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  1. #1
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    Teaching a 7 year old to ride a bike

    I bought my 7 year old a Trek Mountain Rack 200 with 24 inch wheels. He is tall for his age and he has a hand me down bike with 20 inch tires but it's too small for him now. He is able to ride for a short time by himself when he thinks I'm holding on to him, but the minute he realizes I'm not holding him, he crashes. Honestly, his biggest issue is that he doesn't pedal - he pedals for a short bit and then he just stops pedaling for no reason at all.

    I'm not sure if he just needs more practice, more confidence, or both. Its been frustrating for both of us and I don't want to discourage him. Any thoughts/advice on how to get him to keep pedaling whether I'm holding him or not?

    Thanks in advance.
    Last edited by Jyyanks; 09-16-12 at 09:11 PM.

  2. #2
    Senior Member downtube42's Avatar
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    A few thoughts, having gone through this more than once

    1. You couldn't stop him from learning to ride if you tried, so relax a bit. It will happen.
    2. Learning to balance, steer, and pedal all at once is challenging. If you can find a slight downhill that reduces the need to pedal, that will help.
    3. The conscious part is to keep trying; the learning is done by the unconscious. Practice and persistence allow the unconscious to learn.
    4. At the point of maximum frustration, see if he can give it five more minutes. Often that's an indication that something is about to 'click'.
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  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by downtube42 View Post
    A few thoughts, having gone through this more than once

    1. You couldn't stop him from learning to ride if you tried, so relax a bit. It will happen.
    2. Learning to balance, steer, and pedal all at once is challenging. If you can find a slight downhill that reduces the need to pedal, that will help.
    3. The conscious part is to keep trying; the learning is done by the unconscious. Practice and persistence allow the unconscious to learn.
    4. At the point of maximum frustration, see if he can give it five more minutes. Often that's an indication that something is about to 'click'.
    Thank you for your great advice. You make a lot of really good points, especially #2, as I never thought about how difficult it is for a child to learn to steer, pedal and balance all at once. Thanks for opening my eyes. I have to find a small hill that he can start practicing on and maybe that will ease the frustration for both of us. The good news is that although he kept falling, he kept getting back up. I'll take him out again this week and hopefully I'll have better luck!

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    There's a "new school" of thought these days that says the holding on from behind method actually takes longer because kids learning with this method don't master control of the bike before learning to balance. Proponents of this method advocate lowering the seat, taking off the pedals and "scooterizing" a bike so that a kid learns to balance first. Once they do that, you just put the pedals back on and they ride. I've tried it a bit with our six-year-old and haven't gotten it to work yet, but it seems to make sense.

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    Senior Member PatrickGSR94's Avatar
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    ah so that's why I see these little kid bikes from Orbea and others with no pedals or drivetrain.

    I recall helping teach my little brother to ride a 2-wheeler when I was around 8, he was around 5. I did the usual holding onto the seat for a short distance, then he would continue on by himself for a bit, before crashing. He got it after awhile, though.
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    Oh dear, Jyyanks, here we go again. This isn't a criticism of you, you understand, but this really should be a sticky by now.

    Anyway, the advice about taking of the pedals, etc., describes the most effective way of teaching in the vast majority of cases and we teach anything up to 40 kids a year from 3 upwards.

    1. Remove pedals
    2. Lower seat sufficently for him to put his feet comfortably on the ground to reduce the fear of falling to an irreducable minimum
    3. If possible, find a slope leading on to some level ground
    4. Let him roll down the slope onto the level bit getting used to moving his legs like walking, but making sure he keeps his bum on the saddle. They sometimes stand up while "walking".
    5. As he gets more confident and rolls further while beginning to keep his feet of the ground for longer periods, start him further up the slope so that he goes faster and therefore goes further every time he manages to keep his feet off the ground
    6. It's useful on occasions, to help him keep up his speed by a gentle helping hand on his back and , as another forumer has said, not pushing the bike. If you do, the bike will go where you're pushing it, which might not be quite the same direction his balance is taking him
    7. Once he's confident and can also propel himself on the level ground with increasing intervals between putting his feet down put the pedals back on and he should be away.
    8. Once he's riding, he may take a little while getting co-ordinated enough to start easily. Get him into the automatic habit of the "pedal up" position to start and if, in the early stages he needs a little help to get going, remember to put you hand on his back
    9. If you manage to do the job well enough to convert him into a bona fide keen rider, your troubles now begin: new bikes, new kit, demands to go out with you at the weekend, endless discussion with the missus about safety, more new bikes, more new kit.
    10. Don't, under any circumstances, blame us forumers for (8)

