Teaching Your Child to Ride a Bike

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You've heard the phrase, "It's just like riding a bike." It sounds easy. But do you remember learning how to ride a bike yourself? Was it easy? Did you fall? Cry? Swear that you would never ride one again? As a parent, you are now facing the same dilemma, only now it's your child who is learning how to ride a bike. Here are some tips that may make it easier for her.

Teaching Toddlers

Children can learn how to ride a bike at any age, but the younger the better.

"Start them as soon as they can walk," suggests Tony Murray, an avid road cyclist who runs Toga Bikes Shop of Nyack, NY. To an average parent, that may seem like a radical suggestion, but according to Murray, "The hardest thing to teach a child is how to balance on a bike."

Toddlers can actually learn how to balance on a Hotwalk, a bike with no pedals, designed specifically for toddlers by Specialized. (The 2013 Hotwalk sells for about $175 and can be bought at local bicycle shops.) This is a great first bike because it truly teaches children to balance with their feet on the ground rather than on pedals. This is how it works: children run with the bike, while seated, and try to coast as far as possible (think "Flintstones").

"Once children have mastered balance, pedaling and steering will be easy skills to teach," says Murray, "and with a Hotwalk, a child will develop skills necessary to master a two-wheeler more quickly than with a bike with training wheels."

Using Training Wheels

If you decide to go the traditional route, start your child on a 12-inch wheel bike with training wheels, then slowly wean them from those back wheels.

Says Murray, "Parents should gradually raise the training wheels as their child gains confidence. The wheels should barely be touching the ground before taking them off completely."

When the Wheels Come Off

Once the wheels come off, choose a safe site for the maiden voyage.

"The best place to learn how to ride," says Murray, "is a flat, wide-open pavement area like a vacant parking lot or a school."

To get them started, hold the seat of the bike and give your child a little push. Some experts suggest that you teach your child on pavement or grass with a slight downward pitch, so your child doesn't have to worry about gaining and maintaining momentum.

Murray says this technique works as well, but favors flat pavement: "Once you give your child a little push, pedaling is the key. Encourage your child to keep pedaling. This is the way to maintain balance."

Expect your child to fall; it's a part of learning. That said, make sure your child wears a helmet at all times for proper protection. Knee and elbow pads are not necessary, but if you feel more comfortable, you can have her wear these, as well. From this point on, repetition is the key to mastering the bicycle.

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