Even in the dreary weather we’ve been having, I’m sure many of you are excited to start your little ones off on a new adventure – BICYCLING! Teaching a small child can be a fun, rewarding, and albeit, tricky experience. Also, don’t forget nerve-wracking!
First off, I want to point out a great resource I came across three years ago and still use today! It’s the best guide to correctly sizing your child, narrowing down your bike options, bicycle reviews and much, much more – Two Wheeling Tots (click here). I’ve used this website for all my bicycle information needs as they complete hundreds of reviews and give you all the safety info needed to start your child’s two wheeling adventures. The only thing I caution is their bike buying options though, as they are based in the US and product availability isn’t as great here in Canada. Otherwise, they are phenomenal and I mention them quite a bit throughout!
First Steps – Exploration and Understanding
First off, know that bicycling can be a challenging and even daunting task for children. They almost all want to do it, so they can be like the “cool, big kids,” but when faced with the actual task, it can be a little scary to move from two stable feet to two rolling wheels. So encouragement and patience are key.
At around 18 months, I let my kids explore bikes and the way they move while they were lying on the ground. Also, it helps to point out bicyclists just in your normal, everyday activities or in your child’s books. Let children become familiar with bicycles before getting them on one.
Before getting my son his first bike, I would point and OOO and AHH every time I saw a bike while we were walking , to reinforce a positive interaction and curiosity with them. I started this when he was a year so he would learn the words and become familiar with seeing bikes in a positive light. I was very careful to only draw attention to cyclists who were wearing helmets and other proper safety gear. I didn’t mention them and would pass them by silently if they weren’t wearing helmets, hoping my son was just looking the other way! I’m sure this helped reinforce the normality of helmets and how even adults wear them.
Next Steps – Measuring and Picking Out the Right Bike
While it’s fun to choose the colours and designs of the new bike, it’s more important to pick one that is a proper fit for your child. Bicycles come in all shapes and sizes, but the very best way to get the right bike is by measuring the inseam of your child’s pants and making sure the seat height of the bike is the same distance to the ground.
My son was a fairly squirmy toddler and so I picked his best fitting pair of pants, laid them down flat on the floor, and did my measurements in the relative peace of my own living room. I really caution parents not to do the measuring in the middle of the bike store because your child may be so overwhelmed and excited (or terrified) that you’re not likely to get the most accurate measurement (click here).
Use the measurement to narrow down which bikes will fit your child. You can do either balance bikes or a bicycle with training wheels.
Balance bikes all the rage now! They are bikes without pedals, training wheels, or any other do-dads. This makes them incredibly light, enabling an 18 month old to pick them up and move them with ease. They also fit children better, as they are designed more like adult bikes without the added accessories. And they help kids learn to balance on two wheels, which is the most challenging part of riding a bike. Some of them do come with handbrakes and you can add bells and streamers if needed! The prices range quite a bit but the Nakamura 12 in bike is sold at Sportchek for $80.
For our two boys, we tried the new balance bike wave. While balance bikes may seem odd (they certainly did to me the first time I encountered one in the wild), the idea grew on us, and our children. They were light enough for my son to carry around and maneuver, they were comfortable for him to sit on, and they teach a child to balance! Huge bonus and extra points – when my son grew too tired to keep riding, the bike fit easily in the bicycle trailer used on the back of my bike. The bonus for my child, well he also gets to look like those cool older kids, without all the pressure! Click here.
Bicycles with training wheels have been around for ages, and if you are sentimental, needing that exhilarating memory of letting go of your child’s bike as they take off for their first ride without their trainers on, then this is the bike for your family! These bikes would also be a great fit for those children needing a little extra encouragement as they have a sense of stability you won’t get with a balance bike. It’s harder for children to turn the bikes and move them because of their extra gear and weight. Bells, streamers, and spiderman stickers can be added to these bikes too!
Before we go any further, always stress the importance of wearing a helmet! Never let your child on a bike without this crucial piece of safety gear! To get the right fit, measure your child’s head with a soft measuring tape one inch above his or her eyebrows (the thickest part of the head). A proper fitting helmet should fit squarely on the head, not tilted back or forward, and should not move when he or she shakes her head. Ask your child if they want broccoli for lunch to try this safety test! Click here.
A nice little tidbit – I also stole the chance to reiterate road safety and rules about walking hand in hand when crossing a road while forcing the helmet convo on my child! It worked great!
Balance Buddy – For small racers who want to keep up with others but haven’t got the feel for balance quite yet, try a balance buddy! They are a long handle to attach to your child’s back axle. They ride, you balance. It can give them a bit of a confidence boost and some exercise for you! One $30 at Canadian Tire!
The Clicker – One interesting thing that many bike manufacturers have noticed is that hesitant riders are often incentivized to keep moving forward if they hear a ‘click, click, click’ sound from their back wheel. It prompts them to keep going to keep hearing the sound. Easy and cheap, just duct tape a card to your child’s rear wheel.
Strap – Some of the best balance bikes come with bags or straps to shoulder carry after your child ditches it to chase a butterfly. I myself bought our balance bike off of Kijiji and it didn’t come with a strap. Luckily, I found a very short bungee cord that worked perfectly as either a shoulder strap or to secure the bike into the stroller, wagon, etc. Worked like a dream!
And Off We Go!
It’s very exciting to bring all the gear home and encourage your child to hop on. But I caution all parents to be patient. Our oldest took almost two years of bumping into walls and falling down on his balance bike before things really happened. And some days he just did not want to practice. But it did eventually happen! Once your child finds his or her comfort zone, the feet come up and the magic begins!
One summer day last year, walking down a paved walking path, laden with a baby and a diaper bag, my oldest son got the feel for it all at once. He pulled his feet up while going down a hill, screaming, “I’m going to win the race!”
I dropped my bag (kept the baby) and took off after him! He was having the time of his little life! I was too, for the most part… Haha!
And now he is a natural! He is ready for his first bike with pedals (no trainers needed) and is doing just fine mastering his “death-defying maneuvers.” And a big bonus – his little bro is all ready to start on his new hand-me-down balance bike (with a few brand new flame stickers to increase it’s speed).
Last Gentle Reminders
Always remember to remind your children of the dangers of riding their bicycle (preferably without terrifying them!). Our children are small and hard to spot, so keeping them away from roads is certainly a good idea until they’re old enough to understand the dangers and do’s-and-don’ts of bicycle safety. And never forget your helmets!
It’s also extremely important for parents to have patience and understanding in this important step of their child’s development. Try to never discourage your child or pressure them to go too far outside of their comfort zone. While some gentle encouragement (“You can do it, just give it a try”), can be hugely beneficial, going too far (“Well, I can’t teach you if you’re not willing to try”) can have some pretty negative effects. Remember that with all things, learning to ride a bike takes time and everyone learns at a different pace.
At the beginning of our adventure, my husband and I were the gentle guides, but two years later and our child takes the lead, often winning the race!