Learning to ride a bike is one of those amazing childhood memories many of us will never forget. After weeks of falls and scraped knees, that day when the stabilisers come off and we’re able to balance and pedal along by ourselves for the first time is truly magical.
Learning how to ride a bike is an important life skill for children, and if you’re getting ready to teach your child, you’ll probably have some questions. It’s one thing knowing how to ride a bike, but teaching someone else can be challenging. With few of us able to remember the exact steps our own parents took to help us master the skill, it’s not always clear exactly where to start. So, what’s the best age for a child to learn to ride a bike? Are stabilisers useful? And what are the best bikes for a child learning to ride? We have all the information you need right here!
Why is learning to ride a bike important?
Riding a bike is a lot of fun and great exercise for kids. And when it comes to learning this all important skill, they’re never too young! Learning to ride a two-wheeled bicycle without stabilisers usually happens between the ages of 3 and 8, though many younger toddlers are able to master the skill of balancing on a balance bike, or pedalling on a tricycle. There are sure to be a few scrapes and bruises along the way, but once your child has learnt how to ride a bicycle, it’s a skill that will stay with them for life.
Riding a bike comes with a whole range of benefits. We know that cycling is fun, but there are plenty of other reasons why learning to ride a bike is so important.
Cycling is good for their health
The NHS recommends that children should aim for an average of at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day to stay healthy. But many children aren’t meeting these guidelines. Encouraging your child to ride a bike while they're young helps to establish healthy exercise habits which they can carry through to adulthood.
Cycling benefits kids’ learning & mental health
Riding a bike not only improves physical fitness, it benefits your child’s learning development and mental health too. And children who ride a bike to school are more focused and ready to learn than those who are driven. Studies also show that taking part in any form of regular physical activity has links to happiness, and gives kids more opportunity to make friends.
Cycling can improve spatial awareness & navigational skills
Riding fast around corners or dodging potholes in the road all contribute to your child’s spatial awareness. It also improves their overall body control, and is great for developing a sense of direction. Your kids will quickly learn how to get to their destination and home again, rather than having to rely on their phones for navigation.
You can enjoy cycling as a family
Cycling is a great activity that the whole family can enjoy. People of all ages can take part in a family bike ride, and it’s a great way to spend quality time together - plus, it’s good for you too! Remember to start slowly and take plenty of breaks to give little ones, or older riders a rest.
Cycling is a great way of getting around
Cycling is an excellent way for older children to get to school, to a sports class/activity, or a friend's house. It’s quick and healthy, and they won’t have to rely on you for lifts. And for little ones, it’s a good way to explore the local park and get further than they normally would do on their little legs.
Cycling is good for the planet
Cycling instead of driving or taking the bus benefits the environment as it reduces carbon emissions, eases congestion and eliminates parking problems. Less traffic and pollution will make our communities greener, and less stressful places to live. And it’s a habit children are more likely to continue into adulthood, compared to those who do not ride a bike as a child.
Where are the best places for kids to ride a bike? Take a look at our article for some inspiration.
What you’ll need to get started
If your child is eager to learn how to ride, then getting them the right bike is the first place to start. It’s possible for a child of any age to be taught to ride a bike either with or without stabilisers. And there are some other useful pieces of kit too to help keep them safe. Let's take a look at some of the things you’ll need to get started.
The right bike
There are lots of different types of bikes on the market, from balance bikes for the little ones to full-suspension mountain bikes for teens. Get your child to try different models in store so they get a feel for it, and make sure it suits their height. As a general rule, their feet should just be brushing the floor when sitting on the bike.
There are sure to be a few scrapes along the way when teaching your child to ride a bike. Especially while they’re learning to balance, the right safety gear is a must, with the most important being a helmet to protect their head from any impact.
This kids’ helmet is suitable for children aged 3 to 10 years, perfect for their first bike rides. It comes in 5 fun colours so they can choose the colour that goes with their bike. And at just £9.99, you’re getting quality at an affordable price.
Also known as training wheels, these useful accessories will help your little ones to find their way around their first set of wheels and gain confidence when they’re just starting out. Our 14-inch bikes come with stabilisers already fitted to help your child learn to pedal like the big kids! And they can be removed once they gain their confidence.
There are lots of other useful accessories for kids learning to ride a bike. A reflective vest, lights, a bell, and safety gear to protect their knees, elbows and wrists will give them that extra bit of confidence.
How to teach a child to ride a bike with stabilisers
Children as young as 2 or 3 years old are able to ride a bike with stabilisers. And most 12-inch and 14-inch wheel bikes come with pre-attached matching stabilisers. Then when your little one is feeling confident with pedalling and steering, the stabilisers can be removed and they can begin to master the skill of balancing and pedalling simultaneously. There will no doubt be a few cuts and scrapes along the way, but it’ll be worth it in the end.
Are stabilisers a good idea?
Stabilisers are the extra wheels that can be mounted parallel to a bicycle's rear wheel to help your child learn how to ride a bike. They assist by giving a more ‘stable’ feeling until the rider has developed a good sense of balance on their bike. We’ll probably all remember learning to ride with stabilisers as youngsters. And they can be a blessing for parents as your child will be able to zoom off on their own almost straight away. This will give them instant confidence, which is great if you want to go on a family ride and get them covering decent distances relatively quickly. But are stabilisers really a good idea? Let’s look at some of the benefits of learning to ride with stabilisers.
