How to Teach a Child to Ride a Bike

Two events in a child’s life remain etched in their memory forever. The first event is when they get their first-ever new, shiny kid’s bike. The second event is when they finally learn how get around the neighborhood on their precious bike.

Now that you’ve bought brad or Brian a brand-spanking new bike, it’s time to teach them how to ride it. But if you’re like many parents out there, you may need to learn how to teach a child to ride a bike.

I poured some of my time into this post to give you the little support you may need. Here, you’ll learn 4 great ways to teach your child to ride a bike. And the 3rd method works like a charm!

But first things first…

Gauge Your Child’s Interest in Biking

Nothing makes the whole learning-to-ride-a bike-process more difficult than having an unwilling child. It happens, just as is the case with adults.

Your child may think they want nothing as badly as they want to learn biking. But they might start losing interest as soon as they fall off their lovely two-wheeled gift.

For that reason, help them understand what it’s like to ride a bike. Super important — have your kid understand that falling off is normal. Also, assure them you’ll always be there for them as they learn to enjoy their new bike and pastime.

Most importantly, make them understand that their kid’s biking helmet and protective pads will keep them from getting hurt.

The right place to teach your child to ride a bike is a smooth, paved surface that’s also wide enough. Also, the ideal location should be traffic-free.

A grass-covered field may be OK. But that’s definitely not the most encouraging environment as it can make riding a tad harder. Building up speed on a bike can be pretty hard on grassy places.

Determine If Your Baby is Ready for Biking

You’re probably wondering what the right age is for a child to learn to ride a bike. No specific age is perfect for learning how to bike, though. The most important consideration should be your child’s overall maturity. Their physical and mental development should be at a point where they can foster balance and coordination. Additionally, your baby needs to be strong enough to pedal.

Most kids aged 5 and above can learn how to ride. At that age, most kids have developed enough muscle as well as coordination and balancing capabilities for biking.

If your child is like 3 years and not grown or strong enough to ride a pedaled-bike, teach them on a balance bike. Here’s what a balance bike looks like:

a balance bike for teaching a kid to bike
A balance bike features fat pneumatic tires and no pedals.

A balance bike comes without pedals and features fat pneumatic tires. And that encourages kids to learn balancing skills and coasting fast.

The child quickly learns to use their little feet to push their bike along. Using a balance bike is one of the best ways to teach even a very young child to ride a bike.

Is the Bike’s Size for Your Child?

Before you start your biking lessons, make sure your child’s bike fits them. How do you know if your child’s bike is the right size for them? Have your child stand over the top of the frame and put their feet on the ground. If their feet won’t touch the ground, the bike is too big for them, and they’ll have trouble handling and controlling it.

A properly sized bike is easy to get on and off whenever your child wants. What’s more, your child worries less about falling if they can quickly put their feet down and control the bike.

a fitting bike for a kid
A child standing over the frame of a fitting bike. If the kid can’t plant their feet on the ground, the bike is too large for them.

Another aspect to check for size is the reach. The reach is the distance between the saddle and the handlebars. Your baby shouldn’t need to lean forward too much to reach the handlebars. And if the brakes are on the handlebars, the child should face no difficulty accessing them and squeezing them.

But before you hit the training grounds…

Help Your Child to Gear Up

No helmet guarantees safety and protection 100 percent of the time in all kinds of riding scenarios. However, it’s a well-known fact that helmeting up helps save heads during falls/crashes. According to the World Health Organization, wearing a helmet can prevent severe head injuries.

And the same goes for knee pads, elbow pads, and wristguards. Wrist bones are particularly vulnerable, and they’re often one of the first parts to break in a bad biking accident.

One study relating to mountain biking injuries found that most cycling injuries affected the upper limbs. And the majority of those injuries affected the hands and wrists. Out of 511 upper-limb injuries analyzed, 114 were hand injuries while 103 were wrist injuries.

So, let your little tyke understand that gearing up is something one does each time before a bike ride.

Learn how to measure your child’s head for a helmet here. In that post, you’ll also understand how a properly fitting helmet fits. You never want a helmet that slides off your little tyke’s melon when they need protection most.

Basically, a properly fitting helmet shouldn’t squeeze your kid’s head, nor should it be too loose. It shouldn’t rotate sideways when pushed or ride up the head when pulled upward from the front or back.

The helmet should fit snugly — comfortably, not too tight or too loose.

Choose a Conducive Riding Environment

Falling off a bike is no big deal. But when it happens when other kids are watching, it can feel pretty embarrassing. That’s why you want to avoid places your child’s classmates or friends are likely to be.

The local park may be a nice location, but chances are a kid or two your child knows might be there. If you can’t find a supportive riding environment, hop in the car and drive to a different city or town.

4 Effective Ways to Teach a Child to Ride a Bike

There’s at least 3 ways to teach a child to ride a bike, and here they are:

  1. Push and Release method (the traditional approach)
  2. The towel method
  3. The Remove-pedals Method
  4. The training wheel method

Let’s look at each of these teaching methods and learn how you might use them for your child’s benefit.

