How Do You Teach a Child to Ride a Bike?

Updated on September 09, 2011
L.L. asks from Austin, MN
19 answers

The title says it all, but here are the details...

My six and a half year old daughter needs (in my opinion) to learn how to ride her bike. We bike a LOT as a family, and she's outgrown the bike trailer, and will outgrow the "ride behind bike" (don't know the name of it...the little extra bike frame that attaches to the back of a bike) within a year or two. We took the training wheels off her bike at the beginning of summer, and have made a few attempts, but I'm not really sure how to do it.

I see all these three and four year olds riding bikes, and think, why can't she do this? Of course, I have NO experience in teaching this skill, and vague memories that I learned to ride very easily when I was five.

So, those with do you do it? Pointers? Etc? (Her bike is the proper size, etc, and a very good I said, we're a bike biking family. This is probably why I am so frustrated with this.)

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answers from San Francisco on

NO TRAINING WHEELS!!!!!! My husband worked at a bike shop and is a long distance a 'wanna be Lance' type of guy. At the bike shop they would teach children and adults alike how to ride by taking OFF the pedals and stems and just have the new rider push themselves. This is the BEST way to develop their balance required to ride the bike. Once this is mastered and they are able to pick up both feet while the bike is moving they should be ready for the pedals to go back on the bike.

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answers from New York on

My girls ride - 4 and 5 - they would not learn until we had friends ride with them. Find someone their age and have them ride bikes together. Worked overnight for us, after we'd had no success for weeks. (They still use training wheels). My DH is an avid mountain biker and is really looking forward to biking with them on the trails when they're a little older!

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answers from Dallas on

We took the pedals off my son's bike. His smaller one that he had technically outgrown. For about a week, a little while each day we took him outside to practice. We just told him to push with his feet to get it moving and reminded him that every time he lift his feet up he was riding a two wheeler. After a week or so we added the pedals back on. It took him about 10 minutes to have it figured out...stopping took about 30 to master. We started on the small bike for confidence. If he felt like he was going to fall he could stop it easier. When we moved him back to the larger bike it did take a little bit for him to figure it all out. He had a hard time starting on the larger bike, since he couldn't push off on his feet as easily as he could with the smaller bike. For the first week or so he switched back and forth between the bikes, and we really didn't care. We learned this trick from my SIL. I was shocked to see my niece on a two wheeler. She said everyone in her neighborhood used the no pedals trick and almost everyone was on a two wheeler before 5. I think it's a cheaper alternative to a balance bike. Our neighbor's daughter was scared of the idea of a two wheeler. She was nine when they tried this. It took her longer (because of her fear), but she was on a two wheeler in about three weeks.

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answers from Philadelphia on

I tried to teach my daughter on the side walk in front of our house and she simply could not do it. I was holding the back of the bike, breaking my back... I then took her to a parking lot and amazingly she could ride instantly, she just had no control and I mean no contol of where the bike took her. The next day she tried riding on the side walk and it was like she had never riden before. Took her to the parking lot and once again no problems. It just took her about a week to master steering.

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answers from San Francisco on

I'm not sure how old you are but when I was a kid (I'm 43 now) we generally started riding at around age 6 to 8.
I was 7 and a half the first time I rode without training wheels.
Yes, nowadays there is a push to learn earlier (as with everything else!)
My son went without training wheels at 6 and a half, my first daughter was right on his tail at almost 4 (she's the athletic one) and my second daughter was doing it at 5 and a half.
I can't really give you any pointers, they are ready when they are ready. Just keep it relaxed and fun and it will likely come sooner rather than later :)

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answers from Augusta on

believe it or not my daughter didn't finally learn to ride her bike untill this summer she turns 10 in december. I tried and tried and tried and she would not do it, she was afraid. Once she got it in her head to not be afraid she did it in a couple of days. And she did it on her own. My son who is 6 saw his sister riding and decided he needed to learn too, me holding on to the back of his bike did not help. He got out there and did it over and over and over again in our front yard , in the grass until he got it.
Leave her alone about it don't push it will only bite you back

yes I know 10 was old to learn at. but the more I pushed the more she pushed back.

