When you learned to ride a bike, you probably used training wheels to prevent tips and spills, but there’s a problem with that approach. Training wheels teach pedaling and steering but leave the most difficult part of bike riding out.
Training wheels can’t teach kids how to balance on a bike. So, today’s parents often favor a different method. Instead of attaching training wheels, they take the pedals off and create a balance bike.
Studies show that learning occurs earlier with the balance bike approach than with traditional training wheels, with many kids learning to ride as toddlers. That means the balance bike method is arguably the best way to teach a kid to ride a bike. And, it’s easy for parents as well.
Preparing a Balance Bike
Before you start teaching your little one, you’ll need to make a few adjustments to their bike. You can purchase a balance bike, specifically, or you can take the pedals off a regular bike using a wrench.
Once the bike is peddle-free, make sure the saddle is set low enough so that your child’s feet can sit flat on the ground. If you have difficulty getting the bike saddle that low, try removing the rear reflector from the seat post.
Learn to Balance
Once the pedals are off, you can have your child straddle the bike. Tell them to sit on the saddle, keeping their feet on the ground. Then, instruct them to walk forward with their bike.
After they’re comfortable with that, turn the walk into a run and glide. Tell them to get a running start and then lift their feet. If the bike starts to wobble, they can always put their feet back down to steady and stop. As your child takes longer and longer glides, they’ll learn to balance their bike.
If momentum is an issue, try having them glide down a driveway or grassy hill. Grass is ideal since it’s a little less scary to fall on, but once they realize they can put their feet down to stop, paved surfaces shouldn’t be a problem.
As your child gets better at gliding, tell them to try turns. Turning right or left at the end of a driveway onto a sidewalk is a good place to start.
Once your child can balance for a considerably long distance, it’s time to put the pedals back on. You can also raise the saddle a smidge but still set it so most of their feet can touch the ground. Once they get the hang of things, you can reset the saddle again so that only their tiptoes touch, but save that until they’re fully comfortable with their bike.
Now, tell your child to run and glide just like they did before. To do this, they’ll need to place their feet behind the pedals to start. Once they’re gliding, tell them to put their feet on the pedals and push.
Since they already know how to balance, this part should be relatively simple. However, it helps to start on a decline, like a hill or a driveway, so they can get decent momentum going.
Potential Problems and Fixes
Children tend to slow down when they’re trying to place their feet which can cause the bike to wobble. If this happens, you may want to gently push them forward by placing your hand on their back. A gentle push can give them a little speed which will help them regain their balance.
It’s also not uncommon for kids to try pedaling backward at first. Believe it or not, backward pedaling is slightly more intuitive. With a coaster bike, backward pedaling will apply the brakes, and they might fall. Encourage them to try again after explaining the forward pedaling motion.
If your child still has trouble pedaling forward, you can set their bike on a trainer. A trainer simply locks the front tire and handlebars in place while slightly elevating the back wheel. So, all you can do on a trainer is pedal.
You can purchase a trainer, but it’s also easy to make your own. Use a few of your child’s woodblocks beneath the bike frame to prop the back wheel up. Then, hold the front wheel in place with your hands. Let your child practice pedaling for a few minutes, and they’ll probably get the hang of it.
Use our Bike Size Chart guide!
Teaching a child to balance on a bike first makes learning to ride much easier. So ditch the training wheels, remove your child’s bike pedals and teach them to glide. They’ll be cruising the streets in no time!