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  1. #1
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    techniques for teaching kids to ride

    I could use some help with teaching my 6 year old twins to ride without training wheels. I tried about a year ago and they didn't seem ready, so I put the training wheels back on. Now they are ready and they both really want to learn, mostly because other kids their age are riding.

    Is it better for them to learn on grass or concrete? The road is out of the question. Since we live in the country, when a car does go by, it's moving at 45MPH or more and we're in kind of a blind spot between a curve and a hill.

    Since we don't live in town, we don't have a sidewalk. We do have a large concrete parking area in front of the garage, about 30 feet wide and 40 feet long. I have them put on their helmets, knee and elbow pads, and gloves to protect their knuckles, but concrete doesn't give a bit, so I'm not sure if that's the best place for them to learn. It's sloped from front to back, so they really take off it they go that way. Going from side to side is level.

    We're about to get our driveway paved (Yeah!), but until then it's either the concrete or the yard.

    So, I've been having them try it in the yard, but it's not real smooth and makes it harder to pedal. I've tried both a level area and a sloped area (so they don't have to pedal as hard to overcome the resistance of the grass).

    Sorry about the long post, but anyway, here's what I've been doing. One at a time, I hold onto the back of their seat and they get their feet on the pedals. I get them moving slowly and they start pedaling. I told them if they start to fall one way, to lean the other. At some point, I let go and they go a few feet and flop over. They usually make it about 6 feet, a little more once in a while. Sometimes they get their foot down and don't fall over, but most of the time they end up laying on the ground with the bike on top of one leg. I thought about getting them going faster so the bike would stay upright better, but I'm afraid they'll get their foot caught when they fall and twist an ankle or something.

    I'm not sure what to do here. What do I tell them to concentrate on? It's all so second nature to me now, so I don't know how to break it down and teach it!

    Thanks for any help you can provide.
    Last edited by Danny Y; 09-23-02 at 10:42 AM.

  2. #2
    Career Cyclist threadend's Avatar
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    Try this technique that is said to work real well for kids or adults learning to ride.

    Remove the pedals from the bike, lower the seat so the rider can easily reach the ground with a flat foot. Have the rider sit on the seat and propel themselves using their feet until they get the feel for balancing, starting and stopping. When you notice them coasting farther and faster without dabbing the foot so frequently. Put the pedals back on, adjust the seat up a little and watch them go!

    I've read testimonials from adults learning to ride this way and have heard kids will be riding within days of starting out this way.

    edit to add: Just remembered, be sure the bike has a functional handbrake, because without pedals, the coaster brake isn't going to be available.
    Last edited by threadend; 09-23-02 at 11:07 AM.
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  3. #3
    Senior Member mechBgon's Avatar
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    The way bicycles work is this: if the bicycle begins falling to the right, you steer the bike that direction to get it back under your center of gravity. Ditto for the left. As skill improves, this becomes a finely-tuned response to the point where it's hard to percieve.

    So I teach them exactly that. "Ok, I'm going to lean the bike this way, and you turn the bars that direction. Now the other way." And I begin by rolling them along and demonstrating, holding the seat and the bars and deliberately leaning + turning in that fashion. By the time they've got the hang of it, my back is pretty sore

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    When I was teaching my son to cycle, I explained him well that a bike (and a cyclist) are kept upright by the gyroscopic force.

    I explained that no bike can stay upright without rotating wheels. And let him try this.

    Then I taught him to use the bicycle by standing on one pedal and pushing himself from the ground with another foot. So that he could feel the equilibrium.

    And then only we started to learn to cycle.

  5. #5
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    Some great ideas already! Thanks. Yes, their bikes do have a handbrake for the rear tire. They've never used it though, so I'll have to make sure it works and teach them how to use it. I can't wait to get home and try some of these techniques!

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    I taught my 6yr old neice to ride.
    First I showed her the brakes, so she could slow down, and lean to one side for a dismount, with me holding the saddle. Show how to brace agaisnt the bars on braking, to stop the rider flying forward.
    Being able to stop is lesson 1. If lesson 1 is how to go, they suddenly need lesson 2 before its taught.

    Lesson to, how to go.
    Holding on to the seat, I got her to ride in big swoopy curves, feeling the lean, and using steering to correct it. Gradually get the curves smaller until they are almost straight.
    Most training wheels prevent them learning this lesson.

