Helping kids learn to ride

Our son is two and a half, has been riding a strider since his first birthday, and is now learning to ride a pedal bike without training wheels. I’ve learned a ton throughout this process and figured I’d share what I’ve learned and hopefully pick up some insight from all of you.

First things first, Uncle Rico. This is NOT some sort of “How do I get my kid on a bike to fulfill all of my unfulfilled dreams” discussion :wink: . This is about helping your kids that already want to ride and express interest and desire. In other words, helping, not pushing.

Simon wanted to ride like his dad and all of his dad’s friends (Pete, Nate and Chad are his heroes) from before he was a year old, so we got him a cheap strider from Costco. It was only $50 at the time, very adjustable for tiny kids, and the steering was stiff. This final part was an unexpected perk that helped him be more stable.

Shortly after, our son began the N+1 experience when his “Uncle” Steven (our great friend and Cannondale Ambassador) got him the Trail Balance. It has fantastic bearings, it was made of Cannondale’s CAAD aluminum and is super light. It also has a lefty, which is just adorable. It took Simon a while to ride this because the steering was so light with the good bearings, but once he figured it out, he never wanted to ride the Chillafish BMXie. The bike’s great build quality enabled him to learn coasting, turning and balancing very easily.

Equipment aside, he was really scared to ride at first (but frustrated because he wanted to ride), so we took the following approach:

  1. We started with letting him examine the bike in detail and just play with it. That allowed him to get more comfortable with it.

  2. We then stepped up to picking up the bike and putting it down. We wanted him to know it was okay for it to fall over, and teach him how to solve that problem.

  3. Then we taught him to walk his bike. He liked seeing me ride little homemade skinnies and bridges in the backyard, so we taught him to hold the handlebars and walk alongside the bike, making it do the same things I was doing.

  4. We then taught him to sit on the bike and just hang out. More comfort building, and before long, he started to push along.

  5. He was pushing around in no time and started to build up speed. Once he was building speed, I taught him to lift his feet by example (I’d do the same thing on my bike).

At that point he had all he needed, and next thing we knew he was constantly coasting, going down hills, pushing up hills, turning, weaving and having a blast.

Pedal Bikes
Knowing he had striding down, we wanted to help him figure out pedaling. We got him a little firetruck that had pedals, and that helped him get used to the pedaling motion.

Now we just 3D printed a trainer for his small Specialized pedal bike and he is moving the pedaling motion to that bike.

Our hope is that he will be able to blend the two easily and safely whenever he wants to ride a pedal bike “like the fast kids”, as he says.

That’s been our process so far. Anything you’ve done differently (or in a addition) to help your little ones enjoy riding safely? Any bike or equipment recommendations?


This is awesome, I actually wanted to ask about introducing our 17 month old son to a strider. What age did you find Simon was able to use the strider and what was his walking like at the time?
Our little guy has a plastic trike but hasn’t quite gotten the hang of pushing himself. He’s just learnt to lift his leg so he can go down the driveway solo. I have a feeling it may just be because he’s too short at the moment.

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@Jonathan we share several of the same experiences. I helped teach my nephew to ride and my wife and I have purchased all his bikes to date. He currently has more than me!

He started with a balance bike which he loved. It took him no time at all to be whizzing up and down the street on that thing.

Then we purchased a really rugged Specialized training bike which came with stabilisers. I took them straight off and my sister freaked out. I told her that he’d already learnt to balance, now he needed to learn to fall.

We went to the local park, he got used to pedalling as I held his shoulder and then I just let go… and he was gone. As soon as he saw that I wasn’t with him, he fell off but he didn’t cry, he just picked the bike up and wanted to go again. He was coming up to his third birthday then.

Fast forward to now and he’s five. He has a small childs mountain bike with seven gears, which he uses and he has two speeds. Stopped or really fast! Last weekend we did a fire road ride together. Just over 10 miles and I recorded the ride for him. My Garmin had us averaging 11MPH for the ride. The day I can’t keep up with him is approaching far quicker than I’d like.

His favourite part of the ride was the bacon sandwich at the end :rofl:


Balance bikes are brilliant at avoiding the stabiliser stage and building confidence without crashes. I wonder whether it has affected my daughter’s willingness to ride standing up - she got so used to sitting in the saddle and blasting about on the balance bike that when she got pedals she didn’t do much standing up.

