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Rebecca Chicot PhD
Child development expert with a Phd from Cambridge University. She has worked on several best-selling books and BBC documentaries. She is the proud mother of three children.
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Stage 8 – before 5th birthday

Teaching your child to ride a bike in 7 steps

Learning to ride a bike is one of the biggest physical milestones in your child’s life. By the age of 4 to 5 years, she should have the strength and coordination to learn and there are lots of ways you can help her prepare.
In Short
Start on a balance bike.

Find a very shallow grassed slope for her to roll down.

Push it along with her feet while moving on a flat surface.

Turn on a balance bike.

Learn to put feet up on the pedals.

Learn to pedal the bike.

Road safety.

Bon voyage.

Here is our step by step guide to teaching your child to ride a bike.

  • Use a balance bike to start with – and a properly fitted helmet from day one.
  • Progress to a pedal bike with freewheel (not fixed wheel mechanism) when she’s clearly getting too good for her balance bike.
  • Biking mitts can help if she is nervous about grazing her hands.
1. Start on a balance bike

The first skill your child needs to master is to balance on two weeks. This is why a balance bike is best to start with, not a bike with stabilisers or training wheels as pedalling comes much later.

Balance bikes are low to the ground, have no pedals and usually no brakes. They are designed for a small child to push and glide on a flat surface.

If you cannot afford a balance bike, buy a normal child’s bike with a freewheel (so they can cruise without pedalling) and remove the pedals of the bike for the first stage of learning. We wouldn’t recommend teaching a child to ride on a bike with fixed wheels.

2. Find a very shallow grassed incline for them to roll down

Encourage your child to sit on the balance bike and roll very slowly down the incline or slope, putting down one foot and the other.

It is easier to do this if the bike gains a little speed. If the bike can roll without her help, she can try to lift her feet off the ground for longer and longer periods.

Repeat this at least 20 times until she can cruise with her feet off the ground the whole way.

It is easier for her to do this without you holding her. If you do hold her it’s better to hold her shoulders. Don’t hold the handlebars as you will make them wobble.

3. Balance while moving on a flat surface

When your child is able to balance on this slope take her on longer rides on the flat where she can practice pushing with her feet and cruising.

4. Turning on a balance bike

When your child has mastered balancing get her to balance and turn, both right and left.

Repeat this 20 times for each turn.

Then get your child to cruise in big clockwise and counter-clockwise (anti-clockwise) directions.

These 4 steps shouldn’t be rushed and might take weeks or months or years! It’s fine!

5. Learning to put feet up on the pedals

Now move to a pedal bike (or put the pedals back on).

Return to the grassy gentle slope as pedalling is much easier if gravity helps speed up the bike.

Teach your child to get the pedal of her non-resting foot ready at the top of its revolution so that when she lifts her foot the pedal is in the right position.

Do this with the aim of getting the other foot onto the pedal and cruising down the slope (without pedalling) for a few moments.

Repeat 20 times.

Next encourage your child to get her other foot onto the other pedal for a few seconds as she cruises down the slope.

Repeat 20 times until she can cruise with both feet on the pedals but not pedalling.

Your child may automatically pedal, if so that’s great. If not you need to encourage her to pedal gently down the slope. For safety reasons there should be a big space at the bottom of the hill so she can slow down and stop.

6. Learning to pedal the bike

Once she can rest her feet on the pedals and gently pedal the bike down the slope, she needs to learn to pedal on the flat.

Get the pedal of the pushing foot ready while the bike is on the flat and get your child to practice pushing hard on the pedal and balancing. Once your child can balance after an initial pedal, get her to bring the other foot onto its pedal for a few seconds.

Once she has mastered the balancing you need to encourage her to extend the amount of time and number of pedals they can do.

When she is comfortable pedalling in a straight line, it’s time to do corners again. A big empty tennis court or empty car park can be a good place to practice pedalling clockwise and counter clockwise. Once she has mastered that, set up some markers so she can do figure of eight circuits.

7. Road trip

Once she has complete control of her bike, she can have a go on a quiet road with you so that she learns to ride behind you. In the UK your child can take a Bikeability course to gain the necessary road safety and highway code knowledge to take her first bike ride on a public highway. At first she will need you leading her to be in charge of all highway safety and decisions about when to stop, turn etc.

Bon voyage!

It is really lovely when you and your child can go on a bike ride together. It’s much nicer to avoid road traffic at first so your child can enjoy the feeling of riding a bike and looking where she is going without worrying about road traffic. There are special bicycle routes and paths all around the world to try. Look for local information about bike rides and locations that are suitable for novice riders and small children.

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This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Essential Parent has used all reasonable care in compiling the information from leading experts and institutions but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details click here.