    From then on, they have to tools to start learning themselves.

  7. #7
    JRA
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    Listen to mechBgon. What keeps a bicycle from falling over is the steerable front wheel (and the slope of the front fork). Gyroscopic action has almost nothing to do with it, and it doesn't require any great sense of balance (unless you're riding no hands, or on a unicycle).

    If you begin to fall, turn in whatever direction you begin to fall. That's what any beginning rider needs to learn.
    "It may even be that motoring is more healthful than not motoring; death rates were certainly higher in the pre-motoring age."- John Forester
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    "Motorist propaganda, continued for sixty years, is what has put cyclists on sidewalks." - Forester, sociologist in his own mind
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    Originally posted by JRA
    Gyroscopic action has almost nothing to do with it,
    QUOTE (from http://www.physicscentral.com/lou/lou-01-1.html)
    The automatic steering occurs for two reasons. First, there is gyroscopic precession that occurs when the spinning front wheel experiences torques from the ground. When the bicycle tips to the left, forces from the ground twist the spinning wheel so that its angular momentum shifts from leftward to rearward. This complicated precession effect causes the wheel to steer left toward the left.

    But the more important source of automatic steering is that the tipped bicycle naturally flexes about its steering axis and turns its front wheel in the same direction as the tip. If you tip the bicycle left, the wheel pivots so as to steer the bicycle left. The fork and frame design are important to this effect. The tipped bicycle can reduce its gravitational potential energy by flexing and, as I mentioned above, this capacity to lower potential energy leads to forces that cause the tipped bicycle to flex. When you tip the bicycle to the left, it steers left and thus manages to reduce its gravitational potential energy-the bicycle's center of gravity descends slightly. Together with gyroscopic precession, this automatic steering makes the bicycle's wheels drive under the overall center of gravity so that the bicycle keeps returning to upright. So the forward-moving bicycle is like a broom with an autopilot and thus very hard to tip over.
    UNQOTE

    Still gyroscopic forces have something to do with cycling, haven't they? Certainly, my reasoning was simplified, but what I meant is that a kid shall not be afraid to move. A standing bike is more prone to fall down.

    I cycled many thousands km and never knew that I shall turn the wheel in a certain direction to keep upright. The bike just keeps upright by itself.

  9. #9
    JRA
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    Gyroscopic forces aren't the reason a bicycle doesn't fall over. And they don't explain why it's so easy to stay on a bicycle even at low speeds, when gyroscopic forces are almost non-existant. Do you really think gyroscopic forces involved in a relatively slowly spinning lightweight aluminum wheel with lightweight tires are enough to keep a bicycle with a 200 pound person on it from falling over?
    Originally posted by Alexey
    ...a kid shall not be afraid to move. A standing bike is more prone to fall down.
    That's true. A standing bike is a lot more prone to fall over. The reason it's easier to balance a moving bike is forces on the front wheel, but they aren't gyroscopic forces - you could lock-up the brake on the front wheel and still generate the same forces as long as the bike is moving.
    physicscentral:
    ...there is gyroscopic precession that occurs when the spinning front wheel experiences torques from the ground. When the bicycle tips to the left, forces from the ground twist the spinning wheel so that its angular momentum shifts from leftward to rearward.
    Maybe 'physicscentral' should be renamed 'badphysics'. The front wheel experiences forces from the ground but they aren't gyroscopic forces.
    If you suddenly turn the front wheel of a moving bike 90 degrees you will feel the effect of forces on the front wheel - if you're going fast enough, you'll go right over the handlebar - there's nothing gyroscopic about it. Just lock up the front brake and you can do the same thing. Turn the front wheel a whole lot less than 90 degrees, and a similar force will be created but it won't be straight forward; it will be right or left, tending to tip the moving bike in the opposite dirrection, and that's the force that makes it so easy to keep a moving bike upright. Again, there is nothing gyroscopic about it. You could create the same forces even with a wheel that is not spinning at all (although that will tend to slow the bike down )
    The same force exists at low speed, but it's smaller, so you have to turn the front wheel farther to stay upright.

