When Clara was seven years old, we finally gave up on the Bill Cosby method of teaching a child to ride her bike. You know, where you run behind the bike holding it steady until the child just takes off on their own? It’s a famous Bill Cosby episode, but it is not the most efficient way to teach a child to ride. We started searching the internet in earnest and that’s when we first discovered the Balance Method.
We decided it was worth a try, used the steps outlined in this post, and had both Clara (age 7) and Jonathan (age 5) riding their bikes after just two short practice sessions. It was amazing to us all, and is our family analogy for finding a more efficient way to do a task. Fast forward a few years, and we again taught two children to ride in the same day. Anna (age 7) and Caleb (age 5) learned quickly and easily using the exact same method. Anna even had low muscle tone and developmental delays at the time, and yet the method still worked. A few months later, we taught Anna’s best friend to ride. You can teach your child to ride a bike without breaking your back — you really can!
Most recently, we gave our five-year-old twins bikes for their fifth birthday. We weren’t having as much success with our original steps to the balance method, so we decided to look it up online and see what we had forgotten. Turns out a few tweaks to the original method make it even easier for younger children. This method works, and it works fast! We practiced with the twins for a few days and had them pedaling around the basketball court within seven days without ever having to run behind pushing a bike.
The idea is to help your child discover balance on the bike first. Once they achieve balance, pedaling is easy! The most important thing you can do along each step is cheer, cheer, cheer! We even enlist older siblings to cheer! Here are the steps.
1. Take off the pedals. I know you can buy bikes without pedals now, but we’ve found that a good bike with the pedals removed is just as effective and much cheaper. (A few tips: Make sure your child can touch the ground with both feet. Adjust the seat or bike size as necessary. It is a little easier to learn balance on a bike one size smaller than what your child actually needs, and then move them to correct size once they learn — if you happen to have a collection of bikes in the garage. If you don’t, just start with the size your child actually needs and you will be fine.)
2. Have your child push himself around on a flat surface. Encourage your child to push off with both feet and glide for as far as they can without touching. At first, they will step-walk the bike with both feet. That’s okay! Keep encouraging them to push and glide. Keep reminding them not to touch feet unless they have to. But, on the other hand, show them how easy it is to stop themselves just by putting their feet down. When they have some confidence, going down a slight incline is wonderful to improve the balance as they glide. Remember to cheer, and clap and encourage every time they push and glide even a bit.
3. Put the pedals back on! When your child can push off with both feet and glide for about three to five feet on a flat surface before touching his feet down it is time to put the pedals back on.
4. Have your child put both feet on the pedals and give them just a tiny push to get going. Push gently on their back, and not on the bike.
5. Encourage your child to try 1. Push off with both feet and then 2. Put both feet on the pedals and 3. Pedal, pedal, pedal.
For most children the entire process to teach your child to ride a bike can take as little as 20 minutes to about an hour. This can vary of course, but I wanted to give you a general guideline. We practiced with Peter and Joshua for 20 minutes per day for seven days and they were pedaling around the basketball court and starting themselves.