By Lauren Deal
Macon Community News
In America, what was once considered a rite of passage for the vast majority of school-aged children is no longer a common experience. Fewer children are learning to ride a bike, despite a growing emphasis on the bicycle as an alternative mode of transportation and an abundance of bicycle-friendly public spaces. Many kids today grow up without ever knowing the thrill of racing down the street on two wheels, a sack of snacks swinging from their handlebars, to meet up with friends and ride the neighborhood on a summer’s day.
The trend of fewer children riding bikes could be the result of many factors, including safety concerns, the so-called “death of play time” and the related rise in screen time, and the hectic nature of family life in modern America. Between work, household responsibilities, and extracurricular activities, it’s hard for struggling parents to find the time to teach their children how to ride a bike.
Riding a bike is a peculiar skill: once you’ve learned how to do it, it can be complicated to explain to another person (especially a small, fussy person who’d rather be playing Super Mario Kart 7 instead of sweating in the big, bright outside world) exactly how to do it. There are a variety of methods. Many of us were successfully taught by the “let-you-go-and-hope-for-the-best method,” although to be fair, previous generations were far less concerned with head trauma (or the doctor’s bill for a broken bone) than parents today.
There’s a better way to learn to ride a bike, and it works for anyone from school age through adulthood. It all begins with the bicycle itself. Remove the training wheels and be sure the tires are properly inflated.
For this method, it’s helpful to start on a smaller bike than one would ordinarily choose for the height of the rider. The seat should be lowered as far as possible, and when sitting on the seat, the rider should be able to plant her feet firmly and flatly on the ground.
Flat or gently sloping concrete is best for this method. First, the rider sits on the seat and “walks” back and forth while on the bike. This allows the rider to get used to the feeling of sitting on the bike, guiding the handlebars, and moving.
When the rider has had time to become comfortable on the bike, the next step is to “bunny hop” instead of walking. The rider will sit on the bike, and hop forward, lifting both feet off the ground briefly while learning to balance on the bike. Again, do this for as long as necessary for the rider to feel comfortable.
Once your rider feels comfortable hopping on the bike, encourage him to practice coasting. At first, he will only coast short distances, perhaps barely farther than his bunny hops. But over time, the rider will push off with a bunny hop and coast longer and longer distances. Having a gentle sloping ground helps a lot at this stage, as it is easier to coast with a little grade.
When your rider is comfortable coasting, she will naturally progress to pedaling. If she’s not ready to pedal, don’t push her (literally OR figuratively). It will happen. The hardest part of learning to ride a bicycle is balancing, and once your child masters this skill, they will find pedaling easy. They may alternate between coasting, pedaling, and bunny hopping at first, and this is just fine.
For older or more intrepid riders, it’s recommended to give this process a good amount of time, perhaps over a long weekend with lots of time on the bicycle. Once they get the hang of it, it’s also wise to encourage daily practice until the skill becomes natural. When your rider is comfortable, increase the height of the seat and then, gradually, transition to a bike that is appropriate to the height of the rider.
With persistence and patience, you will have a budding cyclist in no time.