Bikes can be safe or unsafe for kids. It all depends on whether they’re good riders or not. But no one ever gets good at anything without learning. And while your kiddo could self-train, we all know that self-training can be hard, frustrating, and time-consuming. So, how do you teach a kid to ride a bike without it making it feel like the toughest thing in the world?
This is why I put together tutorial. By the time you’re done reading this post, you’ll have mastered the simple art of teaching toddlers and older kids to ride a bike, with and without training wheels/stabilizers.
In this parent’s guide, I focus on teaching children to ride a bike with training wheels (for toddlers) and then move on to teach older kids how to pedal a real bike forward.
Is Your Child Ready for Bicycling?
Before embarking on training, you need to determine whether your kiddo is actually ready for the sessions. But wait, when is a kid ready to learn to cycle? There’s no one age when all kids are ready to learn to ride a bike.
Each child is an individual and develops individually. Some adults can muster adult-y stuff sooner than others, and it’s the same with children. So be patient if it seems like your kiddo isn’t learning as fast as you’d hoped or if they seem frustrated at any point during the learning journey.
If your kiddo is 3 or younger and is interested to learn (I assume they’ve verbally expressed their interest), I suggest that you introduce to a balance bike. A balance bike is simply a kid’s bike that doesn’t have pedals. Its main purpose is to help kids master balance and coasting, and these two are fundamental aspects of real bicycling.
The kiddo mounts the bike, sits on the saddle, holds the handlebars, and starts pushing the bicycle on the ground with their feet. How soon your kiddo masters a balance bike depends their kid’s coordination skills, physical ability, and interest.
Here’s the thing: Don’t think for your kid. Don’t decide they should learn to ride a bicycle just because your neighbor’s child is doing the same. If they’ve not asked you to buy a bike, chances are that they’re not ready yet or just aren’t interested. You can also be direct and ask if they’re interested to ride.
Only one person decides whether your little one is ready for cycling: him or her.
How to Teach a Kid to Ride a Bike With Training Wheels
What age are training wheels for and are they a good idea? Training wheels are suitable for kids of different ages. Kids can learn on a bike with stabilizers from age 3 to age 5. But this isn’t to say that all kids must learn with training wheels attached.
You don’t really need to introduce your little to training wheels at all. Many parents don’t do this and their kids learn to ride sooner or later. Some parents feel that while training wheels help stabilize the ride and minimize the fear of falling off the bike, they can make the kid settle in some comfort zone and not push their limits.
That said, you can still make use of those training wheels to help your LO master pedaling if their bike came with it. Toddler size mountain bikes, BMX bikes, and other kinds of kids’ bikes tend to have training wheels. And that’s OK. You can choose to detach these wheels or keep them.
Step-by-step Guide for Teaching a Child to Ride a Bicycle With Stabilizers
Many young children find pedaling a bike forward hard at first. They pedal forward some of the time and backward the rest of time, which isn’t how to ride a bike, right? With stabilizers or DIY trainers, you can help your child to master the forward pedaling motion in no time.
Step #1: Get the Right Bike With Training Wheels
If your kiddo is 3 years old, you may opt to get a bike like this for them. The stabilizing wheels have a smaller diameter than the rear wheel and typically mount higher than the rear wheel. I don’t remember ever seeing a kid’s bike whose stabilizers mounted lower than the rear wheel.
*Amazon affiliate link: The Huffy Marvel Spider Man is a toddler-friendly BMX bike. And if you like buying the most popular piece of baby gear out there, the Schwinn 14″ Boys and Girls Bike With Training Wheels is a good bet.
Step #2: Get a Way to Raise the Back Tire off the Ground
The whole point of a bike with training wheels is to help kids concentrate on pedaling forward rather than steering, turning, or any other aspect of bicycling. So, set the training wheels to the lowest position and then get a way to keep the back wheel lifted off the ground.
One way to set the back tire above the ground is to use bricks or thick pieces of lumber to prop the training wheels up. See the image below to get an idea of how to execute this step.
The back tire isn’t in contact with the ground, and this means the child can pedal without propelling the bicycle forward. The stabilizers aren’t attached to the bricks, so you have to hold the bike down by the back of the saddle/seat and crossbar or handlebar to keep it steady while your kiddo pedals the heck out of it.
Step #3: Put the Kid on the Bike and Have them Pedal the Bike
Since the saddle now sits higher than normal, you may have to help your child get on the bicycle. Alternatively, you can have the kiddo get on the ride first and then lift the back of the bike (with the child seated) off the ground and rest the training wheels on the bricks.
Once they’re perched on the saddle nice and stable, ask them to start pedaling forward. With you holding the bike down to stabilize it, your kiddo shouldn’t struggle to rotate the pedals at all.
Nor do they need tons of muscle strength to pedal since there’s no tire/ground friction to overcome. The resistance from the drivetrain is enough to make it feel like they’re doing real pedaling.
