Warmer weather brings on the many joys of playing outside. One particularly common outdoor play activity is riding a bike; however, it can be challenging for many kids who have physical impairments or delays in strength, coordination, balance, or body awareness. Some kids without physical impairments can also struggle with bike riding and require more time, adaptations, or proper progression of advancing bike riding skills to gain confidence and independence for riding a bike with same-age peers.
Typically, by age three, we start our journey for bike riding with a tricycle. However, there are certain skills and activities we should be able to complete prior to attempting riding a tricycle.
- Able to crawl, walk and run
- Able to navigate walking up steps/stairs with handrail
- May be able to push self forward on ride-on toy or balance bike
- Able to jump to clear feet off the floor
Though these activities may seem to have little to do with bike riding, they demonstrate the precursor skills in balance, coordination, and strength to propel tricycle with reciprocal leg pedaling.
As mentioned above, balance bikes are a new initial step in the bike riding skill set. Balance bikes feature a frame like a bike and two wheels in line and require balance with weight shift and reciprocal leg propulsion as compared to a typical ride-on toy with four wheels and limited standing balance requirement. Balance bikes can be introduced at around 18 months if the child is walking and running with good balance.
To learn more about the benefits of balance bikes and recommendations for balance bikes for your toddler or child visit Best Balance Bikes for Toddlers: https://www.cyclingweekly.com/group-tests/best-balance-bikes-328326
Progressing from the balance bike or tricycle to training wheels for some children is optional. Some children progress right to a two-wheeled bicycle without the use of training wheels. Training wheels have pros and cons for learning to ride and for keeping up with same-aged peers. Training wheels cause children to limit the use of body weight leaning and balance to steer the bike and rely on leading their steering from the handlebars.
However, for some children to learn the action of pedaling without the added challenge of balancing, training wheels provide the stability to focus primarily on the pedaling motion. It can also offer children the ability to ride bikes of similar size as same-aged peers as they continue to gain the skills for riding a 2-wheeled bike. The ultimate goal being to improve pedaling to gain speed to balance with the training-wheels removed.
Ensuring success for your bike rider starts with choosing the proper bike for your child. A bike should fit the rider properly:
- Child’s inseam should be within bike seat range (when possible on the lower end of range to offer room to grow)
- Opt for a larger wheel size that fits inseam
Measure your child’s inseam from the floor to groin for the height from ground to where they would sit on the bike seat. Be sure the feet are flat on the floor while wearing tennis shoes as they would wear while riding the bike. Make sure your child’s inseam falls within the range of seat height, especially for their first bike. You want them to be able to place feet flat on ground while seated on bike. Larger wheel sizes will offer more stability and room to grow, typically your child’s in-seam will be at the lower end of the seat height range for a larger wheel size.
In-seam can be used to measure for height of all the bike types and stages we have discussed so far with variations on the seat height in relation to in-seam. Balance bike seats are recommended to be 1.5 inches shorter than inseam. Bike with training wheels should have seats at the level of the inseam or 1-2 inches taller for kids confident enough to touch with only their toes. A child’s first 2-wheeled bike should be positioned with the seat at the level of the inseam so that feet can touch flat. For future 2-wheeled bikes, once a child is a confident bike rider, can be 2-4 inches higher than the inseam.
- Balance bike 1.5 inches shorter than inseam
- Training wheels- 0-2 inches higher than inseam
- First 2-wheeled bike – at level of inseam
- Future 2-wheeled bikes-2-4 inches higher than inseam
To find out more about how to properly choose and size a bike for your child visit Kids Bikes Sizes Guide-A NEW Trick to Finding the Best Fit: https://www.twowheelingtots.com/kids-bike-sizes-guide-a-new-trick-to-finding-the-best-fit/
Once your child has the proper sized bike, there are a few skills that are important for bike riding success
- Balance standing on one foot
- Strength to hop on one foot clearing off the ground
- Coordination for skipping or climbing a ladder independently
Bike riding is a skill that improves balance, confidence, social interaction as well as building cognitive understanding and body awareness that can improve spatial awareness, visual and vestibular sensory integration, and even reading.
Always remember to use safety precautions when riding a bike and wear a helmet!
If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s bike riding please contact TES.