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answers from Minneapolis on

Our kids learned to ride without training wheels at about 3 1/2. We just took the training wheels off, put the bike in the grass and had them practice. After a bit they just get it. When I was growing up, I had the hand me down bike that was my sisters and it didn't have any training wheels and I remember just getting on and wanting to keep up with the big kids. I was 4. We have a few kids in our neighborhood who are still riding with training wheels and they are in the 3rd grade, but we also have a few 3 year olds who are buzzing around without training wheels. It will happen, but only if you allow it too. Take those training wheels off and let her try:)

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answers from Phoenix on

Here is what I have done with great success....

Find a grassy, long slopped hill. Start out at about 1/3 up from the bottom and push her down, let her roll to a stop. Once she is comfortable with speed, which will be soooo slow, go up to about 1/2 way and start over. Give her a push, let her roll. Then continue on up until you're at the the top

The grass creates a natural resistance and allows them to learn balance and rolling forward. Once this is mastered, go to a quiet street, parking lot that is flat and try the running next to or pushing, letting her just roll to a stop. After she is comfortable with that encourage her to add cycling, then braking.

Teach the braking first and foremost, but kids tend to be afraid of pedaling backwards.

I think you can accomplish this in just a few short afternoons. Be patient. Give encouragement. Tell her how proud you are of her trying, etc.

Let us know how it all goes...
Good luck.
P.S. Wow 10 years is rather old to learn, but my gosh, she still did it. My youngest taught herself to ride her own bike at the age of 4. She did not want my help at all. But this is her personality in general. We rode bikes to KG on her first day. I think she was the only kindergartner who rode to school the entire year. But is started quite a response for the next years 1st graders.

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answers from San Francisco on

My daughter is turning 9 next week and learned to ride a bike (FINALLY) last weekend. My husband took her to the elementary school parking lot - really big, with no obstacles! First, he had her sit on the bike and push herself along with her feet on the ground (sort of running, but sitting on the bike, if that makes sense) and coasting along, practicing her balance without her feet on the pedals. Once she was balancing pretty well, he had her put her feet on the pedals, and then he held the seat, ran behind her, and gave her a good shove to get her moving. She started to pedal, and that was it! She had it! Somehow the coasting part really helped her figure out the balance of it all. Anyway, once she was going in a straight line, then he had her make big figure 8's so she could understand turning. After an hour or so, she was pretty confident, and now wonders why she didn't learn to do that sooner. *headdesk*

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answers from Minneapolis on

1. Put the training wheels back on so she can build up the strength to balance on a bike.

2. You can hold the bike by the seat and run behind her until she learns to balance on her bike, and give her bit of a shove when she seems steady and see how she does.

3. Use one of these-

4. Or use one of these-

Make sure her bike seat is at the right height. She should be able to touch the ground and steady herself on the bike, with her tippy toes while seated. If she's too big for the bike and her legs have no room to make a full revolution without trouble, or the bike is too big for her and she can not touch the ground at all, she will not be able to ride the bike well on her own.

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answers from Boston on

We take our kids to a grassy slope at a park near our house. We put them in a ridiculous amount of equipment - most of it too big for them - so that they feel invincible. Hockey helmets with cages, shoulder pads, elbow pads, knee pads, shin pads etc. Whatever they want to wear for the crash course. We then tell them that their mission is to go down the hill 10 times and give us the most spectacular crashes that they can give us. We film each run and promise that anything really great will go on YouTube. Well after a couple of runs and crashes (which are always soft, never spectacular) they invariably find themselves still pedaling when they get to the bottom and they just keep going.

It's unconventional, but all of my boys have learned to ride bikes by ages 5 or 6. When you make crashing the goal, it removes the fear and they can just go and ride.

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answers from Seattle on

Sorry this is so long, but....

This is Karen's no-crash method of teaching kids to ride a bike. Feel free to share with anyone who might be interested. I've taught several dozen kids to ride a bike this way. Not one of them crashed during the learning process. I can and do absolutely promise them that they will not crash while they are learning. I also warn each of them that they will crash 2-3 weeks later when they get overconfident. This first major wipeout happens like clockwork. However, by that time they're confident enough on the bike that it doesn't discourage them from biking. Learning time from step 5 to independent biking has ranged from 5 minutes to a few days, depending on the kid.

