Teaching your child to ride a bike is one of those rituals of parenthood – Yashmitha Padayachee walks you through the basics.
A literal rite of passage for any child is learning to ride a bike. Not so long ago we spent some time teaching our son how to ride a bicycle (sans training wheels). Here are some top tips for getting your tot riding in no time.
Whether on a training bike, a tricycle or a bicycle, with or without training wheels, safety gear is non-negotiable. Helmets, gloves, elbow pads and knee pads are available in a wide variety of brands, colours and patterns. Prices start from as little as R150. Top tip – be sure to try on all safety gear, as ill-fitting or bulky gear can interfere with the ability to ride, and can be just as, if not more, dangerous than not wearing any at all.
Location, location, location
Take a minute to think about the perfect spot to teach your little one. A child-friendly bike park might sound great, with lots of other kids riding around, but you don’t want a place that’s too busy, which adds unnecessary pressure to perform.
The ideal spot should have smooth tarred or cemented floors: grass might sound like a better idea in terms of ‘softening the inevitable fall’, but can make riding a lot more difficult. Be sure to pick a place that isn’t frequented by foot or vehicle traffic.
Patience is a virtue
The evolution of each stage of riding can take time, so be patient and try not to rush them along. Pressure to compete with other children, siblings, friends or family could develop into a dislike of riding altogether. A happy and confident rider is a much more likely to easily and readily advance.
You should ideally start your little one off as soon as those legs are ready to get moving. There are a plethora of training and balance bikes that are now available for use before graduating to pedalling. These are great for learning balance and steering.
If you’re unable to visit a bike park often, try propping up the back wheel of the bike on a piece of wood, while your child practises pedalling. Think ‘spinning classes’.
Time to upsize
As your tot grows it’s going to be necessary to trade up, for bigger and better bikes. As a rule of thumb, your child’s feet should still be able to touch, but not ‘drag’ on the ground, for obvious stability reasons. Top tip – it would be a good move to initially purchase a bicycle with training wheels that can easily be removed when they’re ready to progress. This way the initial move away from training wheels is on a familiar bike that he/she is already confident riding.
It was Albert Einstein who said: “Life is like riding a bike. To keep your balance you must keep moving,” and so, once those training wheels come off the only way to catch on is to keep moving.
All kids will progress at their own rate, depending on their confidence, how often they ride and for how long they’ve been riding. Anytime between five to eight years old should be a good time to consider shaking of those training wheels. By this stage there should be a fair whack of confidence with riding a bike.
There are a zillion videos clips available online, but what you want your ‘tween’ to do is:
- Have a clear and straight path in front of them.
- One foot firmly on the pedal while the other steadies them on the ground.
- A simultaneous’ push off’ from the ground and pedal action should get them a good few metres before they start to wobble.
- This will be trial and error, but could take as little as one afternoon, or a few consecutive afternoons. Gentle reminders to look ahead , and not go too fast are always appreciated, and remember, it’s supposed to be fun.
- Top tip – falling is part and parcel of learning to ride without training wheels. Besides the safety gear, long pants and long sleeves do help prevent unnecessary grazing.
It is important that your bikes are well maintained, tryes should be correctly inflated, seats adjusted to the right height and brakes routinely checked. When showing your little ones where and how to use the brake levers, be sure to point out the dangers of flipping over if they press the front brake hard while travelling at a fast speed.
Riding as a family has a trifecta of benefits: it’s a great way to get moving and get fit, you get to have some precious, precious outdoor time, and the cherry on the top, family fun time. Packing a picnic and heading of to one of your favourite riding spots is usually just what the doctor ordered.
So take the leap, let them ride, and don’t forget to join them.
Bike riding spots
Durban – Giba Gorge, Golden Mile Promenade (beachfront), Midmar Dam, Kenneth Stainbank Nature Reserve
Gauteng – Modderfontein Nature Reserve, Voortrekker Monument, Emmarentia Dam, Hero Adventure Hobby Park
CapeTown – Cape Point Nature Reserve, Constantia Greenbelt, Sea Point Promenade, Hout Bay
(Some of these are for more experienced riders so be sure to research before you head out)