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My son is almost seven years old and still can't ride a bike. He loves to be outside and play, and he wants to ride a bike. His bike has training wheels, but the moment I take them off and try to help him ride, he's not even close to exerting any kind of balance-- he's basically just falling over and crashing every time.

Any tips?

Update:

This past weekend we kept going down a slight hill and he just doesn't react to falling over (other than to keep falling). For those suggesting taking the pedals off-- he has the same problem keeping balance on a scooter. The gyro-wheel idea is cool, but I'm going to keep trying this downhill thing everyday for a while before spending the money on that wheel.

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I think it is worth checking this related question: bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/452/… –  kristof Jun 27 '11 at 16:09
    
I'd keep going; this way, he will learn balance before needing to learn cycling. –  Hairy Jun 28 '11 at 8:46

19 Answers 19

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Find a low grade hill, a hill that will let the bike move forward without effort but isn't steep enough to have him traveling at warp speed. Start low on the hill at first and have your son not pedal. The momentum will help balance the bike and your son will get the hang of it. As he does move further up the hill. Once he's no longer thinking about balancing (because that's the real issue with riding a bike you don't think about it you just do it). Start teaching him on flat land to get the bike started.

The longer you wait the harder it is. I taught my first daughter when she was 7 and it took a couple hours at the park. I taught my second daughter when she was just turning 5 and it took about 3 minutes (no lie) because she didn't think about it at all, just hopped on and started to pedal.

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I agree 100% with this. I did this 3 weeks ago. I had a very reluctant 7 year old, and a very keen 3 year old, both of whom had never cycled before. I removed the peddles and set them off freewheeling down a slight incline. Luckily, it was about 600 metres in length. After 3 goes at this (no kidding), I put the pedals back on and said they should try and keep their feet up for a couple of runs. The very next run, both were cycling down the hill and they stayed at the bottom cyling around. They are now very confident.cycle on the lanes around the house –  Hairy Jun 17 '11 at 12:23
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It really is the very best method. I would advise no one ever buying a bike with stabilisers on, as you can buy these bikes with no pedals which add as, I guess, sit down on scooters, as such. Within 20 minutes, both kids were cycling. This may also take some believing, but my eldest took part in a triathlon (a kids one) last weekend and did very well. –  Hairy Jun 17 '11 at 12:23
    
@Hairy - I'm with you on this. I'm so proud of my eldest. He came third in the regional schools triathlon this week :-) My youngest learned to cycle in one afternoon at age 4. The other two learned at a younger age but took a couple of days. –  Rory Alsop Jun 17 '11 at 14:52
    
The youngest was just off 4 and is a fairly tall girl, also with no fear. It's just so simple really this way! –  Hairy Jun 17 '11 at 16:20

What worked for me with all my kids was the way my dad taught me:

  • get a reasonably large open space with nothing to crash into - for me it was an airport runway, for my kids a car park
  • remove the training wheels entirely
  • get them to pedal at a speed you can comfortably jog at - the key to cycling is the pedalling, as a beginner does not yet know how to use the gyroscopic forces of the wheels correctly and the pedals give a lot more control over keeping upright
  • hold the back of their jacket tightly - this is a lot easier with a 4 year old than with a 7 year old, but it still works
  • initially help support them a little, but let them wobble - and when they do, push them slightly in the direction they should be leaning to bring the bike back under them
  • after a few minutes they will get the hang of this so do less, while keeping your grip to reassure them
  • after half an hour you should be jogging round behind them without actually holding them at all - once they realise this and get over the surprise they will be good for a bit

Until it comes to stopping...

  • here, I think the best bet is to get them to ride towards you and pull on both brakes hard, just before they hit you - this way you can help them stop if they aren't using the brakes hard enough, and you can catch them if they mess up. (advice - don't get them to ride fast yet :-)
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After my 5yr old daughter had training wheels for a long time, we finally removed them. We tried a few techniques - riding on grass was too hard to pedal, footpaths were a bit bumpy, and in the end our long driveway was the best. Being summer, I didn't have a jacket to hold, but I helped keep her upright. She started to learn to lean into me when she felt unbalanced, but this stopped quickly as long as she had enough speed for some (gyroscopic) stability. We've got more learning to do, but progress is excellent using this method, and she feels pretty safe - important for a nervous kid. –  Highly Irregular Feb 21 '12 at 2:26
    
yes, exactly that's what also worked with our son (5 years old) - at first I had to run with him and support him, but quickly he could do it alone... shakily in the beginning, but it got better quickly and now he has a lot of fun with his bike. :-) –  BBM Feb 13 at 19:52

Couple of things that worked for me...

