Family life

How to teach your child to ride a bike

Tracy Chappell's seven-year-old wasn’t interested in getting on two wheels, until she found a few valuable strategies.

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Anna goes for a spin on her bike. Photo: Tracy Chappell

Follow along as Today’s Parent senior editor Tracy Chappell shares her refreshingly positive take on parenting her two young daughters. She’s been blogging her relatable experiences for our publication since 2005.

Over the long weekend, Anna finally, blessedly, learned how to ride her two-wheeler. She’s seven, so this has been a long time coming. Actually, it did happen once before, late in the summer she was five. We were up at my parents’ trailer and for a brief minute or two, she was up on two wheels. I’m not sure what happened to that momentum, or how the training wheels were put back on her bike, but she’s been on four wheels ever since.

That is, when she was on any wheels. She hasn’t been keen on bike riding at all this summer (or most of last year). I wasn’t sure if she was frustrated at the learning process, or just not interested. I also blamed myself, as I’m not often out on my bike either (but I sort of blamed that on Anna’s refusal to come along).

Read more: My daughter learned to ride a bike. And it’s a big freaking deal. >

I thought maybe it was the garage-sale bike we had picked up, so I bought her a really awesome new bike for Christmas. Sean and I pinkie-swore we wouldn’t put the training wheels on it. She was eager to get on it this spring, but had a lot of trouble pedaling. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong, but she’d get halfway down the street and get so frustrated she’d jump off, throwing the bike and her helmet to the ground. So, overall, we were not riding bikes, and it felt like a total mom fail. I worried that we’d missed a window, and she’d lost confidence, and subsequently, the patience she needed to succeed.

I thought we were alone in this, that every other kid was on two wheels by about age six (at the latest), but then I started to hear about more kids who hadn’t quite gotten the hang of it either. I don’t know if it’s the kids of us non-bikers (which makes sense), but at least it made me seek out new strategies.

1) Check out the bike
We used some WD40 to make sure the pedals were well lubed, but the key was moving Anna’s seat up quite a bit. We realized that her trouble pedaling was because she was at an awkward angle.

2) Hold her neck
My friend suggested that, instead of holding onto her seat to steady her, we hold onto the back of her neck. It sounds like it would hurt her, but having my hand at the base of her neck put her in control of balancing the bike. I just helped to keep her focused and aligned.

3) Give her space
Another friend has been telling me this for ages: Get away from the sidewalks, which are so narrow that rookies can get discouraged when they so easily wobble onto the grass.

We hadn’t planned to take Anna’s bike up to my parents’ trailer on the long weekend, but did. And took the training wheels off. On Saturday morning, Anna’s cousins were all going for a bike ride and Anna wanted to try. I laced up my shoes and off we went. Maybe it was the seat, or the open road that gave her room to regain her balance, or that she was just finally ready, but within minutes, unbelievably, she was riding solo. “I’m doing it!” she squealed. “I think I’ve got this!”

One thing that almost caught her up was not being able to get going when she stopped. I had to show her how to push the top pedal to get started and balance on the ground with the other, rather than trying to put both feet on at the same time (which is what you do when you have training wheels).

And she was right — she totally got it. She rode around on her own the rest of the weekend, much to our shock and delight. She was so thrilled, and now is eager to get out riding. I am happy to join her.

How old were your kids when they started riding? Do you have any great strategies to share?