I was thrilled at the notion of N’s having scores of adventures on his bike, just as I did when I was a child. For me, riding a bike meant freedom. I rode all through the streets of Houston and explored new neighborhoods. There was nowhere that my bike couldn’t take me. I knew that N would feel the same way and I couldn’t wait to see the excitement on his face when he saw his birthday present.
I rolled the bike off the rack and parked it right in front of him.
“Happy birthday, son,” I declared.
He looked at me with a confused look on his face.
“Um, thanks Daddy,” he said. “But where is my actual birthday gift?”
At that moment, I knew that teaching N how to ride his bike would be no easy task.
The Bike Collects Dust in the Garage
Over the next few months, N expressed absolutely no desire to ride his bike. He was content to ride his scooter or run alongside his sister while she rode her bike.
I didn’t want to press him because my experience with teaching my daughter to ride her bike taught me that parental coercion is not an effective teaching method. Instead, I told him stories of how much fun it will be when we can go for a family bike ride. N is a social child and loves family activities. He didn’t want his lack of riding skills to exclude him from the family fun.
The Undersized Bike Approach
Although I used the traditional “hold the seat and run along side the bike” method to teach my daughter how to ride, I decided to use Sheldon Brown’s “The Undersized Bike Approach” to teach N.
I removed the pedals from my daughter’s old bike and placed N in the saddle. He was able to sit comfortably with his knees bent and his feet firmly planted on the ground. I told him to pretend that the bike was his scooter and push off with his feet to propel the bike. This method taught N to master basic balancing without having to worry about pedaling or falling down.
Yoda Saves the Day
When he could consistently balance the bike, I reattached the pedals and reverted to the “run and hold” method. This part of the lesson lasted all of five minutes before the yelling and crying began. After he stopped yelling and I stopped crying, we sat under the tree in our front yard to take a break.
I knew that I had to help him get past the fear and uncertainty so I slid next to him and placed my arm around his shoulder.
“N,” I said in a gentle voice. “I understand that riding a bike is a new experience and that you’re afraid.” He looked at me tentatively and nodded his head.
“I know how you feel because I was afraid when I was your age and was first learning how to ride my bike,” I continued.
“Really, Daddy,” he said. “You were scared to ride your bike?”
“Of course I was,” I said. “It’s only natural to be afraid. I didn’t want to fall off the bike and hurt myself.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” he said.
“Falling off the bike is a natural part of learning,” I said. “If you fall I will pick you up and place you back on the bike. Daddy’s here for you, son. You don’t have to be afraid.”
“Okay, Daddy,” he said.
“Daddy’s going to be so proud to watch you ride your bike around the cul-de-sac,” I said.
“You will?” He asked.
“Of course, I will,” I said. “Now let’s ride that bike.”
“Okay,” he said. “I’ll try.”
“Do or do not. There is no try,” I said imparting some Yoda wisdom. “Let me hear you hear you say it like you mean it.”
“I’m going to ride my bike, Daddy,” he said confidently.
“That’s my boy,” I said as I gave him a huge bear hug.
After a few more attempts, N finally got the hang of it. I gave him one final push and watched as he pedaled down the street by himself. He eventually crashed on the sidewalk because he still hadn’t learned how to stop. But this time, he picked up the bike and got back in the saddle without even a whimper.
When I arrived on the scene, he was raring to take another spin. Before I could give him another push, he tapped me on the shoulder.
“Daddy,” he said.
“Yes, son,” I replied.
“You’re the best bike teacher ever!”
These are the moments that make fatherhood such a joy.
Question: Do you have any tips to help parents teach their kids to ride a bike?