Step #4: Get the Bike Off the Bricks and Ask the Kiddo to Mount It and Start Riding
Once your child has mastered pedaling forward (they won’t struggle at all without stabilizing everything), get the bike off the bricks and ask them to just pedal it.
The training wheels are there for a reason: to stabilize the bike without any kind of support. Now that your kiddo understands how pedaling forward works, have them get on their little shiny bike and just start riding forward.
Many kids below age 4 may struggle to pedal if the surface they’re riding on is rough or full of little bumps. I suggest that you find a really smooth surface for this training phase.
If your driveway is smooth, go there. If not, do it on the sidewalk if it’s not crappy. And if you have a tennis court around or a school blacktop, head over there and watch your little one pedal off to true happiness.
Our son was 3 when we trained him to ride on a bike with training wheels. He really struggled to pedal forward initially, but we realized that was because the surface he was learning on was rather rough and had many little bumps.
One we move to a smoother surface, he got on the bike and just pedaled away. Sometimes he pedaled in half rotations and other times in full rotations. But on day 3, he could make full pedal revolutions without straining. We loved it when the excited tyke finally exclaimed, “I done it! I’m riding my bike on my own” and “Look at me mommy”
We didn’t do anything else to help our son ride their bike aside from helping him master pedaling in the propped-up position as described above. So you see it’s really easy to teach a kiddo to ride a bicycle with the stabilizers attached.
How to Teach a Kid to Ride a Bike Without Training Wheels
Maybe you’re wondering what’s the best time to take off training wheels or what age to remove training wheels. According to KTL Therapy, most kids aged 5-6 years have developed adequate gross motor skills to start learning on a bike without training wheels.
But some kids can start learning to bike without stabilizers as early as age 4 or even 3. Our second son and our neighbor’s daughter didn’t ever use training wheels, and they were aged 4 and 5 respectively.
I can’t tell you whether your 2-year-old or 3-year-old can ride a bicycle without training wheels. Only you can decide that. Why not take the wheels off and see if they can learn to bicycle without the wheels on?
2 Methods to Teach Kids to Ride a Bike Without Training Wheels
1.Try the Balance Buddy method
2.The Bedsheet Method
But first things first: teach your kiddo the essentials of pedaling, that is, pedal motion. You don’t have to do this step and can skip it if you like, but we found it helpful.
Use a DIY Trainer: This Method Teaches Kids the Basics of Pedaling
This method works similar to propping up the rear wheel using bricks. Since you’re using a bike without training wheels, you need to create a different kind of “trainer.” I’ve learned that the quickest way to do this is to employ little toy blocks.
You definitely can use other materials with a similar shape, but let’s use toy blocks for now. I bet you have some toddler building blocks around …because every kid loves and owns these play blocks.
BTW, I recommend toy blocks and not bricks because they’re plastic and therefore soft. Which means they won’t scrape or scuff your kiddo’s new shiny bicycle.
- Lay a smooth block of wood or anything else that’s solid and even.
- Place as many toddler building blocks as needed to raise the back tire high enough off the surface.
- Once you have a nice stack of blocks that’s tall enough, lift the bike and place sit on the top. Make the bicycle sit on its bottom bracket. This position will position the rear tire up, but the front wheel stays firmly on the ground.
- Holding the front of the bike to stabilize the setup, get your kiddo on the bike (or ask them to mount if they can).
- Instruct the child to start pedaling forward. Since the bike goes nowhere and there’s no steering to do, they’ll naturally focus on what they can do: rotating the pedals. If they pedal backward initially, that’s OK; don’t scold them at all. Instead, tell them people pedal forward not backward and they’ll do it.
Your kid won’t learn to ride a pedal bike without training wheels this way, but I guarantee they’ll fully grasp the mechanics of pedaling a bicycle. And pedaling is the main thing we do when seated on a rig, right? Right.
Method #1: Use the Balance Buddy Method
The Balance Buddy Method is a simple way to teach a kid how to build up better balance skills while pedaling. The Balance Buddy is essentially a some sort of a handlebar that attaches to the rear axle. The parent holds the other end of the foam-covered bar to steady the bike as their kiddo bikes.
Best balance buddy? There are two kinds of this piece of training equipment: Handle-style bars, commonly known as Balance Buddies and U-Shaped options. I’ve used both, and I found that U-shaped training handles stabilize the bike better, plus the handle design is a tad more ergonomic.
I recommend the U-shaped MOLI DEE Children’s Cycling Training Push Bar. Follow this link to view it on Amazon. It’s a great product that many parents like. The beauty of using a training push bar is that you don’t need to hunch over as you stabilize the bike.
Plus, the equipment allows some distance between you and the rear wheel, making it easier to maneuver while stabilizing the ride. It’s way easier and less awkward than holding the back of the saddle. Your back will thank you after each lesson.
You can use the Balance Buddy to steady smaller bikes and bigger sized bikes as well. With this teaching technique, you have to hold the bar and run along as your kiddo pedals.
Children know they won’t fall over, and this knowledge boosts their confidence as they learn. Whether you’ve taught how to pedal a bicycle or not, they’ll learn to ride pretty easily with this strategy.