    Good luck to both of you and welcome to the club

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    Senior Member PatrickGSR94's Avatar
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    So this is really the first I've heard of teaching bike riding by removing the pedals. But it kind of makes sense.

    Does this method forgo the use of training wheels, i.e. can learn to ride unassisted earlier? Or do they still typically use training wheels first even with this method?
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    No need for training wheels using this method.

    My four year old followed the outlined process (took about 2 weeks without the pedals) and was riding unassisted in about 4 weeks total (about 10-12 hours of practice). He started on his birthday with the new bike, and now 2 1/2 months later is a pretty strong rider, doing tricks (like standing on the pedals, or coasting with his feet in the air), stopping, starting himself etc.

    The scariest thing was that he took longer to learn how to stop then to ride. When we went to the local park and hit a slight downhill, he'd speed along at about 8-10mph and I was always afraid he'd crash since he got wobbly at that speed.
    Uh huh!

  9. #9
    Senior Member PatrickGSR94's Avatar
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    Does he have a coaster brake or hand brake?

    I'm still trying to get my 2 year old (3 in 3 months) to figure out how to pedal his tricycle.
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    Thanks for the advice! I need to change my tactic. Guess I'll be scouting out grassy slopes for next weekend's lesson.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jyyanks View Post
    Thanks for the advice! I need to change my tactic. Guess I'll be scouting out grassy slopes for next weekend's lesson.
    I used the method summarized above by atbman to teach our daughter many years ago. But I wouldn't recommend grassy slopes unless you find one that's cut short and with very smooth soil. Otherwise the bumpiness and the added resistance complicate the situation for the child who should just be concentrating on balance initially. Instead I'd recommend (and used) a big empty parking lot with a very slight slope - just enough to roll down without picking up speed. That way the child can roll down in the general direction of the slope, but using the steering to balance without having to worry about any obstacles and with the ability to put a foot down at anytime if they feel like they might fall. With the seat lowered enough and the pedals removed there should be very little chance of even a single fall, so the harder paved surface isn't a problem but instead helps in making it easy to roll and steer the bike to balance.

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    Quote Originally Posted by PatrickGSR94 View Post
    So this is really the first I've heard of teaching bike riding by removing the pedals. But it kind of makes sense.

    Does this method forgo the use of training wheels, i.e. can learn to ride unassisted earlier? Or do they still typically use training wheels first even with this method?
    Training wheels are the instrument of the devil and should be illegal, not to mention the fact that such a description should be banned under any Trade Descriptions law. They do nothing whatsoever to help kids learn to ride and only train them to pedal without learning to balance. And since learning to balance is at the heart of learning to ride a bike -aaarrrggghhh!

    There, I feel much better now, nurse.

    But to return to your question, no, training wheels are not remotely part of the process and interfere with it. Virtually all kids who come to our club on a Saturday, leave being able to ride, often within the first hour. So if you're ever involved in doing this, follow this method.

