For those of us who are keen cyclists and have young children, it’s natural that we should want to pass on our love of two wheels to our offspring. But when is it the right time to do it? And what is the best way to teach your child to cycle without breaking their confidence (or our backs) in the process?
As a guideline they say kids are ready at four years old to start riding a bike. My own son was only three when we bought him his first bike; in fact it was his third birthday and in hindsight was probably too young for it.
To start with he managed to pedal it a bit, as long as he got a shove to get going, but couldn’t manage slight inclines or really steer very well. Going downhill was terrifying as he really didn’t get where the brakes were or what to do with them and if he decided he was going too fast would just drop the little bike and take a flying leap into the hedge. The latest advice is to remove the pedals at this early stage so that the child can stabilise themselves with their feet, which will be firmly planted on the ground.
Two weeks later we bought him a three-wheeled scooter and the bike has hardly been out of the shed since. He turns four in a few weeks so no doubt we will be dusting it off and trying again, but I fear it may take him a while to get his confidence back after the crashes and scrapes he had the first time around.
With this in mind I have been researching the best things I can do to help the little man get on with his bike with as few upsets as possible. I was rather surprised to learn that it is actually a good idea to remove the stabilisers initially so that he can feel the balance of the bike and doesn’t get into the habit of leaning on one or two.
The idea is to let him ‘scoot’ the bike, or coast down a hill just to get the feeling of balancing the bike without the need to coordinate pedalling as well. This can be a good opportunity to practice gentle braking too, although to start with I expect his trainers will be taking a bashing as a secondary braking system.
Once he has mastered this we can add some pedalling into the mix. Staying on the gentle slope we have used for coasting means he can try out moving the pedals around with his feet without needing to use force. Once he has got his confidence with this, next up is to go to a flat section of grass or path where he can practice straight line cycling and braking. Finally adding in turning should see us with a fully-fledged cyclist ready to ride!
Most important before all this is that the bike is properly set up. For a child, being able to place both feet on the ground will be a great reassurance to them, even if they need the seat raised once they have got their confidence. Of course young cyclists should always be well protected with helmets but do be on standby with the magic cream and plasters because if yours is anything like mine, a few bumps and bruises are inevitable!