“How do I get my child started in cycling?” It’s one of the first questions bike-riding parents ask. Happily, kids and bikes seem to be drawn together by a natural kind of magnetism. By following the tips we outline here, you can quickly strengthen that attraction.
A Child’s Bike Progression
To get children started early, don’t wait until they can pedal. Connect a child carrier to your bike, strap in your child and go for rides regularly. When you do, be sure to show enthusiasm for the activity on every ride to set an example and to get your kids fired up about cycling.
As they become more comfortable and their bodies become better equipped to handle physical activity, progessively move children to bikes that offer greater degrees of independence. Few motivators will generate greater enthusiasm for cycling within a child than a growing sense of self-sufficiency.
Step 1: Child Bike Seat
Toddlers must be able to easily sit up and fully support their head before they can join you for a ride. Many areas have laws requiring children to be at least 1 year old and to wear a helmet while riding in a bike seat. Most carriers attach to the back of the bicycle and are suitable for children weighing up to 40 pounds. They have high backs to support a child’s shoulders and head. The seats themselves are lightweight, though you may find your bike is a bit harder to manuever. Remember, should you fall, your child falls, too.
Tip: The bike seat is directly over your rear axle, so your child will feel bumps more than you do. To provide some cushioning, inflate your tires to slighly below their maximum setting. Less-inflated tires allow a softer ride.
Step 2: Bike Trailer
This is a popular option for toddlers and children up to 6 years old. You get to cycle; the kids get to sit and see the sights. Trailers are stable and easy to steer. Even if you fall, your child won’t. Tip: Give your toddlers a pillow so their head doesn’t bounce around too much.
Trailers have a few downsides. Kids sit low to the ground, so they’re less visible to others and they are a bit more exposed to the exhaust of cars. Also, keep in mind that older children can get bored with such passive transport.
Step 3: Push Bike
This is a bike in its simplest formâ€‰-â€‰no pedals or chain, just wheels and a frame. As the child walks or coasts along on their push bike, their feet act as their brakes. A push bike helps teach 2- to 5-year-olds how to coordinate steering and balance. The better they get, the easier their transition to pedaling will be.
Step 4: Trailer Bike
A trailer bike (sometimes referred to by the brand name Trail-a-bike) attaches to your bicycle so your child can pedal and feel independent, though he or she is still relying on you for balance and control. This single-wheel bike attaches either to your seatpost or on a rear rack so it can pivot for turning. A trailer bike is good for 4- to 7-year-olds who may have some trepidation about cycling. It also allows you to cycle farther than your child’s stamina might otherwise allow.
Step 5: Training Wheel Bike
Bikes with training wheels can give children the confidence boost needed so they can start riding on their own. Once the confidence is there, the training wheels can be removed. These are single-speed bicycles with coaster brakes, though some models have an additional linear-pull rear brake to ready them for future hand brakes.
Step 6: Kids’ Bike
Once they are ready for their own 2-wheeler, make sure you avoid the common mistake of buying a bike that they’ll “grow into.” Doing so can set your child back a couple of years. When shopping, be aware that children’s bikes are measured by their wheel size (not frame size). The most common sizes are 16″, 20″ and 24″. The right size is one where your child can comfortably get on the bike and stand with his or her feet on the ground.
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