This month’s topic is about riding with children. I will be the first one to say it: I don’t have children! It simply doesn't feel right to me to tell a parent how to do their job. Growing up in a cycling family, I make the assumption that it is a point of pride and a sort of right-of-passage for a parent to teach their child how to ride a bike, and I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes. Furthermore, everyone has a different teaching style and everyone has a different learning style. Covering all of that would require an entire book. I can point out some techniques that may help, but you know your child best and can make an educated decision on a teaching method.
I have very few experiences riding with children, but I have several experiences helping to teach people of all ages to ride a bike and how to ride safely. I know that it is stressful for both the student and the teacher. I know that some locations are better than others for learning. Let me offer you some suggestions:
Location: Find a place with a very slight incline in it. Many people think a totally flat parking lot is best. I agree that it can be useful, but I have had better success when there is a little motivational free-ride going down hill to get the momentum going. Students will quickly learn that it is much easier to stay up with that faster forward motion, then all they need to do is add a pedal rotation. For the more timid learner, turning that bike around and starting them off going slightly uphill gives them something to pedal against. That little bit of extra resistance can empower an individual because it gives the rider the feeling of more control. You can experiment how this would work for yourself. Try going as slow as you can while staying upright on your bike. You’ll likely find that it is much easier to steer and stay upright going uphill. Wherever you end up, grab some cones to make a course for your child to ride through if you are feeling creative!
THE BIKE: You need a bike that fits your kiddo. A bike that is too big will be too cumbersome for a beginner to control. A bike that is too small will feel like a scooter and will encourage your child to use their feet instead of their pedals. Find a bike with the proper wheel size for your child. If you are unsure what that might be, our experts at County Cycles can help size your child on a kid bike. You will want your child to be able to touch the ground with both feet when they are sitting on the saddle. If they cannot reach, they will not have the confidence they need to start and stop the bike.
Atmosphere: Make sure your kiddo is up to the task. Everyone has bad days, and it’s good to start off with an excited and positive atmosphere. This way, you both can give it your full effort and maintain positive thinking throughout. It also makes it easier to end on a positive note if you need to take a break until tomorrow. Remember, it’s not the same for everyone. Even though all you needed was an afternoon with grandpa, your child may need several attempts to become successful and that is perfectly okay. When you are calm, your child will be calm. Keep your instructions while they are riding brief and encouraging. Remember, you are their teacher right now, not their cheerleader. They need your help to keep calm and focused on what they are doing. For example, rather than saying, “KEEP YOUR EYES ABOVE THE HORIZON! MOVE YOUR FEET!” say “Look forward. Pedal.” Save the more lengthy instruction for in between attempts.
Energy: Make sure you and your child are well rested and well fed/watered. This will take a lot of mental focus and physical exertion from both of you!
Timing/Goals: Schedule a little bit of time every day or every other day. Don’t overdo it all on the first day. You will both be worn out and you run the risk of ending on a stressful, negative note. It is better to be patient and take things slowly in order to keep the experience a positive one. Remember that your child is doing their best not to let you down and you are doing your best to do the same for them. Talk about how much time you both want to practice and set a goal together. If it is 15 minutes of honest work each day, awesome! If it is two hours each day, awesome! Decide what works best for your personalities and lifestyle. Remember to keep it as stress free as you can. Maybe you need to skip a day because there are other activities in the schedule. That’s okay. There is no time limit on learning!
Motivation: This is always a tricky one. What motivates each person varies so greatly that the sky is the limit. One that worked for me: when I could get my two wheels going consistently, I got to ride my bike to DQ for a butterscotch Dilly Bar. YUM! For some, an extra $5 allowance works. For most children and adults, I’ve found that the motivation is simply achieving the goal of riding on two wheels! For kids, it is their first set of wheels and first glimpse of freedom. Freedom is a powerful motivator for adults, too!
Limits: Know your limits. If you can not find the best teaching method for your child, don’t hesitate to ask someone for help. Ask a neighbor, a teacher, a relative. There are also classes offered at schools and Community Centers that teach children of all ages (and adults) how to ride a bike. In this case, stepping into the role of cheerleader for your child’s progress is an excellent way to support them. Know your child’s limits. Pay attention to their behavior. Are they enjoying themselves? Are they bored? Are they exhausted? Catering to their needs is okay, but it is important to keep them focused on the previously agreed upon goal for that day.
Safety: Some folks think this is a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how many dangerous situations go overlooked. First, protect your child’s brain. It is what keeps their heart beating and a helmet is the most affordable insurance you can find. You should wear one, too. Set a good example for your child. Sure, they look funny, but you can still crack your head open if you stub your toe and fall. Remove that cultural stigma. Helmets make you look smart! Knee pads, elbow pads, and wrist guards can be useful protection as well, but I have found them to be distracting and cumbersome. I prefer cycling gloves, thick sleeves, and capri-length pants (or rolled up jeans). Secondly, make sure there is no debris or any big cracks or potholes in the area you are practicing. They can complicate the learning experience and provide another unneeded stressor. Avoiding sewer grates and potholes can be the next lesson. Thirdly, make sure you are in a place with little to no traffic. Teach your child to only ride on the right side of all roads. Steering takes practice and you are there to help control the situation if a car comes by. Remember to stay calm while directing your child and the car. Panic will only cause the intensity of stress to rise and that can also create fear in both you and your child.
Injuries: Owies happen. You can expect them. It feels awful to see someone you care about get hurt, no matter how small. Try to focus on the job at hand. Teaching your child that it’s okay to fall and it’s okay to make mistakes is key. The best part is you get to try again. Take some deep, steady breaths together to get the oxygen to the brain. This helps any pain subside and helps calm the surprise of the fall. When you are both refocused, have another go at it.
I sincerely wish you all good luck! If you think of it, we would love to see a photo or video of your experiences at County Cycles. Stop in and tell us your story and post a photo or video to our Facebook page!