When I was growing up, before technology was everywhere and the internet was a thing (get off my lawn), learning how to ride a bike was a huge rite of passage. It was the only way to get around in my neighborhood, and once I perfected it, I would ride down two streets over, across the pond, to all of my friends’ houses and we’d cruise the neighborhood together. I can’t wait for my son to learn how to ride a bike, but when should I start? What age can a toddler ride a bike? My son isn’t even born yet, but hey, I like to plan ahead. And I can’t wait to see him riding up and down the sidewalk in front of our house and for him to ride around the neighborhood I grew up in.
I’ll never forget the first time I was able to ride my bike without training wheels. It was hot pink with white handlebars and white tassels, with white wheels and a white bike seat and basket. I think it said Huffy in neon purple on the body of the bike. I had fallen at least 100 times throughout the day, but my dad stuck it out, helping me up when I fell and telling me to get back on there and try again. There was a massive hill in my front yard and he had me start up there to get momentum and at first, he’d run down with me, holding the back of my bike seat to keep me balanced. Until he didn’t, and I didn’t notice — but I didn’t fall this time. Then I was finally riding the bike without training wheels. I think I was 5, maybe? I don’t remember how old I was when I started using a tricycle to begin my biking journey, but REI offered some “expert advice” on the timeline of a “child’s bike progression.”
REI suggested you start with a Balance Bike, and you can start this process when your kid is as young as 2 years old. This particular bike doesn’t even have pedals or a chain, but your kid rides it Fred Flintstone style by using their feet. “The child walks or coasts along on their push bike, and their feet act as their brakes,” the article explained. This seems like a good way for your child to practice balance and to get the feel of how a bike would work when they get older. However, REI provided some prior steps that you can take if you’d like, even before getting your toddler on their own bike — whether it's a balance bike or tricycle.
When I was a toddler, I had a Big Bird Sesame Street “Big Wheel” tricycle, which I loved. And in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, that was how I learned how to eventually ride a bike. I seem to remember my parents putting me on the tricycle in the backyard and saying, “Have fun.” But REI has some recommendations of how you can get your kid used to cycling even before the tricycle or balance bike — and it starts with a child bike seat. Obviously, first you need to get a helmet for your kid, and in many areas, your child has to be at least 1 year old to travel with you on your bike. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) noted, “Children who are old enough (12 months to 4 years) to sit well unsupported and whose necks are strong enough to support a lightweight helmet may be carried in a child-trailer or a rear-mounted seat.” However, once your kid hits 40 pounds, you should stop this method, according to the AAP. The article said doing this, and even using a bike trailer, can get your kid comfortable with cycling at a very early age.
After the bike seat, the bike trailer and the balance bike, REI suggested using a trailer bike to get your kid used to peddling on their own — even though you’re doing all the work. The website said this is good for 4 to 7 year olds. Once they’ve mastered pedaling, it’s time for the training wheel bike. This is where the fun begins for both of you. You’ll go from watching them hobble around on their balance bike and relying on you when learning to pedal to watching those training wheels slowly but surely start to stay off the ground. Then you know it’s time to try to go training wheel free. And then eventually — bam. Your kid is now riding a bike without training wheels and the real fun can begin.
While every kid will be different when it comes to motor skills and balance, it looks like using a balance bike first may be the way to go once your child is 2. But if you're an avid cycler and want your kid to ride with you and grow to love having the breeze blow through their (helmet-covered) hair, starting at 12 months should be OK.
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