    Gyroscopic forces can't explain how a track stand is possible - or why it's so easy to balance on a slowly moving bike.
    Originally posted by Alexey
    I cycled many thousands km and never knew that I shall turn the wheel in a certain direction to keep upright. The bike just keeps upright by itself.
    If a bike stayed upright by itself, there would be nothing to teach new riders.

    You may not have consciously learned it, but turning the front wheel in the direction of a fall is what every cyclist does - it's what learning to ride a bicycle is all about.
    Last edited by JRA; 09-23-02 at 06:31 PM.
    "It may even be that motoring is more healthful than not motoring; death rates were certainly higher in the pre-motoring age."- John Forester
    "Laws cannot be properly understood as if written in plain English..."- Forester defending obfuscation.
    "Motorist propaganda, continued for sixty years, is what has put cyclists on sidewalks." - Forester, sociologist in his own mind
    "'There are no rules of the road on MUPs.' -John Forester" - Helmet Head quoting 'The Great One'

  10. #10
    SLJ 6/8/65-5/2/07 Walter's Avatar
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    I'm currently teaching my 6 year old and we made tremendous strides when I found a park that had a mowed grassy decline (not nearly a hill). Took the training wheels off and let her get started with a little gravity aid and told her to just keep pedaling. In 1 day we advanced so far beyond months of training wheels on pavement it's hard to describe. The only "training" device on her bike is a bar called The 2 Wheel Tutor. It bolts onto the seat stays and extends up about 3 feet. Much easier for me than leaning over and helping balance by holding the seat or etc.

    After a few days in the grass we got her on joggging trails in the same park. Much smoother and she's turning pretty well. Still some crashes and I want to get her off the coaster brake as the lack of freewheeling makes it harder to position the cranks for the easy start. Sunday I brought 1 of my bikes (a roadie with a triple and a granny gear) and actually rode around with her. I'm very happy with the progress that a little decline made. The grass was important as it took the sting out of falls but since it was mowed it didn't slow her down too much.

    With respect to the gyroscopic argument above: I don't have the physics background but my daughter stayed upright much easier and longer when it was easy to pedal. In fact she fell 2X Sunday. Once not negotiating a turn on the jogging path and the other time when she "stalled" going up a small incline and stopped pedalling.
    “Life is not one damned thing after another. Life is one damned thing over and over.”
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  11. #11
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    At first, I tried the "let's push the bike as fast as possible", and it didn't work. I got a sore back, and my daughter was afraid of falls, the speed, bumps, lack of control... At the sametime, however, a neighbour learned that way, at 5 years old; he is a daredevil and really enjoyed going fast and breaking his neck!

    For my daughter, she learned at 4, when I removed the wheels and lowered the saddle. The first night, she scooted around keeping 2 feet solidly on the ground. But after 2 or 3 other practices, she pushed fast and kept her legs off the ground most of the time. Even though she begged me, I waited until she was scooting well, then reinstalled the pedals.

    Since you don't have the ideal practice ground, removing the pedals will work well. Your child will be able to use the concrete slab and stay upright... and will be able to practice on the grass also.

    Regards,
    Michel Gagnon
    Montréal (Québec, Canada)

  12. #12
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    I'll second the grassy downslope idea. My son learned to balance without training wheels at age 4 on his second trip down. Make sure there is plenty of runout room- they will be so excited they will forget how to brake.

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    The best thing I did for my 5-year old was to buy her a scooter - you know, the "Razor" brand type.

    She was not afraid to use this thing and it works on the same priciples. I let her get used to it for a few weeks, and she go quite good at it in a short time. She was in the standing position and could step off easily if she lost her balance.

    Then I moved her to the bike, explaining the balance worked exactly the same, only she was sitting, not standing. I put her on the bike, pushed her for less than a minute, and she was off on her own.

    We had tried a few times before the scooter, to no avail. I truely think this was the beginning of her learning balance, since the riding position of a scooter took the fear out of it for her.

    Hope this helps.

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    Senior Member mechBgon's Avatar
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    A broom with an autopilot!!! I like it!

  15. #15
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    Originally posted by JRA

    Gyroscopic forces can't explain ... why it's so easy to balance on a slowly moving bike.
    Indeed, on a very slowly moving bike the gyroscopic forces are negligible. Hmm...

    However if wheels are not rotating, but locked by brakes and a bike glides on a slippery surface, I feel the bike will not be stable, even if I steer.

    I guess it is both steering and rotating wheels, that keep it upright.