My daughter (now 9) had a balance bike from the age of 2 (Islabike Rothan), and for a while she just walked around holding the bars. When she got used to sitting on it and propelling it with her legs (probably from 2.5), we used to go for a family walk in the evening after work, with her on the balance bike. After a month or 2 of that, she got so fast that we couldn’t do the family walks because she was too fast downhill and we had to run to keep up!
At that point, she wanted a pedal bike, so we got her a 14" wheel Islabike. It was secondhand, and we rebuilt it and resprayed it in a colour she chose. For a little while, she scooted along on that like on her balance bike, but after a little while she got the hang of pedalling, and suddenly she was away.
As that bike got too small, we moved up to a 20" Islabike (again secondhand), and she got enthusiastic about going to the local BMX track, but once she’d watched a couple of sessions she got scared and decided against it! For a few years she rode it a bit, but not particularly enthusiastically - it’s possible that was impacted by health stuff that meant she didn’t grow much or and have reduced energy. Last year we sorted that, and also someone showed her cyclocross, and she decided she wanted to try it. She did 3 races and had fun (though in the second one she came last and that upset her quite a lot). She also did bikeability with her school, which gave her loads of confidence. She’s now super enthusiastic about riding and is going to a CX skills session one of the local clubs runs on Saturday. We got her a CX bike last Christmas (Islabike Luath 24 secondhand - yes there is a definite trend here!), and she can ride it on the tops but not quite on the drops/hoods yet. We had a practise on it and the 20" wheel bike yesterday, and it’s surprising how much better the 24" wheels roll, so as soon as she can shift on that bike the 20" on is gonna be going…

I found the most difficulty around the age where they are too fast to ride on the pavement, but too small/unskilled to ride on the roads. There are lots of bike paths in the city, but they tend to be a mix of on and off-road, and if you can’t ride the road bits then you are really limited by where you can go. Knowing the off-road trails that are suitable for kids to ride would be really valuable. Also, riding off-road is good for forcing them to apply power consistently - I think my daughter soft-pedals loads on tarmac. :slight_smile:
She wants to try the turbo now, but I only have wheel-on ones and her wheels aren’t big enough. I’m hoping to borrow some rollers to see if she likes it before I buy some! :wink:

Great post @Jonathan

I have a 3 year old little boy (nearly 4) who has really mastered his balance bike (strider). I got him a Frog Tadpole+ for his third birthday. the Tadpole+ has 14" wheels- he is really tall for his age and most balance bike, including the Islabike Rothan, were too small for him. I’d really recommend the Frog bikes- same league as Islabike- the Tadpole+ has a light alloy frame and even has internal cable routing for the rear V-brake!

I haven’t rushed to get him on a pedal bike as he gets loads of enjoyment out of his balance bike as an activity in itself. At first it was really slow going while he built his confidence up and was literally walking it slowly from step to step. As time went on with gentle encouragement he is now coasting for ages and has even done some basic off road trails, the only limitation really is the road oriented slick tyres. I did bring that up with Frog themselves and they told me they are going to be updating the tyre selection on their bikes going forward.

I’m looking forward to getting his first pedal bike for his 4th birthday. Looking at the Frog 48. They use cranks with a really narrow Q factor which supposedly helps little people pedal more efficiently, which sounds sensible to me.

Some of these bikes seem extravagant but they hold their value really well so if looked after will get a much bigger %age back at resale than cheap stuff, which is heavy and use cheap nasty (even borderline dangerous) components.


My guy is almost 8 and still can’t ride a bike, we’ve tried everything in the book, got him a balance bike when he was younger, tried a 16" bike with training wheels, and then even got him a 20" trek and got him training wheels since he was growing out of the 16" one. My only goal is to just to get him to be able to go on the nearby bike path. But he can’t seem to find success with it without someone pushing him along, he has problems turning over the pedals to get going and ends up just standing still.

Indoors I tried to prop up his 16" training wheel bike on these plastic platforms (like the ones that one adjusted dumbbells) to get him to learn pedaling motion (not as fancy as the 3d printed thing above!) and thought he was getting a hang of it, but it doesn’t translate to outdoor. Since I got the 20" bike I also managed to find a fluid trainer for $20 that would work (elite qubo where the bike weight rests on the roller) and tried to get him on zwift, but he did it all of one time.

So I think ultimately he has a lack of interest, and it’s tough because obviously I don’t want to force him to do something he doesn’t want to do, even though I think riding a bike is a useful skill. I really don’t want to have to get something like a weego (a trailer for bigger kids) because I think it just enables some of his tendencies to have others help him instead of working through tough things, but might have to pull the trigger if we’re ever going get to do family rides, as we missed out on any all of last year.

Wish it could be a little easier, but parenting ain’t easy! lol

My son HATED his balance bike. Absolutely hated it. He got sooooo frustrated.
Then another kid at daycare brought his bike with training wheels and he wanted those. I ended up finding a bike on the street during an early AM run (fun to run home with that in my arms – it was out for trash). Then we got him a bigger bike with training wheels – and he really relies on them when he rides.

@Jonathan are you willing to share the file for the printing of this trainer? I would LOVE to put my son’s bike on one to help him pedal and get comfortable on the bike.

