Kid doesn't want to learn how to ride a bike. Do I make him?
June 19, 2009 7:40 AM   Subscribe

Am I doing my son a disservice by not making him learn to ride a bicycle?

My son just turned eight, and really has no interest in learning how to ride a bicycle without training wheels. When he plays outside, it's usually kickball, or baseball, or roller skating, or running around with the kids across the street (who don't seem to ride bikes much either).

Our house is on a fairly busy suburban street, with sidewalks. Many of the middle school students bike to school (this will not affect my son until the 2010-2011 school year), but as a general rule most of the kids in the neighborhood seem to walk places.

I don't want to force it on him if he doesn't want to do it. He has a bike that he got a few years ago but I think it might be too small for him now, and if he's not interested in riding I'm not going to spend the money on a bike he'll never use. On the other hand, if it's going to cause him issues in the future (either as a middle school student or even older), I might be a little more forceful in my suggesting.

So - those of you who didn't learn to ride a bike as a kid - did it ruin your life for good? For those of you who had a kid who really didn't care about bikes -did you force them to learn?
posted by Lucinda to Society & Culture (65 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Meh. I never learned to ride a bike and, despite some teasing from my friends in college, it never really affected me all that much. If I wanted to go somewhere I'd walk or take the bus. If, in the future, he wants to learn how to ride, it won't be that much harder than learning as a younger kid.

My spouse informs me that some boys in middle school like to ride bikes around together, as sort of a bike gang. So that might be one social group that he misses out of.
posted by muddgirl at 7:45 AM on June 19, 2009

FWIW, my parents forced me to learn how to ride a bike when I was 7 even though I didn't want to, and I'm glad they did. It's a lot of fun and offers kids some independence before they are able to drive a car.
posted by Lobster Garden at 7:48 AM on June 19, 2009

I never learned to ride a bike. Has it been a pain in the ass? Yes. It would have been nice to be able to get around without a car in college and law school at a faster-than-walking pace. But far more traumatic than the burden of having to walk or beg rides is for your parents to force you to do something frightening and painful.

A friend of mine in the same position learned to ride a bike last year, in her late 20s. She took most of the teasing from folks in the park in stride and her fiance had a fun time teaching her.
posted by vilthuril at 7:50 AM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I never learned to ride a bike as a kid. I don't think I missed out on much.

I finally learned when I was 18 on a friend's bike after a couple hours of practice. I still can't do that thing where you start the bike by stepping onto it with one foot and then sort of jump onto it.
posted by pravit at 7:50 AM on June 19, 2009

Depends why he isn't interested. I was very resistant to learning how to bike w/o training wheels, and pretty much only did it when forced to (at about your son's age: we'd go somewhere w/in walking distance, usually for ice cream, and I'd be put on my bike which had its training wheels removed. This was subsequent to absolute refusal. It didn't take very long to learn). Once I finally learned, I really enjoyed it, and biked everywhere. I think it's one of those useful life skills to have, even if you don't bike regularly. Can you borrow a bike for him to learn on? Biking on a bike that is too small is actively uncomfortable.
posted by jeather at 7:50 AM on June 19, 2009

But far more traumatic than the burden of having to walk or beg rides is for your parents to force you to do something frightening and painful.

Anecdotally, it was not traumatic at all for me.
posted by Lobster Garden at 7:52 AM on June 19, 2009

It's never too late to learn how to ride a bike. If his friends are doing it at some point that will be motivation and his enthusiasm for it will make learning easier. There's no reason to force it on him.
posted by Kimberly at 7:52 AM on June 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'd teach him, so then when he's 20 and his friends are all like, "hey lets go on this awesome bike ride across this bridge" he can decide on his own whether he wants to go, but at least won't have to admit that he can't ride a bike. And it's easier to learn now than later if he ever decides he wants to learn.