Benefits of learning to ride a bike with stabilisers
- The bike will feel immediately more stable and easier to ride when fitted with stabilisers.
- Stabilisers will keep your child upright and will get them pedalling unassisted sooner.
- There are likely to be less injuries for your child.
- Less stress and backache for parents as it’s not necessary to hold onto the bike saddle or your child to keep them upright.
- If your child is struggling to balance on their bike, adding stabilisers is an easy and cost-effective option compared to buying a balance bike.
- You get to have that amazing moment of excitement and sense of achievement when your child is ready for the stabilisers to come off!
When you’ve got the bike ready, it’s really important to find a suitable place to start riding. Find somewhere that’s far away from roads and traffic, and choose a large stretch of land with a solid, flat surface. Starting off on grass will help in case your child falls off as it hurts less, but grass can make it a little harder to balance and pedal. Make sure your child is wearing a helmet, and you could also put knee and elbow pads on them too if you want to be extra cautious, or give them that bit of extra confidence.
How to teach a child to ride a bike without stabilisers
While stabilisers have historically been the first step in teaching a child to ride a bike, they do add a lot of extra weight, and they will create a bigger turning circle. But the biggest disadvantage of stabilisers is that your child will rely on them and won’t develop the same sense of balance on the bike. This could make teaching them to ride a much longer process. So what's the alternative?
Are balance bikes better than stabilisers?
Finding balance on a bike is no doubt one of the hardest stages to go through. Children often fall over because they are turning their handlebar too much or too little. So when learning to balance, the balance bike is the most effective option. From age 2 and up, this pedal-less bike allows children to become familiar with bikes while maintaining control.
Some people say that using a balance bike makes learning to pedal more difficult later on. Since the child has only been focusing on their balance, they will have to learn to pedal at a later stage. But this is much easier to learn.
The Runride Balance Bike also has a brake, so children can learn about braking from an early age. This braking system is called STOP EASY - a patented braking system designed specially for children.
Benefits of learning to ride a balance bike
- Balance bikes teach children to balance properly.
- Balance bikes are safe for kids as a starter bike as they can easily put their feet down to stop.
- They’re also significantly lighter than bikes with stabilisers; perfect for little legs and easier for mum and dad to carry once they've had enough.
- Balance bikes work by building up the muscles a child needs to be able to balance effectively on their bike.
- Balance bikes teach kids to steer without them having to worry about pedalling.
- Children who have learnt to balance find learning to ride a pedal bike much easier and usually master it a lot sooner.
- Balance bikes build a child's confidence in safely coasting down slopes.
- Balance bikes are actually suitable for children from as young as 18 months old and help them start their cycling journey early.
Steps for teaching a child to ride a balance bike
There are four key steps to helping your child learn how to ride a balance bike:
At the start, your child will learn how to walk while pushing the balance bike. Once they’re feeling confident in handling the bike, your child will then learn how to sit on it while walking with their feet placed either side of the frame. This will quickly increase their balance and coordination while riding.
From there, your child can then move onto sitting and walking with the bike, followed by balancing and running, whilst sitting on the bike. This may take practice, but they’ll soon get the hang of it. The fourth steps involve sitting, running and then gliding with their feet held up as they ride.
Following these four simple steps will help your child to build up their muscles and balance, which is an important skill required to ride a bike. The best thing about balance bikes is that they’re super light, so when your child is a little fed up with riding, it’s easy to carry it the rest of the way home!
Teaching an older child to ride a bike
Once your child is confident riding their bike with stabilisers—or maybe you’re skipping this step altogether—it’s time for the fun to really start. The sooner you teach your child to ride their first pedal bike the better. But don’t worry if you feel you've missed the boat - it’s never too late to learn!
Before you attempt your first lesson, you need to be sure you’ve chosen the right size bike for your child. Take a look at our guide on kids bike sizes to help you.
How to teach an older child to ride a bike
The main thing when teaching your child to ride their bike is to make it fun, and as stress-free as possible for both you and your child. And don’t forget to bring the camera to capture this exciting milestone! These tips will get your child riding their bike in no time:
- Find a gentle grassy slope – the local park or anywhere not too bumpy with plenty of space (the grass will cushion them a little when they fall).
- Make a day of it – bring a picnic or snacks, take your time and have plenty of breaks to enjoy some bike-free time too.
- It’s inevitable your child will fall off their bike when they’re just starting out, so make sure their helmet is comfortable and they are wearing trousers to avoid scraped knees. Padded gloves are also useful to protect their palms if they use them to break their fall. And they will also need solid shoes, like trainers, rather than sandals or anything that may slip off.
- Learning to ride on a bike with a light frame will really help them to pedal more easily and freely, which will give your child greater confidence in their own ability to ride.
- It’s best to lower the seat on the bike when your child is first learning to ride - this makes it easier for them to get on and off. They should be able to sit on the saddle with their feet flat on the floor.
