About 1 hour is doable but in truth, some will take longer, while others will be quick to catch on. The key is in choosing the right time to begin, and that’s once they’ve developed coordination.
The general consensus is from 4-6 years old. Every child is different, but one thing that most agree on is that if you wait too long, then you make it harder for the child to learn. In a way, it’s like learning a language, the brain seems primed for these activities in its youth, and those of us who wait longer, struggle more in mastering it.
As with language, children learn by copying, and cycling is no different. When teaching them, it’s always best to cycle with them and let them process naturally what they see.
Coordination and balance are the most important skills to master early on and a bike with no pedals. A balance bike is perfect for this and you can adjust the saddle so that their toes barely touch the ground. This will encourage them to work on balance. It’s best to let them experiment somewhere safe. The brain is surprisingly adaptive at a young age and children learn quickly.
Somewhere flat and smooth is always best. Slopes are a nono as you’ll want to ensure your child doesn’t go too fast too soon. Refrain from riding on grass. It may provide a softer landing after they inevitably fall off, but the going is always harder on grass, and it requires extra effort on their part to push the bike and maintain stable speed and balance.
It’s always best to be involved. However many parents become too involved. If your child is a little rocky on the bike then only ever offer support to their bodies rather than holding onto the bike.
Lightly holding the child's torso is the best place to offer support. You can gently counter their lack of balance with a small correction to keep them on the straight and narrow. By having small, almost imperceptible corrections made, they learn the importance of balance. Adults who hold the bike, especially the handlebars, often prolong the learning process. The feel of the handlebars provides important information to the child’s senses that they will learn to unconsciously process the more they practice.
Before letting your child cycle alone, you should ensure that they’ve mastered the basics. And that not only applies to balance. The need to get comfortable steering, something which is surprisingly difficult to master, not to mention braking and coming to a stop safely.
Any heavy crashes they experience before becoming proficient may well stunt their ability to learn efficiently. The process can become drawn out due to the fear of falling off again. By staying nearby and keeping a close eye on them you’ll prevent any mishaps. If you’ve ever had to teach a scared child to ride a bike, then you’ll know how difficult it can be.
Once they've mastered the basics, there’s nothing holding them back. As they begin cycling on the road and then with others, they unconsciously begin to exponentially learn new bike handling skills, and from that point, the sky’s the limit. You’ve done your job!