Teaching Your Child to Ride a Bike: Tips from Chicago Occupational Therapy

Learning to ride a bike is not only a rite of passage for children. Biking is their first taste of independent transportation, but also an important developmental skill. Successfully learning to ride a bike means that the child has a strong grasp on specific motor skills such as balancing, steering, and pumping the pedals and brakes. They also must be able to coordinate all of these skills, which require strong motor planning. These skills can help support other activities requiring motor control and coordination.

Here are a few benefits of learning to ride a bike:
• Experience with following rules
• Better balance
• Enhanced general body coordination, especially when riding on bumpy trails
• Independence (for older children)
• Increased mobility
• It’s a healthy and fun cardiovascular activity!

The benefits of learning to ride a bike are numerous. But safety is always the top priority! Here are tips from certified occupational therapists (OTs) on how to help your young child develop the skills needed for safe and fun bike riding later in childhood.

As an infant….
Help strengthen your child’s trunk (core) and legs with bouncing activities. You can also help them develop their sense of balance and equilibrium by having them straddle your knee and bouncing them (gently) from side to side.

As a toddler….
Provide push toys and encourage them to grasp handles with both hands. Riding toys, like sit-and-scoot trucks, can also encourage toddlers to develop familiarity with positions later used in bike riding.

As a preschooler…
Tricycles are the natural precursor to bike riding. Unlike bikes with training wheels, tricycles are designed to be more stable. “Trikes” can provide a safe and stable movement for preschoolers as they learn how to pedal and steer. Try setting up driving courses on the sidewalk or driveway to practice steering, and play red-light-green-light games to practice speed control.

3 to 6 years old…
While not a hard-and-fast age range, many children learn to independently ride a “two-wheeler” in this time period. Learning to ride without training wheels is not as simple as “letting go” of the seat and hoping for the best. Children often benefit from practice like using the curb for stability. Using a bike that’s an appropriate size and allows your child to touch the ground with his or her toes is important for safe and confident learning. Your child will often tell you when they are ready to go solo. In the meantime, praise their hard work and bravery, and kiss their scratches and bruises!

At any age…
Your child should ALWAYS wear a helmet! It is required by law, but also critical in ensuring your child’s safety. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, helmets prevent up to 88% of serious head injuries in bicycle accidents. Make it a part of the routine from an early age, and encourage safety first!