So the time has come for you to teach your child to ride a bicycle. It's a rite of passage that’s one of parenthood’s most rewarding experiences. It can also be an intimidating process that will likely lead to exhaustion and frustration for everyone involved.
To help the new teachers out there, we polled some of the parents on the Salsa team for methods that worked for them when it came time to get their little ones pedaling. There is no right or wrong way to teach someone how to ride a bike, only the way that works for you and your child.
Start With The Right Bike
Balance can be the trickiest part of learning to ride, so for many kids it makes sense to master that skill before moving to the finer points of pedaling, shifting, and braking. That’s where balance bikes come in to save the day.
“I think they present the opportunity for kids to learn to ride without ever using training wheels. The balance bike teaches them just that; balance. And that is the most difficult step in the process, especially if they’ve learned to rely on the safety net of training wheels.” – Mike Riemer, Salsa content marketing manager
“A balance bike/push bike allows for quicker progress than training wheels since balance is harder to learn than pedaling (there is definitely a pedaling learning curve, though)” – Collin Grant, Salsa art director
Whether you start with a balance bike or not, you’ll definitely want to start with a good bike. While it may seem logical to spend less on a bike that your child will outgrow quickly, investing in a quality bike to start out can pay off:
You’ll also want to make sure that the bike fits properly—your local bike shop can help you find the best fit. If you’re working with what you already have, Salsa Global Sales Rep Zach Fink suggests “[Lowering] the seat post so it’s less intimidating to get on or off the bike. You can secretly adjust it later as they progress.”
Allow For Self-Expression
We all enjoy adding personal touches to our bikes to make them our own and our kids are no different. Giving your child the chance to help build and customize their bike may give them more interest in riding it.
“Help them find, create, or buy accessories for their bike. Streamers, baskets, stickers, pipe cleaners, number plates—you get it. But be careful you don’t get too much right out of the gate so that they get distracted reading the speedometer or honking the unicorn horn, and not focusing on riding.” –Zach Fink.
Location, Location, Location
The places you practice can have a huge effect on success.
“Pick your two wheeler training location wisely. I didn’t. My son, Jordan, then proceeded to make it partway down a sidewalk before drifting left, riding off of a terribly high 16" curb, banging himself up, shedding some tears, and becoming mildly afraid of trying again. My suggestion is to find a grassy place to learn. Ideally, the grass will be quite short to cut down on rolling resistance, and there will be a very slight downslope to help them maintain momentum. Falling on grass will be much less frightening than pavement.” –M.R.
“Do early learning somewhere away from cars. We learned on our neighborhood streets and were constantly either blocking cars or frantically trying to get out of the way without crashing. It was a stressful experience for both of us because of that.” –C.G.
Every kid is different so if one place isn’t working out, find another spot to practice:
“Try having them ride on pavement first, not grass or dirt. My first inclination was grass as it would be easier on falls, but riding on grass sucks. Pavement is easier to get up and going on. They will get to dirt sooner than you think.” –Z.F.
Don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t know how to start actually teaching—you’ve never done this before and there’s no one process that works for everyone. This will likely involve some trial and error.
“I knew to not pressure her and that she would eventually get the idea around gliding. I’d drop my seat post on the Horsethief and tell her to “push, push, glide.” I’d show her on my bike and keep the motions and distance very short. I wanted her to mimic me but keep her comfortable and feeling safe.” –Sean Mailen, Salsa design engineer
A different approach worked for Zach:
“Resist the urge to bring your bike and ride while your kid learns. You need to focus on their needs, and they likely won’t learn simply by watching and listening to you.”
Regardless of how you approach the teaching process, be sure your child is enjoying it, and always try to end on a good note.
“Make sure riding the bike remains a fun experience. Once it becomes ‘not fun’ it turns into another chore for them and they lose interest instantly.” –C.G.
Make Your Rides Fun
We all know how much fun riding can be with the freedom it allows and the unlimited potential for exploration. But kids don’t yet, so showing them can empower them and act as a motivator.
“Let them choose the route and let them go in front. It builds confidence and they can take ownership of their ride, I'm just along for it." –C.G.
When in doubt, motivate with food:
“Snacks are crucial for the longer rides. Our first long ride was to an ice cream shop and it took forever, but I think she made some breakthroughs on that ride.” –C.G.
“Bring snacks and treats and plenty of water whenever you head out for a ride. Or find the closest Dairy Queen and set goals…” –Z.F.
Riding with other families and friends who have kids can also help frame riding as a fun social activity with friends rather than something to overcome.
It will be slow going at first. There will probably be tears and bad days. Through it all, remember to keep expectations low. Everyone learns at their own pace. Some kids may enjoy spending hours at a time trying to scoot around a grass field, but many more will make incremental progress over shorter sessions. The more patient you are, the less pressure your child will feel.
“We would only do maybe 15 minutes at a time. I figured it would be better to keep the sessions short but be very consistent, doing several days in a row. The first day she did one micro glide. Day two she had one or two that were around a second. Then day three was huge!” –S.M.
“I had to learn to be extra patient and encouraging. Learn to give it up for the time being if she’s not in the mood. We went a few months with no interest in touching the bike and then one day it clicked again.” –C.G.
“As you’ve hopefully learned by now, pushing your child too hard can in fact turn them off to the very thing you are hoping they will embrace and fall in love with.” –M.R.
This is the part where you acknowledge that your child will, at some point, crash. It’s something we’ve all been through and though it’s not a pleasant experience we know that it’s rarely something to be upset about. You won’t be able to prevent crashes but you can respond to them in a way that makes them feel like less of a big deal.
“Expect crashes and don’t freak out about them. The more anxious the parent is, the more stressed and discouraged the kid will be.” –C.G.
“Be ready for a fall and a few tears. You need to be prepared to give encouragement that will help them pick themselves up, realize it isn’t the end of the world, and most importantly, know when to call it for the session.” –M.R.
One Last Thing
“Prepare to celebrate! You are helping your child achieve a milestone moment in their lives. Bicycling can bring them so much independence as they grow older, keep them healthy, and remain an activity they love and participate in for the rest of their lives. That, my friends, is a truly beautiful thing!” –M.R.
When your kids are ready to pedal on their own, our Timberjack 20 and Timberjack 24 models are solid platforms for exploration. Big tires provide stability and boost confidence on a variety of surfaces. Additional frame and fork mounts let them carry their own gear, fostering independence. Take it from Koby and Ava Fei Clark, who have ridden their Timberjack kids’ models with their parents in Mexico, Japan, and on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route:
“My favourite thing about the Timberjack bike is that the thick tires help when you are in soft gravel or sand so you do not sink in. I also like the low top-tube because it is easy to get up onto.” – Koby Clark
“My favorite thing about the Timberjack bike is that it has thick tires and water bottle holders.” – Ava Fei Clark
We wish you the best on what will surely be an exciting journey for both you and your child. Learning to ride will open up their world to a new sense of freedom and adventure—before you know it, they’ll be joining you on singletrack outings or overnighters to the local park. Enjoy the ride.
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I’m a jack-of-all, master-of-none sort when it comes to the outdoors. Riding, climbing, paddling, skiing or hiking—everything has its own appeal. All that matters are the effort and the solitude. I’m not competitive but I enjoy a good challenge, and I’ll say “yes” to anything that puts me in over my head or involves type 2 fun, as that’s where life’s spicier moments seem to live.