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Teaching an adult how to ride a bicycle?

Old 03-19-24, 04:52 PM
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Teaching an adult how to ride a bicycle?

My S.O., who will be turning 52 soon, has expressed a desire to come along with me on the "Pedal Hilton Head" charity ride in May. She didn't have a bicycle, and I was able to locate a used one in her size (she's very petite) - a Scott Speedster 'Contessa' in a 47cm frame. Although the bike is a 2013 model, it was only ridden twice for a short distance, and other than some dry rot on the tires, it looks like it just rolled out of the showroom! I bought it for her, put on some flat pedals and new tires/tubes (700 X 23) and a few other accessories (lights and bottle cages.)
Now she tells me that she has NEVER ridden a bicycle before in her life.
My idea is to take her out to a flat, open paved area to practice. She would basically keep it in one gear range and work on balance, starting and stopping.
Any tips? I remember teaching my grandson to ride, running along behind him. I gave up running years ago.
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Old 03-19-24, 05:24 PM
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Originally Posted by Bald Paul
My S.O., who will be turning 52 soon, has expressed a desire to come along with me on the "Pedal Hilton Head" charity ride in May. She didn't have a bicycle, and I was able to locate a used one in her size (she's very petite) - a Scott Speedster 'Contessa' in a 47cm frame. Although the bike is a 2013 model, it was only ridden twice for a short distance, and other than some dry rot on the tires, it looks like it just rolled out of the showroom! I bought it for her, put on some flat pedals and new tires/tubes (700 X 23) and a few other accessories (lights and bottle cages.)
Now she tells me that she has NEVER ridden a bicycle before in her life.
My idea is to take her out to a flat, open paved area to practice. She would basically keep it in one gear range and work on balance, starting and stopping.
Any tips? I remember teaching my grandson to ride, running along behind him. I gave up running years ago.
Adults usually feel anxious about trying new things. Make her feel as comfortable as possible about learning to ride.

Start in pleasant surroundings. No traffic, no hills.

You've seen balance bikes that are designed for kids starting to ride. No pedals, low saddle. Set her bike up that way. Saddle all the way down, so that she can sit with her feet flat on the ground. No pedals.

Additional tip I just thought up: do the same to your bike - low saddle, no pedals - so that you can steer and walk your bike while she's learning to do the same.

It's natural for you to want her to learn fast, but stay calm and let her dictate the pace. Maybe ask her every few minutes whether she'd like to take a break, or if she'd like to stop now and continue in a day or two. The more in charge she feels, the better she'll do. (That's not a male/female thing; almost everyone does better at learning when they feel in control.)

Might be best not to have her spend more than 15 or 20 minutes on the bike each day for the first few days. The major hurdle is her learning to steer the bike to keep it under her, feet barely grazing the ground. Once she's completely comfortable with that - don't rush her - she can move on to pedaling, and then to having the saddle gradually raised to the correct height.

As you might be able to tell, I've thought about this before. In fact, I've thought about it ever since a heavyset guy in his 60's stopped in our bike shop back in the mid-80's and asked if we could teach him to ride.

We took him out to a no-traffic street a block from the shop and gave him a cruiser bike to learn on. But he gave up after trying for about 10 minutes. "You can laugh about me after I leave," he said. I've always regretted not having figured out how to get him riding.

Edit:

A beginner doing a charity ride of significant length in 2 months might be a tad ambitious. Just checked the Hilton Head distance choices: 10 miles might be OK, 25 would probably be too much. I hope you'll be OK with doing one of the short rides.

Last edited by Trakhak; 03-19-24 at 06:10 PM.
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Old 03-19-24, 06:10 PM
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Trakhak, excellent ideas. In fact, I think I may have found a bike with 24" wheels, which would be perfect for her to use as a type of "strider" bike. It's listed locally for $10. I can take off the pedals, lower the saddle, and she can practice balancing, steering, and braking. When she feels ready to move up to her "good" bike, I can toss the pedals back on and donate the bike to a local co-op that fixes them up for underprivileged kids.
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Old 03-19-24, 06:25 PM
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Oy, I remember learning to ride a bike. I did it on a bike WAAAY too big for me (amazing I was able to have kids afterwards), and in an alley where I had to do low speed 180s to get any distance. Ugh.

Anyway, one silly thing. As a kid, I just didn't connect with the notion of balancing on a bicycle. It made no sense to me that the faster I went, the more stable it got.

So consider this. Sit her down on a chair and have her hold a bicycle wheel by the axle with both hands. Spin the wheel to get some momentum.

Now ask her to tip the wheel over. It will resist. That will get across the notion that the spinning wheel allows us to stay upright the way we do and the faster we go, the more stability we get.