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    Quote Originally Posted by prathmann View Post
    I used the method summarized above by atbman to teach our daughter many years ago. But I wouldn't recommend grassy slopes unless you find one that's cut short and with very smooth soil. Otherwise the bumpiness and the added resistance complicate the situation for the child who should just be concentrating on balance initially. Instead I'd recommend (and used) a big empty parking lot with a very slight slope - just enough to roll down without picking up speed. That way the child can roll down in the general direction of the slope, but using the steering to balance without having to worry about any obstacles and with the ability to put a foot down at anytime if they feel like they might fall. With the seat lowered enough and the pedals removed there should be very little chance of even a single fall, so the harder paved surface isn't a problem but instead helps in making it easy to roll and steer the bike to balance.
    I agree that the grass shouldn't be rough. We're lucky in that ours is pretty good (and shortish) and the kids roll down onto a rolled shale-type all-weather soccer pitch. Once they're up and away, we either let them ride around on their own (with parent, obviously) until they're reasonably confident and then they join in, or if they're one of those kids who take to it like a duck to water, they join in straight away. We usually have a cermonial throwing away of the training wheels before they go and give them a "I Learned to Ride My Bike" certificate to take to school.

    They then have a lot of fun with the cones, pallets, planks, seesaws (oh, all right, teeter totters to you ex-colonials) ramps, limbo bars, etc. until the time comes when we introduce them to the real meaning of cycling, which is, "pain and suffering lad, yer not 'ere to enjoy yourself". Which means regional schools roller, racing, time trials, circuit race, 'cross, mtb, hard and grass track and hill-climb championships, not to mention British Cycling's Yorkshire region winter Cyclo-Cross and White Rose Summer Youth Circuit Race series.

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  14. #14
    Senior Member PatrickGSR94's Avatar
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    Alright cool. Yeah it makes total sense. Anything I can do to get my kid to ride on his own sooner sounds great by me.

    I still wish he would learn to pedal his tricycle. It's a folding Radio Flyer trike that his grandparents got him, which to my surprise costs about $50. I hate to see it go to waste. But when he sits on it he just pushes himself around with his feet on the ground, like with his other 4-wheeled ride-on toys.
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    Senior Member delcrossv's Avatar
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    I remember telling my kids "KEEP PEDALING!!!" as they went down the street. They did need the reminder. I also never used training wheels. I'm using a scootchbike (12" wheels, pedals removed ) for the 3 y.o. The older kids were all " run along and push n' go" starting at 4 y.o. or so.
    Last edited by delcrossv; 09-18-12 at 02:20 PM.
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  16. #16
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    ^^^^^ This ^^^^, taught a few nephews and the seemed to get overwhelmed, especially when turning, I kept encouraging them to "keep on peddling" and after a few hours it "clicked" and they kept peddling.

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    My sons couldn't pedal the tricycle until after they started pedaling their bikes. And I let them use the evil scourge of training wheels - much to my eventual dismay. I'm sure that the advice you have been given is good, but I thought I share what I did with my son, who I was afraid would never learn. After reading some Sheldon Brown articles, I put him on a bike that was much too small for him and within fifteen minutes (after weeks of trying on his properly sized bike) he was two-wheeling. I let him use that bike (which belongs to his younger brother) for about a week and then put him on his bike. Three times and he was off and going. He is now on a bigger bike (almost too big for him) and he is having some occasional starting issues but is doing fine. Now to get his younger brother to do it. Wish me luck and good luck to you.

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    One other two sided approach....we too had several times tried the training wheels (then removing), then pushing....only to watch them not pedal or fall as soon as we quit pushing.

    My wife and I were avid bikers before kids and were about to give up.

    Out of desperation...a new idea (from reading BF)...We got an inexpensive ($200) tandem off of CL. Not a $200 'cheap box store' tandem, but a 5 year old depreciated $1000 'nice' tandem that's usually a bottom end LBS model.

    Took the kids out on the tandem, and they loved it. Once they started showing interest again in riding their own bike, did the 'balance bike' thing with their 18" wheeled bikes. Within 5 minutes they had mastered starting/riding/balancing/steering. A bit more help needed on braking for one of our kids, but we now ride a mile to/from school almost everyday. The oldest is about to get a 20" 21 speed for her birthday in less than a month.

    And we now have multiple tandems...cause they like to ride so much we are going on organized rides for the 30-40 mile segments.