Method 1: Push-release Training Method

I bet the push-and-release bike riding training method is what your dad or whoever taught you this skill used. They put your little inexperienced body on some two-wheeler, pushed, and the then suddenly released.

You fell off your bike quite a few times. Sometimes you fell off mostly because they released you even when you told them you went ready. It’s like they wanted you to learn the hard way. One day, you decided enough was enough and flew down the trail or bike path like a pro — without support.

This method worked — every single time.

The Problems with the Traditional Training Method

But while this method still works, it’s not the best or quickest way to teach your baby to ride a bike. The problem with this teaching strategy is that every time your baby falls, their fear of falling grows a tad.

There’s another problem with the push-and-release technique. Your baby pays a huge price before they finally learn to bike on their own — quite a few falls. Reminder: have them helmet up and wear protective pads before every training session.

Plus this method is the slowest of all three approaches described here. You’re looking at anywhere between 1-3 weeks here. And there’s always the risk that your child may get frustrated and want to give up down the road.

The push-from-behind-and-run-alongside-the-kid was how my uncle taught me to ride a bike for the first time.

I appreciate that he taught me a life skill that’ll stay with me for a lifetime. But looking back, I wish my kind Uncle Richie knew an easier, faster, less painful teaching method. Good news! An easier, faster, less painful method exists, and I’ll reveal that secret strategy in a moment.

Method 2: The Beach Towel Method (the Safest Method for Young Learners)

The towel method is pretty much like the good old push-and-release method I elaborated on above. But instead of pushing the young learner, you use a towel or bed sheet to help learn balance. So, how do you use the towel method to help a young child learn to ride a bike?

You need three things: a fitting bike, an eager-to-learn kid, and a beach towel or bed sheet. Now, find a flat spot that’s smooth and wide enough. Then, fold a bed sheet or a beach towel lengthwise to about 6-7 inches in width.

Next, put the center of the beach towel in the chest of your child and pass the ends under the armpits. Now, hold the ends and give them a couple of twists so that the folded towel becomes a sort of harness.

Now, ask your child to start pedaling. As the bike begins to move, hold the harness and run alongside the young biker. You’ll run the whole time the little dude or girl rides their bike. And be careful lest you trip on something and fall, losing your kid’s trust.

The Towel Method Helps Build Confidence and Trust

The whole idea here is to provide the child with the support they need to learn good balance. Holding the folded beach towel behind the child also helps prevent them from falling off the bike. And that’s where the towel method trumps the traditional push-and-release method — rider safety.

Knowing they won’t fall helps build tons of confidence in them. I asked my boy to try and fall off their bike, and they did. But the harness got them back on the bike. And that did help assure them they wouldn’t fall and that Mommy would be there for them in case they did.

Glide around the playground or wherever as many times as needed to bolster your baby’s confidence. Once you’re sure your kid can ride and balance without support, remove the bed sheet and keep running alongside them.

Advantages and Disadvantages of the Towel Method

I trained my boy to ride their bike using this very method, but I almost fell at some point. Aside from the risk of tripping as I ran alongside my boy, the towel method was pretty effective.

Additionally, this training strategy is fast. Can you believe my son learned to ride their new bike in 2 hours tops? That’s how fast this approach is.

3. Remove-the-pedals Method (Fastest and Most Effective)

You mean I remove the pedals to help my child learn to ride a bike for the first time? Yes, that’s exactly what I mean.

When someone I’m friends with shared this approach, I was a little skeptical. Until I tried it to teach my 4-year-old nephew to ride a bike, and it worked like magic. And my doubts vanished, just like yours will once you learn it and experiment with this method.

Ready to teach your child to ride a bike without pedals? And no, you’re not training them on a balance bike.

You’ll teach them cycling with a real bike — one with pedals — but you’ll remove the pedals and add them back on at some point.

A Step-by-step Guide to Using the Remove-the-pedals Method

Follow these steps:

Step 1: Remove the Pedals

So, remove the pedals. Use a wrench to take off the pedals. Don’t have a wrench? No worries, use pliers. Turn the wrench counterclockwise to take off the right pedal and clockwise to remove the left one.

Step 2: Lower the Saddle a Bit

Now, lower the seat a little so that the child’s feet stay flat on the ground for support.

Step 3: Have Your Child Walk Their Bike

At this point, ask your kid to put their hands on the handlebars. Now, have them start walking the bike up and down the ground, slowly.

This step is critical as it helps them to get a sense of how heavy or light their bike is and how riding it would feel.

Step 4: Teach them How to Do Small Bunny Hops

This step focuses on teaching your child how to balance on a bike. So, ask that little rider to start pushing forward with both feet (at the same time).

Each small push is a bunny hop and the feet aren’t touching the ground for a moment. During that instant when the feet are off the ground, the child catches a glimpse of what good balance looks like.

Step 5: Ask Them to do Longer Bunny Hops

Now that your child can coast comfortably for a stretch of time, it’s time to push even harder. So, have them do bigger pushes that keep their feet off the ground longer.

