Ready to Teach Your Toddler to Bike Without Training Wheels?
Congratulations! If you are reading this, you likely did not start your child on a bike with training wheels. In this post, I will break down how to go from balancing to pedaling with a child as young as three years old.
Kids who learn to ride on a balance bike master more than just balancing. They become adept at shifting their body weight in response to turns, acceleration, and breaking. They also gain a lot of experience in generally handling a bicycle on the streets. Last, but not least, a balance bike is fun.
For the reasons above, these children start biking earlier and have a much easier time transitioning to their first pedal bike. Need to know more? This post will teach you all you need to know about balance bikes and how to pick the best one for your child.
Having said that, depending on the age of your child and their temperament, learning to ride a bike with pedals might still take some encouragement and effort on your part.
How to Teach an Older Child to Ride a Pedal Bike?
If your child did not start out on a balance bike, don’t despair. You can still teach them how to ride a bike without training wheels. While starting with a true balance bike for a child over 4-5 years of age may not be practical, you can help them along by removing the pedals from their bike until they learn to balance first.
The steps for teaching an older child to balance on a bike follow the same progression as for younger toddlers. In another post, I laid out detailed instructions to help you teach your child to ride a balance bicycle. Feel free to skip and adjust steps to fit your child’s age, temperament, and abilities.
When is My Child Ready for a Pedal Bike?
In general, you know your child is ready to transition to a pedal bike when they are developmentally ready to handle spinning, steering, and balancing at the same time. Ultimately, however, your child has to be motivated and interested in learning to pedal. A bit more on motivation later.
Normally children with good control of a balance bike will be ready to transition to a pedal bike by around 4 years of age. However, with a well-coordinated child who started on a balance bike early, this can occur even at 3.
How to Find the Best First Pedal Bike for Your Child?
One of the most important things is to find a kids bike that not only fits your child but also grows with your child. You can’t expect a small child to take off pedaling on a bicycle that weighs as much as they do. Similarly, they will not do well if they cannot place their feet on the ground, or if they cannot turn the pedals with ease.
There are many more factors to consider. To get the full list of high-quality bikes, please view this post to get an easy breakdown of things to look at and suggestions for some great starting bicycles for your aspiring riders.
How Do I Help My Child Transition from a Balance Bike?
While the transition to a pedal bike from a balance bike should be relatively easy, there are still some tips and tricks I learned along the way that I want to share with you. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, confidence-building and proper motivation are key at this stage.
Before you begin, make sure you have a properly fitting starter bike that is right for your child. See my other post for a step-by-step guide to help you pick the right bike. And now let’s teach your child to pedal:
- Get your child excited about the new skill. Let them pick out the bike color and decorate it how they want. Perhaps get a new helmet to go with it. Let them pick a special bell for the bike or deck it out with stickers.
- This is important: Make sure to put away the balance bike and any other alternative riding toys your child may have. I can’t stress this enough, because it is probably one of the biggest impediments to learning.
- Adjust the seat and the steering height on the bike. Your child should be able to comfortably reach the ground and the pedals.
- Don’t forget safety. Always have your child wear a well-fitted helmet and find a safe stretch of a road, preferably with a slight downward slope to it.
- Find a good motivator for your child. For my kids, small rewards like Smarties or Skittles candies worked well to take their mind off the initial fear and motivate them to try. Your child may not need this, but have it in the back of your pocket just in case. Whatever it is, it needs to be a special treat.
At this point, you should be ready to start teaching your toddler.
Step-by-Step Guide to Teaching Your Child to Pedal
Most children who learned on a balance bike will not have any problems switching over to a regular pedal bike. Actually riding the bike while pedaling should be easy. This is how I would help my child:
- Tell your child to ignore the pedals at first and just get used to riding the new bike like a balance bike for a few minutes. This might be difficult with the pedals in the way, so do the best you can.
- Encourage your child to ride the bike in circles left and right to get used to the bike and get more comfortable steering it. Have them play with the hand breaks as well. Find a little hill and have them ride it on the hill as well.
- Once they are used to the feel of the new bike, have them set up the pedals in a position where they can easily generate speed. For this, the top pedal needs to be at roughly 10 minutes on the clock (or 2 pm), and the bottom pedal in the 40-minute position (or 8 pm) respectively.
- For this part, a slight hill would be ideal. Your child should place one foot on the top pedal (that’s in the 10-minute position). Then push off with the foot that is on the ground and put weight on the top pedal with the other foot. Initially, you can help your child with a little push to help generate the speed. Alternatively, they can start by running with the bike to generate speed before placing feet on the pedals.
- Avoid stabilizing the bike by holding the seat and the handlebars as that will prevent your child from actually learning to control the bike. Attempt support by holding under their arms instead.
- Occasionally, children have a tough time coordinating these steps. In those cases, practice the motion of placing feet on the pedals quickly. For this, you can support the child under their arms for balance. Have your child place their feet on the pedals as quickly as possible several times until they get the hang of it.
- After your child is comfortable placing their feet on the pedals, start with steps 3 and 4 again.
If your child experiences some difficulty, it will likely be in one or several of the below areas.
Spinning the pedals:
Sometimes it may help to isolate the pedaling motion itself. To do this raise the back wheel off the ground with your child sitting on the bike. Encourage them to spin the pedals to get familiar with the push and pull movement. If you have a bike trainer, you can certainly use that as well.
To transition to riding, you can assist your child by slightly lifting them under their arms. This is an easy way to keep them stable and simultaneously push them forward. Do not hold the seat or the bike, as that takes control away from a child and prevents learning.
When the bike is in motion, encourage your child to put their feet on the pedals and generate a pedal stroke. This will take a little practice, so don’t despair.
Accelerating from a stop:
To generate speed from a complete stop, tell your child to ride their new bike just like a balance bike to get it going. Once the bike is in motion, place feet on the pedals and attempt turning just like above.
Once your child can comfortably do this, you can encourage them to start pedaling from a stop. Tell them to place one foot on the top pedal at about 2 o’clock. Push off with the foot that is on the ground. Simultaneously put weight on the foot that is on the pedal to start pedaling.
Pedaling up a hill:
Sometimes younger children who have no problems pedaling on a straight track, encounter difficulties when faced with a small hill. This is normal. The best method I have found is to anticipate the hills and give them a push to help them continue the motion forward. This not only generates confidence but also provides their legs with the needed practice to get them stronger. With time, they will be able to ride up those hills as well. The good news is it will probably take much less time than you expect. Our own toddlers learned to bike up a hill within days after starting to pedal.
Check Out My Other Guides for Biking with Kids:
- Complete Guide to Toddler Balance Bikes
- How to Teach a Child to Ride a Bike
- How to Find the Best First Pedal Bike After a Balance Bike
- Woom 5 Bike Review – The Best 24 Inch Bike for Kids 2019
My Top Resources for Kids Bikes:
This has been our family’s top resource over the past several years as we embarked on the biking journey with our children. I have recommended them to many friends and family alike.
This is a site started by two mountain biking dads. A funny take on family riding adventures. Lots of great tips for more adventurous rides.
Another useful site full of resources focused on “bikepacking” and biking with your kids. A commuting mom’s take on biking with children.