Don't make him ride it as a kid if he doesn't want to, but it's a useful skill to have. Just like swimming. I think parents should teach kids EVERYTHING and then let them decide what they actually want to do with those skills. Get a used bike for cheaper, or borrow from someone.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 7:53 AM on June 19, 2009

I didn't learn to ride a bike as a kid, and it wasn't an issue. It became a minor inconvenience in college, when it would have made certain errands quicker/easier. I am in the process of learning now, so it's certainly doable later in life. It's possible that being older makes it easier because of greater motor control, but I would say it is also harder because adults have less flexibility/resiliency than children (gross generalizations, of course).
posted by dormouse at 7:54 AM on June 19, 2009

Don't force him, but strongly encourage it. He will most likely miss out on a lot of stuff that boys generally do and at some point he will be made fun of. The most likely reason he doesn't want to is because it's kind of challenging at first. I could go on and on but the benefits to learning to ride far outweigh the negatives.
posted by repoman at 7:54 AM on June 19, 2009

Learning things like biking, skateboarding, rollerblading, ice skating, skiing, etc. are much easier when you're a kid; you pick it up faster, and have less chance of getting hurt than when you're older. I would strongly encourage him to learn now, perhaps following-up by planning a specific outing only doable by bicycle.
posted by Simon Barclay at 7:58 AM on June 19, 2009

I would say keep on him to learn to ride a bike, I'm glad my parents did. I suggest that when you do take the training wheels off help him balance at first by jogging along behind him and hold the seat to steady him. Then when he gets the hang of it you can let go and he won't even notice he's doing it on his own. Worked for me when I was a kid.
posted by Sargas at 8:00 AM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

There's nothing wrong with riding the bus or walking. If he really doesbn't want to learn, that is. I learned last year and was really glad I did, and I know having had more experience would get me ready for the road faster, but I didn't want to learn as a child so didn't.
posted by mippy at 8:00 AM on June 19, 2009

A few thoughts:

- If the bike is too small for him then it's not going to be comfortable for him to ride - so this may greatly reduce his interest. You should see first if you can make adjustments to the bike, but be willing to replace it if it is too small. A local bike shop can help with sizing.

- If you buy a properly sized bike two things will happen: 1.) He'll get into it and need a third larger bike as he grows, or 2.) he won't take to it and won't ride his second bike. In either outcome you're stuck with a bike which you'll have to re-sell via Craig's List or donate. So, being "stuck" with an unused bike shouldn't factor in - because you're going to be there anyway.

- You at least need to get him to the point where he can ride sans training wheels. Just to say that your kid can ride a bike. Also, although I haven't been on training wheels in about 30 years I imagine that the act of balancing adds a level of enjoyment that you don't get when you're resting on the training wheels.

- If your community is such that biking is a viable means of transportation then you'd be crazy not to get your whole family biking for both fun and exercise. It really is a wonderful way to get around, even if its just for casual trips to school or the movies or whatever.

- Do you bike? If so consider a tandem attachment like this one. At eight years old he'd be able to get about a year's use out of it, but the benefit is that the kid can go wherever you go without getting tired and see for himself what it's like to actually use a bike to get to a destination.

My parents were fairly hands off in my bicycle training. At some point dad took the training wheels off and then I was left to fend for myself. This was in the south, in the 70s and 80s where bikes were for children or poor people, so there wasn't a focus on riding for recreation or commuting. The downside was that I basically didn't think twice about bicycles until my late 20s when I was fortunate enough to land in an area where they are a viable means of transport. Looking back I'm sad that I didn't spend my teenage and adult years on a bike. I can't blame my parents (oh how I'd like too) because that's just the culture of the time and place, but I wish I had been exposed to it earlier.

If you don't push your kid, he may look back ten or twenty years from now with regret.
posted by wfrgms at 8:00 AM on June 19, 2009

Learning to bike is at least a little scary for most people and so it's rarely enjoyable. I think the main advantage to getting a kid to learn to bike at a young age (under 10) is that they'll master the skills and work their reflexes much better at that age. Adult learners tend to be too cautious. Same goes for skating and maybe swimming. If he's just a little resistant, I'd say give him more encouragement and incentive. If he's full out repulsed by the thought of biking, then you may have to take it slower. Show him people having fun on bike paths, doing bike tricks, professional cycling, etc.

FWIW, I wasn't the best with coordination but my dad taught me to bike, and once I got the hang of it I biked all the time in the neighbourhood. And training wheels are always annoying. I didn't get what the point of them were.
posted by bread-eater at 8:01 AM on June 19, 2009

Anecdotally, I also was not traumatized by my parents forcing me to learn to bike, nor for forcing me to learn to swim (something I was far more resistant to), nor for forcing me to learn to ski, etc. These were all some level of frightening, not painful. My parents both bike, swim and ski, so it felt non-hypocritical; I suspect if they had never biked, I would have refused entirely.
posted by jeather at 8:06 AM on June 19, 2009

You should really encourage it. I'm sure you can figure out how best to go about that with your child's personality. Its a great form of exercise, leisure, travel, and probably at some point your son will want to be able to ride a bicycle for social reasons, now or later.

