Who taught you to ride a bike: your mum or dad, a friend or grandparent? Remember that amazing feeling of freedom, as the whole world opened up to you in an exciting new way?
Well, if it's now your turn to be teacher, and you're keen to avoid tears, tantrums and grazed knees, here's a handy 10-step guide to help get any kid cycling. Away you go!
Remember that amazing feeling of freedom, as the whole world opened up to you in an exciting new way?
1. Safety first
Before their bottom hits the saddle, make sure they have a good helmet on their head. It needs to fit well, cover their forehead, with a gap of about an inch (or two fingers-width) between their eyebrows and the helmet, and it should be snug, but not tight. Check out our fun selection here. Knee and elbow pads can be fun, but aren’t essential, but do make sure their shoelaces are tied up tight!
2. Ditto the bike
Tyres should be pumped up, with the saddle firmly set to a height so that their feet are flat on the floor. The pedals should turn smoothly and, very importantly, both the brakes should work!
3. Pedals off
Unless you’re using a balance bike first, for them to get the hang of er…balancing….take the pedals off their bike, with the help of a pedal spanner. (You might want to mark the pedals left and right, to save confusion when you put them back on.) Balance bikes, while they’re great for learning the art of balancing, tend not to have brakes. And learning to use their brakes is an essential part of cycling. So a pedal-free ‘proper’ bike is best.
4. Choose a spot
Find an expanse of tarmac or broad path at the park or a very quiet road that is flat or slightly downhill - definitely not uphill! A garden or grassy area isn’t ideal, as it’s harder to pedal on grass than on a hard surface.
5. Getting on
Show them how to grip their brakes, tip the bike slightly towards them and swing their leg over, squeezing the brakes the whole time.
6. Getting going
They’re gonna start by walking with their bike. Then comes scooting along, which means taking longer strides. Then, when they're ready, they can bring their feet up and coast along. Encourage them to your child to sit up and look straight ahead and, at each pedal-free stage, they need to practise stopping when you tell them to, by squeezing their brakes.
7. Hit the target
As they get more confident, set down a marker and get them to walk, scoot or coast to it, then brake to stop. This develops their sense of control and confidence.
Cycling has a lot to do with confidence, so keep giving lots and lots of encouragement.
8. Pedals on
Once they've got the hang of balancing, it's time to put the pedals back on. You can put them both back on straight away, or just one first, so they can mix scooting and pedaling to make it easier initially. The action of pedaling isn’t instinctive, and they might take a while to get the hang of it. Be patient! Whether they’re using one pedal or two, set the ‘push off’ pedal at 2 o’clock, as you’re looking at it from the side. Tell them to push down hard and encourage them to keep pushing the pedal all the way around.
For support, place one hand just under their armpit on one side and gently hold their upper arm on the other side. Or you can hold onto the seat at the back. But don’t hold the handlebars too - you’ll be fighting with their steering. Another trick is to put a wide scarf around their torso that you hold at the back, like a makeshift harness.
9. Letting go (!)
When they’ve pedaled a little distance confidently, let go. As they travel away from you, you can step back a bit, so it seems they’ve gone further. (Sneaky!) Cycling has a lot to do with confidence, so keep giving lots and lots of encouragement.
10. When to stop
This bit's important. Always finish before your little cyclist is tired, bored or hungry. Depending on their age, about 5-10 minutes per session is probably right. Try going out for a little bit over several days. Before you know it, they’ll be pedaling like a pro!
Further reading and watching:
Here’s a fun set of additional exercises that will get them ready to ride.
Read up on more activities for kids from British Cycling.
We hope you found this useful. Who knows, next stop might be the Tour De France! And remember, if you need advice on anything, our Live Chat Team is always here to help, from 9am to 5pm, weekdays. Just hit that purple button, bottom right.
Two girls on bikes with training wheels: Amber Faust on Unsplash