When to Learn How to Ride a Bike

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A sunny day of biking in the park is a great way to reduce stress, feel confident, stay healthy and bond as a family.

Cycling is a good way to keep your family healthy, and for young kids, it also helps develop their motor skills, balance, strength, spatial awareness and coordination. The benefits of learning to ride may seem endless, but where do you start?

When to Learn
Recently, cycling tour operator Explore Worldwide conducted a study to find out how and when children are learning to ride bikes. The study showed that only 13% of children can ride a bike before starting school — so parents don’t need to rush.

The study also found that the average age to learn to ride a bike is 7 years old. Most resources place the average age for mastering the pedals at between 3 and 8 years old. The age a child learns to ride will vary, even among siblings, because it depends on when children develop enough coordination, agility and sense of balance to be able to ride unassisted.

According to Stanford Medicine, for some children, that may not be until age 10 or older. International Bicycle Fund, a nonprofit, also advises that children younger than 5 won’t have the strength or coordination necessary to use hand brakes.

The most important thing to do is to talk to your child. Do they want to learn? Are they nervous? Why is that? Find out what they’re thinking so they don’t miss out on a fun, practical opportunity to stay active.

How to Learn
Cycling has changed in the last two decades — and so has how we learn to ride.

Training wheels have long been the gold standard for learning to ride, but some experts say they aren’t very helpful.

When teaching a child or teen to ride, it may be best to forgo the stabilizers and use a balance bike instead, according to The Bikeability Trust, a charity with a mission to spread cycling skills and confidence.

Balance bikes are bikes without pedals. The rider on a balance bike pushes it forward with their legs. Any pedal bike can be turned into a balance bike by unscrewing the pedals — just remember to lower the seat so your children can easily propel themselves with their feet.

Once the pedals are back on, be sure to pay attention to their equally important counterparts, the brakes. Bikes for very young children might have coaster brakes, which work when the cyclist pedals backward. If the bike has no handbrakes, test the coaster brakes with your child and ensure they know how to stop before they go.

Of course, even with the best balance and brakes, accidents do happen. To be prepared, every cyclist should have a helmet that fits well and is secure. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) advises that bike helmets should sit level on your head and low on your forehead, both straps should form a “V” under and slightly in front of the ears, the left buckle should be centered under the chin and the chin strap should be snug — with no more than two fingers able to fit under the strap.

Parents can involve their child in choosing the helmet. A helmet that feels good and looks good is more likely to be worn, according to the NHTSA, which notes that more children go to the emergency room for bicycle-related incidents than they do for any other sport.

Keeping your child involved also applies to choosing the bike itself, with one caveat. Not every cool bike they see will be in their size, but if the bike is too big, parents can motivate their child by telling them that if they ride enough, they can find a bike like that one when they’re bigger.

Local bike shops will be able to guide you through picking a bike sized appropriately for your child. Children grow fast, but most bikes have some adjustable settings. T

For more information on biking safety guidelines, visit nhtsa.gov.

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