My latest blog, with some ideas of how to help your child master riding a bike...
Spring is here and a long hot summer is just around the corner (we live in hope..) It’s a great time for families to get out on their bikes. Children can generally learn to ride between 3-6 years; younger for a child on a balance bike. As with all skills, children’s ability to ride bikes are very varied, some pick it up within a few hours and some take much longer. Additionally, some children have extra needs that may further complicate the issue. I see children in clinic with hypermobility, motor planning problems or learning difficulties to name a few that makes learning to ride more difficult.
Also a note on helmets; please use one and put it on correctly. It should sit 1-2 fingers above the eyebrows, the child should be able to see it when they look up. The side straps should form a Y just below their ear and the strap should be tight enough to only allow a finger underneath.
The best way to learn to ride is mastering each skill separately:
1. It’s all about the balance
90% of learning to ride is about balance so work on this first. Your child needs to learn to scoot and coast along.
· Don’t buy a bike too big that they will ‘grow into’.
· Lower the seat so that your child can place their feet flat on the floor.
· Remove stabilisers, they won’t help to teach balance. You can also remove the pedals if they are in the way. Or you can use a balance bike.
· Choose the terrain; a grassy area cut short will provide a softer landing but not create drag; a gentle downhill slope that flattens out is perfect.
· Encourage them to sit with their bottom on the seat and scoot along with their feet. Move onto lifting up both feet from the ground for increasingly longer times; try playing counting games to encourage this.
· Once they have mastered scooting and coasting along in a straight line try work on turning; steering through cones that are placed nearer to each other.
2. Move to pedalling!
· When they are confident with balancing – and don’t be tempted to rush this, you can pop the pedals back on.
· Keep the seat low initially so they can still stop still.
· Place the pedal at 2 o’clock in relation to the handlebars and encourage them to press down on the pedal to move forward. Place the ball of the foot on the spindle.
· You can hold onto their shoulders when they first start off but don’t keep a hold; it won’t help their balance or your back! Remember to tell them you are going to let go and when.
· While the seat is in its lowered position try practising braking – remembering to squeeze both brakes at the same time – you can play stopping games like ‘green lights, red lights’. When they can achieve this, pop the seat up. To get the correct height, with their bottom on the seat there should be a slight bend in the knee at the bottom of the pedal stroke.
· Now the basic skills are mastered and your child can ride in a straight line, try playing games practising turning and stopping; make the turning circles progressively tighter. You could use a figure of 8, weave between cones and around an obstacle course. Remember to encourage your child to keep their eyes looking forward.
A little aside with regards to stabilisers, there is sometimes a place for them, for example in children who have known balance or motor problems. It enables children to pedal a bike they might otherwise not be able to do and it helps to work on pedal power. Another option for some children is a trike,recumbent or tandem.
Most importantly try to have fun, keep positive with encouragements rather than screaming instructions in half panic ( I speak from experience!) and teach your child how to be safe on their bike.
If your child is really struggling to ride a bike and also has difficulties in other areas of physical development a children’s physiotherapist will be able to offer a full assessment and advice.