I read this article from Momentum magazine on Five Ways to Get Kids Excited About Bikes. That got me thinking about how I’ve worked with my 5 year old grandson over the years to enjoy riding.
How to Ride.
In Uterol – ‘in the womb’ is the first opportunity a child has to ride a bike. Though some mothers choose to stop riding when they become pregnant, others continue riding until shortly before giving birth. Another article from Momentum is on How to Bike While Pregnant. Just as I sometimes feel more confident in my bike handling skills than at other times, I listen to my mind and body. If you decide not to ride while pregnant, that is the right decision for you and your baby. Whether pregnant or not, if all we do is worry about getting hurt while riding, we shouldn’t be riding.
In a Trailer – We have a bicycle trailer that can carry up to 70 lbs. We waited till our grandson was a toddler before pulling him in the trailer. With his size allowing him to face forward in his car seat, we felt comfortable with him being strapped in the trailer facing forward. We can pull down a barrier to protect him from objects thrown by the rear bicycle tire.
On a Tricycle – He got a tricycle for his first birthday, but really wasn’t big enough to ride it till he was 2.
We have hardwood floors so he spun the front wheel and learned to power slide the rear wheels around corners. Though five and way to big, he still occasionally gets on the trike and rides around on the hardwood floors.
On a Bicycle – Learning to ride a bicycle. There is something about this rite-of-passage, almost as monumentous as learning to walk. Think about how much mobility walking gains one over crawling. Riding a bicycle over walking expands one’s mobility as much, if not more.
When the grandson was almost 3 years old, we bought a 16″ kids bicycle putting the seat all the way down so his feet were flat on the ground and took the pedals off so he could walk the bike around while sitting on the seat.
He practiced on and off for 8 months in the basement learning balance by striding along. We would practice when I went over there once or twice a week but did not push it. I would ride his bike and demonstrate correct form. We would take turns for two or three times per practice. It was a slow development of skills.
When I saw him coasting 10′ or so and balancing between strides, he was ready to try with pedals. We had lost the pedals and had to buy another pair so make sure you remember where you place them! For the first time, we brought him and the bike over to our driveway which is slightly downhill and is on a cul-de-sac so there was a wide open area to ride around without having to go straight. On the second try, he was pedaling and riding around in wobbly way, but he was riding! I was hooting and hollering and he was looking at me instead of where he needed to ride and almost fell down. Still lots to learn but he was riding a bicycle at 4 years old.
Now at 5, he needs a bigger bicycle as his seatpost is fully extended. The goal is not to get the biggest bike he can ride but to get a proper fitting bicycle. An extra small 26″ adult bicycle can weigh 30-50% of the child’s weight. A 20″ or 24″ bicycle will have a better geometry and weight.
On a Tandem – In addition to learning to stride, we bought a tandem bicycle that has another crankset on the seat tube above the stoker’s crankset. Along with handlebars that come out farther, we rode around on streets when he was 3 and a half years old.
This is still one of his favorite ways to ride because he doesn’t have to work as hard and we cover a lot of distance. We will start at Lewis and Clark Landing on the Missouri River and ride to the Omaha Children’s Museum or the Henry Doorly Zoo. We don’t ride just to ride, we ride to get somewhere to have fun. Hopefully he will connect fun with riding the rest of his life.
Omaha Devo assigns a coach with 3-5 kids to learn how to ride mountain bike trails. They start on grass and move to singletrack and progressive technical trail features. Because my grandson still didn’t ride in a narrow path well his parents decided not to sign him up this year.
At all ages, motivation is key to riding and riding more. The younger the child, the shorter the rides in general. Time in the trailer or on the bicycle should be considered more than distance. Periodic breaks for longer rides, whether just stopping to get out of trailer or off bicycle to drink, or a playground to exercise different muscles and mental enrichment. Just as adults need to build up stamina and endurance, so the children.
My grandson doesn’t see riding as the end but a means to an end. For example, we ride to the park, playground, library, community center, school, lake, etc. We love to throw rocks in the lake and will ride about 15 minutes to get there. When my children were in middle school, we would ride 30 minutes to get ice cream cones. We took the family on trips down the Wabash Trace, starting at different towns in order to see more of the trail.
What is our motivation to ride? Hopefully it is for fun or joy. But there is usually an underlying reason or two that produces the fun. Maybe fitness, competition, adrenalin, sight seeing, saving money, limiting our carbon footprint, social, etc. The more reasons we have for riding, the more fun and the more time we spend riding.
An old proverb says -
- raise a child in the way she should go,
- and when she is old,
- she will not depart from it.
Riding bicycles is for a life time. Today is the first day of the rest of their life. Let’s ride a bike.