You never forget your first bike. Mine was a fire engine red and so shiny I could see the rare Irish sun bounce off the frame in every direction. It had a little silver bell starring Pluto the Dog, and most delightful of all, a carrier box at the back where I could hoard all the treasures of the day; shiny conkers, brightly coloured shells that whispered the ocean’s secrets into my ear, a plastic whistle, a heart-shaped rock. At six years old, this bicycle was my prize possession; I couldn’t quite believe I had a mode of transportation other than my own two diminutive buckled feet. I felt very grown up indeed.
My sister taught me how to ride. She was three years older and made everything look easy. I remember her “school-teacherish” patience and impatience as she held me up straight on the saddle and said curtly “Of course you can do it, don’t be silly now”. And sure enough I could do it. Teetering from side to side with rickety training wheels to save me, I was soon wobbling around the cul-de-sac feeling like Superman.
Still, the elation didn’t last long. I quickly grew impatient to lose those training wheels. They were an affront to my newfound independence. “I don’t neeeeeeed them, take them oooooff!” I huffed and puffed to my dad as he sat at the kitchen table, wisps of cigarette smoke unfurling above his head. Taking another drag before responding, he would repeat in that infuriatingly calm tone “Not yet”.
The day they finally came off was probably the proudest of my life up to that point. My dad wordlessly stepped out onto the porch with his toolkit and gestured me over, shirt sleeves rolled up. A couple twists of his wrench and a few twitches of his moustache later, I had graduated to fully-fledged bike rider. “There you go now” he said matter-of-factly, leaning back from his handiwork. “You’re a big girl now”. Being a man of few words, this was high praise indeed.
Learning to ride a bike remains a rite of passage for many kids today. It’s the stuff childhood memories are made of! We’ve compiled some of our top tips below to give you a kick start.
Top 5 Tips from Pedalheads® Bike Camps
1. Bike check – getting the right fit
Your child’s foot should be able to touch the ground while they’re seated on the bike. This gives them confidence!
For children beyond the beginner stage, they should be able to touch the ground with their heels slightly raised. This helps with adding power to their pedaling.
A light bike is often the best for a beginner as it makes it easier for the child when they lift their bike or want to maneuver it.
Ensure the bike fits the child at the time they are riding i.e. avoid purchasing a bike that’s too big! This is one of the most common mistakes, as parents often buy a bike that will be great for them in the future. It’s far better to have a bike that meets their immediate needs!
You do NOT need to break the bank for that first bike. There are plenty of great used sporting good shops/bike shops that sell perfectly adequate bikes at a reasonable price.
TIP – TOO BIG: If the child is unable to touch the ground with their feet even after the seat has been lowered all the way, the bike is much too large.
TIP – TOO SMALL: If the child can touch the ground with their feet but there’s a visible bend in the knees, the bike is likely too small.
2. What type of bike?
2-3 year olds – can really benefit from “strider” or “run” bikes which help them to develop their balance.
4 year olds – at this age, children should be on bikes with pedals and training wheels. The child may have adequate leg strength and balance which would allow for the introduction of learning to ride on their own.
TIP – Training wheels shouldn’t be taken off if the child is having difficulty pedaling on their own with the training wheels still attached. Don’t rush the process. Removing training wheels too early can have a negative experience for the child and may lead to resistance in learning.
6+ range (and advanced riders) – For older children who have adequate riding experience, it’s time to start thinking of getting them a bike with gears. Gears will be helpful for long rides which include uphill and downhill riding.
3. Safety equipment – what’s needed?
The number one rule of biking is to ALWAYS wear a helmet, and have one that is worn properly. Knee/elbow pads and gloves are optional.
How should a helmet fit?
Research shows that up to 90% of fatal bicycle crashes are the result of head trauma. Wearing a properly fitted and certified helmet will cushion and protect the head, significantly decreasing the chance of causing serious brain damage.
IS IT TOO SMALL?
- Place your child’s helmet on their head
- Face your child
- Check that there is no more than a two finger gap between your eyebrows and the front part of the helmet
IS IT TOO BIG?
- Place your child’s helmet on their head
- Keep straps off
- Have child shake head front to back and side to side
- Make sure helmet does not slide off
HELMET RETENTION – We strongly recommend children bring a helmet with a retention system that allows you to adjust the fit. For more information about helmet safety, see video from Pedalheads below.
5. When is your child ready to drop their training wheels?
Leg strength – If the child can pedal continuously with ease while the training wheels are still attached, this is a good indication that they’ll be able to pedal on their own
Balance – Remove the training wheels temporarily and have your child practice gliding. Gliding is when the child pushes themselves forward on their bike while pushing their feet on the ground and lifting their feet up when they gather some speed.
Confidence – Even when a child is physically ready, they may not be emotionally ready to ditch their training wheels. It’s extremely important to make sure that the child understands that they are ready by offering positive encouragement.
Pedalheads® Bike Camps operates learn to ride bike camps for kids ages 2-12. Trained instructors work with kids in small groups to help instill in them a lifetime love of cycling! The goal is to provide a fun, educational program that will help kids ditch their training wheels and eventually become confident and safe on the road.
Registration is currently open and can be accessed through the Pedalheads® website or by calling 1-888-886-6464. Visit their website for site specific information, locations and maps. Keep up with Pedalheads news through their Facebook and Twitter feeds.