How many ways can there possibly be to learn to ride a bike? Most of us probably use the same method that our parents used with us when we were kids. And it usually involves some combination of holding onto the seat and/or handle bars while we run along side our learning child. Then, at some arbitrary point when we think they are ready, we let go. For a while we run along side, just in case we need to grab quickly. And then, magically, when we think the kid has it down we let them ride ahead until they either decide it’s time to stop and figure out how to hit the breaks, crash into the curb, or fall into the grass.
I’d like to share a much better method with you.
I accidentally stumbled on an alternative method of the “running along side” part of the process. I have three daughters and used this technique with all three. My older two daughters started learning to ride a bike using training wheels. Later, after just two times using this method at about 15 minutes each, they were riding on their own. In the case of my youngest daughter, I decided to skip the training wheels stage and see if the technique would enable her to learn to ride a bike at the age of three and a half. It worked, but took 4-5 practice outings before she was both proficient and confident.
If it works for you, pass it along to others. And sorry, but I don’t have any special hints on doing wheelies, or riding without any hands.
The Problem with the “Traditional” Methods
The first problem actually starts with bad habits learned from the training wheels phase. Kids learn that they can lean quite a bit to one side or the other without crashing, because the training wheels protect them. As a result, they barely learn any balancing skills as they ride.
So what does this have to do with the parent grabbing some part of the bike (seat and/or handle bars) as they run along side? Well, it perpetuates the same phenomenon as the training wheels. As the kid starts to lean too far to one side or the other, the running parent pulls or pushes the bike back to center.
The kid doesn’t understand how or why they are now corrected and might not have even know they would have crashed without the help. They just keep riding. So later, when the parent and child finally get the gumption to have the parent let go, it’s only a matter of seconds before the kid gets off balance and doesn’t know how to get back on center.
My Secret Bike Riding Training Method
The concept is actually so simple that it’s amazing more people don’t do it already. Instead of grabbing the bike for balance correction, you need to grab the kid. You don’t want to grab their arm since it is part of their steering process. Instead, grab the back of their shirt.
Scrunch up the back of their shirt into sort of a ball or wad, giving you something to hold onto as you run. And go ahead and scrunch until the shirt is fairly tight around the kid’s torso, so there’s not any slack. Don’t also grab the handle bars, just the scrunched ball of shirt on their back.
Now, when you need to push or pull to get them back on center while they are riding, they immediately get the sensation of their body movement being associated with the corrective action. After only a handful of corrections, they start to connect the dots in their brain and soon will be ready to go it alone.
The same technique can be used to teach them to apply the breaks to progressively slow down and eventually stop and put their feet on the ground.