Signup for our newsletter to receive pregnancy, parenting and child health updates.

articles and blog

'It's like riding a bike', is an expression that most of us are familiar with. For young children (and their parents), riding a bike is an important milestone. Typically, this milestone is right up there with other physical development skills children develop such as: rolling over, crawling and walking. 

Child development experts know that a child's learning and development progress when children are challenged just above their current skill level. The average age for a child who is ready to take on the challenge of riding a two-wheeled bicycle is 5 years old. But children as young as 3 and even children 10 years and older may be working towards achieving this skill.

When a child is learning to ride a bike, an adult's job is to observe and only challenge to ride a two wheeled bike when it is within their reach.  

There are many types of bicycles, and although not every child will need to practice and play on the various bikes, you can see the natural progression.  

1. Push car or push bike

2. Tricycle          

3. Balance Bike

4. Two Wheeled Bike with Training Wheels                          

5. Two Wheeled Bike without Training Wheels

It is developmentally appropriate to see a three year old master pedaling a tricycle. Prior to this, children should be offered push cars, or chunky three wheeled versions of a tricycle which sit low to the ground without pedals. It takes a lot of concentration and coordination to move forward and steer with handles, so pedaling and balance should be added after forward motion and steering are mastered.

How do you keep your little one safe when they are learning to ride a bike?  

Get your child fitted with a helmet

Make sure you set an example by wearing your helmet as well. The National Safety Council reports that in 2010 - 515,000 people sustained an injury from bicycle accidents which required emergency care. 50% of those injuries were children and adolescents under age 20. Visit their website for a guide for proper helmet fitting

Make sure the size of the bike fits your child.

A great place to go is a bicycle shop. They will be able to measure your child and recommend a bike sized just right for them. Bigger bikes have hand breaks, whereas smaller bikes have the foot breaks (or coaster breaks) where you press gently back on the pedals to stop. You will want foot breaks for a child who is just learning to ride.

Teach your child how to cross the street.

Young children, usually under the age of 10, are not developmentally ready to cross the street on their own.  Gauging the speed a car or truck is moving, along with using peripheral vision are not fully developed in young children.

Can you picture a little one when you tell them to look both ways? They run out to the very edge of the street, quickly shake their head back and forth and run across the street. You know they didn't see anything with their head swiveling faster than the tea cups spin at Disneyland!

To practice crossing the street, have your child stop at the corner, get off of their bike, look left and right and then left again ensuring no cars are coming before walking their bicycle across the street.  

Closely supervise children on riding equipment.

It just takes a moment for little ones to ride out of sight, stop in driveways or in the middle of the street. Stay close to your children at all times.

How do I teach my child to ride a bike?  

Children should be interested and excited for taking on this challenge, and adults need to help children learn to cope and recover from bad experiences. When learning to ride a bike children will most likely lose their balance and fall down, most likely they will get a scrape on their elbow or leg, and most likely they will be frightened of falling again. Children are going to want you to hold on and keep the bicycle upright.

It may be helpful to start out riding on a grassy hill. Start at the top with your child on a bicycle that has the seat high enough that their feet can be flat on the ground. Have the child gently push forward with their feet and begin coasting down the hill. This will give them the confidence to put their feet down if they need to stop or readjust for balance.  If your child wants you there with them, tell them you will jog down the hill beside them and will be there if they need you.

Most importantly, riding a bicycle should be fun. If your child is not having fun, take a break. A break may be only 15 minutes, or it may be until the next day. Just assure your child that you want to try again when they are ready. This should be a joyous experience, and one that your children can have with your support.

Think back to their first steps – you didn't pressure them or become angry when they didn't do it just right. You provided loving encouragement.

Jaclynn Foged

The UNL Learning Child Team

Jaclynn, is an Extension Educator on The Learning Child Team. Jaci holds a B.S. Degree in Early Childhood Education/Child Development from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln and a M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from Doane College in Crete, Ne. Jaci provides training to childcare providers and families in the Southeast area of Nebraska. Jaci has over 15 years of experience working with children birth to 8 years of age, including 8 years of center based childcare director experience. ...

Learn more about this author

Categories: parenting, development,