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Bicycle educator Breen Goodwin: If you could have any bike, what color would you want?
Goodwin: Hi, I'm Breen Goodwin, the education director at the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. I teach children and adults how to ride a bicycle safely without the need for training wheels.
Goodwin: Hi Gabriela, are you ready to learn how to ride a bike?
Goodwin: All right, let's go.
Riding a bicycle is a great physical activity for children. Once they get the hang of it, they won't even realize how much exercise they're getting.
Step 1: Getting ready to ride.
Here's what you'll need:
- A bicycle (preferably one with hand brakes)
- A helmet
- Comfortable shoes
- A 15 millimeter pedal wrench (Sometimes a standard 15 millimeter wrench will do.)
And lastly, you'll need to a find a place to teach your child to ride. Ideally that will be a grassy area with a slight downward slope.
Step 2: Give your bike a makeover.
Start by removing the pedals with the wrench. Note: The left pedal is removed in a clockwise rotation, while the right pedal is removed in a counterclockwise rotation. I would suggest marking left and right. That's going to make it a lot easier when you put the pedals back on the bike.
Next, adjust the seat so the rider's feet are flat on the ground in a seated position.
Step 3: Push and coast.
Position your child at the top of the slope.
Goodwin: So what I want you to do is I want you to be pushing off with your feet and try and balance as you go. I am going to down here about 15 or 20 feet and I want you to come straight to me. Sound good?
When she's ready, she can push off the ground so that momentarily she is balancing with both feet off the ground. A running stride or a two-foot push work equally well.
Goodwin: Okay! Let's try it again.
Now encourage your child to reach you with less and less pushes. For example, you start with ten, then nine, then eight, etc.
The push and coast forces your child to balance momentarily.
Goodwin: Nice job, so you had seven on that one.
Eventually your child will be able to stay balanced for extended distances, perhaps only needing to push off two or three times to reach the end.
Goodwin: Should we try for six?
Gabriela: Are you ready?
Goodwin: I'm ready.
Expect your child to fall – it's part of learning how to ride a bicycle. Some kids get the hang of it in a day, while others need to practice for a week or two.
Step 4: Add some curves. Now it's time to get comfortable with steering.
Have your child practice moving the handlebars slightly to the left and right as she coasts toward you. Weaving back and forth like this will help her learn how to adjust her center of balance when the bike turns.
Goodwin: Good job!
Step 5: Now it's time to learn how to use the brakes. Your child should be able to stop their bicycle at will.
To practice, have your child push off with her feet, coast for a moment, then evenly apply both hand brakes, bringing the bike to a stop. Practice this sequence at least ten times.
Goodwin: Give a push and brake.
If her bike only has pedal brakes, she'll have to skip the braking step for now and learn how to pedal first.
Once she can ride straight and use the brakes, she's ready for pedals.
Step 6: Practice pedaling. Re-attach the pedals to the bicycle.
Remember, the right pedal will only fit on the right side of the bike, so make sure to attach it correctly.
Put your foot on the pedal here. This is the power pedal position.
Goodwin: I want you to push down as hard as you can, and that's going to give you the most amount of power in that one pedal stroke.
Have your child push down on the pedal with her foot, propelling the bike forward. When the pedal reaches the bottom of the circle she should coast for a bit, then stop.
Repeat with the opposite pedal until she's comfortable on both sides.
Next she can try slow, continuous pedaling.
Goodwin: Oh, great job, keep coming. Get ready to brake… Stop!
If your child has a bicycle with pedal brakes (which are brakes that engage while pedaling backward), she'll have to practice pedaling before she learns how to brake.
Have her push down on one pedal to get the bike rolling, allowing the pedal to rotate toward the back of the bike. Then have your child push down on the pedal in the reverse direction. This will engage the brakes. Repeat this drill at least ten times.
Braking takes plenty of practice, so don't expect your child to master it in one day.
Step 7: Now let's have your child put it all together.
Have her pedal down the grassy slope. At the bottom, have her brake and come to a complete stop.
Once she is confident on the grass, move her to a flat, debris-free surface. As her confidence increases, her speed will increase as well.
Once she can comfortably use the brakes, raise her seat, while still making sure she can reach the ground with her toes. A higher seat will make pedaling even easier.
Now you're off and rolling!