Step 1: Teach them how to use pedals. Make sure your child has mastered the art of pedaling. Most kids learn this on a trike when they are small. If your child can't propel a tricycle, they aren't ready to learn to ride a bike. This is the only situation in which I recommend training wheels: if a child is too big for a trike but can't yet use pedals. Otherwise, avoid training wheels like the plague.

Step 2: Adjust the seat so that the child's feet are flat on the ground when they are sitting on the seat.

Step 3: Remove pedals and training wheels (if any). Be forewarned that if your child is accustomed to training wheels, they may hop around and complain a lot during this stage. Ignore them. If you can't get the pedals off, a bike shop should be able to do it for you cheap or free. Put the pedals in a safe place so you don't lose them!

Step 4: Let your child use the bike as a balance bike. Ideally, have them practice on dry concrete with a few small hills. Grass may be softer, but the traction is terrible and wheels are more likely to slip. Bike wheels grip concrete best. A few small hills are nice for practice, but remember that balance bikes don't have brakes, so big hills are a bad idea! Let them play on the bike until you notice them doing long swoops and glides. For some kids this is an hour. For other kids this is six months or more. Don't push them. Just let them learn to move comfortably with the bike on their own schedule.

Step 5: Cement the lesson of moving comfortably with the bike. Holding onto their handlebars, ride them over rough terrain and in tight circles. My dad rode me up and down inside irrigation ditches. I ride them over over bumpy ground and in tight circles. Bikes ridden properly lean when they turn. A good biker leans with the bike. A panicky biker leans against the bike and crashes. Teach your child to trust the bike, to move with the bike.

Step 6: When everyone's ready, reinstall the pedals. This is the first big “lesson” day, and probably the only “lesson” day. You need dry level concrete with a lot of space in all directions. An empty parking lot is ideal. A dead-end street is okay. A sidewalk is not good: too narrow. Most driveways are too short and too narrow. Avoid grass, it's too slippery.

Step 7: Teach the child to ride in a straight line. Stabilize their body and help them get started. Hold the child, not the bike. If the bike crashes, whisk them up and out of the way. I promise my students that the bike might hit the ground, but they won't. Remind them to keep their head up and looking at a distant target. Remind them that they need to go reasonably fast if they expect to keep balance. Run alongside them holding their body until they've got the hang of it and are trying to ride faster than you can run. Go from a strong grip on their body to a light grip on their body to a grip on their shirt. Remember to let them move with the bike and not try to keep them rock-steady. Don't correct every wiggle. Just make sure they don't hit the ground.

Step 8: Teach them how to stop. Instruct them in using the brakes. Remind them that they need to get a foot down immediately or they will fall over. When they don't get a foot down fast enough, let them fall partway so they get the muscle memory of falling....just don't let them hit the ground. Also remind them that a skid means they have lost control. Their goal is to come to a smooth stop with no skid and have a foot down before the bike tips over.

Step 9: Teach them how to start. Figure out whether they are right-footed or left-footed. Usually people lead with the same foot as they use to kick a ball, but have them try both ways and see which feels better. Set up the bike so the pedal is a bit past vertical on the dominant foot side. Remind them to stand on their non-dominant foot, push hard with their dominant foot, and get their other foot on the pedal immediately. Keep a firm grip on the child's body, because their steering will be terrible. After they've got the hang of the sequence, tell them to stop watching their feet and look at their long-distance target. This will improve their steering dramatically.

Step 10: Put it all together. Have them start, bike in a straight line , then stop. Make the runs long enough that they feel like they're riding and short enough you can keep up.

Step 11: Practice turns. Have them start up, go straight for a while, then turn left. How about turn right? Call out directions to them like “steer towards the big lets head back towards the large rock over there.” Remember, you're still holding onto at least their shirt through this whole process. You're not actually putting any force on their body, but they can feel that they're “on a line” and you are ready to catch them if they fall.

Step 12: Transition to solo riding. At this point your child can reliably start, ride, stop, and turn without you providing any support. They're probably also getting really irritated that they can't ride faster than you can jog. If they feel ready, let them solo. The first solo is usually a supported start to a solo straight ride and solo stop. Next, move to a solo start, straight ride, and solo stop. When they're confident at that, have them do a solo start, straight ride, wide turn, ride straight back to you and stop.

