Best Age and Method for Learning How to Ride a Bike

Young girl learning to ride a bike.
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Riding a bike is a lot of fun and great exercise for kids. Learning to ride a two-wheeled bicycle without training wheels is also an important milestone. Children usually learn to ride a bike sometime between the ages of 3 and 8, with an average of just over age 5.

Riding a Bike

While developmental skills are one of the factors that influence when your child will start riding a bike on his own, availability is another.

Your child isn't going to learn until he tries to take off his training wheels and gets on a two-wheel bike.

Other things that influence when kids learn to ride a bike can include:

  • Siblings, friends, or neighbors who are riding two-wheeled bikes, as that is often a big push for a child to learn to ride
  • Availability of a safe place to ride
  • Having an interest in learning to ride, which isn't as high in some kids who prefer skateboards or scooters

You may wonder whether the age at which your child learns to ride a bike matters. Most kids will learn to ride when they are ready, but a review of studies showed that injuries were higher in kids who started riding at age 3 to 5 versus those who learned a little later when they were 6 or 7 years old.

Bicycles for Kids

Bicycles serve a lot of functions in childhood, from developmental tool to toy, all the way to a way for kids to get around the neighborhood.

And they often serve all their functions at the same time, even as your kids get older. Which bike you get has more to do with personal preference than any strict rules of how kids should learn to ride a bike.

Types of bicycles can include a:

  • Big wheel
  • Tricycle
  • Balance bike—a bike with no pedals and usually no brakes, so that kids can concentrate on learning balance and steering (countersteering) while cruising along on their bike. These are also called running or run bikes.
  • Bicycle with training wheels
  • Bicycle without training wheels

Tricycles vs. Training Wheels

Some kids can begin to pedal a tricycle as toddlers, between age 1 and 3 years. Most can ride a tricycle well by about age 3.

Once they reach that first milestone of riding a bike—pedaling—several years or more might go by before they reach the next one—balancing well enough that they can ride a bike with just two wheels.

In deciding whether your child should ride a tricycle or a bicycle with training wheels, some parents prefer one over the other. But many use both, having their kids progress from a tricycle to a bicycle with training wheels during their preschool years.

One method is likely not any better than another, and whether you go with a tricycle or training wheels or both, usually falls to personal preference or what you had as a kid. You do want to be careful, though, or your home or garage can become very cluttered with old bicycles.

Learning to Ride a Bike

Although everyone has heard the stories of the kids who get on a bike for the first time and just go, most can remember learning to ride a bike the old-fashioned way—with a parent running alongside, holding onto the back of the bike and eventually letting go.

As with most things, there are plenty of newer techniques, such as:

  • Using a balance bike instead of a bicycle with training wheels
  • Taking the pedals off a bike and lowering the seat, to have it act as a balance bike
  • Instead of yelling at your kid to stay balanced, tell them to turn in the direction that they are falling (countersteering), which should straighten them out
  • Raising the training wheels a little at a time

Since all of these methods work and work fairly quickly, it is hard to think that you should put too much effort into choosing a method. Put your time into your child's learning to ride a bike instead.

Most importantly, let this be a fun thing to do. If it becomes too frustrating, for either of you, either try a different method or let someone else try to teach your child.

Teaching Safety

Safety is the biggest concern once your child is riding a bike. Teach your child to wear a helmet properly and be sure to wear one yourself to set an example. Find the best paths and bike lanes that separate your child from traffic and teach traffic awareness. Be sure your child wears bright colors and reflective clothing when riding a bike.

Source:

Embree TE, Romanow NTR, Djerboua MS, Morgunov NJ, Bourdeaux JJ, Hagel BE. Risk Factors for Bicycling Injuries in Children and Adolescents: A Systematic Review. Pediatrics. 2016;138(5). doi:10.1542/peds.2016-0282.