Teaching your child to ride with pedals


One of those life-moments for any parent, but particularly a bike rider, is when their child first rides with pedals. The feeling of exhilaration and pride is hard to beat, a bit like learning to swim. Many of today’s adults learned to ride a bike through one of two common methods:

  • the use of training wheels,
  • or just the sink-or-swim get rolling, and then your parent lets you go.

But there is a better way.

For younger kids, a balance bike, (sometimes also called a runbike, or toddlebike) is a great way to learn balance and cornering.

But don’t despair, even if your child didn’t start on a balance bike, you can use the same concept to get them going on pedals.

There’s plenty of how-to steps out there, but this set from UK’s SusTrans is one of the best we’ve used. Some children may skip a step or two. Others may stay on a step for a while.  The trick is to build their confidence as much as their skills.  Ensure they’re looking up and ahead where they’re riding, and they’ll progress faster.  Pick a good venue – preferably with short grass, but pavement is also an option.  A gentle slope can also be beneficial, but not too steep so their bike could run away from them.

  1. Pedals off, lower the seat – so it’s most like a balance bike.  They need to be able to be flat footed when in the saddle. If they haven’t ridden a balance bike, you may want to actually have the saddle lower so they can walk ‘over’ it, like a hobby-horse, before they slowly realise it can take their weight and remain uptight.
  2. Walking with their bum on the saddle – scooting with both feet. They can use each of their steps forward to keep upright and get used to the sensation of some weight in the saddle and how the bike supports them, but also how it wobbles so they use their balance. At this point, whilst the bike is stationary (brakes on) let them give their bottom a ‘wiggle’.  The will feel where the bike is under them and how they support it, but it supports them.
  3. Giant Steps. This fun activity distracts them from the fact that they’re actually balancing more and steadying with their feet less, increasing their confidence.
  4. Kangaroo Hops. Similar to Giant Steps, but requires more balance technique, and is the closest to real riding.  Many children will happily coast along keeping balance at this step, if the gradient is right.
  5. One pedal scoot. Put the right pedal back on.  Do a ‘wiggle’ to show the bike is still stable. One foot on the pedal, and gentle scooting with the left.  Do a left turn so they’ll feel the pedal under their right foot.
    (As you generally mount a bike from the left, it’s generally the right pedal used to get the bike rolling before then placing the left on the pedal. It doesn’t really matter if you do it the other way around.)
  6. Two pedals on.  Attach the second pedal.  Again, a wiggle.  It’s at this point your patience, but also your encouragement and explanations are key.  You are, again, looking at boosting confidence more than anything, as they already have the skills required to ride.  So explaining exactly what you’re going to do at all times is vital.
  7. First try. They hold their bike, you hold them.  This is because they need to keep the balance. Give a wiggle.  Explain to them you’re going to hold them by the back and shoulder/upper arm. Encourage them to put one foot on the pedal, then the other. Look up/ahead. Release the brakes and pedal.  If they’re balancing remove your arm from the shoulder/arm, and then the back.  After a few pedal revolutions get them to brake and heap them with praise and exaggeration of how far they’ve pedalled.
  8. Second try.  Wiggle. Same as above, put perhaps only holding onto the back – explaining what you’re going to do. Count down with heaps of excitement from 5 to 1 and go.   Allow for them to go further before braking. And pace back the steps for how far they went.
  9. Third try and beyond. Further reduce the contact to get them going and jog along with them for as far as they’re happy to go. Don’t forget to get them to brake/stop from time to time, so that gets bedded in also.

We’re quite keen to run some sessions to get kids riding.  Get in touch if you’d be interested.


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