For me at least, that little demonstration made me far more confident.
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Old 03-19-24, 07:27 PM
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Funny how S.O. is interchangeable with Significant Other and Superior Officer. Anyway, I tried to teach a neighbor lady how to ride a bike and her biggest and only complaint was how uncomfortable the seat was. Might want to keep that in mind. I really like your striding idea on the smaller bike, Good luck. Hope you have a new riding partner in the making.
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Old 03-19-24, 07:31 PM
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I would put a newbie on a bike with wider tires (than 700 x 23)
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Old 03-19-24, 07:51 PM
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Big mega plus on taking off pedals, lower seat, and stride away on a flat parking lot.
They will figure it out in minutes.
This is life changing,
I am very excited for the newbie!!
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Old 03-19-24, 07:56 PM
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With any luck the next step we will be seeing them on the Bike forums pontificating on the proper way to lube a chain.
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Old 03-19-24, 09:02 PM
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Trakhak has the right idea for how to teach an adult, I did this with a 23yo in grad school and she picked it up in 3 hours. But as was also pointed out, two months might not be enough time to get someone riding that far, maybe consider borrowing or renting an tandem for the ride, she doesn't have to do as much if you're doing most of it.
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Old 03-19-24, 09:41 PM
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The League of American Bicyclists has an entire Cycling training guide which includes guidance for learning to ride. It is under their Smart Cycling program.

Posters have provided similar types of suggestions but LAB provides a total overview for a new cyclist. This link will take you to their learn to ride post. https://learn.bikeleague.org/p/learn...t_tab_overview.

After reviewing that, you may want to investigate their Smart Cycling program.
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Old 03-19-24, 09:45 PM
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Ride in the grass, not on pavement. Soccer fields are flat.
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Old 03-19-24, 10:00 PM
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Originally Posted by Trakhak
Adults usually feel anxious about trying new things. Make her feel as comfortable as possible about learning to ride.

Start in pleasant surroundings. No traffic, no hills.

You've seen balance bikes that are designed for kids starting to ride. No pedals, low saddle. Set her bike up that way. Saddle all the way down, so that she can sit with her feet flat on the ground. No pedals.

Additional tip I just thought up: do the same to your bike - low saddle, no pedals - so that you can steer and walk your bike while she's learning to do the same.

It's natural for you to want her to learn fast, but stay calm and let her dictate the pace. Maybe ask her every few minutes whether she'd like to take a break, or if she'd like to stop now and continue in a day or two. The more in charge she feels, the better she'll do. (That's not a male/female thing; almost everyone does better at learning when they feel in control.)

Might be best not to have her spend more than 15 or 20 minutes on the bike each day for the first few days. The major hurdle is her learning to steer the bike to keep it under her, feet barely grazing the ground. Once she's completely comfortable with that - don't rush her - she can move on to pedaling, and then to having the saddle gradually raised to the correct height.

As you might be able to tell, I've thought about this before. In fact, I've thought about it ever since a heavyset guy in his 60's stopped in our bike shop back in the mid-80's and asked if we could teach him to ride.

We took him out to a no-traffic street a block from the shop and gave him a cruiser bike to learn on. But he gave up after trying for about 10 minutes. "You can laugh about me after I leave," he said. I've always regretted not having figured out how to get him riding.

Edit:

A beginner doing a charity ride of significant length in 2 months might be a tad ambitious. Just checked the Hilton Head distance choices: 10 miles might be OK, 25 would probably be too much. I hope you'll be OK with doing one of the short rides.
You are right on. My wife and I teach bike safety to 5th graders, and there are always a few kids that do not know how to ride a bike. The method outlined above works on all ages of beginning riders.

It is important to familiarize the beginner with the brakes. Actually, stopping should be one of the first things they learn. Schools usually have flat parking lots and playgrounds that are not very busy in the late afternoon. A very gentle down hill helps progress once they are starting to get the hang of it, but they will generally need to walk back up the hill.

After an hour a day for two weeks, some of the new riders, with very close supervision, can actually navigate our towns streets on the "graduation ride" with the rest of the class.