Anecdotally, when I was about the same age as your son, I was extremely resistant to playing soccer. A family story says that I told my dad I didn't want to play "because I'll score on my own team and everyone will hate me". I was "forced" to go to a practice soon after that, and didn't look back, and I've played on and off for the rest of my life.
posted by RajahKing at 8:16 AM on June 19, 2009

I think people have covered the learning aspect–and do get a bike that fits him, even if from Craigslist or a thrift store–and the social aspect, since he may well end up with friends that bike (I did in junior high/early HS). But the biggest thing that will spur his interest in biking is your own. My dad seriously got into biking when I was an adult. I hadn't ridden much in about ten years but it eventually dragged my brother and me into more serious road biking, which we are all still involved in and ride together when we can.

So that's my suggestion. Become a family that bikes together.
posted by 6550 at 8:16 AM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I didn't learn until I was 23. My sister (31) never learned! I wish my parents had pushed a little harder- I was kind of an indoor kid by nature and I feel like having some kind of greater mobility might have inspired a kind of. Confidence? That I lacked into my early 20's.

Biking is not only good exercise, it teaches us that we can do it! We can do stuff! We can get on a bike and go to the store. We can bike a few miles to a friend's house! And if we can bike, what else can we do?

I'd push on it a little more. If he or she is REALLY miserable- Let it go. But I think it'd be great life practice for learning all kinds of things. Not riding until I was 23 didn't make me a horrible troll, but I don't think it was a good thing, either.
posted by GilloD at 8:22 AM on June 19, 2009

I didn't learn to ride as a kid and I don't think I was any worse off for it. I learned in my mid-twenties and it's now a big part of my life, so I don't think not wanting to now is a big deal at all. There's no rush.

(I would however not liken it to swimming, which I file under survival skills.)
posted by advicepig at 8:26 AM on June 19, 2009

Would you teach your son how to swim? How to drive a car? How to play a musical instrument?

If the answer is "yes" to the above, then you should teach him how to ride a bike. To me, it is simply part of the process of becoming a well-rounded, confident, capable adult. It doesn't matter if he decides not to ride bikes in the future: once he has that skill, it is very easy to return to later in life if he chooses to do so; perhaps more importantly, learning any new skill inspires confidence, and makes the mastery of others easier.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 8:27 AM on June 19, 2009 [5 favorites]

On an unrelated note, you should force him to swim because not knowing how could kill him. There's no need to force him to ride as it's not that hard a skill to learn and not knowing will not kill him. It's a fun thing to do though and he will want to bike to middle school. I'd say buy him a bike and encourage him to learn but don't force him. But we're all cyclists in our family so it's different perhaps.
posted by GuyZero at 8:34 AM on June 19, 2009

Someone took a picture of me when I sat on a bike for the first time. I am surrounded by three of my older brothers, who had the job of teaching me to ride a bike. They are laughing and smiling, one of them has his arm around my shoulder. I look terrified and am clearly being coerced into something I think is a bad, bad, idea.

They would not let me use training wheels. And this was before helmets. I remember the brother with his arm around me saying, "Now don't worry, we'll push, you'll go REAL fast, it'll be great!"

I was not reassured. But he was right!
posted by txvtchick at 8:38 AM on June 19, 2009

I would make him learn. My folks made me, and while I didn't ride a bike all that much as a kid, I've definitely been in several different situations as an adult where it would have been extremely inconvenient not to know how. I wouldn't make him ride it a lot if he doesn't want to once he learns, but it's an invaluable skill.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 8:39 AM on June 19, 2009

I agree with KateHasQuestions. There is a good possibility that sometime in the future his friends (whether in 5, 10 or 20 years) are going to assume he can ride a bike and plan accordingly. I consider it like swimming: you don't do it often, but everyone assumes you can and sometimes it is very useful (and, if swimming, can save you life).
posted by chrisalbon at 8:41 AM on June 19, 2009

Yes, you should make him learn. I didn't learn till I was older, and I still feel like i'm on the verge of swerving into oncoming traffic whenever I ride a bike now. I think it's a good skill to have.
posted by chunking express at 8:45 AM on June 19, 2009