I am willing to do just about anything to help him learn to enjoy the bike. I don’t push him other than a periodic “do you want to ride your bike?” and getting it out whenever he asks!

Simon started actually riding his strider at about 16 months. He was able to walk without supporting but was definitely still an unstable little guy. :slight_smile:

@PusherMan that is awesome! Sounds like he loves riding. :slight_smile:

That’s a really good point. Any tips from anybody to help kids feel more comfortable standing up on the pedals?

Yeah, if you can swing it, it is certainly worthwhile. Isla quit importing into the US recently, so Nate and I got a couple bikes for our kiddos to grow into.

True that! I had no interest in riding dirt bikes or bicycles for years when I was a kid, but the time came along where it suddenly caught my interest and I was hooked. My dad encouraged me, but he never forced me.

In our case, Simon is a very curious kid who is very interested in riding, so it was simply up to us to support & guide. Every kid is different, and they can change 180º from one day to the next. :slight_smile:

My dad was the one who designed and printed it. I know he already has ways he wants to improve on the design (engineers gonna engineer!), but I’ll check with him and let you know.

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This is the old-school take on helping kids learn to ride… We started both our kids on this trike:

the handle was needed at first as its 0.5 miles to the playground at the park. I’ve still got the trike+handle in the attic, waiting for the day our college kids start having their own.

Then they graduated to this:

a neighbor around the corner gave me blocks for the pedals. After riding with training wheels for awhile (I don’t remember) we worked on training wheels off starting in the backyard on grass and she was riding. The oldest really loved the playground at the park, she probably rode to the park 5 days a week starting with the trike.

The strider bike sounds interesting, would probably get one of those if we were starting over. That 3D trainer is pretty sweet too!

p.s. my neighbors had a couple of tandems and road bikes back then, you can see him getting ready for a dry January ride!

My son, who is now 10, got started on a strider before he turned two. In no time, he had it figured out and would just whiz around grinning like a fool. He stayed with that for about 9 months, when I got him a little 12 inch wheel pedal bike. I first gave it to him with training wheels, but after trying it once, he demanded that I take them off. And that was it! I took him to a tennis court, and in just minutes, there he was riding like he was born to do it. Last summer and fall, we rode over 1000 miles of single track, and I bring him along on group rides. It brings me great joy, and pride to see him thrive in this. Best of luck with your kid!

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:ok_hand: awesome. Sounds like my son is around the right age then. It’s amazing how obsessed he is with everything bike just through watching me. Loves just playing around the house with his helmet on (which is really convenient with an unsteady toddler).
Will have him on SSB1 in no time. Haha

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My daughter, agile, and somewhat confident went through the more traditional, trike, to pedalbike w/ training wheels to pedalbike without the training wheels.

That last transition is usually where they get stuck/lack confidence in removing the training wheels. And getting comfortable with the balance vs pedalling.

Our neighbours both had balance bikes, were not as agile…but they went from trike to balance bike to pedalbike almost seemlessly where, they gave him the pedalbike without training wheels and within 10 minutes was pedalling around without any issue.

The way i managed to get my daughter to pedal with confidence required just a few things

  • a small hill/incline
  • removing the pedals and training wheels from her pedal bike
  • 30m of practice every day for a week

Even though her pedalbike was heavier and it was a bit harder to go up that hill, i’d give her a big push to get up (the wheeeeeee factor) and then she’d practice going down with her feet up.

Took a bit longer but she learned it and was super proud of it, and so was I. Can’t wait to get her a bigger/better bike this coming summer

My son who is 6 learnt to ride a proper bike at 4, he never had a balance bike so i just took the pedals off his bike and slammed the seat and he made do with that. He could already pedal as he had a pedal tractor which he wizzed aroind the gatfen on. I never liked the idea of stabilizers as it takes away the balance element which lets be honest is kinda important.

Anyway, one day took him to the park, gave him a push and told him to pedal amd away he went. He’s never looked back, hes obsessed with his bike and riding it and i love that we share that together. Im sure a lot of it comes down to being an example to them, at this age they look to you for guidance and if you love cycling it will normally translate.

Were luck that about 5 miles from our home there is a cycling club for kids age 5 to 18. Very organised with weekly coaching sessions, he now has other peers to look up to and compete with.

My daughter who idolises her brother was pedalling unassisted at 2 1/2, she doesnt have the passion her brother does but ibwas still mega inpressed.

My son was late to the bike (6th grade). We started with a 24" MTB in the backyard. I walked behind him holding the bike.

After a couple of times across the yard, I was walking faster and let go. He promptly fell (in grass and sandy soil at a slow speed). While he was too startled to panic, I got him up and said, “See, falling in the grass is no big deal.” After a few more passes and falls, we called it a day.

Within a week, he was riding across the yard easily. Then we moved to the road, where the consequences of falling were more painful, but stability was easier, and began bike commuting to his school soon after.

