Forget the training wheels on those new bikes. Children (and adults!) can learn to ride faster without them. A simple three step method develops confidence with balance before the new rider has to worry about pedalling.
Remove the training wheels if fitted. Now take off the pedals and lower the seat so the child can sit on it with both feet flat on the ground.
The first step is to develop balance. On an open area encourage the child to walk while seated on the bike. As confidence develops, increase the walk pace and introduce a scooting action. Both feet go forward and back at the same time rather than the alternating walking action.
Build sufficient speed by scooting then raise feet off the ground so the bike can coast. If the bike is fitted with hand brakes, braking lessons should start here.
When the child is coasting confidently move to the next step – developing steering skills
On an open area set out a short straight slalom course with small markers. Foam blocks about 5cm square make ideal markers as the bike wheels will roll over them easily and not throw the child off course or off the bike.
Have the child “walk” the bike through the slalom, steering left and right, then encourage scooting and coasting through the course.
When the child can coast and steer with basic skill you can introduce pedalling.
Put the pedals back on the bike. (Make sure the left pedal goes to the left side and the right pedal goes to the right side – they have different threads.)
Demonstrate pedal in the ‘power position’ to start (right pedal in about the 2 o’clock position). Steady the child with a hand on their shoulder as they start and have the child push down on the right pedal and continue pedalling.
Given a clear space, firm surface, positive encouragement and practice the child will quickly get the three skills working together. If the bike is fitted with a coaster brake (back pedal action) now is the time for a braking lesson.
Keep to the open space until good skill and confidence levels are achieved. As the skills develop, start riding your bike with your child around the open area to get both of you used to riding together.
See you on the road soon, God willing.
(Thanks to Ted Wilson of Wilcare Services, bicycle instructor accreditation for the primary school program, Bike Ed, and the secondary program Cycle On.)