Maybe bait him with "if you learn to ride, you can get a motorcycle later". Might spark some interest. Not specifying when later might be... Maybe it's just me, but I think most kids think motorcycles are cool. Why else to put playing cards in the spokes? And besides cycling teaches some balance skills that can translate to other applications, strengthens the body, improves fitness, gets you places faster than walking, you can go further than walking (transit doesn't usually go where you want to), reduces reliance on having a car, lets you go mountain biking which can be a lot of fun, etc. And the bike being too small isn't a good excuse, adults still wheel around on BMX's.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 8:48 AM on June 19, 2009

I was traumatized by my parents trying to teach me how to ride a bike, but I ended up learning on my own eventually. I resisted my parents teaching me after our first attempt. I had a lot of social pressure as a second-grader that couldn't ride a bike. Note that I did need a bike without training wheels; perhaps you need to keep one available to him in case he wants to learn on his own. It's a valuable skill, tons of fun; in fact, bicycle riding doesn't get much funner than when you're a kid.

I think you should make him learn, but at his own pace, strongly encouraged; then again, I think everyone should learn how to drive stick.
posted by jabberjaw at 8:51 AM on June 19, 2009

my dad never learned how and i think he was embarrassed about it, so i got pressured into it, but my brother flat out refused. it was annoying at the time. mom saying "go practice biking" felt similar to being told to "go clean your room." but now i love being able to bike!! it's such a confidence-y, fun, independence sort of thing. so wonderful to be in a city (i grew up rural) zipping by cars & not reliant on transit! such a cool skill to have.
posted by crawfo at 8:51 AM on June 19, 2009

Learning to ride a bike does not have to be traumatic or painful! I say make your kid do this, he should be able to learn in an hour.

I suggest trying to teach him to balance his bike by himself. Rather tahn running along with him and tricking him by letting go. (It's a cliche but sometimes when a kid realizes they are on their own, they panic and fall!)

Your too small bike maybe just right for this as he can scoot around without training wheels and stop by putting his feet on the ground. What is scary about that? He is complete control. There are instructions on this method here.

Don't forget the rules of the road! You don't say where you are but the Motro Vehcicles place might have a guide like this one from Quebec .

You should do this because having a bike will give him independence when he is a teenager, just when he needs it. It's not a safety thing but freedom. Even if he doesn't really like cycling, people in his life might later. He can rent a bike of vacation and explore large parks (one of my favorite activities!)
posted by Gor-ella at 8:59 AM on June 19, 2009

My initial thought on reading the question was that maybe your son is worried that his friends/the other kids in the neighborhood will see him learning (and maybe falling) and make fun of him? Or that he will fall and get hurt? Obviously, you know your son's personality and know whether anything like this is something he might worry about. If it's possible that he is embarrassed, could you possibly get or borrow a more appropriately sized bike and take a day trip to learn elsewhere? I know it didn't take me more than an hour or two to get comfortable on a bike without training wheels (though, to be fair, I rode my bike all the time with training wheels), so he might get comfortable enough not to be self-conscious if he learns elsewhere.

I agree with others that it may be inconvenient or embarrassing to him later in life if he can't ride a bike, and that it is harder for many people to pick up those sorts of skills when they're older.
posted by Caz721 at 9:00 AM on June 19, 2009

Also note that one of the preferred methods to teach these days is without training wheels at all - take the pedals off the bike and let your kid learn how to balance with his feet on the ground. After he's mastered that, then he can throw pedaling into the mix. Hitting up google for "learning how to bike no pedals" or somesuch should introduce this concept.
posted by pkphy39 at 9:03 AM on June 19, 2009

I've just been teaching my gf how to ride a bike. She's in her mid-30's and really, really wishes that she'd learned as a kid. She felt embarrassed at not being able to ride.

A few previous bfs tried to teach her but found out pretty quickly that teaching isn't as easy as it looks. (Luckily I've got 20 years teaching experience :-)

FWIW, my gf thinks her parents did her a disservice by not teaching her. Then again, she did grow up on some pretty major roads...
posted by i_cola at 9:18 AM on June 19, 2009

i have two stepchildren who didn't learn to ride bikes until they were 12 and 14. one has taken to it very well, and the other not so much. they were not made to learn or pushed hard, though we did strongly encourage them. it has seemed to work out just fine.

it seems to me that forcing a child to learn something they don't want to will not bode well. you can, however, say that you are going on a family bike trip, and those who don't know how can't come.
posted by RedEmma at 9:21 AM on June 19, 2009

Learning to ride a bike is not the easiest thing in the world, but it is very, very far from the hardest.

