The outdoors and cycling are key features of a Kiwi childhood, but passing on the basic skills to your children can seem a bit daunting. February is Bike Wise month so there’s no better time to start. Cycle skills trainer Marilyn No
Top Tips for learning to ride
Cycling is a great way for families to get out and about together.
• Build bike confidence – the more you ride, the better you are – practise makes perfect.
• Give positive encouragement throughout the learning process – and stop when it’s time to stop. Try and end on a positive note.
• Make it fun!
Have your first lessons at netball courts, school playgrounds or other car-free areas. These are great for learning. Many parents make the mistake of teaching their children on grass in case they fall, however it’s best to teach them how to ride on a flat, smooth surface first if possible. It’s easier: the children benefit from learning to ride smoothly first, before going over bumps!
Marilyn recommends a simple five-step process for learning to ride:
1. Set up your child’s bike correctly to give them the best possible start
• Your child should be able to stand over their bike and be clear of the top tube. The bike should not be too high and they should not have to reach too far in front of them for the handlebars and more importantly the brakes.
• When sitting on the saddle, your child should be able to reach the ground with both of their feet flat on the ground.
2. Getting on and off your bike
It’s very important to teach your child the fundamentals of getting on and off their bike safely. I would recommend the following approach:
• When your child gets on their bike, encourage them to apply the brakes and lean the bike towards them.
• When getting off the bike, remind them to keep the brakes applied.
3. Striding and gliding or scooting along
• Encourage your child to scoot along on their bike using their feet to push off before teaching them to pedal. This helps them to learn the feeling of balancing on two wheels.
• The aim is to push themselves off and keep both their feet off the ground for as long as they can.
• Children who are too big for balance bikes should aim to learn to balance on their normal bikes without training wheels by pushing off with their feet and scooting along.
4. Starting and stopping
Children should be taught to use their brakes properly from the beginning even if they cannot ride yet. You can practise by having them walk along pushing the bike and using the brakes to stop. Braking is an essential skill which ultimately will enable
them to feel in control when starting out. Note: Balance bikes do not have brakes!
• Your children should be taught to use both brakes evenly to assist with more control when coming to a stop.
• It is worth noting that although many children’s bikes will have a front hand brake it is often very difficult for them to apply the brake as little hands are simply not strong enough to do so. In this case you can teach children to stop the bike using the back pedal or coaster brakes. The aim is to get them to be able to stop without wobbling too much.
5. Balance and vision
• To give your child the best possible start, I would recommend balance bikes over training wheels. It’s hard to progress to riding until they learn to balance on two wheels. Training wheels shift the weight of the child from side-to-side and so it’s hard for them to learn the ‘balancing instinct’. • Once the feeling of balancing is learned it doesn’t go away – it’s an internal mechanism that kicks in, hence the phrase “it’s like riding a bike”. Gaining this feeling early is invaluable as once they have it, a child will not lose it.
• Anything that involves balance is helpful. Scooters are good for older children learning to balance – if they can scooter with both feet on the platform, they can learn to balance on two wheels.
• Encourage your child to look where they’re going. “Look where you go – go where you look”.
• Get them to keep their eyes up and look ahead – the eyes control their inner balance and direction.
• Looking down can make it harder to balance and get going because it pulls you forward.
6. Pedalling work
Once your child has learned these fundamental skills and gained their balance, it’s time to start learning to pedal.
• Aim to have one of the pedals in the 2 o’clock position – the pedal-ready position - in line with the downtube on the frame, which will help them get started and gain momentum.
• You can run alongside them and help support from the front by holding onto the stem to help them keep their balance. You will feel it as well when this happens.
• Once they get the hang of it, get them to practise riding along and riding around in areas that are free of obstacles and hazards. You can add in some gentle turns to help with steering the bike where they want it to go.
• A great way to teach them to turn is to set up some cones (a friend of mine uses rubber ducks!) two to three metres apart and ride in and out with gentle turns.
• They’ll soon pick up the techniques for controlling their bike.
• Use any opportunity to practise stopping using both the brakes.
Find out more at www.bikewise.co.nz