- If the pedals can be removed easily, consider temporarily removing them so your child can use their new bike as a balance bike to start with. This will help them get used to the weight and handling of the bike.
- Slowly build up the amount of time they can coast along without putting their feet down - this will be much easier if your child has had a little balance bike from a young age.
- Encourage your child to play with the brakes to learn which brake controls the back and front tyres, and how to stop gently rather than suddenly.
- Once they’ve got to grips with balancing on the bike, replace the pedals and get them to practise pushing off with the pedals. This is by far the most difficult part of learning to ride a bike, so it’s best if you can demonstrate this on your own bike.
- Try holding the rear of the saddle or a shoulder lightly. This will reassure your child that you are there if they fall. And be patient! Not all kids will get it straight away, so avoid putting too much pressure on them and help them to relax.
- Once your child has got the hang of riding their bike, you can slightly raise the saddle to make pedalling more powerful for them. They should still be able to reach the floor with both tips of their toes when sat in the saddle.
It can be a little more challenging to teach older kids to ride a bike as they tend to be more fearful, and won’t have had the luxury of learning on a balance bike. Plus, they probably won’t want to ride a bike with stabilisers. It might just take a little more practise and patience. To avoid frustrating them and potentially discouraging them from learning to ride, stagger your practice sessions over several days. You can focus on a specific area each day such as balancing, cornering, pedalling and so on. And your child will be a natural rider in no time.
Best bikes for a child learning to ride
Unlike adult bikes, kids’ bikes are measured by the size of the wheel, rather than the frame. They usually start at 10” wheels and go up to 24”. After that, older kids can start to use adult-sized bikes, which start at 26” wheels. Unsure what bike to get your child? Here’s our pick of the best bikes for a child learning to ride:
Balance bike - ages 2 to 4 years
Our balance bikes start from just £39.99, and allow little ones to head off on their first two-wheeled adventure. Our 10-inch balance bikes are suitable for ages 2 to 4 years (85cm-100cm), and are perfect for helping them balance and learning the basics of bike riding.
The Runride 100 balance bike is light yet robust, and it will help your child learn how to propel themselves forwards and balance at their own pace. It has an adjustable saddle and handlebars to grow with your child, and puncture-proof tyres and steel frame to stand up to the rigours of play. All B’TWIN bikes also come with a lifetime warranty on the frame, stem, handlebar and rigid fork for that extra peace of mind.
14” bike with stabilisers - ages 3 to 4.5 years
1, 2, 3, pedal! Our 14-inch bikes are suitable for children aged 3 to 4.5 years old (90cm to 105cm tall), and will help them learn to pedal and cycle like the big kids!
This 14” unicorn bike is fun and bright, and comes with stabilisers to make it easy for your child to learn at their own pace. It’s equipped with a chain guard and mudguards, and the stabilisers can be removed easily and without tools once they’re ready to move on.
16” bike - ages 4 to 6 years
Our 16-inch bikes start from just £99.99 and are suitable for children aged 4, 5, and 6 years, measuring from 105 to 120cm. Our 16-inch bikes are also compatible with stabilisers for those who need an extra helping hand.
This ultra cool 900 alloy kids bike is super light and easy to handle. With its aluminium parts, this bike weighs just 7.3 kg when fully equipped! The chainguard, stand and mudguard make this bike reassuring and versatile, and it’s equipped with our exclusive "Stop easy" braking system which has been adapted for small hands.
At Decathlon, we also have a large range of 20”, 24”, and 26” bikes for bigger kids. Whether they’re learning to ride or are confident on the saddle, we’re sure to have the perfect bike for your child.
How to help your child safely and with confidence
If your child lacks a little confidence when it comes to riding a bike, there are a few things you can do to help:
- The best way to prevent them from being scared of falling is to be protected. So get your child kitted out with a helmet, gloves, elbow pads, knee pads, etc. Check out our range of kids’ bike helmets.
- B’TWIN has designed a special training bar. This bar can be easily attached to the rear of a child’s bike (14 to 16 inches) so that an adult can control it in case the child loses their balance.
- Kids love praise! They like to know they’re making you proud, so show them that you’re their no.1 fan. Clapping, cheering, jumping up and down, and shouting words of encouragement like: “Keep on pedalling! Push! Push! You’re doing great!” will give them the motivation they need to succeed.
With the right bike and a little patience, it’s possible to teach your child how to ride a bike in as little as 45 minutes. The ideal ages to teach your child are between four and six years old, and it’s best to get them balancing first before worrying about pedals. Stabilisers have their benefits, but a balance bike will make the whole process much quicker and easier in the long run. Balance bikes are lightweight, making them easy for your little ones to move around, while still being durable to stand up to the rigours of play.
At Decathlon, we stock a large range of kids bikes, helmets and accessories for all ages. Of course age ranges are a rough guide, so it’s always best to let your child try out different bikes for size until they find the one that feels right. And don’t be tempted to buy a bigger bike that they’ll ‘grow into’ as it could be too big and heavy for them. It’s recommended that the bike doesn’t weigh more than 32% of your little one’s weight, as a bike that’s too heavy will be difficult for them to manoeuvre.