How to teach a 10 year old to ride a bike.
May 2, 2005 11:25 AM   Subscribe

My daughter is 10 years old and has always been paralyzed with fear of riding a bike. Just recently she won a brand spanking new bike in a raffle in school. It's a 15 speed girl's bike with 26" tires. She is finally interested in riding. After buying the appropriate safety equipment, what can I do to help her learn? I learned at age 4 without training wheels; she thinks she wants them. What say you good folk? Any tips at all are appreciated.
posted by horseblind to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (26 answers total)
If she wants them, let her have them. They won't stop her learning, and sooner or later she'll take them off. Unless she decides she really doesn't want to ride a bike after all. Which is pretty much her decision, isn't it?
posted by TimothyMason at 11:30 AM on May 2, 2005

I've heard there is a method to train a kid to ride a bike in a day (or maybe a weekend?) I remember it started with holding the back of the seat and training them how to steer into the direction the bike is leaning to prevent the bike from going down. After some static practice, you take the kid out to a big open parking lot and practice with the bike actually moving (and you running alongside), then turning her loose. All that said, it didn't work for either of my boys and at age 14 & 17, neither one can ride.
posted by Doohickie at 11:33 AM on May 2, 2005

What TimothyMason said - if she wants them, why hesitate? The whole point is for her to feel safe taking this big step, not to duplicate your astonishing achievement of learning without them. Chances are she'll just have them on for a bit, til she gets confident, but until then, anything to help her get over the hurdle of her fear is a good thing, I'd say.
posted by jasper411 at 11:34 AM on May 2, 2005

Response by poster: TimothyMason: Yes, it's definitely her decision. I just didn't know if there were any disadvantages to training wheels for a kid of her size/age. I'm not going to make her ride if she doesn't want to. But, now that she seems to want to I'd like to do whatever I can to ease the process and instill confidence at the same time.
posted by horseblind at 11:39 AM on May 2, 2005

Don't go with training wheels... you may not be able to find them in that size anyway. Try this instead:

The first rule is that if she falls, she has to try one more time before quitting. This will give her the confidence that if she gets hurt, she will still be able to "give up" but actually results in her giving it one more shot.

The second key is to not use the pedals. If you're handy, remove the crank arms completely from the bike. If not, make sure she doesn't use the pedals. Depending on the size of bike you may want to lower her seat as low as possible to help facilitate the next step:

When you teach her to ride, have her ride with her feet out on either side. This will let her catch herself as she learns how to balance. You should run behind her and hold the seat, pushing and providing balance until she gets the hang of it. It won't take her long to start to balance. Once she has balancing down, she can learn how to pedal. Peddling is the easy part.

This worked very well with my 6 year old son who was very afraid of falling. He's doing stunts now that make me nervous (a year later).
posted by y0mbo at 1:22 PM on May 2, 2005

Make sure to keep that bike in a safe place. I got a really nice bike for my (6th grade?) birthday; a week later, it was stolen out of our carport. I got another identical one, but it just wasn't the same.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:26 PM on May 2, 2005 [1 favorite]

Yes let her have them. It matters less than not at all that you didn't have them. You should be glad she's willing to tackle her big fear. Sounds like maybe the thrill of winning something is giving her a leg up on her phobia? Enable, enable, enable by all means.
posted by scarabic at 2:43 PM on May 2, 2005

I learnt to ride on a full sized BMX bicycle and there were no training wheels that big available, so someone in my family would help me get on the bike, and then for the first ten minutes or so, someone held the bike from the back, while I slowly pedaled and learnt how to balance, then they'd start me up and let go, Later in the day I just needed help learning how to stop and start. The next day I was able to ride my bicycle on my own, I just needed to place the bike against a wall to get on, since I was not big enough to do it myself at first.
posted by riffola at 2:43 PM on May 2, 2005

Isn't a 26" way too big for a girl her age? How tall is she? If her feet don't reach the ground comfortably, it'll be a very scary learning experience.
posted by knave at 2:44 PM on May 2, 2005

I second y0mbo's advice. Maybe training wheels work for some (maybe most?) but for me, the would've just been crutch that kept me from learning the single most important thing - how to balance.

The key for me when I was learning was a hill. I used the hill to get some momentum going with my feet stuck out to the sides to catch myself from falling. Once I got the balance part down, pedalling and steering were comparatively easy.
posted by GeekAnimator at 2:46 PM on May 2, 2005

Here is the thread with the definitive answer.

Reader's Digest condensed version:
    Lower saddle so feet can touch the ground while seated in the saddle (Optional) Remove pedals Use bike as scooter on gentle, grassy slope Learn to balance Raise saddle Add pedaling motion
posted by fixedgear at 2:48 PM on May 2, 2005

Riding a bike comes surprisingly natural to humans. I disagree with the 'no pedals' thing, as when I was teaching my 6 year old this very skill 2 weeks ago the pedaling seemed to serve some gyroscopic balancing function. As long as he kept pedaling, he did not fall. I also disagree with granting her wish for training wheels. Training wheels don't teach you a single skill related to riding a bicycle...they just delay learning, in my opinion.

My son is not terribly coordinated, and he rode through his very first gentle push down a slight grassy incline. The trick is, helmet/knee/elbow pad them to the hilt so that if they fall it most likely will not hurt AND trick them into thinking you're holding them. Run beside her with your arm on the seat and let go but don't let on that you let go.