First (and what was most effective), it's really helpful if there's an adjustment (up and down) on the training wheels themselves. That can allow you to adjust them upwards a little at a time on each side so that rather than having all 4 wheels on the floor at a time, there's a little more side to side movement. As your son gets more comfortable, you can keep moving them up until he's essentially riding on two wheels but with the psychological security of the training wheels still being there.

After that, I found it helped to go for 2 wheels in a place that had plenty of grassy run off and no hill. We used the track at our local high school. The thought of a never ending incline was too much for our little one, and after the prep she cycled right off in a second.

Good luck

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You might consider taking off the training wheels and the cranks, creating a "balance bike" or "strider bike". This will allow your child to focus on one skill at a time, rather than balance and pedaling, they can focus on just balance. This is essentially the same as having them coast down a hill, but the child gets to control their speed and practice for longer.

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Great idea! That is also what I was mentioning over here: What is the best way to teach my toddler to ride a tricycle? –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Apr 19 '12 at 8:12

You didn't ask for shopping recommendations (and this site isn't really meant for it) but might be a useful tool for you:

http://www.thegyrobike.com is a bike - or you can buy just the front wheel - with a big gyroscope inside. It essentially keeps the bike upright and pushes against any instability.

I'd think this would be a fabulous solution in your situation. You can set the gyro to different speeds, depending on how much assistance you want to be present.

I saw this a year ago and immediately thought cool, that's what I'd get for my son when he's older!

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I won't upvote this until we've tried. But it makes sense. Good idea. :) –  Lennart Regebro Jun 18 '11 at 19:13

Training wheels are a hindrance for learning how to ride. Get rid of them.

Me and my stepfather taught my brother to ride a bike by running after the bike holding it upright. It's good exercise. :-)

After a lot of running the balance is starting to get better and you can start letting go short moments, and grabbing hold quickly again. Just let go for longer and longer times. Try to let go without the kid seeing that you let go as he/she will invariable fall over immediately if he knows you aren't holding him upright.

Once he/she can bike with you running after for say 15-30 seconds or so, you can let them see that you aren't holding on, and tell them that they can do it by themselves now. You'll still have to help them start, and run after them a lot, but it'll get better.

This process took a couple of days in the backyard if I remember correctly.

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Way too complicated for learning to ride; I am starting to think maybe your step father was taking your brother for a ride (pun intended)... –  Hairy Jul 1 '11 at 13:37
    
Training wheels really do prevent learning how to ride, and this method does work well. –  Peter DeWeese Jul 1 '11 at 13:50
    
I think runing around after a bike, vs going down a slight incline with your feet down, is a mismatch; this really does appear to me, to be a bit of a piss take –  Hairy Jul 1 '11 at 21:14
    
@Hairy did you mean to say "mistake"? Or what did you mean? –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jul 4 '11 at 13:28
    
I meant, it's a no contest, it's a mismatch; running around with a bike sounds fairly laborious and I am unsure it's got any validity. Letting a kid simply coast downhill to get soem balance and coordination, sounds infintely better. –  Hairy Jul 5 '11 at 6:53

I'm teaching my 8 y/o son to ride a bike. The most challenging thing is not the actual mechanics of riding a bike. It's the "belief in the force", that "force" that allows you to stay stable when you have speed. It seems like a weird concept for them as they think "speed" is what will make them fall and so they fear it.

I simply go with him to a parking lot on weekends, and "run" after him, holding the back of his bike letting him peddle and try to make him see speed is his friend. speed gives him stability. I'll do that until he "feels the force" and then we'll start on gradients.