This step teaches your kid how real coasting on a bike feels like. And as they make longer and longer glides, that builds up their confidence.

Step 6: Add the Pedals Back on and Raise the Seat Higher

Now, re-attach the pedals and raise the saddle higher. Raise the seat to a point where the child can comfortably touch the ground with their toes.

But before you execute this step, try to encourage your child. Tell them you’re happy with the progress they’ve made. And that you believe they can now comfortably ride a bike. This little pep talk is critical, a real confidence booster.

So, have your kid start pedaling their bike. Remember that your child may not be strong enough to pedal from a still point. So, have them make a couple long glides or bunny hops before perching on the pedals.

Now, they can pedal and ride around the traffic-free blacktop you’re using for the training.

4. Teach Your Kid to Bike with Training Wheels

Using training wheels to teach a kid to ride a bike is a classic method that parents have used for years. The beauty of this approach is that it works for even very young kids — even 3-year-olds.

Training wheels alleviate most of the pain from the learning process, but it’s one of the slowest training methods.

To use this method effectively, find a flat paved surface such as a safe, wide sidewalk or street.

Make Sure the Wheels are Correctly Adjusted

Properly adjusted training wheels don’t touch the ground at the same time. If they do, there’s almost no weight over the rear wheel. And that can reduce traction dramatically.

Additionally, incorrectly adjusted wheels can render the brakes ineffective.

Raise the Training Wheels Gradually

With both training wheels on, children easily learn how to pedal, steer, and brake their bike. Once your child has learned to do all these things comfortably, raise the wheels a bit.

It helps not to tell the child you’ve raised the wheels. If you tell them, the child may think (and say) you’re a bad parent who wants to complicate things.  That’s because they’ve become dependent on the stability that comes from the stabilizing wheels.

When you raise the training wheels, the child is forced to learn better balancing skills. And as you raise the wheels progressively higher, that makes their bike tippier. Consequently, your child has no choice but to better their balance.

Remove the Wheels When the Time Comes

Finally, the training wheels won’t be touching the ground anymore. And your kid will have learned how to ride a bike with and without training wheels.

If you leave these wheels at their lowest position for too long, your child’s bike kind of becomes a tricycle.

Some children can take 2-3 years learning to bike that oversized tricycle! And who wants to wait three years for their child to learn to bike?

As time goes, you’ll realize your little loved one no longer needs the training wheels. At that point, take the wheels off.

A Bike with Training Wheels Can be Dangerous, Though

One disadvantage of a bike equipped with training wheels is that it can be quite dangerous to ride. Perhaps even more dangerous than a tricycle.

As your toddler learns to ride faster, turning at high speeds can cause the bike to topple over. Also, squeezing the brakes to slow down the bike at such speeds may not work.

Teaching a Kid to Ride a Bike FAQs

Here’s three questions parents keep asking when it comes to teaching a kid to ride a bike:

1. What’s the Best Age to Teach a Child to Ride a Bike?

Pretty much any child in the age range 4-5 years can learn how to ride a bike. At that age, most kids have developed enough balance and coordination abilities and can easily learn biking. That said, there’s not a specific age for teaching a child to bike.

As long as your child is confident enough and willing to learn, teach them regardless how old they are — they’ll learn and ride off into happiness sooner than you imagine.

2. How Do You Teach a Kid to Ride a Bike Without Training Wheels?

First off, make sure your child actually wants to learn to ride a bike. Then, test if their balancing abilities are where they need to be before getting them on a bike.  If they can balance without trouble, buy them the right bike for their age and needs.

Once the bike arrives, find a suitable environment for the exercise. Avoid places that might cause embarrassment such as where their classmates might see them.  Then, teach your child how to use the brakes and stop safely.

At this point, you can take the pedals off so they can fully master balancing and coordination. Finally, attach the pedals back on, and they’ll have learned to ride their bike fast and safely.

Make sure to have your little one put on a quality kid’s helmet for biking and some decent protective pads. Remember: be patient and try not to teach the lessons too fast or too hard.

3. What Age Should a Kid be able to Ride a Bike without Training Wheels?

Some kids can learn to ride their bike without stabilizers quite early while others need a little more maturity. Generally, kids between the ages 3 and 8 years can learn to glide around on a bike without training wheels.

But what’s the best time to remove the training wheels from your kid’s bike? The best time to unscrew the training wheels is when they’ve mastered riding their balance bike without your support.

4. How Long Do Kids Take Learning How to Ride a Bike?

3-4 weeks is adequate time for pretty much any child. The assumption is that the child doesn’t have any conditions or situations that might stand in the way of the learning process. If nothing stops or slows down the learning process, 3-4 weeks is the median time required to learn to bike.

5. Does Taking off the Pedals Hasten the Learning Process?

Yes, it does. Removing the pedals encourages the child to learn balance, coordination, and foot-braking very fast.

You’ve just learned 4 easy ways to teach a kid to ride a bike. Now, it’s time to gift them a properly sized bike and teach them how to have fun on it.