The tricky lessons are stopping and starting on their own. My 6 year old went from training wheels to riding very fast around very curvy sidewalks in 2 weekends. Good luck!
posted by glenwood at 2:50 PM on May 2, 2005

My opinion is that training wheels might help her gain confidence but they do little to actually help her learn how to ride. You just don't get a sense of balance with training wheels. If she wants them, that's fine but I don't think it will help the learning curve. More important is making sure the size of the bike is right for her. (On preview, as knave says.)
posted by sexymofo at 2:51 PM on May 2, 2005

I'd say install training wheels if she wants. Their not exactly a super tech device, if you can't find a set to fit anyone handy should be able to make a set for you. The manufactured style allow for adjustment. What you do is every day or so move them up half a centimetre or so. After a couple weeks they never touch the ground and you can just remove them.
posted by Mitheral at 2:56 PM on May 2, 2005

A few comments on previous comments:
1. I would not be surprised if you could not find training wheels for this bike, as they're usually intended for bikes with 24" wheels, or smaller.

2. Just being "handy" isn't enough to get the crankarms off. You need a special-purpose tool. If you're going that route, just remove the pedals.
posted by adamrice at 3:00 PM on May 2, 2005

omg. I can't imagine not being able to ride a bike. It is the one form of transportation that nearly always brings me joy.

this is how i learned: put training wheels on the bike
2. after awhile, he adjusted the training wheels so that neither one hit the ground when the bike was fully upright -- which meant i could ride without the training wheels, but if I started to fall to one side or another, the training wheel would prevent me from bailing.
3. remove training wheels.
posted by fishfucker at 3:03 PM on May 2, 2005

Adamrice: Good point. I forgot about that.
posted by y0mbo at 3:08 PM on May 2, 2005

Here is my definitive answer from that thread up there. For what it's worth, I think the gyroscopic motion hat helps you balance is actually just forward motion that's sustained over time. This was a great way to learn for me. It's also extremely easy to remove the pedals, and there's really no need to remove the crank arms at all.
posted by josh at 3:26 PM on May 2, 2005

Isn't a 26" way too big for a girl her age?

This was my reaction. I learned to ride on a 24" at about that age, and even that size was a tad too big for me. But as soon as I could ride, I fell in with some neighborhood kids, and I couldn't believe how easy riding one of their 20" bikes was.

Although I didn't use training wheels, I can see how they'd be useful, as long as they're removed as soon as she learns to ride fast enough that she doesn't fall over, without 'em. But I think a smaller bike for training would be even better -- taking off the pedals and lowering the seat seems to be a way to simulate this.
posted by Rash at 3:59 PM on May 2, 2005

Yeah, a bike with 26" wheels (i.e full size MTB wheels for a normal adult) may be a bit too big for a ten year old girl. Unless she's pretty tall for her age. If she can't comfortably stand over the top tube of the bike it will present a problem. You may not be able to lower the saddle enough so that she can sit on the saddle with both feet planted comfortably on the ground. Again, I can't stress this enough, training wheels are a waste of time and money. It is a hardware fix for a software problem. Once the brain gets rewired, that's it.
posted by fixedgear at 4:10 PM on May 2, 2005

I want to reiterate the value of learning where there is a gently down hill slope--Both of my daughters were able to zoom (pedal away) once they realized the bike would keep on moving--better they coast than you push as pushing keeps you in control of the bike--they need to learn they can keep it balanced--besides--when you are holding the bike it is intrinsically unstable and rigid--good riding
posted by rmhsinc at 4:17 PM on May 2, 2005

I learned to ride a bike very late. Get the training wheels, and if they won't fit the bike she won, get her a simpler, smaller bike and posit the riding of the cooler bike as something she can work up to.

Removing the pedals seems unspeakably cruel. I think that if the person who taught me had done that, I would have simply decided that I would never ride a bike.
posted by bingo at 7:34 PM on May 2, 2005

I vote against training wheels. They seemed dangerously small on my nieces 20". I can't imagine they'd be very safe on a regular ATB frame. Fixedgear's method works for me.

Josh, gyroscopic forces don't really help a bike to be more stable while moving---it's mostly caused by the geometry of the front fork, the hub (and point of wheel contact) trailing the line of force from the handlebars. The "Trail" effect is described in detail here. It's the same effect that turns rotating castors on shopping carts. You can measure your own bike's trail using the instructions here.

Gyroscopic forces do matter when riding without hands---in fact on some bikes you have to constantly steer against them handsfree---but trail is far more important to most riders.
posted by bonehead at 10:40 AM on May 3, 2005

bikes are a lot like shoes... if they don't fit, they suck. make sure this bike fits her before you do anything else.

fixedgear said:It is a hardware fix for a software problem. Once the brain gets rewired, that's it. and, while i've never expressed it that way, i must say: he's absolutely right. teach her to ride a bike, not a bike-with-extra-wheels. wheels want to stay upright; without the training wheels she will learn to allow them to do what they want to do naturally. what a rider learns using training wheels translates very poorly to actual bike riding skill.
posted by RockyChrysler at 11:06 AM on May 3, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks all. Many good answers here. She is very tall for her age. So, maybe the 26" will work. If it's a poor fit I think I can get her old bike from her mother's house, fix it, clean it and use it to train her. She seldom used the old bike but it may just have its calling here. I will outfit her with helmet, knee pads, elbow pads and gloves. The helmet was a no-brainer, the pads she requested and I added the gloves to the list. The old bike has training wheels. Maybe we can start with those. I'm still undecided on that aspect. I think if it gets her on the bike I and keeps her current level of excitement up I may try it just long enough to get the, um, bike rolling. As for my learning without training wheels; I wouldn't wish my experience upon anyone. I lived in a very tough neighborhood. Other kids stole my training wheels. They dragged me up a hill on my bike and let me go straight into the street. I had to learn very fast. So, this really has no bearing on my daughter's learning.
posted by horseblind at 12:22 PM on May 3, 2005

Hey, how were you able to post two questions on the same day?
posted by mecran01 at 11:33 AM on May 23, 2005

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