    Bicycle is one of the most efficient machines. I read somewhere it takes 5 times less energy than a pedestrian to cover the same distance. At the same time behind this simplicity there are rather complicated processes.

    A common sense advises the kid - if you are moving and in danger stop and you will be in safety. It is not the case on a bike. A kid shall understand that he is safe while he is cycling correctly and while he can stop correctly. Just freezing will be counterproductive and may cause a crash.

  16. #16
    put me back on my bike stewartp's Avatar
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    The remove pedals thing worked a treat for my boy.

    Stew
    The older I get the better I used to be.

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    When I got home from work yesterday I took the pedals off and lowered the seats as far as they would go. I explained the "turn in the same direction as you start to fall" technique, and then had them try it.

    Unfortunately, we didn't have good results. I must still not be doing something right. On the concrete, they basically just walked around while partially sitting on the seats. I think they were afraid to fall on the concrete, and I don't blame them! So, off to the grass on a slight downhill slope. They would go about 6 feet and when the bike started to tip one way, then they turned that way, put one foot down, and come to a stop after turning almost all the way around. They don't seem to be able to keep going straight down the slope.

    I could be wrong, but it seems to me that there must be some leaning involved that we do as second nature and haven't addressed yet. I tried it myself and tried to keep track of what I was doing. I went down the slope and deliberately leaned one way to make myself start tipping. So, I turned the wheel and then by second nature just leaned more and turned around! So, I though to myself "what do I do to keep going straight?" and tried it again. The only way I can keep going straight is to lean back the other way and straighten the wheel. Or am I missing something?

  18. #18
    Senior Member Jeepbikerun's Avatar
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    I too live in the country, but on a dirt road. I taught my daughter to ride by holding the seat and running along side her. When I felt she had good balance I let go, but kept running along side. After a few seconds I pointed out that I wasn't holding the bike and that it was all her. She felt safe because I was right next to her. She knew how to operate the brake and I reminded her to do so now- getting winded you know. She stopped and had a grin from ear to ear! She took off on her own after that. Yes, she did wreck a few times, but with her safety gear on she was okay. Again this was on a dirt road and no traffic.
    I taught my brothers to ride the same way when I was about 8 years old myself. Works like a charm!
    Good luck,
    Yvonne
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    are of the same opinion still."- unk

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    Personally, I think the training wheels inhibit learning how to ride a bike. But what is a person to do? Training wheels are the norm.

    The following is not how we started but is the method which worked in the end:

    I left the pedals on the bike and lowered the seat so that my youngest's feet could easily reach the ground. She started out walking, then kick and glide, then tentative pushes of the pedals and finally real riding. This all occurred within 2 days. She rode the bike with training wheels for a season before venturing into the unknown world of balancing. We have a fairly level sidewalk in front of our house. Leave the pedals on the bike. They are used to having the pedals there and the child will progress at his/her's own rate.

    Forget the physics!

    My oldest learned from the boy down the street!

    Good luck!

    Les

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    Here is an interesting web site:

    http://www.pedalmagic.com/default.htm

    I wonder what this guy's secret is, or if it's just a scam to get people's money?

  21. #21
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    Originally posted by Danny Y
    When I got home from work yesterday I took the pedals off and lowered the seats as far as they would go. I explained the "turn in the same direction as you start to fall" technique, and then had them try it.

    Unfortunately, we didn't have good results. I must still not be doing something right. On the concrete, they basically just walked around while partially sitting on the seats. ...
    You are on the right track. But unless your children love physics or long words, forget any explanations about gyroscopic effects, or even about "turn in the same direction...", and simply let them practice.

    For my daughter, I used a starting point (home) and an end point (a playground 2 blocks away) The first experience felt like yours, but the second or third try looked more promising, and I felt I could entice her to push harder and wait a few seconds before kicking with the other foot.

    You might try to limit your training sessions to 15-20 minutes and work with your kids one at a time, at least for the beginning.

    Regards,
    Michel Gagnon
    Montréal (Québec, Canada)

  22. #22
    Senior Member mechBgon's Avatar
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    What may help is if you begin by manually leaning them and doing the necessary steering to keep the bike under them, so they get a feel for it. As I said, this isn't easy on your back

    A large paved or dirt playground is the best bet, so they can wobble and wander any which way without running into anything.

