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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Teaching Young Children How to Ride a Bicycle

After publishing the following Smart Cycling column in the Fort Collins Coloradoan in July I recieved the following testimonial from the mother of a six year old in Fort Collins:

"I just wanted to thank you for your very informative column in the Coloradoan this summer about how to teach your child to ride a bike!

My daughter received her first bike at age 3 from Santa and the first time she fell off, she refused to get back on for 3 years....Last year she started to ride it again to school with her training wheels on and was laughed at by some of her school mates. I could see how this made her feel sad(she cried) and she was determined to try and ride without her training wheels. This was her goal for the summer but once again, she was scared to try. Last week, we took her pedals off and lowered her seat and she learned to get her balance gliding around our cul de sac for 2 days and then she asked her dad to put the pedals back on and she zoomed off like a pro! You should have seen the look of pride on her face for having accomplished this! She's eager to ride her bike every day now! Thank you so much!"
An Italian child learns to ride among the pigeons in old town Bergamo (Bergamo Alta).
 
The original column is here:
 
Parents teach their kids to balance and ride a bike but they often forget to teach them how to stop. As you might imagine, that can be a problem. Rules of the road are another important element that kids need to learn and one that parents don’t always teach.


Two weeks ago I wrote about teaching small children to ride by taking the pedals off their bike. Then I went camping in Italy’s Dolomite Mountains where we had a bungalow near the playground. I watched with amazement as a tiny German girl zipped around the playground on her perfectly fitted mountain bike. She had perfect technique, knew when to stand on the pedals to go up an incline, and hesitated only briefly when her father suggested she take the plunge down a steep incline.

When I spoke to her father about her skills I learned that she was four years old and has three years experience on bikes. Just the day before she had completed a forty-mile ride around the Sella Mountain Massif on her tag-along behind her father. That ride included four mountain passes and about six thousand feet of vertical climbing. Dad was exhausted but daughter was the most active kid on the playground.

So I asked how she developed her skills. He explained that when she was 18 months old she learned to balance on a “balance bike.” The name in German is “laufrad,” literally a “walk-bike.” Then at two and a half she switched to a bike with pedals and there was no holding her back. (Father was also proud to say that she had skied sixty-five days last winter!)

Balance bikes are a great alternative to removing the pedals from a small bike to teach kids how to balance. If you buy a balance bike, though, try and find one with a hand brake that works. If kids learn to use that before moving on to a bike with pedals, they will be that much farther along in learning how to stop. Alternatively, they will use their feet to stop which is ok, but not the best solution.

Once you do move your child to a real bicycle with pedals, teach them how to get on safely and to begin pedaling with their right foot in a power position. This is essential as you don’t want them to think that they always need to be able to touch the ground with two feet.

Kids who learn to ride at an early age will discover a freedom and independence that may drive mother crazy. So it is important that along with handling skills, they learn basic rules of the road, including, keeping to the right on the sidewalk, stopping at the edge of the road and at driveways, and stopping as well as “going.” Take them often to the park, including parks with BMX dirt tracks and lots of multi-use trails as in Spring Creek Community Park.

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