How to Teach a Child to Ride a Bike

Learning how to ride a bike is one of the most classic moments a parent and child. The way I learned when I was a kid, and the way I taught our first child was the old method. I ran along my daughter and held onto the bike seat as she took off. As the pedaling picked up, I inevitably couldn’t keep up. She was wobbling along, and I kept my fingers crossed that the first fall is a gentle one. The old way can get the job done, but it isn’t the safest method for the child or adult.

There are better, faster and safer ways to teach your child how to ride a bike with confidence. Every child learns differently so we are here to share our three favorite methods.

The goal with all  of them is to teach your child  how to balance, steer, brake and pedal with confidence.

Regardless of the method you choose, remember to keep it fun!

What You Need
  1. A Child that is ready to learn and has enough coordination to handle a bike. We typically recommend that they are at least 4 years old.
  2. A Helmet that fits properly. It needs to fit snugly around the head and low on the forehead. Side straps should make a “Y” under the ears.
  3. A Bike with properly inflated tires that allows the child to put both feet comfortably on the ground while standing about an inch over the bike’s crossbar. We do not recommend training wheels (stabilizers in the UK) as they teach bad stearing habits.
  4. A Safe Location with plenty of open space in all directions. There should be no cars or objects she could run into nearby.
  5. Clothing that is not loose and shoelaces that are tucked in. Nothing should be able to interfere with the bike chain or pedals.
Skip ahead to one of the three methods:

No Pedals Method

Quick Summary: This is our preferred method for most kids and can be started at a very young age. The child first learns how to balance and steer with a balance bike or bike that has its pedals removed. You can then add pedals to the bike where they add in pedaling and braking.

Full Overview

1. Prepare the Bike

  • Start by removing the bike pedals (you may need a pedal wrench) and training wheels (if there are any). You can also simply use a balance bike for this step.
  • Lower the seat so that your child’s feet are planted flat on the ground when sitting.

2. Learning to Coast without Pedals

  • Have your child scoot around on the bike until they are comfortable with basic balance while moving with their feet on the ground.
  • Next, have them take a few steps to get moving then lift their feet off of the ground to coast. You can show them on your own bike by getting the bike moving and stretching your own legs out straight to the sides for balance.
  • Remember to keep this fun and make a game of seeing how long they can coast without putting their feet down.

3. Learn to Turn while Coasting

  • Now it’s time to add in turning while coasting. You will start them out with big wide turns.
  • Place four flat objects or cones out in a big square about twenty feet from each other.
  • Have your child coast towards the circle and make a big wide circle around the four cones. Then have them try to go around the other direction
  • Make a game of it and challenge them to get further and further around without having to touch their feet to the ground.
  • Next, set up the cones about 10 feet apart in a straight line. Have your child try to make it from one side to the next while weaving in and out a few times.

4. Learning How to Pedal

  • Reinstall the bike pedals, but keep the seat in a lowered position.
  • Hold your child under their armpits to keep their balance and have them practice bringing their feet back and forth from the ground to the pedals.
  • Setup a pedal in the 1 to 3 o’clock position.
  • Hold the bike seat or your child’s armpits as you have them place one foot on the ground and the other on the pedal. They push down and begin pedaling.
  • Make games of steering between cones and doing figure 8’s

5. Learning How to Brake

  • Have your child coast slowly and brake until they can do so without losing any control.
  • Place the cone 20 feet ahead of your child. Have them coast towards it and brake before hitting it. Repeat until they can stop inches away from the cone comfortably.

6. Bringing it All Together

  • Raise the seat so that when your child is sitting, their leg is slightly bent when the pedal is at the bottom (6 o’clock position).
  • Get on your own bike and make sure to wear your helmet to set a good example.
  • Have them slowly follow you while you make slow and easy turns. Reinforce fun and success.

Towel Method

Quick Summary:  This method is the fastest method for most kids to learn, but it also requires the parent to run with the child. A towel is wrapped around the body as a harness and the parent holds the child up as they learn to balance, pedal, turn and brake.

Full Overview

1. Prepare the Bike

  • Set up the bike seat so that your child’s leg is only slightly bent when the pedal is at the bottom (6 o’clock position).

2.  Setup the “Towel Harness”

  • Find a beach towel or bedsheet.
  • This video will give you a rough idea of placement.
  • Fold it so that it is roughly five feet long and six inches wide.
  • Wrap the towel around your child’s chest and under the armpits.
  • Gently twist the towel behind them so that you have a grip that wraps them in place.
  • You should be able to hold the towel in place while your child is in place, and they shouldn’t be able to fall.
  • Make sure that there is no excess material dangling that could get caught up in the bike’s wheel or pedals.

3. Learning How to Balance, Pedal, Turn and Brake

  • Have your child start slowly pedaling and jog alongside them as you gently help them with their balance by holding the towel.
  • As they gain comfort and coordination, have them begin gently turning in either direction.
  • Now it’s time to teach them how to brake with a game. When you say green, they pedal, when you say yellow they coast, and when you say red, they brake.
  • When they can turn and brake with confidence, you can begin the next step. 

4. Bringing it All Together without the Towel

  • Get on your own bike and make sure to wear your helmet to set a good example.
  • Have them slowly follow you while you make slow and easy turns. Reinforce fun and success.

Grass Hill Method

Quick Summary:  This method is a good choice if you have access to a flat, low-grade grass slope. This method allows children to build momentum with the slope. The grass slows the child down and acts as protection during a potential fall.

Full Overview

1. Find a Safe Grass Slope

  • Find a low grade grass slope with plenty of open space in every direction. The slope should only be steep enough to help move your child forward gently. The goal is to allow them to create a little bit of momentum on the grass.
  • Do not choose a steep hill or a hill with any obstacles at the bottom.

2. Prepare the Bike Seat

  • Lower the seat so that your child’s feet rest comfortably flat on the ground.

3. Teaching Balance

  • Bring your child just high enough up the hill so that when you release the bike will begin rolling.
  • Have your child straighten their legs out so that they don’t touch the ground or pedals.
  • Release and allow your child to slow themselves down at the bottom with their feet.
  • Walk the bike back up the hill and each time bring them up a little bit higher as their coordination, balance and comfort levels increase.

4. Learning How to Steer and Brake

  • Ask your child to brake when they reach the bottom of the hill.
  • Once they can brake consistently, have them gently turn when they make it to the bottom then brake. Repeat until they are comfortable turning then braking.

5. Learning How to Pedal

  • Raise their seat so that your child’s leg is only slightly bent when the pedal is at the bottom.
  • Let your child start with their feet on the pedals. 
  • Tell them that when they make it to the bottom, you want them to pedal.
  • Once they are comfortable doing that, have them turn in wide circles while pedaling.

6. Bringing it All Together

  • Now your child can ride a bike!
  • Get on your own bike and make sure to wear your helmet to set a good example.
  • Have them slowly follow you while you make slow and easy turns. Reinforce fun and success.

Wrapping It Up

There are many ways to teach a child how to ride a bike. These are the three methods that we have seen the most success with. If you know of a better method or would like to share your experiences, please leave a comment below!