He’s been on and off the bike since, currently bike commuting to college and work (both within 30 minutes of home) several days a week on a (size 61) Trek Checkpoint.

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For our first kid, he started on a strider. When he was 4, we had him in a pedal bike with stabilizers for a week so he could get used to the pedaling motion.

I actually think stabilizers are dangerous, as they prevent the kid from leaning the bike into a turn, and there is a risk of the bike toppling over during a sharp turn.

For our second kid, started him on a strider also, and then went to a pedal bike when he was 4 also, skipped the stabilizers.

One of the challenges we found with both our kids was the pedal bike was just a shade too big for a 4 year old, so stopping and getting started we’re difficult for them for the first few months, as they couldn’t comfortably get their feet on the ground.

Our 8 year old is now going to mountain bike camp in the summers, and loves it! I have maybe 6-8 more years until he gets faster than me? :grin:

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The one thing I struggle with my kids (5 and 8, both girls) is Hills. The 5 year old loves biking and does it at every chance. She had a strider bike, then we went to a 16” tire bike with no training wheels. She was mountain biking flat/easy trails the day she turned 3 with me (running behind her). She turned 5 a few weeks ago and we got her a 20” specialized hot rock with shifters, hand brakes and a front shock.

She’s definitely to big for her 16” bike, but the 20 is a big step for her. She’s figured out the hand brakes which is cool, and they were adjustable to bring the lever close enough to the bar her small hands could reach and squeeze them. However the shifter she cannot twist. Not enough grip strength. I have to do it for her approaching hills and cresting hills. Anyone have a solution for this? Is there a way I can make the shifter easier to twist?

Second, the bike is really nice, but it’s super heavy for a 5 year old. I bet the bike is 75% of her weight… she struggles to pick it up if she falls, and most importantly, going up hills is rough even with the extra low gearing. I did the math in my head, and it would be like me riding a 120lb bike up hills, which I can only Imagine would be a giant paint. So second question is, why are kids bikes made so heavy? I get they are strong, but dang, I think my 29er full suspension bike weighs less (at 20x the price though…)

Weight is why everyone raves about islabikes (and similar). The 20" wheel hybrid is around 8kg, and the 24" wheel cross bike is about 8.7kg. Getting a reasonable sized bike lighter than this is a challenge - you can but they tend to be really expensive.
In terms of making the gripshift work, if the cables are good and loose, and everything else is in good condition, I’m not sure there’s a huge amount you can do to make the action lighter. If it’s a new bike, it’s worth changing up and down the block a few times yourself to try to remove any stiction. I found my daughter could change into smaller sprockets, but didn’t have the hand strength to move it back up to bigger ones against the spring. As she grew, it became progressively easier.

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Strider, we call them Balance Bikes.

Anyway, a good progression is to buy a tail gator that attaches to your bike.

It basically turns it into a kind of tandem.

Then they get used to pedalling and and moving forwards, but dad or mom steers.

This speeds up the whole learning to ride thing.

Finally start the kid cycling on short grass in a park. Then if they fall off it is cushioned.

Helmets are a must.

I have three sons. My oldest learned to ride the old fashioned way with training wheels. He was up and riding on two wheels without any assistance at the age of 3. He crashed a lot along the way. Tough kid. He’s fine and still loves riding his bike. We learned from his experience.

My younger boys learned on a Strider. They never used training wheels and only rode the Strider. The first time I put them on a bike with pedals they rode right out of the driveway into our culdesac and started doing laps. At that point, I joined them on my mountain bike and we started learning figure of eights, stopping and starting. We also established boundaries and what to do if we see a car heading towards us or around us.

All of of my boys love the BMX track. They don’t race, but they love doing laps and riding on the dirt. Go figure, that’s one of my favorite places to ride since I pretty much grew up on a track.

Keep it simple. Keep it safe. Keep it fun.

Be Well and Ride On!

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I’ve taught 3 of my 4 to ride in exactly the same way as @Jonathan and echo much of what he’s said, they’ve all loved the strider bikes and all progressed to pedal bikes by 3yo. Something I’ve found that really helped is to find a bike that’s light. Im in the UK and have now an Islabike and 2 Frogbikes for the twins, amazing builds, not cheap by any means but hey nor are ours let’s face it! Resale value is good though.

I’ve never pushed my passion for riding onto them but allowed them to follow their own path. Teaching them to ride is one thing and as a trained cycling coach myself I found this rewarding kids tend to listen much better than grown adults!

Teaching them that crashing and falling off is part of the fun is just as important. The “get up brush yourself off and get back on” quote is used often.

The smallest is so into it now that he at 4years old even joined me on the Club Road ride with 30 grown men at Christmas (granted for only half a mile) but it absolutely made his day.

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