I was determined that this was going to be the summer that my daughter mastered riding her bicycle.
Although she got a really nice bike from her grandparents for her 5th birthday, much to my disappointment, she had no interest in learning how to ride. Instead, she renewed her interest in her three-wheeled scooter since the extra wheels made it much easier to balance than her bike with training wheels (path of least resistance – I get it!) Each time out with the bike, she would try it for a few minutes, get frustrated with the training wheels and lack of speed, and give up. This process frustrated all of us and led to arguments, so I gave up too.
This summer, we went shopping for a new bike that fit my daughter better. We had her pick it out, hoping that would help get her excited about learning how to ride. My husband and I learned to ride with training wheels and thought it made sense to start there with our daughter. I remember getting really impatient last year, so I sent my husband out to practice riding with her, hoping that, since he is the more patient parent, things would improve. After several unsuccessful attempts, we realized this was not working. My daughter just did not like the feeling of being off balance when the training wheels went from side to side. I thought about just taking the wheels off, holding the bike up, and running next to her- but imagined me exhausted and her crashing into things, and scrapped that idea.
The last thing I wanted was for my daughter to continue to have negative experiences with her bike ending in screaming matches or her falling off her bike.
So I turned to good old Google and got some great ideas. Most of the articles stated that training wheels actually make learning how to ride a bike more difficult. Who knew?? Training wheels help teach how to sit and pedal but do nothing to help your child balance. This made so much sense to me as I watched my daughter struggle with the training wheels.
Armed with information from the Internet, here is what we did and why it worked:
- I took the pedals off her old bike. (OK! my husband did this part, but it was my idea!) He also took off the chain which essentially turned her old bike into a balance bike. We had not jumped on the balance bike bandwagon when she was little – Mostly because I had every confidence in my teaching abilities – Ha!!!
- Since this bike was too small for her, my daughter could stand and put both feet flat on the ground, which helped her feel more stable.
- We went to a big empty parking lot. A big safe space with no cars helped me feel safer and created no distractions for my daughter. We had tried riding in our neighborhood on the sidewalks but the narrow sidewalks and her inability to keep the wheel straight didn’t feel great to either of us.
- I taught her to coast/glide. I basically told her to go as long as she could with her feet off the ground without falling. Once she did it for a second or two, I started counting the seconds and having her try to go longer. In the first 5 minutes, she was up to 10-20 seconds.
- We kept the sessions short. The first time we only went out for 10 minutes. I wanted her to get the feel of coasting/gliding and feel successful after the first try.
- At the second session, she was easily gliding for over 20 seconds. We practiced turns and zigzags while she was gliding.
After two days and a combined total of less than 30 minutes, my daughter announced that she was ready for pedals and wanted my husband to come and watch.
My husband suggested we take her new bike but keep the training wheels on. My daughter insisted she did not need the training wheels. She was feeling very proud and confident and wanted to show off her new skills.
Back to the same empty parking lot. After she struggled for a couple of minutes, I helped a little by holding the front center of the bike for less than 30 seconds for her to get used to pedaling. Once she started to pedal, I let go and off she went, smiling ear-to-ear and beaming with pride!!!
Bike Safety for Kids Under 10
Now that my daughter was riding her bike, we had to figure out bike safety rules. My husband and I disagreed on the rules of bike safety in neighborhoods. He insisted that we stop at every intersection to make sure that there were no cars and did not allow my daughter to ride on the street at all. I, on the other hand, would allow her to look before she got to an intersection and give her the go ahead if it was clear.
After a couple of arguments, I checked to see if there are any laws or guidelines to help inform my position. I contacted the Vermont State Police, who referred me to our local police department, who advised me that it is generally safer to ride on the streets where bicycles are expected to follow the same rules of the roads as motorists and ride in the same direction as traffic. After some digging, I found out that the general rule is to have kids under 10 ride on the sidewalk as they are not mature enough to make the decisions necessary to ride in the street.
- Watch for vehicles coming out of or turning into driveways
- Stop at intersections of sidewalks and streets to look for cars and to make sure the drivers see you before crossing – Yup I was wrong and my husband was right!!
- Enter a street at a corner and not between parked cars.
- Alert pedestrians that you are nearby using a bell or saying “excuse me” or “passing on your left.”
We have been going on family rides 2-3 times a week all summer and my daughter is feeling so much more confident riding her bike. I look forward to hitting some longer bike paths and taking our bikes on road trips next year.