How To Cycle a Bike: Teaching a Child Without Fear

February 10, 2014 Updated: February 10, 2014

Many of us remember the day we first learned to cycle a bicycle: the bike was probably too big, and the tarmac was definitely too hard…

The satisfaction of learning to ride a bicycle without stabilisers signifies a major event in the life of a young child, and is a treasured part of growing up. While a skinned knee or two isn’t the end of the world and a little apprehension is natural, it’s likely that a little forethought can mean your child can learn to cycle earlier and actually enjoy the process, and not just the moment when it goes ‘click’.

Stabilisers mean a child can get a feel for sitting on a bike and for pedalling, but they may lead to a false sense of security, and sometimes actually delay the learning process. A learning bike is different, however: a learner’s bike looks like a little bicycle without pedals or a chain, and the child pushes itself along with its feet. Over time, the child learns to balance, which of course is the essence of riding a bike. 

Separating the balancing / pedalling / braking tasks into individual exercises—instead of expecting a child to ‘get’ them all in one go—makes learning a much less difficult proposition.

If you don’t have a learning bike, you can still separate the learning tasks on a proper children’s bicycle without stabilisers. Reassure your child of a soft landing by finding a smooth, grassy (AND GENTLE!) slope in the park. Set the saddle so that they can put their feet flat on the ground, and get them to coast slowly down the slope with their feet splayed and about an inch off the ground while you run alongside.

Try to resist holding the saddle—it’s murder for your back, and distorts the balance-finding process. Once your child has mastered coasting down the slope, they can practice putting on the brakes on the way down.

The next step is to get them to ‘rest’ their feet on the pedals as they coast down the slope…and if you’re lucky, they might just start pedalling a bit for the fun of it!

A couple of grazed elbows and knees are par for the course, and never did anyone any harm. Be sure your child gets into the habit of wearing a helmet from the start, though, to ensure that the most serious injuries are avoided now and in the future. Speak to them about safety and courtesy to others—cycling a bike means cycling responsibly, and we’re never too young (or too old!) to learn about that! 

Above all, both of you should enjoy the special moments you share teaching your child to cycle, because you only get to do it once…