Riding with Children

Combining Fun, Patience and Education

by Jim Shanman

Teaching kids early on how to ride their bikes safely along with the value of fun exercise, builds confidence in their abilities and lays a good foundation for them to build on as they get older.

There are few things in life more enjoyable than teaching your child to ride a bike. Helping them learn to focus and balance, watching their excitement as they start to pedal while you run along side, entrusting you to hold them steady, then seeing their disbelief turn to joy when they realize you just let go and they actually rode – on their own. It’s pure joy. There is great pride – for everyone  – as they learn to stay upright for first one house length, then three, then the whole street and eventually around the block.  Talk about your Kodak moment!

One way to encourage your children to ride is to get them involved at the start. Adding a child carrier to your bike so you can bring them along on your ride is  good place to begin. There are several to choose from, each a different level of comfort and safety, including child seats, carriers and trailers. Check with friends, bike shops and online reviews to determine the best option for you. Tip: Balance, braking and acceleration will all change with any type of carrier, so once you add an attachment, try riding a little without your child to help you get used to the feel.

When you are ready to ride, be sure to be prepared. Start with a helmet for both you and your little riding partner. Make it mandatory – no helmet, no ride. Using this simple rule to set precedent this early is not only the safe thing to do, but  will help reduce future battles over wearing helmets. Also, take extra snacks, water and if you’re taking a child still in diapers, don’t forget an extra set and clothes too. You don’t want an unexpected accident to ruin an otherwise perfect day.

At some point your child will tire of the carrier and want to learn to pedal on their own. Here is where tricycles and other simple, pedal-powered vehicles are great. Getting them used to the pedaling motion is a key first step. From here you’ll move on to a two-wheeled bike, most likely with training wheels. Sometime between the ages of four and seven though, you’re child will want to ride on their own. And this is when the fun begins.

To help kids learn the balance and control required to ride on their own, some adjustments to the bike will need to be made. At this point you can choose to raise the trainers, remove one or even remove the pedals and trainers. Some parents opt for tiny bikes without pedals (since their feet never really leave the ground, bikes without pedals help kids learn to balance on their own while they propel themselves at their own pace). Whatever you choose, always remember your child needs to be comfortable so they can learn at their own pace.  Once they do get comfortable, it’s time for the next step: removing the trainers.

Once the trainers are off, you will want to find a safe, quiet area to practice. If the sidewalks in your neighborhood don’t provide that, try a vacant parking lot. Patience is key here so try repeating these three basic thoughts for them to focus on: Hold on tight, look straight ahead and don’t stop pedaling. Start by holding onto their handlebars and seat back as you help them balance. Run along side and let go first of the handlebars and then the seat.

If it doesn’t work at first, and it probably won’t, don’t worry, it will eventually. Remind them they will fall, but that’s o.k., we all do.  Use positive reinforcement and eventually, their confidence will replace fear and off they’ll go and you both will revel in the satisfaction of success.

Soon they will graduate to a slightly larger bike to can grow into. Be sure you don’t go too big though. It’s important their feet can touch the ground when they are sitting on the seat and they can handle the braking and steering easily. Continue to stress key safety issues: stop at corners and alleys, walk across intersections, and always wear a helmet.

Once your children learn to ride, orchestrating a family ride is a wonderful way to enjoy fresh air, exercise and quality time together. Be careful to keep your rides within the limits of your youngest rider. For instance, the Ballona Creek Bike Path provides a wonderful, traffic free route, but the hills under the overpasses can be challenging for little ones just starting out.

In time, you’ll be leaving the safe confines of your neighborhood and riding to school, running a few errands and heading down Bike Path to the beach for a day  – all without getting in your car.

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