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Biking for Kids: Tips for Fun & Safe Riding

From Buying a Bike to Learning to Ride, Elite Cyclist Pat Brown Explains How to Get Kids Started on the Right Foot

For many of us growing up, seeing a new bicycle underneath the Christmas tree was something we looked forward to. With the holiday season approaching, many children will be getting their first bikes and learning to ride. This quick guide will explain what to know before starting, safety tips and progressions.

Starting to ride a bike is not necessarily an age-specific activity, but children should meet certain milestones prior to getting on a bike. Each child is different when they reach milestones of walking and running, and cycling is no different. Balance is a key aspect of cycling, which is something that parents should think about before buying a bike. Some children will start learning to balance before they reach three years old, while for others, it may take a few more years. Overall, children also need to be able to walk and run for short distances before beginning to ride a bike.


Purchasing a Bike

When purchasing a bicycle for a child, it’s important to get the correct size. You’ll need the child’s height and inseam (measurement from the groin to the floor) when shopping. The inseam is especially important because this will determine the bike seat height. Check with the manufacturer’s size charts when purchasing.

There is a misconception about buying a slightly larger size for the child to “grow into”. However, this larger bike can be difficult for the child to handle and can reduce their confidence and enjoyment. Luckily, there are plenty of local bike shops in NEPA that will be able to offer greater insight into appropriate sizing.


Staying Safe

Safety is key, and it is important to always have the child wear a helmet prior to getting on their new bicycle. Make sure the helmet fits properly. It should be snug around the head—check this by having the child put the helmet on with the clasp unhooked and turn their head from side to side. If the helmet does not move, you have a good fit. Many helmets are adjustable with a tensioning unit in the rear.


Adjust the tensioning unit for a snug fit.


The chin strap should be snug with the mouth part-way open to allow the child to speak while riding. The helmet should be positioned 1-2 finger widths above the eyebrows.


Pat shows the proper position for a bike helmet.


Another safety item prior to getting on the bike is learning about the brakes. Show the child where the brakes are located and make sure they are able to reach and engage the brakes if mounted on the handlebars or if it is a reverse-pedal brake system. Some balance bikes do not have breaks, so tell the child to put both of their feet down to slow down and stop. Make sure the child is wearing closed-toe shoes, and if they have laces, make sure they are tied tightly and possibly tucked in if they are long.


Fitting the Bike

Now that we have covered safety, we can move forward to getting the bike fitted to the specific child. If the seat is too high or too low, it will be difficult to learn how to balance and ride. For a balance bike or a bike with the pedals removed, it is recommended that both feet be placed flat on the ground with a slight bend at the knee while sitting on the seat. This will allow the child to push off and put their feet down to slow down or stop, regardless of whether the bike has brakes.


For bikes without pedals, there should be a slight bend at the knee when seated with both feet flat on the ground.


When you move on to putting pedals on, have the child keep one foot flat on the ground and the other foot on the pedal, with a slight bend in the knee. This will enable the child to safely mount and dismount the bike and pedal comfortably.


Maintain a slight bend in the knee when you add on the pedals.


Learning to Ride

As I said before, balance is key when it comes to keeping any bike upright. Because of this, I favor the idea of using a balance bike or a pedal bicycle with the pedals removed. This allows the child to learn to balance without having to worry about pedaling. I do not recommend the use of training wheels because they don’t actually help the child learn how to balance.

Start off in a quiet, flat area that has firm ground, including pavement or grassy areas. Have the child take a few steps forward while seated, and keep your hands underneath or around the shoulders. Avoid holding onto the handlebars because this impairs the child’s ability to make their own corrections for balance.

Once you and the child become a bit more confident, feel free to let the child go from walking on the bike to their running pace. Once the child is able to increase their speed, tell them to briefly try lifting up both legs at once to glide forward. This is where balance is learned. Have the child repeat this and slowly increase the amount of time their feet are off the ground. You can even set up courses for the child to go around; anything can be used as a “cone” to help them learn how to make turns and maneuver the bike.


Lifting both feet to glide will help improve balance.


Once the child feels very comfortable completing the above steps, it is then recommended to have the child use the pedals. Since pedaling is an unfamiliar task, you may need to offer additional assistance to help the child to get up to speed using the pedals. Because the child has already learned how to balance, once they are up to speed, they should be able to remain upright.


Get Riding & Have Fun!

For most children, this process can take many months to master, so practice makes perfect. Make sure to be supportive and offer encouragement throughout the learning process. If you are having any difficulty, many bike shops can offer assistance and tips to help you and your family with the process of learning to ride a bike. Remember, it’s all about having fun!

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