Wednesday, 13 July 2011

On Yer Bike! (How to train your child to ride)

I remember tearing out my front door on a Saturday morning and throwing my skinny frame onto my yellow banana seat bike.  Michigan blue sky and massive puffy clouds above and the open road ahead, I’ll never forget the feeling of freedom as the wind built up in my face and blew my hair back.  My first bike meant freedom, adventure and an expanded world.  Banana Seat Bliss.
Do you remember your first bike?  Cycling is a fantastic way to get the kids away from the TV and computer screens.  Get your child a bike and give them the gift of the outdoors, exercise, freedom and increased motor skills.
Most children get their first bike between the ages of 3 and 6.  I got mine at five and immediately began testing the laws of physics and gravity.
As a parent and caregiver, it’s a great time to teach and bond with your child.  Not only do you get the opportunity to help your little one to grasp the basics of cycling, you can also help your child learn how to face their fear and to conquer the unknown.
It’s a tossup which is more difficult:  learning to ride or teaching someone to learn to ride.  Your patience will be pushed to the max, but oh what a result when they finally get the hang of it!  Neither of you will forget that moment for the rest of your lives.  Experience always eventually kicks in and the initial roughness and hesitation slowly ebbs away.  Some take to it quickly, some take ages, but in all cases it’s a worthwhile investment of time and energy.
There are a couple of basic ways to teach your child to balance on two wheels:  training wheels, assisted two-wheeling, and un-assisted two wheeling.  Each has its advantages, and best results will often be obtained by a mixed, graduated approach.
You need to adjust to your child’s learning style and aptitude to determine which approach to take.  First thing’s first:  find a safe, spacious learning ground, the place where the indelible memory will happen.  If you go with training wheels, be sure there’s plenty of space to turn around because the training wheels require a larger turning radius.
It’s easy to topple with training wheels if the bike gets going much faster than a walk because the weight is shifted to one of the training wheels if the child leans the bike to one side, which is inevitable.  Toppling is inevitable, so we’ll get to the safety in just a bit.  Stay very nearby until your child gets the hang of turning and braking.  Set up the training wheels so there is a bit of lean on both sides, but not so much that they don’t do their job of keeping your child vertical not horizontal.
Once your child has become accustomed to pedaling, steering and braking, the training wheels should be raised slightly, a bit at a time.  As the child becomes more adept, the bike will spend more and more time with both training wheels off the ground.
The day will come when it is obviously time to take off the training wheels.  This is when the real fun begins.
Running alongside
Now you’ve got your bike and are ready to either take off the training wheels or you want to skip that step altogether, here comes the really fun part. 
Hold onto your child by the shoulders and run along behind.  Don’t hold the handlebars; let them learn the feel of balancing themselves.  Hold onto the saddle or any part of the bike so that your child will not necessarily realize you are holding them. And leaning to one side or the other.  Instead, hold them by the shoulders, so that as they lean to one side or the other they will feel the side pressure, and can learn to reduce it by turning into the lean.
This should be done in a wide-open space such as an empty parking lot or large driveway.  Don’t try to steer, just make let the bike go where it will.  Make sure you don’t bang into the pedals or trip over the wheels (ouch).  Easier said than done!
As in life, falling is absolutely inevitable.  I fell so many times I could not count them.  Even though we never had them, teach your child the importance of wearing ahelmet from the outset.  Gloves and kneepads are also a good idea as they will help keep the scrape factor to a minimum, keeping your child encouraged to keep trying.  Reflective clothing on your child and on the bike are also a good idea, so they look like a meteor to cars in the area, especially when riding at dusk or in the evening.
Foot brakes and hand brakes have their strong and weak points.  Foot brakes get in the way at times if your child suddenly puts their feet down to stop.  Kids do this involuntarily when they feel frightened of falling.  They forget to use the pedals.  Hand brakes require a certain amount of strength in the hands.  Little hands may not be able to pull the lever all the way to a stop.  Practice will tell you which one works best.
Before your child ever gets on the bike, teach them the rules of the road, such as:
·      Always ride with a helmet
·      Always ride with your hands on the handlebars
·      Always stop and check for traffic in both directions when leaving the driveway, alley or curb
·      Cross only at intersections
·      Ride on the same side and in the same direction as the cars
·      Never ride against traffic
·      Use bike lanes or designated bike routes whenever possible
·      Don’t ride too close to parked cars as doors can open suddenly
·      When passing other bikers or people on the street, always pass on the left
·      Call out “on your left” when passing
·      Stop at all stop signs and obey traffic lights just as the cars do
·      Ride single file on the street when riding with friends
·      Learn hand signals for turning left, right and stopping
Exercise, freedom and mobility are just a few of the benefits of riding.  It’s also a great family activity.  Every hour spent on the bike is an hour away from the telly or computer screen.  And of course, keep your child hydrated as cycling really burns up the water and calories.  We’re not bothered how you get the water down them, but if you need a suggestion which water to use, we may be able to be of service!  Now on yer bikes and let the good times roll!

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