But that experience of being confronted with this perilous thing, and then mastering this thing, and realizing that it isn't all that scary after all, and being (for an 8 year old) as free as the wind because you conquered this fear, and realizing that this is a skill you will have for the rest of your life, and doing it all in the course of an afternoon, is extremely worthwhile, I think.

I'm not saying you need to go all F. Lee Ermy on the kid, but I think this is worth a little push.
posted by dirtdirt at 9:30 AM on June 19, 2009

My daughter did not want to learn how to ride a bike at all. She actually cried when I told her we were going to start practicing it. Before we even got it out of the garage that spring. She was pretty grim over the whole thing.

Once she got it, she decided it was the most fun thing in the world and spends hours riding her bike. She even met some new friends in the neighborhood that she wouldn't have probably seen if she was just playing on our street.

I have a child who is sometimes hesitant to try new things. I have to push her a lot to do things that are outside her comfort zone. But doing that has given her a chance to try so many things that she loves now and would have never tried otherwise.

Maybe you should push a little more, but just don't turn it into a battle of wills. We had to do the first few practices only for short amounts of time. I put it up when she was frustrated. After a few 10 or 20 minute sessions, it clicked and she got it and that was it.

It's always a good skill to have anyway. And if he's going to be riding to middle school, it would be a good idea to learn sooner than later so that you can make sure he has a lot of time to learn safety and become a confident rider.
posted by howrobotsaremade at 9:39 AM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I taught myself in my 20s. I was never embarrassed, traumatized or teased about it.

Then again I think peer pressure amongst boys is different than it is amongst girls, especially when it comes to physical activity.
posted by desjardins at 9:43 AM on June 19, 2009

Yes, teach him, for all the reasons listed above and also because when you learn late it's never as instinctual. Instinctual reactions have saved my butt more than once on a bike.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:46 AM on June 19, 2009

When I was about 8, my parents told me they were going to sell a bike I'd outgrown and never used. Within an hour or two I'd learned to balance on it; they sold it anyway. When I was about 11 I was given a bike that I was supposed to "grow into" (which I never did). It was too large to ride comfortably, and falling off was the only way to dismount. I stopped riding until a year ago, when I was 23. While bike shopping, I was very glad that I could balance well enough to ride around an empty parking lot and make sure that the bike was comfortable, even though I was embarrassingly shaky. Now I love it for both exercise and commuting, and skill-wise I'm not at a disadvantage compared to friends who've been riding all their lives (though my bike maintenance skills are another story).

Upshot: it's easier to learn to balance on a bike that's too small than on one that's too large (you can put your feet down anytime). You might consider removing the training wheels and keeping the bike around, telling him that if he ever learns to balance on it and wants a bike his size, you'll get him one.
posted by ecsh at 9:50 AM on June 19, 2009

Okay, it sounds like most people think forcing your kid to learn to bike is a dandy idea. Maybe you can make it less painful than it has to be?

1. Let him go at his own pace and in his own way (my cousin learned on grass; she can ride a bike, while my parents' "blacktop-only-grass-is-for-wusses" approach was not successful).

2. Make biking attractive. If learning to ride a bike means he is allowed to go visit friends on his own, head down to the corner store for a soda, or get to and from school independently, he's got incentive to learn.

Good luck.
posted by vilthuril at 9:58 AM on June 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

(It's a cliche but sometimes when a kid realizes they are on their own, they panic and fall!)

I totally did that. But then I got back on and when my mom let go this time, I rode it across the park. And was not scarred in any way. Another vote for force him.
posted by nooneyouknow at 10:02 AM on June 19, 2009

Guys need to know how to ride a bike, drive a manual transmission, change a tire, shake a hand, and tie a tie. Anything past that is up to him. Optional: make a toast, start a fire with one match, swim in open water, and knowing your significant other's sizes (ring, shirt, and dress).

Also easier as a child: learning a second or third langauge.
posted by kcm at 10:10 AM on June 19, 2009

When my dad was teaching me to ride without training wheels, I didn't want anything to do with it. I got extremely frustrated. So frustrated that I decided I was going to fall of bad and hurt myself so he'd never make me try again. I got on that bike and peddled as hard as I could so I'd really make an impression when I fell, and of course that meant I lost the timidity that was preventing me from staying upright, so I ended up riding about 100 ft like a pro and stopped just fine. That experience was a big lesson for me to get over worry and "just do it" as a way to overcome challenges. That kind of experience alone is, I think, a good reason to persevere with teaching your son.

