Thursday, July 16, 2015

Learning to Ride

How old were you when you learned to ride a two-wheeled bike? Me, I believe I was 6. My brother (10 months younger) had removed his training wheels and was riding like a champ. One day we were up the road with a bunch of neighbourhood kids - literally up the road as we lived on a hill - and the "big kids" (11 or 12yo) decided it was time for me to ditch my training wheels too. So they took them off, put me on the bike, and sent me down the hill. I learned really quite quickly after that, although I did crash onto a neighbour's lawn.

Boo is 9 and up until this week still could not ride his two-wheeler. He's always had a bike and really loved riding with 3 or 4 wheels, but he's a cautious kid and extremely risk averse. I think one of the key things in learning to ride on 2 wheels is being willing to let yourself fall. If you don't accept that might happen, you'll have a horrible time trying to find your balance - every time you start to tilt, you'll automatically put a foot down instead of trying to find your centre again. And that was his problem. I tried the hold onto the back of the bike thing, but I am far too impatient and just kept getting frustrated. So I signed him up for a learn to bike camp.

Best decision ever.

At the end of day one he managed a pedal or two before the foot went down. Day two - 10 seconds. Then when I went to pick him up on day three he was riding circles around the basketball court where they were training. Holy crow! Something just clicked, and we are so proud of him.  He's pretty pleased as well, and today he thanked me for signing him up. He's been out riding with his friends three evenings in a row now and getting more confident all the time. It's amazing and really super exercise for my usually pretty sedentary boy.

His new bike and helmet. I had to buy both this week as he'd grown out of his old ones.
Once the lessons began we realised one issue he had was simply that his bike was too small for him, and his knees were almost hitting the handlebars as he pedaled. At 54 inches tall we learned he should have a 20 inch bike. A quick way to check - with a properly sized bike, your child should have about an inch clearance when he stands over the cross bar. To adjust the seat you can look for two things - when seated his foot should not be flat on the ground, but touching just with the toes; when the pedal is at its lowest point, his lower leg should be almost perpendicular to the ground.

In terms of learning to ride I still think the keys are confidence and a willingness to fall. A parent can help steady the bike by holding on to the back of the seat, or the seat and handlebars, while the child rides, but this kills your back, and I found it totally awkward. Practicing on grass may help, as the softer surface will mean fewer scraped knees, although it is more difficult to pedal over grass than pavement. Coasting down a grassy slope can help a child find their balance, which really is the first step. I've heard parents swear by this approach as a way to begin the lessons.  And be sure to remind your child that they need to keep their head up and look forward, not at the ground. You look where you want to go, so if you look at the ground, guess where you'll end up?

Whatever you do, don't let the big kids up the road take over the training for you. They will likely be way less risk averse than you would like! Believe me, I've been there ;)

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