Teaching Your Child to Ride a Bike – a Physiotherapist’s Perspective

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Spring is in the air, and that means we can finally get outside and get our bodies moving!

Little boy learning to ride a bike after his parents got tips from a physiotherapist.

Most parents take this opportunity to begin teaching their children how to ride a bike, which sometimes can be as frustrating as it is exciting.

It’s important to remember that riding a bicycle is a challenging gross motor skill that requires core stability and strength, motor planning, coordination, balance, and body/spatial awareness. Also, pedalling a bicycle requires more leg strength, force, and core stability when compared to riding a tricycle. Here are some tips from a physiotherapist to help make those early training sessions a bit easier:

Picking a bike: When choosing a bike for your child, consider the following:

  • Balance bikes versus training wheels: Balance bikes are a great place to start before transitioning to a typical bicycle. They can help your child become comfortable with their balance as they practice shifting their weight, pedalling, and steering. These typically work best for kids who already have stable balance and coordination and only need to transition those skills to a bike. Other children may benefit more from training wheels, as they can focus more on the strength, pedalling, and steering aspects of biking, and then progress to concentrating on balance once the training wheels are taken off.
  • Hand break versus reverse pedal break: Keep in mind some younger children may not have the grip strength to operate a hand brake, so you may want to opt for a bike with a reverse pedal break at first.
  • Gear versus gearless: It can be quite tricky to make gears work with training wheels, and it takes an experienced biker to understand how to change between gears. Choose a gearless bike to start if your child is just learning how to ride a bike.

Once you’ve chosen out your bike, start by teaching the concepts of riding a bike – without actually riding one! You can begin with your child sitting on the bike and explore the following:

  • Weight shifting: Starting with the seat low, have your child straddle the bicycle with their feet on the ground so they can learn what it feels like when they shift their weight side to side. Then, have them place their feet on the pedals and support them at their back. Gently shift them from side to side and allow your child to counterweight shift accordingly. This movement helps them gain awareness of the position of their body in space, works on core control, and helps to teach dynamic balance.
  • Turning handlebars: Practice turning the handlebars with your child with their feet planted on the ground. Guide your child on how to slowly turn the handles to direct the bike the way they want to go, and combine this with weight shifting.
  • How to brake: Show your child how to use their bike brake depending on the type it is.
  • Prevent falling: When practicing weight shifting, show your child how they can put their foot down to prevent a fall. Practice moving the bike side to side while their feet are up and encourage them to plant their foot down as they feel themselves falling to the side.

Now it’s time to get moving! Try using the following steps as you begin to add forward movement to your lessons:

  • Pick an environment with a flat surface and where there are no obstacles in the way.Children learning to ride a bike after his parents got tips from a physiotherapist.
  • Raise the seat up to the appropriate height, so your child’s foot isn’t completely flat on the ground but can reach the ground comfortably with the ball of their foot. Have your child put one foot on the pedal and keep the other foot off. Get them to start the bike by pushing the foot on the bike rather than using the foot on the ground.
  • Have your child practice pedalling with you supporting them from behind by placing your hands on their sides below the armpits. This support allows them to learn cycling movements with you there to stop them from falling too far to one side.
  • Slowly decrease your hand support or transition to light support from behind.

Remember, biking is a hard skill to master, but once established it should come back easily each season. Just like riding a bike!


An image of Jennifer Halfin, a physiotherapist at Children Support Solutions

By: Jennifer Halfin

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