Tips for teaching kids to ride a bike. Cycling is a skill that not only allows kids to explore their neighbourhood; it can also be an activity you can take with you when you travel with kids too. From how to choose the right bike for kids to how much you should be spending, Kenneth Wee, Cycling Coach at Singapore Bike School gives suitcases&strollers his extremely comprehensive and helpful parenting tips for riding bicycles with kids.
What kind of bike is best for kids?
A child’s first bike should be light and durable, something they can easily push around and maneuver on their own. For teaching, we favor lightweight BMX bikes with aluminum frames and wheels. These bikes are simple, sturdy and have an upright riding position – ideal for new cyclists.
Mountain bikes can take lots of abuse but tend to be slightly heavier, so we use them for our teenage students.
Road bikes are only recommended for students with considerable biking experience and advanced bike handling skills.
When it comes to kids bikes, is it worth investing in the big expensive brands?
The saying goes: “Good bikes are not cheap. Cheap bikes are not good”. It is not an elitist statement, but rather a universal truth: you get what you pay for. Supermarket brand bikes are often made of steel, are heavy and are fitted with low quality components. They typically cost less than $100 and last about a year before bits start to rust, rattle and self-destruct. They are assembled by salesmen rather than trained mechanics, so roadworthiness might be a concern.
Bikes from reputable brands can cost upwards of $300 but are usually lighter, come with better components and can last way beyond 3 years with reasonable care. They also have better resale value or hand-down potential when your child outgrows them.
How do you know what is a good size kids bike for your child? How can you tell if the bike fits them properly?
There are many factors to proper bike sizing. One such factor is the “reach” of the bike. A bike that is too long results in the child being too stretched out. Too short and child will feel too cramped on the bike. Both extremes can adversely affect control and comfort.
To check the reach of a bike, get your child to sit upright on the saddle with both feet firmly on the ground. Have him or her stretch out their arms straight in front of them (zombie hands!). Allow the outstretched arms to fall naturally on to the handlebar grips. The ideal reach will place the knuckles directly over the grips. A slight variance is acceptable. However, if the fingertips or palm contact the grips, it means the reach is too long or too short, respectively.
If you have some bike maintenance knowledge, you can adjust a bike’s reach by changing certain components such as the stem or seat post without affecting the handling characteristics of the bike. When in doubt, consult a qualified bike mechanic.
How do you know your kids’ bike helmet fits properly?
Choosing a helmet is a huge topic. You can find details on our website here.
Once you've got your kid’s bike and helmet, when can kids start riding long distances?
Children love cycling. In our experience, a child can cycle as far as an adult provided there are sufficient breaks and the pace is manageable for them. Start out with short rides and increase the distance proportionately to their motivation.
My 6-year-old daughter once cycled the 20+ kilometers from East Coast Park to Changi Village in Singapore with her cousins, uncles and aunties. It took them about 3 hours but her keenness to cycle, the good company and determination to keep up ensured that while it was tough, it was still loads of fun.
At what age should kids be taking off their training wheels?
In our opinion, there is no need to ever use training wheels in the first place. Kickstart the learning process with a balance bike instead. Give them opportunities to use and master the balance bike as often as they can. Trips to the playground, neighborhood store, supermarket…just plonk them on a balance bike and they will very quickly realise it is easier to scoot along than walk. Once they can scoot effortlessly with their feet up, switch them to a bike with pedals.
Why should parents invest in teaching their kids to cycle?
Most adults do not realise that for a child, cycling is not just “play”; rather, it is their first taste at real independence. A bike is the first vehicle which they control entirely on their own. They decide when to go, where to go and when to stop. When they fall, which they will, let them learn to pick themselves up and carry on. For a timid or shy child, it is a real confidence boost and the sense of empowerment can really draw them out. Learning with a proper coach ensures that the child learns to safely control the bike, is taught the necessary cycling rules and etiquette for cycling safely with others and has the fundamentals to build upon for other disciplines of cycling.
Cycling is great for both adults and children. It helps everyone get some much needed physical activity and fresh air together in a fun and cost effective way. Cycling spans the generations too, so even grandparents can join in.
Cycling together leads to many shared adventures, experiences and memories. Parents can also use different aspects of cycling to subtly impart valuable life lessons in perseverance, responsibility and awareness of environmental, health and safety issues that are so important to inculcate in young children.
What are your top 3 tips for parents who are thinking of taking their kids cycling regularly?
Get a good bike, take a scenic route and make time to stop and smell the flowers!
Images: Singapore Bike School