It’s Like Riding A Bike
We all know the expression, it’s like riding a bike – meaning that once you learn how to do something, you never forget it. But what if you’ve never learnt to ride a bike in the first place, will you never remember how to do things again! No of course not but you do run the risk of never realising the joy and freedom of cycling around our beautiful country.
“It’s like riding a bike“
So what is the right age for a child to learn to ride a bike? You’ve probably got a whole host of questions. What age should I teach my child to ride a bike? At what age should a child be able to cycle a bike? At what age should a child ride a bike on the road? The short answer is there is no right age, it very much depends on your child, but you came here for answers to these questions so let’s take a more in-depth look at this.
It’s true to say that every child is different, and so listen to them, are they talking about friends that are learning, have they added a new bike to their Christmas list, is their school offering cycling education lessons, what we used to call the cycling proficiency test [which was phased out in 2007]. In short, the best age to teach your child to ride a bike is somewhere between 3 years and 6 years.
Some children need more time, and so may start to learn to ride a bike at a later stage, and conversely, some can’t wait to learn – it’s a freedom thing! Some children start at age 2 years, and whilst this may sound really young, sit a two year old on a balance bike and off they go. A 3 to 4 year old may also start on a balance bike, whereas some start on a larger bike that has stabilisers fitted. A top tip to save money buying two bikes, is to buy a kids bike but remove the pedals so it can be used as a balance bike. You can add the stabilisers later if you like but in our experience, learning on a balance bike teaches children to ride a bike much quicker and you may find they don’t need stabilisers.
Top Tip: buy a kids bike but remove the pedals so it can be used as a balance bike
This article isn’t about providing tips on how to teach your child to ride bike, there are plenty of articles on how to do that and some are excellent, like this one from Two Wheel Tots [no affiliation]. However, we would like to offer some basic guidance;
- Balance: children need to learn how to balance so either remove the pedals on a bike or start with an actual balance bike
- Position: ensure the seat is low enough for the child to have their feet flat on the ground, this gives them confidence that they’re safe
- Moving: cycling isn’t just about balance, moving forward in short hops helps them to get a feel for cycling
- Brakes: learning to control their speed and understanding the importance of stopping, is equally important, so start early
- Relax: make sure you are relaxed before you start to prevent any personal anxiety transmitting to your child
Cycling Proficiency & Road Safety
Parents looking to teach their child to ride a bike may remember their own cycling journey and for many of us, this included the Cycling Proficiency Test, which was a course run by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents [RoSPA] teaching children road safety and was often taught in conjunction with local schools. It was seen as a good minimum standard and gave children, and their Parents, confidence when learning to ride a bike on the road.
The course wasn’t long, held over several weeks and saw instructors conduct a test at the end of the course, with successful children gaining a certificate – which child doesn’t love a certificate!
Following the Covid-19 periods of lockdown in 2021, the Bikeability program saw unprecedented numbers of children attending the new cycling proficiency education courses, with numbers of around 440,000 to March 2022 and a further boost to almost 462,000 the following year.
Cycling education champions, Bikeability, came back with a boom in 2022, with an unprecedented demand for training.
There is an important serious aspect of teaching someone to ride a bike and that is about road safety. Government data shows that in 2021, there were 111 pedal cyclists killed in Great Britain and a further 4,353 cyclists were reported to be seriously injured (+27%) and 11,994 slightly injured.
Reported cycle related road casualties in 2021 [Government report] thankfully saw a decline in road deaths but an overall increase in injuries, at a time pedal cycle traffic grew by +62%.
Better cycling education, improved road user awareness and an increase in the ability of cyclists to control their bikes have all contributed to road safety improvements but more can be done, with Parents playing a vital role. Some alarming statistics to highlight;
- an average of 2 pedal cyclists died and 84 were seriously injured per week in reported road casualties
- a majority of pedal cycle fatalities (59%) do not occur at or within 20m of a junction compared to 32% of all seriously injured casualties
- almost half (46%) of pedal cycle fatalities were in 2 vehicle collisions between a pedal cycle and a car
- 56% of pedal cycle fatalities occurred on rural roads compared to 29% of traffic
- 82% of pedal cycle killed or seriously injured casualties were male
- the most common contributory factor allocated to pedal cyclists in fatal or serious collisions, with another vehicle, was ‘driver or rider failed to look properly’
Cycling Education Survey
We recently conducted a survey of 1,236 Parents and asked them a few questions about their Children’s cycling education. Children learn to ride bicycles in different ways, at different ages and for different reasons. We conducted this short survey [August 2023] to gain further insight into their cycling education and proficiency. Parents were asked a number of questions and we have published the results here.
Can You Ride A Bike?
We first asked whether, as a Parent, they could ride a bike and 95% of Parents participating in the survey confirmed that they were able to ride a bike. This is higher than the national average but is likely to be skewed toward people taking this specific survey.
We then asked these Parents if their Children could ride a bike and despite the majority of Parents being cycle-abled, almost one-quarter (24%) were unable to ride a bike. Whilst the sample size (1,236 participants) was statistically significant, the survey didn’t exclude very young children & babies, who were pre-cycling age.
What Age Do Children Learn to Ride a Bicycle?
The age in which Children learn to ride a bike very much depends on the child. However, there are of course some other, more practical aspects of this, such as whether a bike is available, someone to teach them and the neighbourhood in which to learn.
The traditional answer, for the common age which Children learn, is from age 3 years to 6 years. In the survey we saw that the most common age is 4 years to 5 years, with half (50%) of all Children in the survey learning at this age.
Almost two-thirds of Children learn to ride a bicycle before starting school
Overall, we saw almost two-thirds (66%) of Children learn to ride a bicycle before starting primary school. Learning pre-school was very much reflected in the subsequent question of who taught them, and as such, Parents not depending on school education. Bikeability cycling proficiency courses are available in most schools but this does vary across the country.
Was The Bicycle Purchased As A Gift?
Buying a child’s bike isn’t an insignificant purchase and as such many Parents wait for Christmas and Birthdays to buy the first bike. The most popular gift occasion is a Birthday, with 36% choosing this day or Christmas (25%). Whilst Christmas is a major gift exchange day, the northern hemisphere cold weather is probably the reason it falls short to a Birthday.
What was a surprise was the fact that almost one-third (32%) of bike’s purchased were not gift related, in the traditional sense. A further 7% of bike’s were purchased as a gift but on another gift exchange period.
Who Taught Your Child To Ride A Bike?
When it comes to who teaches children to ride a bike, it’s very much a shared task, with nearly half (44%) saying it was a joint effort of Mum & Dad. However, outside of the shared responsibility, Dad (33%) was higher than Mum (14%). And whilst the vast majority (91%) of Parents said they taught their child to ride a bike, Grandparents (5%) and a Friend or Neighbour (4%) contributed too.
As mentioned earlier, the Cycling Proficiency Test ceased to exist, in the way many Parents will remember from their own childhood, in 2007 to be replaced by a Government scheme. When asked if their children had gained any level of cycling certification, just one in six (17%) said yes. This is probably explained by the fact that two-thirds of respondents said their child had been taught by a relative before they started school.
When asked if they wished that their child had learnt earlier, 53% of Parents said no. However, 29% said yes and a further 18% replied maybe.