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Vienna Pedaler: Tips for Teaching Your Child to Ride a Bike

Did your child get a two-wheeled gift this year? Here are some tips for making sure they know how to ride it safely

So, Christmas has come and gone, and your youngster just gotten their first “two-wheeler” on the big day. Now comes the fun and challenge of teaching them to ride. It takes some work and patience, but the payoff is the feeling of elation and freedom your child will feel, and you will witness, when they first take off on their own.

There are a number of approaches and variations on approaches to teaching a kid to ride, so you might want to do a little research after reading what I have to say on the subject. Like many things, there is no ONE “right way” for a child to learn to ride. You may even find it best to combine approaches. There’s also no one answer to the question of how old your child should be when they learn to ride. Some little ones pick it up as early as 3 years old, but 5 or 6 is probably more typical. Try not to put it off for too long ... the older and bigger the kid is, the harder it’s going to be for you to physically assist them. Besides, why put off opening up a world of fun?

Among the ways of starting a child off on a two wheeler, the most common today seems to be training wheels. The idea is that the young person gets a chance to get a feel for propelling a bike and learn to balance, while having a “safety net” in the training wheels. A few pointers on that apparoach... first, set the training wheels up so they are about a half inch or so ABOVE the ground when the bike is vertical. The bike should have to tip slightly before one of the training wheels touches. The wheels are meant to “catch” the child when they tip too far to one side, NOT to keep them up all the time. Watch your child as they ride, and as they spend more time upright and in balance, rather than tipping to one training wheel or the other, it’s time to take the next step. Some folks would say it’s time to take the wheels off, while others advise a gradual approach ... try raising the training wheels a little bit at a time as your young one grows more and more confident and competent. Ultimately, you then take off the training wheels and they are ready to roll.


Using training wheels properly to teach your little one to ride can be time-consuming and painstaking. Some people argue that it actually takes longer for a kid to learn to ride than with other approaches, and in many cases, I would agree. Another time-tested teaching method involves NOT installing training wheels at all, and having an adult run along beside the child as they first start experimenting with balance. A few pointers on that ... first, it’s better to hold your child by the shoulders, rather than holding some part of the bike. That way, they are better able to get a sense of balance, while still feeling the security of your grasp. If you hold onto the seat, or even worse, the handlebars, you will be taking too much control of the bike, and impeding the child’s ability to feel how the bike reacts to them. Second, it’s best to try this approach in a place with no obstructions and a slight down slope, to help your child gain speed for balance.
Finally, another approach to getting your child on their own two wheels is to let them start out on their own, with no training wheels and no adult assistance. Don’t panic... I’m not suggesting just putting them on a bike and saying “go!” No, the method I’m suggesting here is a process, involving several steps, but it’s one that for many children, gets them rolling confidently pretty quickly. To start with, remove the pedals from the bike, and lower the seat so that they can touch the ground with both feet. Generally, you don’t want the seat so low they can plant their feet flat on the ground, but you don’t want them on their tippy-toes either... yet. Find a clear space with a shallow slope to start, and have the child sit on the bike and use their feet to “scooter” along. As they gain more confidence, raise the seat a little bit at a time, until they are just at tippy-toes. With repetition, they’ll soon figure out they can stay upright without their feet. Once they’re really confident at this, it’s time to put on the pedals, and let them give propulsion a try! Make sure they can still touch toes if they need to, but before long they should be pedaling and balancing on their own just fine.

As I said at the start, there’s no one right approach for each and every child. You might even find it helpful to try some combination of two or even all three methods. For example, if your little one just doesn’t seem to be getting the hang of it with the last approach, try steadying them with your hands on their shoulders as they start “scootering” their bike, then gradually let them try it on their own. Or maybe put them on training wheels for a little while, and graduate them to rolling downslope on their own, without the trainers. Most importantly, take your time, be patient, and give lots of encouragement. Don’t push too hard, and be sensitive to when it’s time to call it a day. You want your child to view bicycling as fun, not a chore or ordeal. Give them a chance, and they’ll soon be discovering a world of joy and adventure on two wheels.


Finally, while I said at the start that’s it’s best not to wait too long to teach your little one to ride, it’s never, ever too late. I actually didn’t learn until I was 11 or 12, yet once I did, I never stopped, and have had many, many years of pleasure and fun. I’ve even known adults who have never learned to ride until adulthood, and while it’s typically a bit more mentally daunting as an adult, you can still learn to ride. So if you or someone you know doesn’t know how to ride a bike, take some time to try to do something about it... you’ll be glad you did.

Ed Nell December 29, 2011 at 02:57 AM
Nottoway park is where I helped my son learn. There's grass on both sides of the path in case they fall. The path is on a slight incline. Perfect!

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