Written by Megan Gibson
“It’s just like riding a bike” … but riding a bike isn’t always easy.
I have been riding forever and spent most of my childhood whipping round our neighbourhood on two wheels. Not only that, I have spent many of my ‘mum’ years riding with my kids behind me in a trailer – that’s why I found to so hard to understand when my oldest child was really fighting against learning to ride.
My oldest son started school at five years old in 2016 and I naively believed that he would just suddenly start riding a bike and enjoy it as much as I did. However, turns out it took us a lot longer to get him confident on two wheels. Here are my tips for getting children riding independently.
KNOW YOUR CHILD
My son, while outwardly exuberant, lacks a lot of confidence when it’s him alone facing a challenge. Like all childhood milestones, bike riding comes at different times for everyone and I needed to wait until he was ready, maintaining a positive ‘can-do” attitude the whole time.
No matter at what point a child starts riding a 2-wheeled bike, there are plenty of options for younger kids to enjoy the freedom of wheels. Plastic ride on trikes, scooters, balance bikes, push along parent handle bikes, a baby seat on the back of an adult bike and tag along bikes. Getting active on a bike and getting kids outdoors is a brilliant activity for the entire family no matter the age or skill level.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT BIKE
Originally, we had my son riding his uncle’s old BMX from back in the day. While lovingly restored, in great condition and the right size for my son, it was far too heavy a bike for him to learn with. He had difficulty gaining the required momentum and even lifting the bike up from the ground. Hit up some speciality bike shops, talk to other parents and let your kids go for a spin on a friend’s bike before you choose the ride for them. The difference was instant the moment we switched to a more appropriate bike.
GIVE THEM A SAFE PLACE TO RIDE
When I was a child we had long driveways and quiet roads on which to practise riding. Now with higher density living and more traffic on the roads than ever before kids struggle to find a safe place to ride. Luckily, I have a car big enough to keep the kids bikes in the boot on a semi-permanent basis. We live close to some great parks which have excellent bike paths and can head for a quick spin after school. Netball courts and quiet back streets also make for bike riding havens.
SET UP A BIKE POSSE
Our breakthrough really came when I made a date after school one day to meet some other mums and kids at a local park. The other children were all more confident riders and it wasn’t long before my son forgot his fears to chase after the others and suddenly he could ride.
MODEL BIKE RIDING BEHAVIOURS
My kids know how much I love riding and being outside. Often when I get the chance for a little “me” time I will jump on my bike and head off for a spin. Show your kids how much you enjoy riding, go on a ride with them – it doesn’t have to be far or fast, just enjoy. If you don’t own a bike, ask around, someone likely has one sitting in the shed that you can borrow.
Would you buckle your child into their car seatbelt and then get in and drive off without putting your own seatbelt on first? Remember when we ride with our children it is important that we show them that safety is not just for beginning riders. Always wear a correctly fitted bike helmet and make sure you teach them basic cycling safety from an early age –obey the road rules, use lights/hi-vis in low light conditions and respect the other road users.
Bike riding is a skill for life. It broadens our transport options, benefits our health and is a staple part of childhood for many kids. Get out there today and share riding with your own kids.