Teaching Children to Ride a Bicycle
Dr. Rebecca Talmud, PT, DPT
Owner of Dinosaur Physical Therapy
Riding a bicycle is a complicated skill that requires trunk stability and strength, balance, coordination, motor planning and body/spatial awareness. A child also needs a well-established vestibular and proprioceptive system. In comparison to the tricycle, pedaling a bicycle requires more force and strength, while the higher height of the bicycle and two-wheel base of support call upon a greater level of balance and body/spatial awareness.
Tips to Encourage Independent Bicycle Riding
- Practice Weight Shifting with Child’s Feet on Ground: Start with low seat height to allow child’s feet to rest comfortably on ground.
- Practice Weight Shifting with Child’s Feet on Pedals: With child’s feet on pedals, support at back of bicycle gently shifting from side to side. Allow child to shift weight accordingly, gaining awareness of body position in space, trunk strength and dynamic balance.
- Practice Turning in Direction of Weight Shift: Weight shifting in conjunction with turning requires high level of balance and motor planning. Allow child to practice directional shifts with support at back of bike.
- Ride Downhill:Raise the saddle high enough to allow a slight bend in your child’s leg when the pedal is at the bottom of a stroke. Start partway up a small hill with flat ground beneath. Have child pedal downhill and using momentum continue pedaling on the level area.
- Ride on Level Terrain without Obstacles: Once child has gained confidence and balance maneuvering bicycle on hill, we can address initiating pedal motion on level surface and propelling bicycle with controlled fluid movements.
- Stop & Start/Navigating Obstacles: Once child is proficient with independent pedaling on level surfaces, you can introduce small obstacles to practice safe navigation as well as stopping and starting getting comfortable with braking as needed. Colored cones are great obstacles to practice with!
Other Helpful Tips
- Safety is Key! Don’t forget your helmet! Starting with safe habits at an early age is important! It is important to teach children about bicycle safety and riding rules.
- Practice riding with supportive shoes. Rubber soles of shoes will help keep feet on pedals, and provide more stable base to push off from. For shoe recommendations check out our post here!
- Proper clothing is helpful! Avoid baggy clothing and tuck in shoelaces if necessary. Cool, comfortable clothing will allow the child’s legs to cycle freely without restriction.
- Ride with Purpose! Once child has developed the necessary skills to balance and propel bicycle, it may be helpful to give a child a task or a destination, be it real or imaginary. Focusing on the comprehensive task can help to allow for awareness of environment around them, an essential part of independent bicycle riding!