Going to when I was a few years older, I was not the sort of kid who would ask my parents to chauffeur me around (they probably would have if I'd asked, but I liked my independence), so for me my bike was my transportation and I could pretty-much go wherever I wanted whenever I wanted while my friends had to get rides. By the time puberty hit I was doing 50km rides and going all over the city and countryside. So for me, being able to ride a bike as a kid represents freedom.

I continue to be an avid cyclist to this day - it's one of my favorite activities - and I'm glad I got an early start even though I wasn't interested in learning it at the time.
posted by Emanuel at 10:21 AM on June 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

Make him learn. As others have said, it's much easier to learn when you're a kid then when you're an adult. And it's a skill I think every adult should have. (This thread has made me realize, I'm definitely gonna teach my daughter how to learn a bike when the time comes. If she doesn't wanna learn... too bad!)
posted by jcruelty at 11:07 AM on June 19, 2009

Teach the kid, even if he resists and you give up he'll eventually learn on his own like I did. I can't imagine what my life would have been like if I had been deprived of all those wonderful solitary rides of my youth. For the record, I was probably the last kid on my block to learn how to ride a bike. I think the longer it takes you to learn something the more you value and appreciate it.
posted by any major dude at 11:18 AM on June 19, 2009

I'm reminded of a quote from the "Fraternal Schwinns" episode of Frasier (neither Frasier nor his brother Niles knew how to ride a bike):"People are always saying in conversation 'It's just like riding a bike.' I can smile, and nod. But I only understand it in theory."

I'm in the "teach him anyway" camp. Not only because I and my friends traveled to places far and beyond walking distance as kids and teens when there were no parents available to drive us, but also because you never know when it may become a necessary skill. Mr. Adams hadn't ridden very much as a child because he grew up in a rural area with no paved roads. Flash forward to 1996 when our only car was totaled in an accident and our only means of transportation for a few weeks (public transportation is nil in our area) was our bicycles. I had a basket on the front of mine, and he wore a backpack, and that's how we had to to our grocery shopping. He was quite wobbly the first few journeys and even fell once (luckily before we'd loaded his backpack), but he did get better.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:41 AM on June 19, 2009

I think learning to ride a bike is a good life lesson in courage, confidence, and freedom.
posted by jasondigitized at 11:51 AM on June 19, 2009

Also, this might not apply where you live, but a bike gave me a good 15-20 mile radius despite being the town bicycle wimp. My friends went much further even on very mountainous roads. It really does add to your mobility.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:04 PM on June 19, 2009

I wasn't great at biking when I was a kid. I did OK for a while, but you had to back-pedal to stop my bike, which was odd. My family lived on a sloping street, which did not mix well with being wobbly on two wheels. The one day I did get some momentum, I was heading down-hill, and I froze. I knew I needed to stop, so I steered into a palm tree.

From that point on, I hated bikes. I think I got back on after a while, and had some fun, but I have a very clear memory of a period of my life where I would avoid looking at any bicycles.

In Jr. High, I was at a new friend's house. He asked if I wanted to ride to the park, and I had to tell him I didn't know how to ride a bicycle. I felt dumb, but we moved on and did something else. We were still friends, but we were limited to destinations closer to home.

In college, I had a friend who learned to ride a bike. Still unable to ride a bicycle, I was impressed. He ended up riding his bike everywhere, as the college and town were both small enough to make everything accessible to by bicycle.

I've gotten a couple used bikes in the recent years, but I still don't feel comfortable turning, which makes bicycling a bit tricky. I still want to learn and get comfortable, because I'd love to bike to work. It's over an hour on foot, but it'd be a lot quicker by bike.

In short: biking can be scary at first, and falling sucks, but once you can do it, you have more mobility and freedom. And I hear it's pretty fun, too.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:10 PM on June 19, 2009

Not only will your son miss out on having some independence and a useful life-skill, you will miss out on the very moving and beautiful experience of teaching him how to ride a bike. That first time that you let go and they pedal by themselves is really amazing.
posted by Cookiebastard at 12:38 PM on June 19, 2009

No more than he misses out on if you don't force him to learn a muscial instrument or a second language: he may regret it later in life (in a, "I wish I'd learned to...").
posted by rodgerd at 12:58 PM on June 19, 2009

If he learns now, you can jog alongside and steady the bicycle by holding the saddle. That option won't be available later. You can learn by other methods (as I did in junior year of high school) but I suspect they're harder and slower.

