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Is Your Child Ready to Ride? The Do’s and Don’ts of Teaching Bike Riding

Written on April 19, 2020

Is Your Child Ready for Bike Riding?

There are few things in life that beat the rush of the wind through your hair as you pedal down the street on your bike. Bike riding is a pleasure, a privilege, and a confidence builder for our kids! 

For some, learning to ride a bike can be a challenge. For others, it can be an extreme feat to overcome. In order to properly ride a bike, a child must have a strong trunk in coordination with their movement and balance system to stay upright, coordinate pedaling opposite sides of their body in time with the pedal movements, and use their eyes and hands together to steer the bike. With so much going on, the joy of bike riding is not experienced by all. With a few good ideas though, it can be fun and successful!

The Bike Riding Ready-to-Ride Test:

  • Can your child independently walk their bike out of the garage, down the driveway, and then turn it around and come back to you?
  • Can your child climb on and off of their bike independently? The child’s leg should be able to swing over the rear tire to sit down without any help to hold the bike up or keep their balance.

These two skills tell us that your child has the balance, vision and motor coordination, body and environmental awareness, and strength that will be needed to succeed with bike riding. If those skills are not present, and children similar to your child’s age are riding, it’s a good idea to consult a Pediatric Physical or Occupational therapist for help.

Do you have the proper safety equipment and does the bike fit your child?

We would recommend consulting with a local small business bike store owner. Local bike shops often have an expert on staff who can make sure you are starting with the right size bike and helmet and that the bike is in safe operating condition.

Tips to Teach Bike Riding Successfully:

Do’s:

  1. “Pick”-ture perfect: Your child will be more excited about riding their bike if they have had some say in what bike they will be riding! Things to consider when purchasing a bike include the size of the bike based on your child’s height and weight, and the weight of the bike in comparison to your child’s strength and size. If you are using a hand-me-down bike, have your child help decorate (stickers, streamers, paint) to make it their own.
  2. How it works: Your child will love taking part in the maintenance of their bicycle, including pumping up the tires, checking the breaks, moving the kickstand, and cleaning it. The more understanding a child has about how something works, the more approachable the activity!
  3. Starting Slow: Have your child become familiar with the bicycle and how it moves while walking alongside the bike and holding the handlebars. This slow introduction allows the child to gain confidence in their strength to hold up the bike, ability to steer the bike with both hands, and move the bike around general obstacles they will face in a safe and slow manner.
  4. Climb on and off: Your child will need to make a brand new motor plan for getting on and off the bike. Practicing coordination and strength to do so, will be a good warm-up!
  5. Fake a fall: With your child seated on the bike, allow them to have both feet on the pedals while you support them, and tip side to side. Kids feel safe when they have practiced the “fall” and understand that putting feet down will stop their topple!
  6. Glide guidance: While seated on the bicycle, let your child have feet on the ground and push with their feet to glide along the ground. Learning the balance component without having to worry about coordinating feet for pedaling is a great starter skill!
  7. Hang onto the hips: When practicing moving on the bike, let your child be in control of the bike while you support them by holding onto your child’s belly/hips instead of the bicycle. They will be more confident in their skills when they move the bike rather than you, and they will get a hang of balancing more quickly with less and less support as you practice.
  8. Another Adult: Feel open towards having someone else work with your child on bike riding. Both fear and excitement around bike riding bring big emotions into the situation. Sometimes having someone else work on these skills with your child might be just what you both need to gain skills and confidence.

Don’ts:

  1. Bike banter: If your child is fearful about bike riding, don’t talk about bike riding! Allow for opportunities to engage with the bike, but take the pressure off! More talk about bike riding might turn your child off to the activity altogether.
  2. Asking again: If your child is nervous about learning to ride, don’t ask them about it. Their response will be “no” they don’t want to ride their bike. With time, most kids will want to learn to ride the bike. Slow and steady introduction rather than asking is the way to get their investment in riding.
  3. Expectation “easy”: Don’t tell your child that they will learn to ride their bike “today.” For some kids, that high expectation will seem unattainable and the will-to-try will fade quickly. If they aren’t able to learn bike riding quickly, they will feel disappointed and will be reluctant to try another time.
  4. DIY: Your child wants to learn to ride their bike BY THEMSELF. When you provide all the support, it will not foster learning the skill. It will teach them to rely on your support and prolong the learning process. Let them figure out how to balance, pedal, and turn without doing the “riding” yourself.
  5. Panic Problems: Your child reacts to situations based on your reactions. No one likes to see their child fall or tumble, but a panicked or upset reaction to difficulty will only stress you both out. Do your best to stay positive and relaxed yourself in order to keep your child’s spirits up!
  6. Helmets: Don’t forget a helmet! Even if your child isn’t ready for high speeds, head injuries can happen. Take every effort to make all bike riding experiences SAFE! 

Your child will be cruising down the block in their bicycle in no time, and the smile on their faces will be worth every moment of the learning process.

If your child is not yet able to ride their bike, BDI therapists are here to help! We are trained in movement and activity analysis. We can pinpoint where the difficulty may lie for your child, and provide you with the support you need to get those wheels spinning. Contact BDI Playhouse for a free consultation, and let the bike riding begin!

By: Maggie Lord, MS, OTR/L with contributions from the Occupational and Physical Therapy team at BDI Playhouse Children’s Therapy