The traditional method of teaching children how to ride a bike is to wait until they’ve mastered the art of cruising with training wheels, and then suddenly strip that sense of security away while Mum grabs the camcorder and captures the big moment on video. It worked for most of us — our knees may have been skinned and our parental trust shaken, but we learned.
I was surprised when I found out a few years ago that bicycle riding instruction has evolved. A way for kids to become comfortable on a two-wheel bike before they start riding is to skip the training wheels and start without the pedals.
Ben Sherratt, an instructor who works with the UK-based cycling organisation Sustrans, demonstrates a non-scary, step-by-step approach to teaching kids how to ride a bike in this video. He tells me that what’s great the method is that “99.9 per cent get it very quickly” and kids can start very early.
“If they are steady on their feet when running around and they can go upstairs unaided (this is like pedalling), then they should be ready,” he says.
Grab a wrench, find a traffic-free area, and try it for yourself. Don’t forget the helmet!
Here are the steps from Sherratt:
Remove the Pedals and Lower the Seat
Remove the pedals and lower the seat so that the child is able to plant both feet on the ground. (Alternately, toddlers as young as 18-months can start with a balance bike, though Sherratt says these bikes might not last as long as parents hope because children often quickly want to move onto real bikes.) With the child sitting on the bike, show her how to use brakes.
Glide Forward With ‘Giant Steps’ and ‘Kangaroo Hops’
When the rider is ready, encourage her to move forward on the bike by taking giant steps (Sherratt shouts “Fee-fi-fo-fum!” so the child can imagine being a giant). After she’s gotten the hang of that, have her do “kangaroo hops”, which are essentially big, smooth glides.
Put One Pedal Back On
Left or right, it doesn’t matter, Sherratt says. After it’s on, have the child sit back on the bike. Stand behind her, hold onto her back, and wiggle her a bit with the brakes on to make sure she’s secure.
Practise the ‘One-Pedal Scoot’
Have the child place one foot on the pedal and scoot forward using the other foot. Keep reminding her to look straight ahead — not down at her feet.
Put the Other Pedal Back On
It’s time to ride.
First go: Have the child sit on the bike with both feet on the pedals. Hold onto the child’s back and upper arm to begin, and tell her to look straight ahead and start pedalling. Keep holding onto the child as you walk forward and then slowly release your grip. Say “stop” after about 3m.
Second go: Hold the child’s back and upper arm, and have her start pedalling on the count of three. Slowly let go and as she rides, step back to exaggerate the distance she’s travelled. Say “stop” after about 6m. Get excited about how far she went.
Third go: This time, only hold the bike handle and the child’s clothing so she feels more independent. On the count of three, release her and let her ride for as long she wishes.
Finally, after cheering your child on, step back and maybe hide the fact that you’re crying a little. We know. Look at her go.