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I can tell you what helped teach me. I had a BMX style bike with training wheels... I could not ride it worth anything without the training wheels. They are made for older kids with different centers of gravity. When I tried on a bike with a smaller form factor, I got it and in no time, I was able to adapt my new found skills riding a larger bike.

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Our son goes to kindergarten by bike every day and one day we took off the training wheels and added a training handle. This way he can control the speed and doesn't have to worry about falling. Speed is important because it is lot harder to go really slow than it is to go just a bit faster.

Now the trick is to NOT hold the handle but to keep your hand very near it so that you can make adjustments. If you keep your hand on the handle it will be just like the training wheels and your son doesn't learn to keep the balance because you are (unwittingly) controlling him.

To sum it up: Training wheels: child learns to pedal the bike and there isn't much balance required. Training handle: child learns to balance himself (he already knows how to pedal) so it is really important not to control the balance (i.e. tight grip and basically pushing him with the handle).

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Practice.

I taught 2 kids how to ride bikes without training training wheels in the past 2 years, both when they were 3.

The boys both took a great interest in biking. We bike every day for 20 minutes. They started with training wheels. When the older one (who was 3 at the time) looked ready, I thought it was time to take them off, so we did, and I trained him by running beside the bike and grabbing the handlebars whenever he looked as though he was going to fall over. (You have to have a lot of endurance to do this, and as you'll see it was an ineffective strategy).

For the second one, I realized that I kind of rushed it for the first one. When the second one turned 3, after about a month into the summer this year (20 minute bike rides almost every day), I noticed he didn't rely on the wheels as much. So I removed the training wheels, and ran alongside him like I did for the first one the previous year, but the difference was, he didn't need my help after the first 20 minutes. He was riding on his own without a need for help after that.

So, basically it's practice. I realized I actually overexhausted myself by rushing the first one. There's no rush. Keep the training wheels until he's comfortable with them on. I think the 2 seasons of practice with training wheels is what made the 2nd 3 year old able to ride without training wheels so easily.

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There's a new tendency to get kids into cycling, just start with a balance bike for kids that has no pedals, so he needs only his legs to speed, that would give him comfort on standing in 2 wheels and easy correct the equilibrium, he still has his legs free and he can correct the position until he learns how to get speed.

Then the fun part comes, normally because the speed is limited to the strength of the legs, and the pedals increase the speed, he will eventually ask you to buy a bike with pedals. By that time he will have the skills to hold in 2 wheels acquired and he would be more concern on speed (then is when the parents' nightmare comes, but that's another question :) )

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Most kids tend to be scared when learning how to ride their bike. They always doubt themselves. What I would do is pretty simple. Put his/her bike in a tall ditch and tell them to pedal. If they fall they won't get hurt because the high ditch will catch them. Hope it helps.

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Just to add what was written already, put those training wheels back on until he gets used to riding. My son is 5 and been riding off and on, mostly off, for a year and still has the training wheels on. I'll take them off when I feel he has gotten stable on the bike, but so far its been good. I take rides with him so he gets some distance and builds up the leg muscles, just make sure the sidewalks are smooth otherwise you end up having to push them out of small depressions that keep the rear wheel from touching the ground.

Make sure they learn to use the brake as well, I bring my son to small hills and keep telling him to get used to kicking the pedals back to stop the bike so when he has no training wheels he can go as fast as he wants.

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Thought i should add if they have hand brakes disconnect the front break, at least for now. –  Ominus Jun 16 '11 at 17:20

One element to add to the discussion. When steering a bicycle (and motorcycle) you must look where you want to go for steering to function naturally. Whereever you are looking you will tend to aim the bike at. If you are looking where you don't want to go (at the thing that scares you) you will hit it.

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Not sure about the downvote. Steering is just as important as balance. Many people get hurt when they get scared, focus on the thing that scares them (like a curb or car) and steer directly into it. Target Fixation (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Target_fixation) –  Paul Cline Jul 7 '11 at 15:59
    
The steering you find natural is something that kids have to learn (though they probably won't learn consciously). I've heard your advice works well for adults (for snowboarding too!), but I get the feeling that this advice won't help kids much for learning to balance. It is obviously still important for avoiding obstacles though. (I didn't downvote, by the way!) –  Highly Irregular Feb 12 '12 at 21:44

I taught my oldest son to a ride a bike by getting him on his bike (with training wheels) regularly, with a goal of at least once a day. I made sure he knew how to use the brake to control his speed so that he could build confidence without letting the bike get away from him on hills.

