Is there anything so thrilling as your first bike ride? The sense of adventure, achievement, and independence. The breeze rushing past your cheeks as you seem to fly down the sidewalk under a warm summer sun. There may or may not be popsicles later. Life is unbelievably good.
While we all want to deliver that moment, the prospect of actually teaching a child to ride a bike may be a bit daunting. When do we start? What do we need? What’s the best way to do this? Turns out, it’s probably easier than you think. And we’ve got it all mapped out for you right here.
When to start
There’s no single perfect age for learning how to ride a bike. The most important thing is to start when your child is ready – when they have the balance, coordination, and physical strength to successfully operate a bicycle.
If your child is starting on a pedal bike with training wheels, they might be able to start as early as 2, but many wait until 4 or 5 years old. This allows your child’s motor skills and strength to develop a little more before taking on a pedal bike.
What you’ll need
First and foremost, you’ll need a bike for your child. The most important thing here is the size and fit. That’s true for both balance and pedal bikes. A bike that fits your child correctly will be more comfortable, easier control, and lead to more confident riding. Use the height/size table below to find the right size for your child or check out our kids’ bike size guide for more details.
You may want to invest in additional safety gear for your child, like elbow and knee pads. While not strictly necessary, they can help prevent injury in the first wobbly days of learning to ride.
Does your child need training wheels?
Training wheels are not absolutely necessary, but they can be useful. If your child started the process of learning on to ride on a balance bike, odds are they can skip training wheels entirely. However, if your child is starting out on a pedal bike, training wheels can provide support while your child builds confidence as a rider. The important thing to remember is that training wheels need to be installed correctly to avoid overreliance.
What do training wheels do, exactly?
Training wheels help young beginners stay upright on their bikes while they learn to balance and pedal. When properly installed, training wheels sit just above the ground, supporting or “catching” the rider if they lean a little too far. This support helps kids build confidence as they work on balance and mechanics of riding a bike.
How should training wheels be installed?
First, make sure the bike and the training wheels are compatible. If your child’s bike came with training wheels, then you’re all set. If it didn’t, you’ll want to check for compatibility. Most kids’ bikes from big box stores will be compatible with various training wheels, but do check the specifications. Geared and higher end kids’ bikes are not always compatible with training wheels.
To attach, follow the instructions included with the training wheels, as the exact steps may vary by model.
When you’re attaching the training wheels, remember to position them so that they sit just above the ground. Balance on two wheels is the most important thing for young riders to learn, but they can’t do that if the training wheels are continuously hold them in place. Instead, training wheels are just supposed to prevent your child from tipping over completely.
Should the training wheels be uneven?
No, training wheels should be positioned evenly with each other slightly above the ground. However, it may feel uneven to the rider if they lean on one or the other.
How do I teach them to ride?
First, you’ll want to focus on balance. You can either remove the pedals, or just have your child ignore them at first. Then follow these simple steps:
- Push: Have your child sit on the bike’s seat, with their feet flat on the ground (you may need to adjust the height of the seat). Then have your child push themselves along with their feet, as if walking. Use this stage to work on steering as well.
- Stride: Encourage them to take longer strides, as if running.
- Glide: Once your child is comfortable with long strides and steering, encourage them to pick both feet up off the ground so they can glide.
Once your child is comfortable gliding, you can put the pedals back on. It may take them a little while to get used to balancing and pedaling at the same time, but don’t worry, the training wheels are there to catch them during those initial wobbles.
When should we take the training wheels off?
Training wheels should temporary – very temporary. As soon as your child has mastered balancing on their bike, they can be taken off.
If your child struggles with balance once the training wheels are off, encourage them to practice gliding for a while (i.e. ride without using the pedals). You can even remove the pedals for a while if you prefer. Once they reacclimate, the pedals can go back on and they can try again.
Keep it fun
No matter how things go, always remember riding a bike is supposed to be fun – especially for kids. If they struggle or don’t seem interested at first, don’t push too hard. Keep things light, use lots of positive reinforcement, and take brakes when you need to – there’s no deadline here. A great learning experience will encourage your child to keep riding for years to come.