How to Ride a Bike

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Learning how to ride a bicycle is as easy as riding a — oh, wait a second. It’s like riding a bike? Well, that’s technically right.

What the sayings conveniently leave out is all that nasty mastering-how-to-ride-a-bike nonsense. You know, the falling over, the rolling away and crashing into a fence, the anxiety-fueled desire to throw the whole bike away when you aren’t a pro cyclist after half an hour.

So much fun! But you can cut back on some of that “fun” when you keep the following tips in mind. They’re great for any first-time bicycle learner, whether child or adult.

The Basics of Learning Cycling

The Basics of Learning Cycling

There are five key principles to practice when learning to ride a bike.

  1. Safety
  2. Braking
  3. Balance
  4. Pedaling
  5. Steering

These are the basics whether you’re looking at how to teach a kid to ride a bike or are looking at an adult bike riding apprenticeship. That’s right, we said it. Go ahead and call it a bike riding apprenticeship, all you non-child learners. 

There’s no certificate to authenticate completion at the end of this article, but you can consider yourself mentored. Let’s dive in.

Safety

Safety begins at the same time you decide to get a bike. Sure, a cool new bike is the breakout star, but any new rider needs safety gear to go along with it. 

This includes a properly fitting helmet, knee and elbow pads, and gloves. The helmet is most essential here, especially for a new rider who might expect a tumble or two. Protective equipment decreases preventable scrapes and ultimately lets the new rider give it their all.

Safety also includes:

  • Securing a safe, flat, and paved practice area
  • Ensuring the bike is the right size — bicycles for adults have various sizes, while bikes for kids are a little easier to get just right.
  • Making sure the rider knows how to mount and dismount without having the whole thing fall sideways and crush them like a motorcycle

Braking

Of course, if you cannot ride the bike altogether, there’s no need to stop the bike. But once the ball is rolling (or should we say…the bike), the need for braking is immediate and obvious.

So, it makes sense to get acquainted beforehand. 

  • It’s possible a first-time rider could benefit from hand brakes mounted to the handlebars. 
  • Hand brakes have excellent stopping power and allow for gentle pressure, slowing you down instead of coming to a halt. The rider only needs to squeeze it and gauge how much pressure is appropriate.
  • The other kind of brakes is coaster brakes, which stop the bike when you backpedal. 
  • A bike with coaster brakes — or foot brakes, as it were — is generally cheaper and thus a good choice for a first learner bike. 

Each of these has pros and cons, as well as other considerations. But whatever brakes the bike has, it’s important you’re ready to use them before you have to use them.

Balance

Kids riding bikes tend to have an easier time with this than adults on bicycles. You can fairly easily support or catch a kid on a bike as they learn, while that’s a little more challenging with a full-grown human. Or a moot point if you’re self-teaching! 

Additionally, a kid riding a bike usually isn’t too afraid to look silly in their biking pursuit. Kids are always doing something goofy. An adult may feel more self-conscious or even hesitant due to fear.

There might be some mishaps, but luckily, there’s an easy starter move: scooting. From there, you graduate to gliding. 

  1. To scoot, remove the pedals from the bike and lower the seat. (Or for your littlest ones, you can get a balance bike for them to start tackling balance and scooting as soon as they’re even remotely capable. For adults and older kids, it makes more sense to just get an actual bike.)
  2. You want the bike low enough that the learner can sit down and have their feet easily touch flat to the ground. 
  3. Removing the pedals makes it super quick to drop your feet down for balance. It also gives you horizontal clearance for walking the bike.
  4. What’s that? Essentially, scooting is walking the bike, but the emphasis is on getting your feet up rather than moving the bike forward. Sure, you’ll need momentum, but if you’re just shuffling forward, it doesn’t do much to improve balance.
  5. Instead, take full steps with one leg at a time. Keep your eyes up, looking ahead. Increase your speed incrementally, until you’re propelling fairly well. That’s your opportunity to try and lift your feet. You can also just push off with both feet as you’re feeling more confident. 

In the beginning, a second or two is already pretty good. You’ll want to aim for several seconds of assured, unassisted gliding before putting the pedals back on. But the more balance mastery, the better.

Pedaling

Pedaling takes practice at first, so keep the seat in the lowered position to begin. What needs special attention in terms of pedaling is learning how to launch from a stop and get a feel for when to pedal and when to relax and just coast. 

  • In terms of how to teach your kid to ride a bike, it’s important to take their coordination into account. 
  • It may be difficult for some children to keep their feet on the pedals or keep their legs moving forward rather than accidentally spinning back (and that would cause sudden stops with foot brakes!). 
  • It also takes practice to understand where the pedals are exactly. 
  • At first, they won’t be able to pick their feet up and intuitively plant them in place. When you can’t catch the pedals, you can’t move forward to gain momentum, and you’ll lose your balance.

To launch from a stop, your feet need to take two separate actions. There are also two different techniques.

  1. While seated on the bike, one foot will be on the ground, and the other needs to be on a raised pedal. Press down and forward to get the pedal — and the bike — going, then get the other foot up and place it on its pedal. That’s why you need to be able to find it easily, and without looking down since the bike’s already in motion.
  2. Or, start with a foot on the ground and one on the lowered pedal. Use the ground foot to push off, the way you would propel a scooter or skateboard. Bring that foot up quickly and plant it onto the pedal. Momentum should help you immediately get into the pedal rhythm, and you’re off.

Steering

Steering basically comes down to turns and control. Turns are where new riders should work on pedal intuition, as it’s far smoother to coast partway through a turn than aggressively pedal the entire time. 

Control tells you how you should move to stay upright while changing direction. It also trickles down into the rest of your riding, the pedaling, and how to hold your body. This all helps steer the bike and improves over time for new and continuing riders alike.

Wide turns are easier than attempting a tight one, so it’s good to begin practicing large circles—work toward smaller and tighter circles, and soon, figure 8s, or simple obstacle courses. Follow the same pattern of wide to tighter.

Takeaway 

Congratulations to our adult apprentices — you’ve officially been mentored. For everyone studying up to help their kids embark on this journey, congratulations, too. Whether you learn on kid bikes in your youth or adult bikes in your not-so-youth, it’s a fun skill you will keep forever. It’s just like riding a — wait, never mind.

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