  19. #19
    Senior Member PatrickGSR94's Avatar
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    lol and hopefully your daughter isn't on BF and you spoiled her birthday surprise

    I remember getting a 24" geared bike with a POS rear drum brake (thing ALWAYS needed adjustment), I think for my 9th b-day, and then a 26" Roadmaster steel 18 or 21sp MTB for Christmas when I was 12 (almost 13). That was the last bike I got before getting my current KHS bike at 26 in 2006. Don't recall what bike I learned to ride on. I only remember the 24" being a bit too large for me when I first got it at age 9. I also remember my brother getting a blue 20" BMX-style bike with white tires one Christmas. The 16" bike he had before that is what I helped him learned to ride with.

    Most of this stuff I recall because we used to have old home videos of us with these bikes that I used to watch a lot. Sure wish I could find that VHS tape.
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  20. #20
    Lover of Old Chrome Moly Myosmith's Avatar
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    Training wheels are the instrument of the devil
    +10 Training wheels are easily one of the top ten counterproductive inventions of all time.

    A coaster bike (or bike with the pedals removed) will teach balance and control. Kids naturally Flintstone pedal these using their feet to maintain momentum and moving their feet from the ground to the pedals is a relatively easy transition. They might not even pedal at first, just use them as foot rests while coasting, but eventually they will figure it out that it is easier to pedal than to walk the bike. One thing many parents don't get is that riding a bike requires a certain level of muscular and neurological development that is independent of their chronological age. Some kids are just ready before others. Keep trying and one day it will click. Then good luck keeping up with him.
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    Just wanted to give everyone an update. My son is doing really well - we took off the pedals and had him practice going down a small slope. He got the hang of balancing and stopping without falling over.

    Today we put the pedals on and he managed to go for quite a bit in a parking lot. I think he could have really gotten going but it started to rain so we had to stop. If I can get him out a couple more times, he'll ride like a pro. Thanks for all your helpful advice - it really worked!

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    Congratulations to your son. He will get there. My 7 year old is turning into a pro, but my 5 year old doesn't like to do anything until he is sure he can do it perfectly. It presents a bit of a problem with everything. He was trying a bit today though. I think he could have made a real go of it if he had worn real shoes instead of flip flops. He seems to have much more natural balance than his big brother.

    Again congrats to your son. No doubt in a few years he might be passing you.

  23. #23
    Senior Member ritepath's Avatar
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    Slight incline and plenty of drifting room on grass.

    I taught both my kids in one evening when they were 5 & 7. Just so happens my yard is 5 deg grade to the creek 800 feet away. Incline kept them going and they just did what comes natural after a few 100 feet, make a turn slow down or pedal. The next evening we hit the road they'd been riding with training wheels for 2-3 years.

    It's the same way my father taught me in 1975.
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  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by cafzali View Post
    There's a "new school" of thought these days that says the holding on from behind method actually takes longer because kids learning with this method don't master control of the bike before learning to balance. Proponents of this method advocate lowering the seat, taking off the pedals and "scooterizing" a bike so that a kid learns to balance first. Once they do that, you just put the pedals back on and they ride. I've tried it a bit with our six-year-old and haven't gotten it to work yet, but it seems to make sense.
    This is what worked for our son. He had a lot of trouble getting the hang of it until we tried this method, and then he picked it up almost immediately.

  25. #25
    Senior Member Chad1376's Avatar
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    I've taught both of my boys to ride. In hindsight, I wish I had purchased a real balance bike and never let them ride a pedal bike with training wheels. Interestingly, my kids are very different and each required their own technique to learn how to ride.

    1) For my first kid, I removed the training wheels and pedals, lowered the seat, and used the balance bike method. After a few runs down a mild slope, he had the balance down and was ready for pedals...although he still occasionally forgot to pedal and tipped over.

    2) My second kid wanted nothing to do with the balance bike method. He wanted to pedal, even though he couldn't balance. We went out to a parking lot, with heavy clothes, helmet and did it "old school" with lots of push starts and crashing. He's very hearty, sucked it up after each crash and kept trying. See our video. This is distilled down from about 45-minutes of crashing. After this, he was a rider.


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