The Frustration Of Teaching Kids To Ride A Bike
Teaching Daughter to ride a few years ago was almost a complete disaster. It became A Thing That I Had To Succeed At - more about me than her, tied up with my ego rather than her enjoyment.
Tempers got frayed and we nearly didn’t succeed at all.
Apart from the idiot holding the saddle, there was also the issue of stabilisers (training wheels to you in The Colonies). At four, she’d got her first real bike, and I’d put a set of these on so she could ride it straight away.
The problem is with stabilisers is that they teach nothing about how a bike moves. All they do is let a child get on a bike and figure out that turning the pedals makes it move forward.
- They don’t allow a bike to lean into a corner, so the first time (in fact every time) the child attempts any sort of above-a-snail’s-pace turn, they get thrown off the bike
- The child comes to depend on them for balance, so when the stabiliser’s wheel hits a pothole, they fall off the bike
- If the bike isn’t on a smooth surface, there’s the possibility of the stabiliser wheels lifting the rear wheel off the road. This’ll usually happen when your child is experimenting with standing up and pedaling like they’re forming a breakaway group on Alp D’Huez. The sudden lack of rear-wheel traction will fire them over the handlebars to land teeth first on the path.
Basically we’re talking a resounding Nul Points.
Anyway, eventually we got through the tears and frustration (Daughter experienced her fair share of both too), and Daughter can now ride pretty darned well.
Since then, I’ve found the correct way to teach people (adults and children) to ride - you’ll need 20-40 minutes in all:
- Take the pedals off and lower the saddle so that the person you’re trying to teach can comfortably put both feet flat on the floor. For younger children, you can now get scooters & runners like this one, that don’t even have pedals .
- Let them play at just scooting along on the bike like this. The aim is for them to get the feel for what makes the bike balance.
- If they’re struggling give TWO helping hands . One to hold the saddle, but the other to take control of steering. A bike stays upright by performing a series of shallow turns INTO the fall (that thing about the wheels being like gyroscopes is pure 100% BS). So as they scoot along, when they start to fall one way, steer them into it - centrifugal force takes over, and brings them upright again. This also saves your back muscles from having to do all the work. To begin with these turns-into-the-fall will tend to be quite exaggerated - make sure you have lots of space.
- Once they can scoot along unaided , put the pedals back on, and raise the saddle so that they can still comfortably get the balls of both feet onto the road.
- Give them the TWO helping hands again , so they don’t need to think too much about balance while they’re trying to remember to pedal.
- As they gain confidence . . . move to just holding the saddle . . . and then to nothing at all. BUT stay with them for the first few times that they’re riding un-supported - they still don’t believe they can do it, and the sound of your footsteps will reassure them that they’re not going to fall!
If this doesn’t work for you, the BBC has produced this handy instructional video:
(video via Andy Cline at Carbon Trace )