learning to turn and steer is not necessarily instinctual. Your child may need a goal or an object to aim for. Place a cracker on the ground about 10 feet in front of them and ask them to run over it. This gives the child a direct target to aim for. It may take a number of tries before they squash it. Move it farther and farther away so they learn to scan ahead. Create an arc of crackers on the ground and encourage your child to try to hit each one.

Remember to rest, snack and drink water. Use this break time to reinforce your child’s successes and what they are doing right, even if it’s simply their great attitude and laughter.

family biking

Them’s the brakes

Whether your child’s bike has coaster brakes or hand brakes, stopping the bike without wobbling can be tricky. It will take a bit to figure out how much pressure is just right. A cracker on the ground can come in handy again. See if your child can stop before hitting it.

It won’t be long before your child is comfortable with braking, so be sure to return the seat to its standard position. You’ll know it’s the right height when you hold the bike steady and have your child sit on the seat. At the bottom of the pedal stroke, there should be just a slight bend (about 80–90% straight) in the knee.

Now it’s the parent’s turn to ride! 

A simple game of “Follow the Leader” will allow your child to integrate their new skills. Create an obstacle course with those trusty crackers and be sure to make big wide turns. See who can hit the most crackers. Be silly and miss most of the crackers — how sad for you that for some reason you just can’t seem to hit as many as your child.

Cool down your big day of riding with a “slowness race.” The last person to put their feet on the ground wins. This will require your child to show off how much control he or she has developed over the course of their ride.

Consider a bike camp

If your child is having trouble learning to ride a bicycle, or if you want extra skills practice, check out Pedalheads, a bike instructional program that teaches summer camps and classes. Whether your child is a first-timer or needs the skills to navigate traffic safely, Pedalheads has trained instructors that will guide your child through the necessary steps and programs suitable for children of all ability levels.  

Additional family biking events and resources

Join other families on the Seattle Family Biking Facebook Group or attend one of these upcoming group rides and events:

Bicycle Story Time at G&O Family Cyclery

8558 Greenwood Ave. N., Seattle | April 13, 10:30–11:30 a.m.

Join Seattle Public Library and G&O for a Saturday morning storytime reading books about our favorite subject: bicycles! Freshly brewed coffee from Conduit Coffee will cheer parents, while stories, songs and toys will entertain the kids. The event is free and fun for kids of all ages!

Kidical Mass Earth Day at Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI)

860 Terry Ave. N., Seattle | April 21, 11 a.m. 

Celebrate Earth Day with a fun bike ride, leaving promptly at 11 a.m. and heading to Discovery Park via the Ship Canal Trail and protected bike lanes. This ride is suitable for children riding on their own bikes (parental discretion is necessary). Once at the park, riders will have lunch and hang out at the playground.

Free family ride hosted by B.I.K.E.S. Club of Snohomish County and Sharing Wheels Community Bike Shop

Haller Park 5328 S. Wheeling Ave., Arlington | April 27, 1 p.m.

A special feature of this year’s #McClinchyMile is a free family ride. Riders of all ages and abilities will head north from Arlington on the Centennial Trail — as far as your kids’ legs can take them (4 miles to snacks or up to 15 miles roundtrip to the Nakashima Barn). End the ride with some McClinchy giveaways for the little ones.

Cargo Bike Festival at G&O Family Cyclery 

8558 Greenwood Ave. N., Seattle | June 1, 10:30 a.m.

Join G&O’s first-ever Cargo Bike Festival to celebrate the life-altering power of cargo bikes. This fun, family-friendly event is happening in conjunction with the Phinney Neighborhood Association LGBTQ Pride Rainbow Hop.

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