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Teaching kids to ride bikes

Getting your kids on bikes from a young age is a great thing to do. Riding is great for kids as it gets them outside in the fresh air, moving, and improves some of their motor skills. We’ve put some tips together to make it a wee bit easier, and less stressful, for you.

Photo shows smiling young girl and male caregiver riding bikes along a suburban street.

Start young

These days it’s not uncommon for kids to get balance bikes for their first birthdays. These bikes are just like adult ones but they don’t have pedals. Instead, the child moves the bike by walking. These are great for improving balance and will help prepare them to go up to the next stage of bike. While they may not be moving fast, get a helmet on them from day one. It’s a great habit to start early.

Around the age of three to four, most kids start learning how to ride a bike but with training wheels. Make sure the wheels sit a little above the ground as this will help your child learn to lean into turns. Keep lifting them higher as your child gets more confident.

When they’re ready to remove the wheels head somewhere stress-free. It’s important for both your child and you to enjoy the experience of learning to ride. A park or local school are great places to take your child when they’re learning to ride.

Make sure your child has the right sized bike – check with a bike shop if you aren’t sure. Start with the seat very low so they can use their feet to stop if need be. If your child hasn’t had a balance bike you could remove the pedals until they figure out their balance.

Teach them right from day one

Get your child to learn how to get on and off the bike safely. Show them how to hold the handlebars and squeeze the brakes. Then, get them to lean the brake towards themselves and then step one leg over.

Get them to practise using the brakes while the training wheels are still on. Some may be controlled by the handlebars and some may be controlled by pushing the wheels backwards. Make sure braking is second nature for them before removing the training wheels.

To start riding, get them to use their feet and then get them to lift their feet up and glide. Get them to look ahead and do it. Do it on grass the first few times. Once they can glide for several metres it’s time to teach them to steer.

Explain to them they need to keep their eyes up and always look ahead. This helps with balance and direction. Tell them to steer towards where they want to go.

Once they’ve mastered all this it’s time to bring back the pedals, or start using them.

Angle the pedal at the two o’clock position. Stand behind them holding the seat, or them. Get them to put one foot on the pedal and push forward, and then the other foot with the next pedal. You may need to do a gentle push the first couple of times.

Run alongside them, still holding on so they feel safe. Gradually let go as they master balance. It is completely normal for this to take a few times.

Don’t worry if they can’t ride in a straight line to start with – they’ll get there.

Remind them to brake often and be really encouraging. They’ll sense your enthusiasm and be excited by their progress too.

Make riding fun

One way to keep your child interested in riding is to go on exciting adventures in different areas. Take them to parks, shared paths or cycleways to gain experience. You could also meet up with some other families.

To keep it exciting, get them to pick the route and a place to stop for a snack.

Riding to school

Riding to school is a big step for your child. We recommend riding with them until they’re at least 10, and until you’re sure they have the skills and confidence for the traffic and road conditions between home and school.

Plan the route together – and remember the safest and easiest route isn’t necessarily the one you’d drive. Ride the route with them a few times and make sure they know how to navigate any intersections they may come across. Get them to practise their signals, stopping at stop signs, and identifying hazards.

Encourage them to carry a bag that’s as light as possible, and to always carry it on their shoulders if they don’t have a bike rack or basket. Explain that hanging bags or other items from handlebars can throw them off balance or get caught in the wheels.

Make sure they know how to get their helmet on and off safely and get them a hi-vis jacket for your peace of mind.