As he improved and started leaning into turns he actually bent his training wheels upward. He was afraid to bike without them so I just started bending them myself every few days until they were bent 45 degrees, halfway between their original position and being completely vertical.

He still didn't want them removed when I took them off but he was clearly ready to bike without them, so I took them off and ran along beside him the first time he rode without them.

Then entire process only took a week or two.

UPDATE: This weekend I saw a child riding a Strider bike which is basically a bicycle with no pedals. It seemed like a much better way to learn than training wheels as he could learn to balance a bike while shuffling along with his feet and coasting down hills. I believe there are other, similar bikes for small children.

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what age was he? Despite the general opinion that training wheels slow the process of learning for most kids, this clearly worked nicely in a very short time, so is an option to consider - I think the age of the child and general level of co-ordination could make a big difference here though. Thanks for sharing! +1 –  Highly Irregular Feb 12 '12 at 21:36
    
I would agree. I believe my son was 5 1/2 or 6 at the time, though I think it would have worked just as well when he was 4, it just would have taken longer. –  Jim Clark Apr 27 '12 at 14:18

This is probably obvious, but nobody has mentioned it yet:
You need to steer in the direction you're falling because that will keep the bike underneath your center of gravity, thereby maintaining balance.

Contrary to the comments, I don't believe that the gyroscopic effect of the wheels provide any useful degree of stability because their mass is too small compared to the rest of the vehicle+rider and their rotation is much too slow. A gyro is only helpful if it has significant mass and rotates at high speeds.

Usually the frame's geometry will also provide some additional stability because the sense that the front fork is angled back slightly and the wheel axle is in front of that angle. This makes the wheel "want" to point straight ahead rather than turn by itself.

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If you are steering in the direction you're falling, you'we still falling. The basic principle of riding a bike is maintaining a balance i.e. using body weight and steering inputs to keep in a straight line. Simply saying turn into the fall isn't helpful, as they have to remember to turn the other way too if they go to far and if their weight isn't balanced properly, they'll go down like a sack of spuds. –  Hairy Jun 18 '11 at 7:13
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Well, one could say that you maintain your balance by steering ... but okay. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jun 18 '11 at 17:54
    
No, you maintain balance by the gyroscopic action of the wheels, except when you are below a certain minimum speed. Then you need to do this. This is why the gyrowheel you mentioned is intriguing. If it works, it works by making this gyroscopic help already on low speeds and with small wheels, and as such it should make it easier to ride. I'll have to get one of those. :-) –  Lennart Regebro Jun 18 '11 at 19:11
    
It's not just steering though, it is also body and position; teaching a kid to steer into the direction they are falling, see's bad accidents, as they don't yet understand the finesse and touch needed to do this successfully. I believe this is a touch thing kids pick up on once they learn to ride, not as they learn to ride. –  Hairy Jun 24 '11 at 8:07
    
Have a look at the skeptics question on whether it is gyroscopic force that keeps a bike up. Might surprise you! skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/10401/… –  Rory Alsop Aug 21 '12 at 16:51

My son is 5 and just learned to ride a bike. He did have training wheels on his bike for awhile but then I got him a scooter and he used that quite a bit to learn balance. Once he really got that down, he asked to have his training wheels taken off his bike and started riding right away on his 2 wheel bike.

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Do not use training wheels. Ever.

Get your child a balance bicycle (aka a run bike). That way, they'll get a feel for the balance. Let them learn how to pedal on a tricycle if needed.

When using training wheels, it's easy to learn things they need to unlearn when losing the training wheels, like pulling or pushing on the handles too much, or leaning in one direction.

My kids could ride a bike when barely three, and four, respectively.

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Buy a three wheels bike for him first. I used to start my way to biking world like that before.

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