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 decide it’s time to stop and they have no clue how to do so.
The only reason I wrote this particular advice document is because 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. In the cases with my older two daughters, after just two times out 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 about five outings.
If it works for you, pass it along to others. And sorry, but I don’t have any special hints on braking, 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 excessively to one side because the training wheels catch them. As a result, they really don’t learn any balancing skills as they ride.
So what does this have to do with the traditional training methods involving the parent grabbing some part of the bike (seat and/or handle bars) as they run along side? Well, it perpetuates the same dependency 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 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.
The Secret Technique
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’s part of the 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. 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 dozen or so corrections, they connect the dots in their brain and are ready to go it alone.