Quick Notes on Teaching a Child to Ride a Bike

Last week Lucy learned to ride a bike without stabilisers.

Lucy is five. She had barely ridden a bike at all before this, just a few hundred meters in on vacation this January. Where we live in Queen Anne the hill is so steep that kids don’t ride their bikes around.

First Session – Lucy and I go to the only flat spot nearby, the 400m track in the Queen Anne Bowl at Rodgers Park.

The O’Dea High School football team was in their summer training camp. We had to dodge the occasional errant receiver, but the coaches were good natured about me teaching my daughter in the midst of their training session.

I pushed Lucy around the track. She tried steering – at first her movements were slow, too slow to recover. It took the entire two hour session for her to get confident enough to put her feet on the pedals. At the end of the session I could push her around the track and she would steer most of the time. She had lots of bruises on her shins from where the pedals whacked her.

Second Session – The O’Dea team were still there. We watched a couple of them crash into each other and fall over and yell, so I told Lucy that when football players get hurt they yell “Ow” like those boys. Shortly afterwards she crashed and yelled “Ow” so she could be like a football player.

Lucy had improved overnight. She could steer and balance a whole lot better so this session was about learning to pedal. Again another two hours of going around the track except there was a fair bit of jogging involved as we had to get the speeds up to make the steering easier. By the end of the session she could pedal around the track with me running alongside without touching her. She could ride a bike about 400m without hitting things, although she couldn’t start and stopping was an adventure.

Third Session – The local Lacrosse teams were having the playoffs this weekend. We chatted to one of the players during a cycling break. He was on a team called the Crease Monkeys. Because of the playoffs there were a lot of people on one side of the track. I had to teach Lucy to ring her bell as she approached people to warn them and often had to intervene to stop Lucy steering into a wandering child or drunk-after-the-game player. Apart from that she rode all on her own.

Lucy likes riding the bike. So she wouldn’t stop. I had planned to stop after twelve laps, the same as session two. Twelve laps is 4800m, about three miles. But Lucy would not stop. I started hearing comments from the lacrosse crowd like “That little girl has been riding here for ages” and “She must have done twenty laps.”

One section started calling out as we went by. I think they were cheering for a team that wasn’t doing too well and we provided a welcome break. They started calling out random lap counts like “55” and “97” so I told them we were at 22. They started calling out the lap each time we went by. I finally got Lucy to agree to stop as we were on lap 28 and told the cheer squad as we went by. They demanded we make it to 30 so Lucy kept on going. We got cheered for the final two laps. Lucy was already feeling great from riding and to have some extra attention made it quite a special day. After running 30 laps I staggered home carrying the bike.

Fourth Session – The whole family came down to the park to watch Lucy. I left her on her own to practice starting and stopping and to show off her riding. Any time she passed a jogger she rang her bell to warn them. Jean cracked up at her sassy daughter ringing her bell to get the joggers out of the way.

What did I learn?

  • Backpedal brakes suck. Kids can’t get the pedals in the right position to start without walking the bike forward. To remove the brake from Lucy’s Magna I need to find the right size BMW wheel with a freewheel and put a rear brake/lever/cable on. A project for another day.
  • Those bikes without pedals would be a more useful introduction to cycling than stabilisers. Otto has one of those, when it is his turn to learn it should be simpler.
  • Learning to ride a bike is just stimulus and recovery. Lucy could have got the stimulus to learn from shorter sessions. I just couldn’t get her to stop.
  • Football players spend a lot of their training session standing around waiting for a turn.

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