If you have a little one who is just starting out, what are the best ways to teach your kids to ride a bike without the tears or tantrums? We caught up with a few bike experts for insider tips to help get the family changing gears before you can say go! From how to prepare your kids to hit the pavement to what kind of bike is best for toddlers, we’ve got everything you need to know.
Psst…Earlier this week we published a story on the best kids bikes, tricycles and scooters for beginners. If you missed it, click here for the story or shop the bikes below.
Do Your Homework
According to Shane MacRhodes, Transportation Options Coordinator for the city of Eugene, OR, before you hit the pavement, it's important to check out a family cycling guide. The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and the Portland Bureau of Transportation have great tips and tricks tailored to different stages of riding bikes with kids—from pregnancy to kids riding on their own.
Go Tandem with Teeny Tots
Start out riding with the kids attached, whether in a trailer, bike seat or on a cargo bike. Not only will it get your blood pumping but the littles will get a first-hand experience at what it's like to be out biking around. Check out our top picks for the best cargo bikes for families here.
Get Them Excited: Pick Out a Helmet
Let them be a part of the process by letting them pick out their own helmet. They can even adorn it with favorite stickers or decorations. The more they're invested in their own gear, the more they'll be willing to wear it when it counts.
Test Out Riding Indoors
Does hitting the pavement sound intimidating? Help your kiddo adjust to the feel of a bike with its stationary counterpart. This can help them to not worry about falling and distract them from any fears they may have of riding!
Begin with a Balance Bike
Start kids out on a balance bike; unlike training wheels, it teaches them what really matters, balance! Worried about the transition? It’s actually easier to go from balance bike to pedal bike. Balance bikes are also lighter so when beginning riders decide they’ve had enough scooting for the day, the long haul back home (think: you carrying the bike) doesn’t seem so far.
Let Them See Other Kids Riding
We love that biking is a great social distancing activity. Our Editorial Director, whose toddler just learned how to ride a balance bike, took her son to watch other older kids ride their balance bikes. It wasn't until he saw the older kids push and glide that he truly understood how to do it himself (he was previously walking his bike, not understanding how to push off and glide). It was like a lightbulb went off and he then picked it up very quickly.
Size It Right
Thinking of getting a bike that grows with your baby biker? Well, think again. If toes are even just this far off the ground, or the pedals aren’t quite so push-friendly and the handlebars are too much to handle—yup, not so fun—kids are less likely to want to ride as often. If you aren't sure what type of bike to get, check out our list of best kids' bikes for every age and stage. You can also go to your local bike shop to ask for their advice and get fitted.
Know the Route & Choose the Right Surface
Start on the multi-use paths, but don't be limited by them. Pinpoint the quiet neighborhood streets that connect riders to where they need to go because these are the roads less traveled (handy when starting with beginner bikers). Find out if your community has a bike map and route out a good ride. You can even try out Google Maps bike directions. Start short and simple and build up to longer, more complex rides.
And, be sure to pick a smooth, hard surface for when your kid is first learning how to ride a bike. Children's bike expert and industry veteran Isla Roundtree tells Cycling Weekly, "It’s tempting to choose grass as many feel it would aid a soft landing but that can make learning quite difficult because they will have to push quite hard on a small bike” she explained.
Our edit team thinks taking young tots to empty schoolyards is the perfect spot to learn how to ride. There may be other kids there riding their scooters or bikes, but since many schools aren't in session this year, the yards are fairly empty and provide a nice open space and smooth surface for beginner riders.
The Price is (Also) Right
Picking a quality bike also makes a difference in how kids enjoy the ride. Pricier versions are built for bumps in the road (both real and emotional!) and all you bargain buyers and sellers—the better bike has a higher resale value, every time.
Bonus Tip: Speaking of resale, be sure to scour sites like Craigslist, Nextdoor and Facebook marketplace to score fab deals on kid bikes, trailers, seats and cargo bikes. Find a great bike, but it's the wrong color? Decorate! Feel free to go crazy with stickers, colorful tape, straws, pipe cleaners and plastic flowers to make the bike all their own—just make sure nothing can get caught in the wheels or chain.
Go Back to School
Try and find a family biking class in your area. If you can’t find one, look for an adult class like the League of American Bicyclists "Traffic Skills 101," it’s a crash course in the basics of confident, safe cycling techniques. Read: it will help you model better riding for your kids. Other routes including checking in with your local Safe Routes to School program for resources.
—Gabby Cullen and Erin Lem
Featured image: iStock