Children love cycling - it's fast and fun, and gives them freedom and independence to get around. And riding as a family allows you to spend quality time together while taking in fresh air and enjoying the outdoors. If you have very small children and babies, you can carry them in a bike seat or trailer, but it won’t be long before the little ones will want to ride their own bike. But what’s the best way to teach them? Read our helpful tips for teaching your child to ride a bike.

How can I teach my child to cycle?

The best way to get a child started on a pedal bike is by letting them practice on a balance bike first. They will learn how to balance and steer. Learning to pedal is the easier bit, and can follow later. Most children are ready to learn to ride a bike from about the age of four years old, but don’t worry if they’re not as kids all develop at different rates. Just keep them on their balance bike for a bit longer.

  • Choose a suitable place: It’s tempting to choose soft grass because it will provide a softer landing if (or when) your child falls, but it is more difficult to pedal on. Instead, look for a smooth and flat tarmac surface, with plenty of space, away from traffic.
  • Get the bike ready: Make sure you’ve bought the right size bike for your child. The saddle should be high enough that their feet just brush the ground. They should also have lights, reflectors, and a bell for safety. And of course, the all important helmet.
  • Support your child: Start by standing behind the bike, and wedge the rear wheel between your feet and calves. Support your child with your hands under their armpits rather than by the saddle or handlebars, as this will interfere with how the bike leans and responds to the rider’s weight.
  • Letting go: As your child gains confidence riding you can gradually let go, but stay ready to grab them under the armpits if need be. As you’re following behind, you can guide their body to help them understand how the bike responds to leaning, and show them how to turn a corner.
  • Getting going on their own: Once your little one has got the hang of balancing and pedalling at the same time, you can show them how to set off on their own. Ask them to put their foot on the front pedal, then push down hard to set off. It may take a few practice goes before they get the hang of it.
  • Knowing how to brake: Ask your child to walk alongside their bike and pull on the brake levers. Show them how to brake suddenly to bring the bike to a halt, and also to squeeze the brakes more slowly to come to a gradual stop, or to slow the bike. Once they’ve got the hang of it, put them back on the bike and let them have a few goes.

Practice is key to getting the hang of it. But remember to make sure it’s a fun experience. Every child develops at a different rate, so try not to put too much pressure on them. They’ll love practising their new skill and the freedom it brings, and will be able to join you on family bike rides in no time. Read more.

And don’t forget the protective gear! A helmet is essential, and little cycling mitts can help prevent scuffed hands. Long sleeves and trousers are better than a tshirt and shorts to help protect against cuts and grazes, and trainers are more practical than sandals. Also consider knee and elbow pads if they seem to have trouble keeping their balance.

Are there any courses which teach kids how to ride a bike?

If you’d rather let the professionals teach your little one to ride a bike, there are lots of programmes and courses to choose from, wherever you are in the country. Sadly, nearly half of the UK’s six year olds are unable to ride a bike, which means they miss out on the countless benefits of being able to cycle. With a structured course, they’ll learn within small groups, which is also an excellent opportunity to mix with other children and make new friends. A course will build a child’s confidence while developing their gross motor skills and dynamic balance. And they’ll learn outside, in a safe traffic-free area. They’ll learn how to mount and dismount the bike, fit a helmet, balance, steer, brake, and pedal. And in many cases, the bike and any other equipment will be provided, so you can wait until after the course to get them their perfect first bike. 

Before you start searching for a local kids cycling course, check with your child’s school first to see if they’ve signed up to the Bikeability programme. It’s all about gaining practical skills and understanding how to cycle on today’s busy roads. And there’s a Bikeability level to suit your child, whether they’re just starting out, or want to learn how to use their bike more safely. They will need their own bike which is in roadworthy condition to take part. For those who remember the old cycling proficiency scheme, this is a new and improved version, delivered by professional instructors. Courses are available throughout the year in every local authority in England. Children and adults can be trained individually or in groups, through school, clubs or private tuition. If your child’s school hasn’t signed up to receive these sessions, you can search for other Bikeability providers in your area.