  23. #23
    JRA
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    Originally posted by Danny Y
    I must still not be doing something right.
    I disagree. I think you're definately doing things right. The 'remove the pedals and lower the seat' idea is great! I wouldn't have thought of it but I have really learned something reading this thread.
    In fact, the forerunner of the bicycle, the draisine, invented in 1817 worked exactly that way - it was a tremendous success, and sparked the first 'bicycle boom', and all without pedals - the rider pushed on the ground. It's on machines like that human beings first learned to balance on two inline wheels.
    Originally posted by Danny Y
    On the concrete, they basically just walked around while partially sitting on the seats. I think they were afraid to fall on the concrete, and I don't blame them!
    If the seat is the right height, so their feet reach the ground while they sit on the seat, there should be no danger of falling. On level ground, they are perfectly safe and could push the bike around for hours while, at the same time, learning to ride a bike. That's what I'd have them do: walk around with the bicycle underneath them for a while, with the goal of walking faster than they can without the bicycle. That was the big thrill back in 1817. (an early invention was called the 'swiftwalker')
    Originally posted by Danny Y
    I could be wrong, but it seems to me that there must be some leaning involved that we do as second nature and haven't addressed yet.
    You aren't wrong. There is something involved that must become second nature.
    Knowing about the physics, or instructing them to 'turn into a fall,' probably won't help. Learning to ride a bicycle is not an intellectual exercise. It's a matter of teaching the nervous system a skill.
    from the Pedal Magic website:
    There is a behavioral connection between the rider and the physics of balancing. What keeps a bike in balance is a rider who is conditioned to execute that behavior without thinking.
    I can't argue with that. When I'm riding a bike, I don't have time to think, "I'm falling to the right, so I need to steer to the right" -it's a conditioned response - I begin to fall and I correct without thinking about it. For any beginning rider, it needs to become second nature.

    The 'take off the pedals and lower the seat' idea will work. Have patience and confidence.
    Last edited by JRA; 09-24-02 at 11:36 PM.
    "It may even be that motoring is more healthful than not motoring; death rates were certainly higher in the pre-motoring age."- John Forester
    "Laws cannot be properly understood as if written in plain English..."- Forester defending obfuscation.
    "Motorist propaganda, continued for sixty years, is what has put cyclists on sidewalks." - Forester, sociologist in his own mind
    "'There are no rules of the road on MUPs.' -John Forester" - Helmet Head quoting 'The Great One'

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    Thanks for the tips everyone!

    As suggested, I have been working with them one at a time and we don't practice too long at a time, about 20 minutes each.

    We made more progress. Part of the problem was that they couldn't quite get their feet flat on the ground. I thought there wasn't anything I could do about it because I thought I had the seats all the way down, but didn't. There was a metal tab on the seat bracket that was designed to keep the seat bracket from going beyond the top of the tube that the seat bolts to. I guess it's there so the seat can't go down so far that the top of the tube hits the bottom of the seat and prevents the seat from having any cushion. So, I removed it and then I could lower the seat another inch and that allows them to reach the ground flat footed. I left a half inch of space for cushion, which is good enough for now. Now it's much easier for them to walk around on their bikes on the concrete.

    Another thing I did was have them hold their feet way out to each side so they could balance better while I got them going down the slight incline in the grass. I held them by their shoulders instead of the bike seat. That way I could help them balance, plus it was much easier on my back! They were able to go a little farther this way than they did before.

    I also had them ride on the back of my bike sitting on the luggage rack. I had them hang on to me and hold their feet way out while I slowly and carefully pedaled around the yard. I think this helped them get the feel of balancing, plus they though it was a lot of fun! Yes, I am being careful and make sure they keep their feet out and away from the rear wheel spokes!

    I feel confident that at this rate they will be riding in about a week or so!
    Last edited by Danny Y; 09-25-02 at 08:28 AM.

  25. #25
    MTWThFMuter Jeprox's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JRA
    The 'take off the pedals and lower the seat' idea will work. Have patience and confidence.
    There are just so much valuable infos in this forum. I took the pedals off my 5-yr old's bike (no training wheels) on a Saturday. I put them back on the following day. Voila! He said, "Dad, this is so cool! I can pedal a two-wheeler!" Thanks so much!

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