Kids and Bikes: Sharing the Ride with Your Little Ones

Teaching Your Kid to Ride A Bike Part 1: Gearing Up

Special Needs Bike Camp Utah | CycleAbility

Learning to ride a bike is a rite of passage for kids. It gives them a way to get out of the house, burn off some energy, and a way to connect with other kids in their community. However, learning to ride isn’t always an easy experience. Some kids pick it up quickly, fearless and focused, but other kids, particularly those with special needs find it very scary or even uninteresting.

This month we will be discussing techniques on how you can help your rider learn to ride a two-wheeled bike whether they are fearless or fearful and steps you can take to help them succeed. 

First, Build the Excitement

One of the best things you can do to help your kid learn to ride is to build up the excitement around riding before they even sit on a bike. Expose them to other kids and bikes around town and engage with them about the different aspects of riding. Point out different styles of bikes and how they are used or comment on how many people smile when riding bikes.

Then, take them to a bike shop to show them how bikes get built and fixed, let them show you their favorite color of bike, then let them pick out a bike bell or water bottle to take home and show their friends or family. 

Give Them a Choice and a Helmet

Once the interest is sparked, encourage them to pick out their own helmet. We will discuss proper fit and helmet types in a future article, but for now empower your rider to engage in the cycling experience by giving them a choice. 

This works especially well if your rider is very fearful of learning to ride or isn’t keen on the idea of wearing a helmet. By letting them have a say in the process, gives them a sense of control and safety, not to mention a way to express themselves. Encourage them to wear it regularly and show everyone what they picked out. Continue building on the excitement once it is sparked. 

If they aren’t keen on wearing the helmet, don’t force them to wear it, just let them take it at their own pace while carefully nudging them along. Start by having them just touch it. Then the next day, touch it for 3 seconds. Let them put a sticker on it, or hold it for 3 seconds, or let them put it on you. Take it in baby steps with plenty of positive reinforcement until they will wear it, buckled, and without protest. 

Start with the Right Bike

When you are ready to pick out a bike for your rider, there are a few things to consider. Size, cost, and color are certainly important, and many of us only want to buy one bike that will fit for a few years and can be passed on to the next kid, but type, quality, and geometry are also important aspects to consider when choosing a bike. We will go into more detail about specific types of bikes in a future article, but it is wise to start with a bike that will work for your rider now, not a year from now. You can always resell it or pass it on later.  

We suggest heading to your local bike shop to have them help you pick out the right size for your rider. Your rider should be able to sit comfortably on the seat with their feet flat on the ground and without having to stretch for the handle bars. 

A support handle on the rear of the bike will help you help your rider.

A support handle on the rear of the bike will help you help your rider.

Once you find a bike that fits your rider, we typically recommend asking the bike shop remove the training wheels and pedals (if it isn’t already a “balance” or “run” bike.) This will convert it into a bike that will help your rider learn gradually.

Other Gear to Consider

If your rider is still very hesitant about learning to ride out of fear of getting hurt, you may want to help them pick out bike gloves, pads, or clothing that will help them feel safe while learning to ride. For your own sake, you may also want to consider installing a handle on your riders bike. This will save your back and give you more leverage and control while helping your rider learn to ride. 

Make it Fun! 

Finally, when it is time to take the bike out for its first spin, make it a party. Take a bluetooth speaker to play your riders favorite tunes while they are learning. Have your rider put together a goody bag of “emergency supplies” such as bandaids, stuffed animal friends, snacks, and prizes, and encourage them to prepare their bike for its first ride by washing it off and making sure it’s ready to roll.