Also, I suspect it would be less dangerous for him to fall now, because he'll start closer to the ground and the bicycle, if it lands on him, will weigh less.
posted by d. z. wang at 1:22 PM on June 19, 2009

"...just turned eight" is too young to have much road sense. It sounds as though you can easily afford to leave it a year or even two. Do you really want him roaming further than his feet can carry him, and meeting more exciting traffic? Naturally your own kid seems special and extra capable, but there are other areas where pushing him on might pay greater dividends. (My own theory of parenting is don't stress about the skills that they will have picked up by the time they are 16 anyway. Put effort into the character attributes that matter, like kindness, generosity, a can-do attitude...)

My strongest reason for encouraging him to learn eventually is that it is safer in the long run -- learning road safety on two human-powered wheels can prevent serious high-speed crashes later. But just turned 8 is too young for most of the adventures people are remembering here. How many of the middle-school bikers are in their first year there? There is plenty of time.

When the time is appropriate, if he doesn't see it that way then I would say a bit of gentle bribery is indicated. He will probably get enough "character-building" harsh treatment without his parents adding to it.
posted by Idcoytco at 1:25 PM on June 19, 2009

I could never successfully ride a bike until I completed vision therapy. Turns out that my eyes were misaligned to the point that it had severely hampered my ability to correct my own balance. The vision therapy not only allowed me to learn to ride a bike again, but has helped me overcome my fifteen-year tendency to trip on small things, fall, sprain ankles and skin knees. Before that I was COMPLETELY TERRIFIED of anything that upset my balance (bikes, skates, etc) because I couldn't right myself.

My point being, if he also seems kind of clumsy and/or falls a lot, you might want to get his eyes looked at before embarking on the bike adventure.

That said, when I learned as an adult, the pedalless scoot-and-coast method worked well for me, because I could put my feet down whenever I wanted to.
posted by oblique red at 1:31 PM on June 19, 2009

I'm 22 and I never learned how to ride a bike as a kid. Growing up, I lived in a neighborhood that was really hilly -- no flat places to learn on -- and rural enough that biking wasn't practical or common. I really wish I knew how, and I really wish I had learned it as a kid.

So I've declared it a project for the last couple summers, and all my friends say it would be so much easier if I'd learned when I was younger: I wouldn't be so big and fall so hard, I would be able to pick it up more quickly, I wouldn't be so intimidated. And, of course, I also wouldn't be embarrassed to be riding a trike around a schoolyard. Although I'm learning, they say I'll never get it as fully as someone who learned as a child; I agree I'll never be able to ride a bike in New York City traffic safely.

I did learn to swim as a kid, and I'm really happy about that. I have some friends who can't at all, and it always baffles me that their parents could've been so negligent. I'm sure they feel exactly the same way about my inability to bike.
posted by booksandlibretti at 1:32 PM on June 19, 2009

Unrelated, but since everything is easier to learn as a kid, teach your kids the following, if you get the chance: swimming, rollerblading + ice skating, skateboarding, skiing/snowboarding, biking, how to do a cartwheel. All things I was glad I learned how to do young, because I know I'd be too scared to start trying now, with weight+height+gravity all working in unison against me.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 1:43 PM on June 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

i think there are just some things you must learn to do in life, and they're better learned as a kid. two of those include riding a bike and learning to swim. even if your kid never ever does either again in his life, the fact that he knows how also means he will never forget how, should the occasion arise that would warrant him having to do so.

true story: someone i knew in art school was on a river cruise on the amazon last summer. it got really stormy and the boat collapsed. he died because he never knew how to swim (even, despite the fact that he was dating a former lifeguard).

i'm not saying that knowing how to ride a bike will save your kid's life someday, but it can certainly come in handy.
posted by violetk at 1:52 PM on June 19, 2009

It is likely your child does not want to learn because he is fearful of it, and sees it as a chore rather than a benefit. THe only way he will learn the pleasure of it is by trying it.

However, you might suck at teaching; lord knows my dad did, and it's sometimes a good thing to pull someone else (friend of the family?) into the ring to teach. Perhaps pick someone he really enjoys seeing, and doesn't see often, then let him know they're coming by and want to teach him to ride. Make sure you haven't just finished pressuring him to do it.

Essentially, make it as palatable for him as possible, but get him through the basic steps, so that he's got enough information to decide. At his age, you can probably explain it this way, as well: that your job as a parent is to make sure he's exposed enough to something that he has the information to make up his own mind, but the ultimate decision is up to him.
posted by davejay at 2:20 PM on June 19, 2009

But far more traumatic than the burden of having to walk or beg rides is for your parents to force you to do something frightening and painful.

