Bicycle and tricycle riding are a great activity for kids of all ages. It’s fun and is an excellent source of exercise. Besides the obvious cardiovascular exercise there are some other benefits that you may not be aware of.
(Just an FYI I am talking about your children in this post although a lot of the benefits are just as applicable to adults!)
In terms of leg strengthening (which is the most obvious), it will help to develop stronger calf muscles, quadriceps (or thigh) muscles and gluts (see ‘Buns of Steel‘ for why this is important). It also engages your child’s core trunk muscles, and their arms. When they are having to really work to pedal, for example when they are going up a slight incline, they really grip and pull on the handlebars with their arms to counteract the increased leg movement. This causes their abdominals, including their obliques (those elusive muscles that we do twisting situps to workout), and their arms to kick in.
Bike riding will also work on your child’s posture. Its really hard to ride a bike while slumping. Its a little easier to ride a tricycle in a slumped position but that’s only if the child is being pushed. When they are doing the pedaling they are almost forced to sit up straight! I have watched one of my kiddos who normally sits in a slumped low tone posture, literally straighten up and stay up straight the minute he starts pedaling his bicycle. Since posture muscles need endurace, bike riding is a great way to increase their endurance so it will carry over into other activities.
The reciprocal (alternating) motion of the legs used for pedaling also engages both sides of the brain. In addition to this, it reinforces a great movement pattern that is essential for walking, crawling, and ascending and descending stairs. In addition, for children who have increased tone (hypertonia), the continuous motion of the pedaling can help to regulate the tone.
The most versatile tricycle I have seen for teaching your kids how to pedal is the Little Tikes 3-in-1. It gives different support options as well as the ability to lock out steering and provides assited pedaling. If you have ever attempted to teach a child to ride a tricycle without the locked out steering and assisted pedaling you will be amazed at how much easier it is on you with these options! Once they master the tricycle the little mini two wheelers are great. It changes them to a more upright position which is actually easier to pedal with than the typical recumbant position on a tricycle. Check out Motor Smart Toys and Tips for how to use a jump rope to save your back while teaching bike riding! The Skuut or pedaless bike (there are other brands and designs now that function the same way) is also great for working on balance that can translate over into bike riding without training wheels.