Learning to ride a bike

I am a professional alpine climber.  I take calculated risks and have developed the ability to control fear.  Or so I thought, until I tried to teach my five-year-old daughter how to ride a bike.  I completely underestimated how challenging this would be and wondered if other parents felt like me.  I was a nervous wreck watching my daughter take off, knowing she had no idea how to balance or brake.  

I wasn't entirely sure I was even teaching her properly, and I think she picked up on my frustration, which made the whole ordeal even more traumatic.  I was becoming flustered and impatient with her, and she was losing her confidence, fast!  Wow - could it really be that hard?  

To make it less traumatic for you, we have put these guidelines together - to help you teach your daughter how to be confident on two wheels.  

Bike Size:  

Often we make the mistake of buying bikes that a child can grow into, but this can be a big mistake.  Make sure your daughter can stand over the bike with both feet firmly planted on the ground.  They need to feel totally in control of the bike, and they need to feel confident in their ability to hold it. I made the mistake of taking a second-hand bike from a friend that was too big and quickly realised it wouldn't work, so we were back to the bike shop for a bike her size.  

Location:  

Choose a traffic free area that is large, flat and smooth.  Often people teach their kids on grass, but it can be challenging, due to the bumps, so a paved area is best.  Try a driveway, empty basketball court, or a path that weaves within a park (without pedestrians).   

No Pedals:  

Start without pedals.  Allow them to place their feet flat (not on tip toes) on the ground and to feel the movement of the bike.  They need to comprehend balance.  Have them scoot along and then pick up their feet and coast so that they can feel the bike and understand the way it moves.   It also prevents them from taking skin off their shins when pedals are in the way and they are learning to balance. 

Pedals On:  

Once she is comfortable cruising with her feet up off the ground, we need to put the pedals back on the bike.  However, keep the bike seat low, so she can easily place both feet firmly on the ground. 

How to Pedal:

When she is ready have her stand over the bike with one foot flat on the ground and the other on a pedal raised at the 2 o’clock position.  Tell her to press down on the front pedal firmly, which will give the bike momentum.  A she starts to move forward, steady the bike by placing a hand on the back of the bike seat and then let go.  Her feet can reach the ground comfortably, so she can easily plant them again if she is feeling uncomfortable.   

Steering and Pedaling:  

As they get the hang of pedaling a bike they can start to practice turns.  Try to encourage large turns and going around a course, where they have two large turns at each end, or a figure of 8 - set out some cones or markers to make this a fun game.

Stop:

The scary bit!  Make sure she knows where the brakes are and ask her to practice gently pressing the back pedal brake until she can use it comfortably.  

As she becomes more confident with pushing off and braking, you can move the seat saddle back to the standard position.  

Contributor:  Sarah Jackson is a professional mountain climber based in Utah, USA.  She is a mother to five-year-old Sienna.