From Trike to Bike: Helping kids learn to ride a bicycle
The accomplishment is also a joyful time for kids, giving them a new sense of independence and the confidence to explore the world in a new way.
But what's the best plan to go from a tricycle to a "big boy" or "big girl" bike without training wheels? Sentara physical therapist Cierra Neidermeyer shares some helpful tips with the adults (or big sisters or brothers), helping a child learn to ride a bike.
Benefits of biking
"You can start a kid on a balance bike or tricycle, whichever you feel comfortable from an early age of 2 or 2 ½, depending on the child," explains Neidermeyer, who specializes in pediatric PT. "The average age to start riding a tricycle is about 3. You could start a month or two before their third birthday."
For kids, being on a bike is all about having fun and getting around faster than they can on their own two feet. But they are learning much more than they realize.
"Kids develop better core and leg strength, motor coordination and overall stability by working on their balance," Neidermeyer adds.
Trikes and balance bikes
Parents have several options when buying their kids' set of first wheels.Balance bikes look like regular bicycles, but they do not have pedals. Kids propel them with their feet. When they become more confident, kids can lift their feet off the ground and glide with the bike's power, giving them even more experience balancing.
To "fit" the balance bike, kids' feet should be flat on the ground with a slight bend in their knees. You can learn more by watching and searching for suggestions online. Bike maker Guardian recommends measuring your child's inseam and setting the seat 1- 1 ½ inches below the inseam.
Starting with a tricycle is also an option. This takes a more motor planning and coordination approach, lessening the balance demand the child experiences.
"You can also buy tricycles with pedals that detach so you can work on moving forward like you can on a balance bike," Neidermeyer explains.
Be sure to outfit your child with a bike helmet before they begin biking (or are on the back of your bike).
Picking out a bicycle
When it's time for a regular bicycle with training wheels, fitting the bike is necessary to ensure its success.
Kids' bike sizes are based on wheel diameter: 12 inches, 14 inches, 16 inches, 18 inches, 20 inches, 24 inches, and 26 inches. Bikes get bigger as the tire size gets bigger. Your child's height and inseam can help you determine what size bike to buy.
According to the bike maker Guardian:
- First Pedal Bike: The seat should match your child's inseam.
- 2nd Pedal Bike and Beyond: As children master their bike, the bike seat should be 2" to 4" inches higher than the inseam.
"You dont have to spend an arm and a leg to get a bike for your child," Neidermeyer adds. "You can find more affordable options that are just as good."
When to ditch the training wheels?
Between the ages of 5 and 10, kids should be able to ride a bike without training wheels, Neidemeyer says. To do so, kids need to understand the motor pattern of pedaling.
Some kids can go from their balance bike to a regular bike without training wheels, depending on how well they have mastered balancing.
Adults will need time and patience to run next to their kids, holding onto the handlebars as they navigate balancing without the training wheels or with pedals added.
"Once they have figured it out, the best way to start them out is to push them and see if they can keep the momentum going," Neidermeyer says. "Eventually, they will be off on their own exploring their new world on wheels."
By: Lisa Marinelli Smith