Seeing your child ride a bike for the first time, unaided and without training wheels, is one of the proudest feelings a parent can experience. It may sound a bit clichéd (okay, a lot clichéd) but wait until you've done it, then tell me you didn't enjoy the cliché.
There is no point in you trying to explain the whole process verbally to your child (I'm not sure it would work for teaching an adult). Learning to ride a bike is an intuitive one, based on unconscious movements. Your aim is to provide the conditions that make the learning process as effective as possible.
The truth is, your child will do all the work. He will get on the bike, spin the pedals and build up the nerve to leave your arms.
Before we start, it is of course important that you exercise due care and attention when teaching your child to ride. Do it somewhere safe and traffic free, ideally on a soft surface. Only let them ride unaided when they are ready to do so.
Kids’ bike fatalities are down 92% since 1975. Yet despite this encouraging trend, more children aged 5 to 14 are seen in emergency rooms for bike-related injuries than from any other sport. “Properly fitted bike helmets rare the single most important safety device for cyclists of all ages and are estimated to reduce head injury risk by as much as 85%,” says John Dunn, a Kaiser Permanente Washington pediatrician. “Make it a rule that no one in your family cycles without a helmet, no matter how short the ride is.”
Here are some tips that help to keep safety while riding:
Choose the right bike for your kids
Children should be able to sit steadily on the bike seat, and hands on the handlebar. In addition their feet should be able to touch the ground, at least with tiptoe. Don’t choose a bike for your child to “grow into”, because the risk of falling off will increase. Choose the one with foot-operated brakes, rather than hand brakes. Foot operated brakes are safest for younger children.
The bike needs to be light enough so that the kid won’t collapse under its weight. It needs to be small enough so that they don’t feel too far away from the ground. Besides, the components of the bike should be in good quality that will allow the child to accelerate quickly and feewheel smoothly.
Adjust the bike to fit
Ask your kids to stand over the bike. There should be 1 to 2 inches between him and the top tube if using a road bike and 3 to 4 inches if it is a mountain bike. The seat should be level front to back. The seat height should be adjusted to allow a slight bend at knee when the leg is fully extended, so that kids can stand and be stable whenever they want to stop. Nothing will put the child off more than the fear that a heavy bike might fall on them. The handlebar height should be at the same level or a bit higher than the seat.
Always wear a suitable helmets
Wearing a helmet in riding is quit vital to riders’ safety. A helmet reduces the peak energy of a sharp impact, which requires a layer of stiff foam to cushion the blow. Most bicycle helmets use crushable expanded polystyrene (EPS, a soft light plastic material that prevents heat or cold from passing through it, used especially for making containers), the picnic cooler foam. EPS works well, but it can’t recover when being crushed. Expanded polypropylene (EPP, a hard light plastic material) foam does recover, but is less common. Collapsible plastic liner materials recently appeared and offer promise. The spongy foam pads inside a helmet are for comfort and fitness, not for impact protection. A helmet needs a strong strap and buckle to improve its stability. It should sit level on one’s head and cover as much as possible. If the helmet comes off or slips enough to leave large areas of one’s head unprotected, adjust the straps or try another helmet, because we all know that not everyone’s head shares the same size. Keep the strap comfortably snug when riding. The straps hold your helmet on, not the rear stabilizer.
According to the survey, the average careful bicyclist may still crash about every 4500 miles. Head injuries are one of the main causes for 75% of the bicyclists’ death, nearly 700 annually. Medical research shows that bike helmets mitigate most of the cyclists’ head injuries. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, bicycle helmets are 85 to 88 percent effective in reducing head and brain injuries. It is worth noting that even a low-speed fall from a bicycle trail can scramble one’s brain.
No training wheels!
Training wheels will not help a child to learn to ride a bike quickly. Training wheels will prevent them from learning their balance point intuitively, nor help them understand that reaching a higher speed will make balancing easier. A child needs to learn to make minute weight-shifting movements, as well as handlebar adjustments in order to remain upright.
Unfortunately for you (or whoever you've roped in to help), instead you need to...
Support the child whilst they pedal
Hold them gently under the arms. They need to understand that they are making the bike go forward, not you, and that when they ride fast, balance will become easy. Try not to provide the balance yourself - use as light a touch as possible, so that the child finds their own balance.
Take your time
Realistically, your child is not going to learn to ride a bike at the first attempt. So your main aim should be make the process as enjoyable as possible, so that your child wants to do it again. As with everything, practice makes perfect.
The child will learn at their own pace (no pun intended)
If your child doesn't seem ready, don't push them (not figuratively, not actually). As we talked about, the key here is to have fun. They might not be quite strong enough or tall enough. Perhaps they just need that bit extra confidence.
Obey the traffic rules
Ride on the right side of roads in the same direction as other vehicles. Don’t even try to ride against traffic. That’s very dangerous, as almost one fourth of bicycle-car collisions result from bicyclists riding against traffic. Also, it is worth noting that in most of the countries, children who are not up to 12 are not allowed to ride on the road. Obey all the traffic signs, signals, and lane markings. Use hand signals when you need to take corners. (PS: Do remember to use hand signals when turning!! Last time I took corner and forgot to do this, I was almost hit by an electric bike!!!)
Check the bike’s mechanics often
Before riding, it is necessary to check your equipment, brakes, lighting and the tire’s pressure, etc. Make sure it’s under regular maintenance if your kids always ride. If necessary, you can take the bike to the local shop and ask for help. I’m sure they are willing to offer help and teach you knowledge about bikes. If you know nothing about the adjustment or the maintenance of the bike, just leave them to the local shop. Or you might put the bike in a worse situation.
Be cautious on the road
Be on the lookout for hazards such as potholes, broken glass, gravel, puddles, leaves, and dogs. All these hazards can cause a crash. If your kids are riding with friends and your kids are in the lead, tell your kids to yell out and point to the hazard to alert the riders behind your kids.