After a bunch of runs (after 30 minutes of training), our 4 year old could pedal comfortably and safely. Once the young student learns to bike forward smoothly with you running along, try releasing your grip on the handlebar a bit. Your hands needs to be there just in case you need to provide support.
When I tried this suggestion (loosening the grip on the Balance Buddy), I noticed that my son could ride independently. The final step involved removing my hand from the “trainer” but lying to my son that I was still holding him up.
I would release the handle and count up to 3, 5, 10, and so on, and my son made nice pedal rotations without knowing he was completely in charge.
After each riding session, I told the little learner that he actually rode the bike independently this long or that long. And he gave me an ear-to-grin that meant he was happy with all the progress he was making.
On day 4, Ryan rotated the pedals without my hand on the stabilizing U-shaped bar for a nice 100 feet. But he did need some support when turning around so he could ride back to where we started. By the end of week 1, the little dude didn’t need me running behind anymore. He’d evolved into an independent bike rider in just one week.
Don’t worry if your kiddo takes longer than 45 minutes, a week, or 2 weeks. Just keep encouraging them until they finally master the art and science of balancing on a bicycle while pedaling.
Method #2: Use the Bed Sheet Method
I learned this unconventional teach-a-kid-to-ride-a-bicycle method from a dad I bumped into online. Watch this video to see how he did it. Why create another video when a good one already exists?
You can hold the bike down when teaching a child to cycle, which is often uncomfortable and back-killing, or you can get creative and use a bed sheet instead. Below is how the Bed Sheet Method Works:
- Get a sturdy bed sheet. You don’t want anything that stretches too much. You need a solid sheet that’s supple and folds with ease.
- Take the training wheels off the bike if it came with stabilizers.
- Twist the bed sheet a bit so that you end up with something rope-like. The middle of the “rope” should be wide enough (less twisted) for better rider comfort during the lesson.
- Wrap the sheet around the chest of the child and twist both ends of the sheet behind your kiddo’s back. This way, the sheet serves as a sort of safety harness that keeps the kid nice and stable as they learn to ride.
- To make your child know they’ll be safe and secure during the session, ask them to pretend they’re falling off the bike. Pull them back onto the bike, and that’ll seal the deal. Once they know daddy or mommy will make sure they won’t fall over and experience pain, their confidence will get a nice boost.
- Ask the little rider to get their feet on the pedals and start pedaling.
- Make as many runs as the youngster needs to build up enough skill and confidence around bicycling.
- After a few runs, start loosening the sheet so that the child starts developing independence.Keep loosening the sheet until you finally take it off and just let them ride.
This method is easier than you imagine, and in the opinion of those I’ve shared this little secret with, it works even better than the push bar method I described above.
Me? Both methods work, and since you don’t need to buy anything to implement method 2, you can try it out NOW and make a decent rider out of that innocent coach potato.
In about 2 hours of continuous practice, your lovely little one should be able to ride without your support. I helped train one of my neighbor’s kids, and they picked up the art in 2 hours tops. The methods works, and it saves your back some pain. Some might prefer method 1 because it keeps the instructor’s back in the same position (straight up instead of hunched over) the entire time.
How Do You Teach a Kid to Ride a Bike With a Balance Bike?
A balance bike has no pedals. The young rider concentrates on maintaining good balance as they coast down quiet neighborhood streets. They won’t learn pedaling, but once they master balance, they can easily transition to a regular pedal bike without needing to learn on a bike with training wheels.
I intend to create a separate post about how to teach a kid to ride a balance bike.
Teaching your son or daughter to ride a bicycle is a simple art, and you don’t need any kind of expensive equipment or special training to do it. All you need is a willing child, a good bike, and an effective knowledge transfer method.
I recommend either the Bed Sheet Method or the more commonly used Balance Buddy Method. The beauty about these two methods is that they work. Plus, these simple strategies have you standing up rather in the usual uncomfortable, back-punishing, hunched-over position parents have used for years.
Pick the training technique that clicks with you and get going. It’s time take action, and remember to remind that tyke to wear a bike safety certified helmet.
And while you’re at it, why not have them wear a pair of good kids’ knee pads, elbow pads, and wristguards? Protective gear helps, you know.
I'm Esther Moni, a proud stay-at-home mom and a psychology graduate of the United States International University (USIU) . I hate it when anyone calls me a housewife, because what does housewife even mean? Being a mother of two babies and a pup, Bailey, as well as being Ricky's wife tires me to no end, but I still manage a smile at the end of it all. And when my boys aren't done doing mischief, I juggle writing a post on parenting or baby gear performance for this blog and running my little counselling office based out in Nairobi. <a href="https://www.facebook.com/esther.moni/">Visit my Facebook profile here</a>, and this is my <a href="https://ke.linkedin.com/in/esther-moni-3841b573/">LinkedIn profile</a>, and here's my <a href="https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKcVb3NNDrURDH8C0KiAE1g/">nascent youtube channel.