“When my oldest daughter, Phoebe, entered elementary school, I was astounded by the number of 2nd, 3rd, and even 4th graders who couldn’t ride a bike. I think of the joy they are missing out on…” Read the rest of Sarah’s blog for tips on how to get your kids happily riding. Sarah Bowen Shea is co-author of Run Like a Mother and Train Like a Mother. She is the proud mother of 3 and riding bikes is one of her family’s favorite pastimes.
While I think my three children are beautiful, brilliant, and loving, I don’t have any lofty notions of their athletic prowess. All three of them play on soccer and basketball teams. They score goals or make baskets on occasion, but they are by no means in the limelight. Yet, I am proud of how relatively early they learned to ride bikes; My boy-girl twins were 4 ½ years old, and their big sis had just turned 5 when they figured out how to balance and pedal on a two-wheeler. I thought that was the norm until my older daughter, Phoebe, entered elementary school: I was astounded by the number of 2nd, 3rd, and even 4th graders who couldn’t ride a bike. I think of the joy they are missing out on—riding bikes is one of our family’s favorite pastimes.
Here are some tips to get your children riding and keep them happy, so they’ll become lifelong cyclists.
Set a good example. We all know children are sponges, absorbing more than any of us realize. Talk about your own love of cycling around your children, tell them details of your weekend ride or biking adventures you remember from your childhood. Let them see you head out the door with a smile on your face as you bike-commute or train for a triathlon.
Start them early. All three of our children used balance-style bikes (no pedals) to push themselves around playgrounds. From there they progressed to riding on very small bicycles. With a properly fitted helmet strapped on their heads, children can take some slow-moving tumbles. Watching my children learn to ride bikes, especially my cautious older daughter, I was reminded at how resilient (and determined) a child can be.
Offer encouragement, but don’t pressure them. If your child seems reticent or scared, put the bike back in the garage for a while. You don’t want to force biking on your child as it might backfire into a dislike of this wonderful life-long activity.
Let them tag along. Consider getting a pedal trailer for younger children, letting them ride along without the pressure of learning to balance, brake, or navigate traffic.
Head to parks, playgrounds, and open fields. These venues allow new riders not to worry as much about braking, navigating curbs, watching out for cars, or scraping their knees (in the case of the field). My kids love to do endless loops around a nearby schoolyard, where there are often other children to ride with. One of friends taught her children how to ride in a grassy field because it offered a softer landing for eventual falls.
Teach them the rules of the road. Make sure your children know to ride on the sidewalk or with traffic. Teach them to stay close to the curb, and to obey all traffic signals. Tell them that, when in doubt, let the car “win.” Many communities offer free or low-cost bike safety courses, which are a great opportunity to educate burgeoning cyclists.
Start slow and short. Once your child is riding, take family rides together. We live in Portland, Oregon, near several schools; we love to ride to various school playgrounds. The rides are short—a third- to a half-mile—and the destination holds special allure (swings, slides, and monkey bars!). By keeping the distance short, it minimizes the chance of meltdowns and complaints that, if my children are any measure, are fairly common among young riders.
Stick to quiet roads at less-than-peak times. I won’t lie: It can be nerve-wracking to keep a close eye on school-age riders. Any blood pressure lowering benefits of exercise are negated by the stress I feel when I ride with our 6-year-old twins; but, I’ve found great joy in riding one-on-one with them. Whether with one or two (or three), we ride on less-busy roads.
Add on accessories. A bell lets your children announce their approach (and, come on, kids love them!), and a tall flag on a bike or riding-trailer helps driver see children on bikes.