Teach a child how to ride a bike

The New & Faster Way to Teach Your Child How to Ride a Bike

Help your child learn faster with fewer falls, fewer tears, and more fun!

by Steve Silvestro, MD  @zendocsteve

A parent teaching their child to ride a bike is a time-honored tradition filled with memories and accomplishment.

Unfortunately, the path to getting there can also be filled with tears and frustration—both for kids and parents.

But what if I told you that for decades, parents have been going about this all wrong?

Think back to how you learned to ride a bike for the first time. You probably remember the same story as everyone else your age: A parent or another adult held onto the back of your seat as you pedaled, they ran alongside you and let go even when you told them not to. And you inevitably toppled over and crashed into the grass or sidewalk…over and over again…until one time, you finally stayed upright on your own.

The problem with this old “push and release” method of teaching kids to ride a bike is that it can take days, weeks, or even months for your child to figure it out.

And with each fall, you risk not just tears, but also a fear that can prevent your child from wanting to keep trying.

Luckily, there is a method that can have your child confidently riding a two-wheeler within hours.

I will readily admit that I didn’t come up with this method myself. My daughter learned to ride this way at a bike “clinic” that another dad held at her elementary school. Sitting there on a Sunday morning, watching a dozen kids starting from scratch and then riding happily around the playground within an hour, I was simply amazed. I was also astounded—why haven’t we always taught our kids this way?

And so, it is with great pleasure that I’m here to share this secret method with you—so that you, too, can easily teach your child a skill that they’ll enjoy for a lifetime.

How Does It Work?

There are two key requirements to riding a bike: strength and balance.

Strength, which is necessary to push the pedals and move forward, comes with age and practice.

Balance, however, is harder to teach. Figuring out how to stay upright on two wheels isn’t something you can clearly describe to your child or show how to do. Instead, it’s something that they have to experience to learn.

For children 18 months to 5 years old, you can get them to discover the sensation of balancing on two wheels at an early age by having them use a balance bike (the Strider Sport is a favorite).

For kids 5 and up, they’re likely too big for a balance bike, and they’re going to want to ride a real bike. And the method below quickly & easily teaches them the balance required to ride.

What You’ll Need

  • A wrench or pliers
  • A bike (the Diamondback Mini Viper and Titan Flower Princess get consistently good reviews)
  • A helmet
  • A flat, open space to ride in—an empty parking lot or school blacktop is ideal, but an even, clean stretch of sidewalk can also work

STEP 1: Take the Pedals Off the Bike

 It might seem crazy that taking the pedals OFF is the first step to learning how to ride a bike, but trust me. Pedaling is going to be the last thing you teach your child, so you want the pedals out of the way for now.

To take the pedals off of your child’s bike, you’ll need your wrench or pliers. Most kids’ bikes will have a flat part where the pedal attaches to the crankarm—you’ll want to grip this flat part with your wrench/pliers.

There is a secret to taking the pedals off: You need to turn the wrench in different directions for the right and left pedals. To remove the right pedal, turn your wrench counterclockwise. Turn the wrench clockwise to remove the left pedal. Another way to think about this is to turn your wrench toward the back of the bike, no matter which side you’re working on.

Watch this short video to see how to remove the pedals:

STEP 2: Lower the Seat

For now, you want the seat to be low enough for your child to comfortably sit on the seat and have both feet flat on the ground.

STEP 3: “Walking the Bike”

With your child sitting on the seat and both hands on the handlebars, have her begin “walking the bike” by moving the legs on each side of the bike as if walking, even though she’s sitting down on the seat. This gets her used to the weight of the bike and the feel of the bike moving.

Walk the bike back and forth, turning back around when necessary. You want your child to be able to walk the bike smoothly before moving onto the next step.

STEP 4: Bunny Hops”

This is the step where your child really begins to learn how to balance on a two-wheeler!

While she’s sitting on the bike with the feet flat on the ground, have your child push forward with both legs at the same time—propelling the bike forward in little “bunny hops.” (See the video at the bottom of the page for a demonstration.)

She doesn’t have to push the bike very far. The idea here is to simply have a brief second or two in which her feet are off the ground while the bike is moving forward. Those brief seconds provide the first glimmers of balance.

Have her continue on down the pavement, performing many small bunny hops one after another. If she gets nervous, remind her that she can always put her feet down on the ground to stop.

STEP 5: Longer Bunny Hops

As your child starts getting good at smoothly performing short bunny hops, encourage her to try longer bunny hops. To do this, she’ll need to push a little harder, giving the bike a bit more momentum and allowing her to pick her feet up off the ground for longer stretches.

This longer bunny hop step might be the one your child spends the most time on. Not only does it take a decent amount of strength to propel the bike forward for a longer hop, it also takes a bit of courage for a child to convince herself that it’s okay to keep her feet off the ground for so long while the bike is moving.

If your child has a hard time moving on from this stage, don’t get frustrated—instead, remember that by continuing to practice these longer bunny hops, you’re giving her a chance to build her leg strength, core strength, and her self-confidence.

STEP 6: Gliding

This is your child’s last step before officially pedaling the bike. Gliding proves that your child has the balance needed to move on, plus it gives her some of the alternating left/right sensations involved in pedaling a bike.

Have your child walk the bike like in Step 3, but instead of putting the next foot down right away, have her push off with one foot and glide as far as she can with both feet off the ground before repeating the process with the opposite leg. Push with the right foot, glide, push with the left foot, glide, and so on. Think of this step as the long bunny hop version of walking the bike.

Once your child can comfortably glide for stretches of 8-10 feet, it’s time to move on to the biggest step…

STEP 7: The Pep Talk

What just might be the most important step isn’t the pedaling—it’s what you say next!

Once they can glide comfortably, some kids feel like they’re ready to pedal. Others might still be nervous. Most kids, however, will at least have more confidence now than they did when they started.

Take hold of that glimmer of confidence and run with it! In a calm, but positive and inspiring voice, tell your child that you think that she’s ready. Point out how far she’s already come. Tell her that you believe in her!

STEP 8: Put the Pedals Back on the Bike & Raise the Seat

Raise the seat high enough that only the balls of your child’s feet touch the ground. If the whole foot touches the ground, then your child’s knees will come up too high when she starts pedaling.

STEP 9: Riding a Two-Wheeler!

This is it!

Many young kids don’t have the leg and core muscle strength to start pedaling from a standstill. So have your child walk, bunny hop, or glide the bike for a step or two just to get momentum.

Once the bike is moving, encourage your child to pedal. It may take a few starts and stops for her to get the hang of it, but pretty soon you’ll be watching with amazement and pride as your child begins to ride a two-wheeler bike on her own.

Congratulations! Your child has learned to ride a bike—and with far fewer crashes, tears, and frustration than with the old “push and release” method.

Better still, the two of you have created a memory together that will last a lifetime.

Now get out there & have some fun!

Dr. Steve Silvestro is a pediatrician, dad, and host of The Child Repair Guide Podcast. Dr. Steve helps parents navigate the challenges of parenting by bringing the wisdom of the world’s best experts on child health, behavior, and wellness directly to them. Listen to The Child Repair Guide Podcast on iTunes and Stitcher, or learn more at www.drstevesilvestro.com.

Photo credit: Michael Bentley (Flickr CC)

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