Learning to ride a bike is one of the passages and rites of childhood. I remember when I was finally able to ride a bike all by myself without the training wheels and keep going without crashing (most of the time)! Then how great it was to ride without hands and all the other tricks I tried (which my parents are convinced is the reason for their gray hair)!
Anyway, I have seen all sorts of gimmicks and ideas of how to make it even easier to learn to ride a bike. I haven’t tried them all however I can tell you there is no substitution for just getting out there and practicing.
First start with a tricycle. Help your child master the art of pedaling. This is the first hurdle you will have to overcome. Once they are able to pedal you want them to be able to propel the tricycle on their own (meaning – no help from you to keep it going). Next is being able to steer on their own. When all of these are mastered you can move on.
Second get a small two wheeler with training wheels. I suggest getting a jump rope and tying it around the handle bars if you want to preserve your back during this phase. Since they are now sitting in a different position and the pedals are in a new spot they may need to practice pedaling again. Then the trick is to have them be able to propel themselves using the pedals (again – no help from you) continuously at a fairly decent pace. The other pre-requisites are being able to steer and how to stop. I practice all of these skills with the training wheels on because they have more support for learning the basics and they get even harder once the training wheels have been taken off. Once your child is independent with riding with training wheels they are ready for the next step.
Lastly you remove the training wheels. Once this is done you can practice on the sidewalk or a grassy field or an empty parking lot. You want to hold onto the back of the seat while they pedal. A large open space is easier in the beginning because they don’t have to concentrate on steering as much. What I have also done is when they start to lose their balance while I am holding on to the back I control the fall but let them figure out how to put their foot down to stop. This is the start for teaching them how to save themselves from falling over. The biggest factor is keeping them pedaling so that they can maintain their balance. If the bike is going at a decent speed then it is easier to keep going. Then focus on steering the bike to stay in a straight line. Its a lot to think about but its amazing how quickly they can pick up the skills.
Using the pedaless bikes can be okay and fun however they still don’t teach your child how to pedal so you have to get them on a bike with pedals at some point because that is the only way they will learn to pedal and pedal at a speed that will allow them to keep their balance once the training wheels come off. Also, there is a new gyrobike out that promises to help with learning to get rid of the training wheels. I think it could work great but you have to make sure your child knows how to pedal. Knowing how to pedal makes keeping their balance so much easier. In addition there is a program called Lose the Training Wheels that does camps for children to teach them how to ride a bike.
Just remember, despite all the gimmicks and products out there, good old fashioned practice is still the best way to learn to ride a bike!