Tips from the Pros: Teaching Toddlers How to Ride a Bike

bike
Image adapted via Flickr/ Travis Swan

It's never too early to learn how to ride a bike! Thanks to the introduction of balance bikes, every very young kid, even as young as 18 months, can get the feel of cruising around on two wheels.

For those not familiar with balance bikes, they are two-wheelers in their most simplistic form, with no pedals and no chains. This simplicity allows children to focus on the fundamentals of riding a bike, balancing and steering safely, and using their natural inclination to walk and run. Studies have shown that kids who use a balance bike learn to ride a traditional bike sooner and more easily.

bike
Image via Flickr/ horlor.tw

My kids learned to ride with Strider balance bikes. Because I was a little late to realize all of the benefits, I even got a larger model for my big kid who was struggling to ride without training wheels.

For tips on how to get kids comfortable in riding early, I turned to the experts at Strider for some tips.

bike
Image via Flickr/ horlor.tw

Adjust the bike to fit the child.

Saddle height is the most critical adjustment, followed by handlebar height. Set the saddle height so the child's feet are flat on the ground and both knees have a slight bend in them when seated.

A good starting point is one inch less than the child's inseam. Set the handlebar height with respect to the saddle. If the saddle is at its lowest setting, set the handlebar also to its lowest setting, etc. Kids grow quickly, so be sure to adjust the bike every couple months.

bike
Image via Flickr/ Travis Swam

Be a cheerleader, not a coach.

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Children will instinctively throw a leg over their balance bike and want to go. Encourage them to do this and give them praise for any amount of time they spend striding.

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bike
Image via Flickr/ horlor.tw

Let the child set the pace.

Some kids jump on their bike and go, go, go. Others are more cautious; some may not even want to sit on the seat at first. This is OK! Their security is in their feet at this point, and we want them to feel secure.

As kids get comfortable walking around with the bike between their legs and working the handlebar, they will start to trust the bike and the saddle. Let them learn at their own pace. They'll be striding along with feet up on the footrests before you know it!

bike
Image via Flickr/ horlor.tw

Support the child, NOT the bike.

Parents instinctively want to help their child by holding onto the bike to keep it from tipping. Don't do this. The child must be allowed to feel the bike tip sideways to be able to learn how to keep it from tipping.

If an adult supports the bike when it tips to one side, the child mistakenly thinks that the most stable place for the bike is tipped over to the side. This is the fallacy of training wheels. If a child needs assurance, simply walk next to him/her and hang onto the back of their shirt so that they can feel safe.

bike
Image via Flickr/ horlor.tw

When your child is able to balance well on his/her balance bike, she is ready to transition to a pedal bike. There are a few things you can do to help ease the transition.

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bike
Image via Flickr/ horlor.tw

Don't rush pedaling.

Striding and practicing balance is fun! Even if your child appears to be striding like a pro, moving to a pedal bike too soon can derail progress and discourage your child. The weight of a pedal bike is significantly more (sometimes two to three times the weight of a balance bike), and handling that extra weight can be very frustrating to a child.

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Let him/her practice, play, and perfect his/her balance and bike-handling skills while having fun on the bike. Be confident that all time spent on a balance bike will only make your child more proficient on a pedal bike the day they decide to transition.

bikes
Image via Flickr/ horlor.tw

Never ever use training wheels.

If you feel your child is ready to pedal, the experts at Strider recommend finding the simplest, lightest bike possible. Avoid “bells and whistles,” as they all add weight and distraction. Strider also recommends that pedal bikes have a freewheel hub and a hand brake.

Do not buy a bike for your child to grow into. A bike that is too large won't fit properly, will be too heavy, will be unsafe, and will ultimately discourage your child. With the seat at its lowest setting, your child should be able to touch the ground flat footed.

Remember, training wheels are NOT a solution to a bike this is too large.

bike
Image via Flickr/ horlor.tw

Keep it fun.

Putting kids on a pedal bike too soon will limit where they can go. It is much harder to ride a pedal bike on grass, dirt, or over obstacles than it is on a balance bike.

Keep in mind how important fun and adventure are to a kid. A lightweight simple balance bike has a “fun factor” simply not available on a heavy pedal bike at a young age. Strider recommends having both a balance bike and the pedal bike available so children can choose which they prefer on a given day and recommends this overlap for at least a year.

At some point of the child's choosing, as they get taller, stronger, more skilled, and more confident, they will complete their transition to a pedal bike.

bike
Image via Flickr/ Mark Tighe

Learning to bike is a process, and it's one that can begin as early as 18 months. With these tips, you can give your child the tools he will need from early on to ride on two wheels successfully.

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Tips from the Pros: Teaching Toddlers How to Ride a Bike

Jamie is a Beltway Insider who loves channeling her pre-motherhood love of traveling into spending time exploring all D.C. has to offer with her brood of two girls and two boys ages 9, 7,5, and a baby. She is a reformed lawyer turned full-time kid wrangler who enjoys photographing her everyday chaos and anything salted caramel. Since life is never dull, she loves writing about the issues and events going on in her life at any given time, including caring for a daughter with special needs and th ... More

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