Step 13: Talk about traction. Warn your child that wheels grip differently on dry pavement, wet pavement, dry grass, wet grass, mud, gravel, and sand. Remind them to be extra-careful on any surface other than dry pavement. Be especially cautious around gravel or sand, which are notorious for making bike wheels slip unexpectedly.

Congratulations, you've got a bike rider!

Put in a good supply of bandages and antibiotic cream and make sure you insist on helmet use. The first wipeout is usually a biggie. I've never had a kid break a bone in that first wipeout, but they usually lose a lot of skin.

Topics for follow-up lessons: Make a obstacle course and have them steer around cones and stop on a line. Teach them to ride with the right hand only. Then teach them to use hand signals for turning. Teach them the rules of the road. Bikes have most of the same rules as cars, but a lot more vulnerability. Teach your child to assume all cars are driven by poor drivers who don't see the kid on a bike unless they have made clear eye contact with the driver. If your child will be riding in low-light conditions, make sure they have appropriate lights for visibility.

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answers from Cleveland on

I second the parking lot idea. saftey first of course.

also We need lots of short but frequent practice sessions.

Lots of praise and encouragement.

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answers from Philadelphia on

I'm not sure how this will work with a 6 1/2 year old, but we got my son a balance bike. It has no pedals and no training wheels. Right now he just pushes himself around with his feet, but it has foot rests as well, so as he gets better he will push off and put his feet up. This slowly teaches them balance without worrying about pedals, so their feet can move up and down more easily to steady themselves. Usually kids that have these can easily push off and balance just fine after a year or two. Then they transition right to a bike with pedals and the balance isn't an issue and from what I have read kids just know how to pedal, they don't need practice.

And for what it's worth I remember taking forever to learn to ride without my training wheels. She'll get it eventually!

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answers from Boston on

Slap some pads on her and send her down a grassy hill. Thats what worked for my 2 oldest anyway. My youngest is 4 1/2 and decided one day he was going to go no training wheels and that was that. This was only after 4-5 times total on his bike. He has good balance anyway with all the skating and scootering he does.



answers from Boise on

I asked this same question a while back and got a lot of very thoughtful, well thought out responses. Here's a link

For what it's worth we took her training wheel off over Labor Day weekend and she did/is doing great! The advice of holding the child not the bike is KEY I think!



answers from Minneapolis on

We were pretty surprised when our quite cautious 5-year-old learned this summer. When he was 3, we bought him a Haro glider bike (the kind without wheels that supposedly helps with balance). Those are too small for a 6-year-old, but I would suggest finding a bike that has pedals and is TOO SMALL for her. We had a really small bike with pedals that we had our son use because he wasn't afraid to just put his feet on the ground when he started to lose his balance. He learned to ride in 1 or 2 attempts. When he mastered that, we got him on an appropriately sized bike, and he did fine.



answers from Los Angeles on

I am thoroughly a believer of the balance bike concept. Lower her seat take the pedals off and let her push with her feet and work on her balance. When she's coasting and gliding with that set up, add the pedals and she'll be off.

My son 'rode' his balance bike for 3 months at about 28 mths, probably was ready for a two wheeler w/o training wheels within a month. We waited until he was really confident with his balance bike. At 3 we gave him a two wheeler with pedals and he rode like a champ. It took him longer to figure out how to start off on his own, but at 3.5 yrs he is riding independently and loving it.

Good luck



answers from Lake Charles on

Look up the gyro wheel it may be called something else but I remember reading a company review in my business magazine. It's like 60 bucks and you replace the front wheel of the kids bike with it, it's weighted and has three levels that keeps the bike upright so they don't fall over.. As for how to teach them.. I seriously remember having training wheels on my bike still and a girl down the road got a mountain bike, at like 4 1/2 I pulled the training wheels off and decided right then that I'd ride a big girl bike. I got on and voila, I wasn't the steadiest in the world but I figured it out pretty quick. My parents were mad that I took the wheels off without telling them but they got over it.

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