Last edited by Doug64; 03-19-24 at 10:33 PM.
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Old 03-19-24, 11:30 PM
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I didn't expect anything other than unconditional support for this project. However, I must assume that o.p. is not expecting S.O. to be participating in the charity ride which is May 5. I just saw some video from last years ride, and it would be absolute lunacy to imagine an adult rider with so little experience by then would fare well for even 1000 feet. Why not rent a tandem for the event? In fact, why not buy a tandem outright for the two of you? They are tons of fun, and you would have yourself a Stoker in the best way possible: with no bad habits built up from years of riding singles! Think about it. Adult, even young adult, beginners are disproportionately involved in serious bicycle accidents of all kinds.
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Old 03-20-24, 05:47 AM
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Originally Posted by Kontact
Ride in the grass, not on pavement. Soccer fields are flat.
True, but often times bicycles are not really welcomed on soccer fields, at least not the ones at the local parks.
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Old 03-20-24, 05:55 AM
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Originally Posted by Trakhak
Edit:

A beginner doing a charity ride of significant length in 2 months might be a tad ambitious. Just checked the Hilton Head distance choices: 10 miles might be OK, 25 would probably be too much. I hope you'll be OK with doing one of the short rides.
I agree. She is registered for the 10 mile ride. That route in Hilton Head has a total elevation change of 4 feet, and a "hill" of 0.5% grade. She would be riding with my riding partner's wife (they have been friends for a long time, and in fact introduced her and I) while he and I do the 40 mile route.
We also gave the girls the option to forego the ride and go shopping or hang out by the hotel pool instead. They can still attend the pre-ride dinner the night before, and the post ride lunch. It comes with the registration!
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Old 03-20-24, 05:56 AM
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Originally Posted by Bald Paul
True, but often times bicycles are not really welcomed on soccer fields, at least not the ones at the local parks.
Plus, riding on grass makes less sense if the bike has the saddle low and the pedals removed, with the rider always ready to put their feet down.
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Old 03-20-24, 06:18 AM
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Originally Posted by Bald Paul
True, but often times bicycles are not really welcomed on soccer fields, at least not the ones at the local parks.
I live in downtown Seattle, and I could come up with multiple fields to spend an hour with a bike. I'm certain you could do the same.

The number one barrier for older people is the fear of being hurt. Get them away from concrete until they have a reasonable ability to stay upright.
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Old 03-20-24, 06:20 AM
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Originally Posted by Trakhak
Plus, riding on grass makes less sense if the bike has the saddle low and the pedals removed, with the rider always ready to put their feet down.
That's not how anyone learns to ride a bike. At some point you have to rely on steering for balance, and when you mis-steer, you go down too quickly to take your feet off the pedals.
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Old 03-20-24, 06:30 AM
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Originally Posted by Kontact
That's not how anyone learns to ride a bike. At some point you have to rely on steering for balance, and when you mis-steer, you go down too quickly to take your feet off the pedals.
Actually, it's exactly how kids (and new riders) are taught nowadays. And it makes perfect sense.
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Old 03-20-24, 06:31 AM
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Originally Posted by Bald Paul
Actually, it's exactly how kids (and new riders) are taught nowadays. And it makes perfect sense.
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Yeah, both my kids learnt to ride on balance bikes and were soon way ahead of their friends who used training wheels.
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Old 03-20-24, 06:32 AM
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Originally Posted by Kontact
That's not how anyone learns to ride a bike. At some point you have to rely on steering for balance, and when you mis-steer, you go down too quickly to take your feet off the pedals.
That's precisely the point of removing the pedals (and having the saddle low).
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Old 03-20-24, 06:41 AM
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Originally Posted by Bald Paul
Actually, it's exactly how kids (and new riders) are taught nowadays. And it makes perfect sense.
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Kids don't weigh 150 pounds and have no real fear of falling. But if grass is an unusual sight where you live...


I learned to ride a regular 20" wheeled bike when I was five. I fell once, had several near falls, but was riding upright in half an hour. Riding a bike is just a trick you need to teach your brain for which way you move the handlebar depending on which direction you are falling toward.
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Old 03-20-24, 06:54 AM
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I concur with setting up an adult version of a “stride bike.” In fact, the first bicycles that Karl von Drais developed were stride bikes. — Dan


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Old 03-20-24, 06:56 AM
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Originally Posted by Kontact
Kids don't weigh 150 pounds and have no real fear of falling. But if grass is an unusual sight where you live...


I learned to ride a regular 20" wheeled bike when I was five. I fell once, had several near falls, but was riding upright in half an hour. Riding a bike is just a trick you need to teach your brain for which way you move the handlebar depending on which direction you are falling toward.
I wonder how many 5 year olds really learned to ride a bike from scratch in half an hour?

My own memories of learning to ride at that age are pretty vague, but I didn’t have a balance bike and I do remember having training wheels and being very frustrated until it eventually clicked. That could have been days, weeks or months. I simply can’t remember.

But I can remember my daughters learning to ride on balance bikes and that took only a day or two and their transition to pedal bikes was almost seamless. Although our youngest still preferred to ride her balance bike for a good few months afterward because she was quicker scooting on it.
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Old 03-20-24, 06:59 AM
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+1 on tire choice. 700 x 23 for a new rider? Hmm
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