Learning to Bike

Learn the essential skills a child will need to learn to ride a bike

Published on April 30, 2021

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By Mrs. Farnham (mom, teacher, CMoR member)

As the weather continues to warm, getting outside on bikes, trikes, and all manner of wheeled toys is a must for my family. We enjoy taking our bikes and scooters around the neighborhood and with us on trips to parks. My toddler loves the freedom of having his own wheels and I love not having to push or carry him. 

The transition to riding bikes can be daunting, however. Riding a bike is a tough skill to learn. I struggled as a parent with how to teach this skill because I honestly just remember having training wheels and then I was riding without them. I am sure someone pushed and ran with me, but it’s fuzzy. I made some mistakes in teaching my own daughter. She was so scared to fall and I had no strategies. We eventually (I’m talking years!) figured it out and I have been able to provide better support to my toddler. The benefits of being born second never cease. I am hoping you can learn from my mistakes as you embark on your wheeled journeys (or maybe just get some fun ideas for toys for your kids).

One side note: purchasing wheeled toys can get expensive fast! Consider purchasing from a local consignment store like Mom2Mom in Sandston.

Physical Progression

Kids need time and practice to develop the skills required to ride a bike. Generally, these skills progress in a similar way for most kids. I am not an expert (just a mom who made a lot of mistakes) and am fully aware that all kids are different. This is a general guide for you to ponder as it relates to your child.

The first skill kids typically master is moving forward and backward on wheels using their feet. Next, kids will need to master steering. This is a big one! It can take years for kids to become skillful. Then, kids will need to master balancing on two wheels. Again, this can take a while. Finally, once kids get all of those skills in place, you add pedals. Pedals should be easy if kids have the rest.

Wheeled Toys

As kids start to sit-up and walk, a world of movement opens up to them. Once their trunk strength allows them to sit up unassisted and move with ease, it may be time to look into a ride-on toy. My son and daughter both enjoyed having ride-on toys in the house.

This dinosaur toy from Fisher Price was well-loved for a few reasons. The wheels can be locked into a trike position with a comfortable seat. The child simply sits and pushes with his/her feet. There is little steering so the child can focus on the first skill needed: moving forward. This toy happens to have a seat that also opens so it could be used as a walker. My son really enjoyed riding it more than walking.

There are endless ride-on toys like this for toddlers. Some things to consider as you shop:

-Is it too tall or too short for your child when seated? The toy above was great for my tall toddlers.

-Do you have to steer the toy? For younger toddlers, I would recommend a toy that does not require steering. They can grow frustrated as they constantly steer themselves into walls. They need to master moving forward and back before learning to steer.

Once your toddler has mastered moving forward, you can get ride-on toys that require some steering. Most of these require minimal skills, but will begin to teach your child to control handle bars. The bus below was one such toy for us.

Tricycles

Tricycles are another fun step in learning to ride wheeled toys. Every tricycle, however, is not created equal. I made the mistake of giving my son a tricycle for Christmas that was too difficult for him to use. The result was that he basically never used it. Here is the tricycle:

His main problem was that I was asking him to jump from a ride-on toy to a pedal toy. For some kids this may not be a problem (my daughter was fine with this), but for him it was a no-go. He was very much still working steering and this added difficulty was overwhelming.

Some things to consider if purchasing a tricycle:

-Is it too tall or tall enough for your child to sit comfortable with feet touching the ground while seated?

-Does it have pedals? For some kids this is not a great option.

In hindsight, I probably should have purchased a tricycle like this:

A tricycle that does not require pedaling would have been perfect for him because he could use his pushing power while learning to steer. A trike is perfect to learn to steer on because the three wheels give stability and don’t require much balance. If you are using a tricycle outside, this is also a great stage for your child to begin using a helmet to get used to it.

Balance Bikes

While my daughter mastered pedaling on a tricycle, she never was given a chance to balance on 2 wheels. We gave her a bike with training wheels when she was four and expected her to be riding within months. The reality was quite different, however. She could feel her lack of balance when she practiced and would tip over even with training wheels. As she grew frustrated, she began to hate her bike. If only I had listened to my friends who told me about balance bikes!

A balance bike is a bike that does not have pedals. This bike gives kids the ability to focus on balancing on two wheels (while steering and pushing forward) before having to worry about pedaling. After years of not riding her bike, I decided it may be worth a try with a balance bike. My husband and I took the pedals off of my daughter’s bike and lowered her seat. She showed her how to walk the bike forward. Within a week, she was lifting her feet and coasting. Best of all, she was having fun on her bike again.

If you would like to purchase a balance bike, they are relatively inexpensive and very fun. My son is obsessed with his and recently rode two miles with me on his. I know that he will be riding a bike much earlier than my daughter since he has mastered the balance required.

Some things to consider before purchasing a balance bike:

-Do you have a bike that would work if you took the pedals off?

-How tall should the bike be? Many balance bikes have adjustable seats which is great for tall kids. 

-Is it light? Because kids are practicing balancing, a lighter balance bike will be easier.

Bikes

Once my daughter mastered her balance bike, we watched and waited. She grew frustrated with being slower than us going up hills. Finally, she asked for the pedals to put back on her bike. She was so nervous (so was I!), but she was determined to try pedaling again. After one trip down the block, she had it! When my son is ready, I am confident that he will begin to ride a bike quickly. And, given how fast he rides his balance bike, we will all be scrambling to chase him.

Some things to consider when purchasing a bike:

-How heavy is the bike? The heavier the frame, the harder to balance.

-How tall is the bike? My daughter had to skip beginner bikes altogether due to her height.

-Does it have gears? I would not recommend gears until a child has had some time to master biking.

Bikes at CMoR

The backyard at the downtown CMoR location often has trikes and ride-on toys for kids. This was a great way for me to see which toys worked well for my son before purchasing anything. It is also where I realized my tricycle errors. As I’ve mentioned before, my son loves to run wild in the backyard at CMoR.

If your child loves wheels, be sure to check out the Tire Tower at the Chesterfield CMoR location. It is so fun!

I hope that some of these ideas help you and your child get moving! Be sure to share this post and your happy riders with us on Facebook or Instagram

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