You know - like potty training or weening from the tit.

I am so glad my parents never forced those frightening and painful habits upon me....

Life are traumatic, frightening, and painful - another useful skill (riding a bike) in your kid's bag of tricks will make them that much stronger and - in the long run- more independent than coddled children.
posted by cinemafiend at 2:43 PM on June 19, 2009

Yes, one of my male friends never learned and he's still annoyed about it.
My dad made me learn and I'm very, very glad I did. Your son will one day wish he could ride a bike when all of his friends do, and it will be harder to learn the older he gets.
posted by ishotjr at 4:09 PM on June 19, 2009

Seconding trail-a-bike attachements to let your kid experience the possibilities of getting around by bike (of course works only if you bike yourself)

Also seconding pedal-less bikes. Keep in mind that small-wheeled bikes are generally less stable than regular bikes. Get your kid a BMX-style bike small enough that they can easily straddle. You can unscrew the pedals with a good wrench, and they can learn by push/walking around.
posted by anthill at 4:55 PM on June 19, 2009

I learned in college. I really learned how to ride a bike just last year. I don't agree that it was any harder than it would have been as a child. It really only took about an hour before I could go without falling down, and while it took a little longer to build it up to where I could reasonably expect not to fall, I doubt that's actually much different for younger kids. I don't agree that I'll never be as good as people who didn't learn earlier. I may be more cautious, but I'm a cautious person in general, so I don't think it's related to when I learned how to ride. I enjoy biking now more that I'm in a place that isn't made of hills.

There probably will be the semi-embarrassing moments of "Uh, don't know how to ride a bike" at some point during his life. They will not torment him forever unless he's the kind of person to let these things stick. Maybe he will learn to ride a bike later, maybe he won't. As a dude, he may have less of the chance of having someone take an interest in helping him learn. Maybe by the time he's in college everyone will be riding jet packs around.

People react to things according to their personality. You don't know if he'll regret it until it happens. However, I haven't heard of anyone being traumatized by being taught to ride by their parents/older siblings/friends.

I suggest working on having a child that doesn't get too beat up about peer pressure, but that may be more luck than skill.
posted by that girl at 7:10 PM on June 19, 2009

You should force him. Because you sure as hell look stupid trying to learn in public as an adult, and yeah, it is one of "those skills."

I don't to this day, because I hated trying to learn so much, and got so injured doing it, that I was all "Even if I learn how, I will do everything in my power NOT to have to ride this damn bike." Now, I've managed just fine without having to (though if the kid ever goes to Burning Man, he will want one), but most people would just rather ride in the end.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:39 PM on June 19, 2009

I loved my tricycle and my Strawberry Shortcake bike with training wheels. I hated when those wheels came off and never tried more than three or four trips down the block after that, even when my parents later tried getting me a teen-sized bike. I just don't like bicycling or bikes. I've never been embarrassed (either through lack of self-worth or by others) about not knowing how or wanting to learn how--maybe like desjardins says, it's different for girls, but that kind of gender bias sucks.

I like rollerblading (even though I'm terrible at it) ice skating and swimming (moderate ability) and horseback riding (pretty good) as recreational forms of getting around. I liked gymnastics. I liked soccer. I gave bikes the old college try, and I just didn't like them. Even now at 30, I feel like if I wanted to, I could learn capable bike skills--but I just don't want to. I don't like stationary bikes at the gym, even. If he's into other forms of athletic recreation, I wouldn't advise forcing bikes on him. Maybe he'll be interested later and pick it up (don't make him think this is his one shot at getting into bikes), maybe he'll find out he still isn't (like I did, with that teen Huffy), maybe he just won't ever be. Right now you've exposed him to some form of biking, which seems like enough.
posted by tyrantkitty at 12:59 PM on June 20, 2009

Response by poster: Just as sort of a follow-up: this weekend the kid pulled out his bike (the old one) and was tooling around on it. Today he asked if we could fix the handlebars, and when we did that I asked if he wanted to try it without training wheels. He said "yes", so we took them off and he tried it. He did really well and didn't get discouraged; I think in the next few days we'll get him a proper sized bike (hopefully finding some end-of-summer sales) and go to the park behind the local supermarket, that has a nice, flat, straight path and just practice, practice, practice.
posted by Lucinda at 2:18 PM on October 11, 2009

« Older Wasting time on google -- term?   |   I fought the law...who won? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.