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March 22, 2006


Does anybody know a good way to teach, let's say, a six-year-old how to ride a two-wheeler? Is there a better system than running along next to the child, holding the bike up and shouting "You're doing great!" in an insincere voice until you keel over from oxygen deprivation?


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The key is to keel over behind the bike and not in front.

Hire a teenager!

I believe the running is an AAP method, and as a pediatrician I find it appropriate (and funny). And first (maybe)


The way that was recommended to me for my kidling was to take the pedals off and let the kid roll down a very slight grassy hill to get the balance thing going, then when they are comfortable with that, you can put the pedals back on and work on the whole foot action thing.

Though I'm pretty sure the way I learned was with my parents using your method, so I guess that works, too.

The key is to have Jack Bauer running along side.

Teach the kid to turn the wheel into a fall -- so if she feels like she's falling to the left, turn the wheel to the left.

Done early enough in the "fall," that has the effect of keeping her riding.

When it comes time to teach how to turn, tell her to lean a little in the direction that she wants to go. She'll start to fall in that direction and will turn the wheel into the fall -- et voila! -- she will have turned.

No kiddin'. It really works.

That's the only way I know how. It's also the reason I let my husband teach all three of my girls to ride a two-wheeler.

Try yelling, "I'm doing great," but with greater sincerity.

My dad made my older brother do the running when I was learning. He does live in Florida if you might be interested in renting him.

Small bike (less distance to fall). Helmet. Most important - let Mom do it!

My dad just pushed me down the hill as hard as he could and laughed his ass off. Dad was good like that when it came to teaching me things. Learning baseball was fun. He said I had to learn the fundamentals of catching before I actually put the glove on.
And I will never forget the day he taught me to swim!! Man! I thought I would NEVER get out of that sack!! And those kittens kept scratching my eyes.

I miss you dad!!

When I taught my kids we raised the training wheels ever so slightly as they learned to balance. That way, the wheels would catch him/her as the teetered, but they could still get the hang of the balance thing. Eventually, the wheels never touched and we took them off.

The absolute essential is to teach her to turn away from you, otherwise you will trip over her and you both get killed. Then your wife kills you again.
How it all comes back...

Has the child been riding the 2 wheeler with 2 training wheels attached? If so, raise the training wheels so that they only touch when the bike starts to keel over - Take the trainers off when said 6 yr old can balance the bike quite well. If child has been riding trikes, switch to 2 wheels with trainers. Also, add helmet, knee and elbow protectors, just in case. Also, bike should be the right size - I learned the way you described, on a 26" bike , which was all that was made back then. The ground was a loooonnnnng way down. I still have the scars I earned learning to balance.

I would take, let’s say, “her” to a grassy slope so she can experience some success “riding” downhill with you holding on initially, but then letting go so she can see what it feels like to have a parent abandon her. Seriously, I think the grassy slope is a good start, if only because it hurts less when they eject themselves off the bike.

CR -- your dad didn't also happen to name you "Sue," did he?

Start with 2 training wheels. Then do what my parents did - let me fall off all by myself. This was pre-helmet of course.

Later remove one training wheel and raise the other slightly. The remaining training wheel will mostly be a security blanket, but it helps.

joeski's got it with the "turning-into-the-fall" thing.

imho, training wheels should be abolished.

with our daughter (who was more afraid of getting hurt than our son), we had to strap cushions to elbows and knees :) if you've got the actual, you know, pads they MAKE for that sort of thing, it would serve the same purpose. but it made her feel better.

They don't call 'em training wheels fer nothin', Dave.

Dave...LISTEN TO BARBARA. That is exactly what my dad did for me. It really works.

Grass is definitely key.

It will help her to relax, thus avoiding panics. To provide motivation to ride, drive your car away with a bag of Cheetos taped to the back.

Dave the answer is quite simple get Robert to do it.

Go to a long, steep hill. Stop the bike in the middle. Let the trainee learn the feel of the clutch.

Wait. That's a stick shift. Hold that thought for 9 years.

http://www.helmets.org/kidteach.htm says to start with putting on a helmet. I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that the six-year-old is the subject and should be the one wearing a helmet and not the bike or the assistant.

The assistant would do well to join the child in wearing knee pads, elbow pads and helmet. Maybe even some bubble pack. When the kid falls (and they will), the instinct is to protect the kid and prevent injury. This instinct tends to cause injury to the assistant. The kid is pretty much indestructible.

I try to combine the season of Lent and my goal of reducing the use of certain four letter words and inappropriate use of a certain deity's Name when teaching kids how to ride a bike.

Bismuth has the best idea of all.

I kid you not...we had a heck of a time with our son, and I had just about given up, when I discovered this:


15 minutes after watching the video, my son was proudly riding his 2 wheeler up and down the street while I just stood in the driveway in breath-ful wonder.


raven, i didn't know my dad had a son!

dave, i think you've pretty much got the right idea except you forgot the beer. for you. not her. then again, the falls may hurt less if she has a couple.

Dave, your approach is sound, but to avoid skinned knees and elbows, practice on a soccer field or baseball diamond (no paved surfaces.)

My parents didn't get me a bike till I was 8. Hubby got our son a bike at four, my son finally took the training wheels off last year after he turned 8. What's the rush?

After many unsuccessful attempts to teach my 6 yr old daughter to ride (using all the methods described above), I was stunned after her little friend's father taught her one afternoon while she was there playing. That's my advice: Let her spend the afternoon at her friend's house. Bring her bike. It won't mean you're (not yore) a failure as a father, honest it won't.

i just watched pedalmagic - wish he had developed the theory when my dtr was 5 - it's basically what joeski said - watch the clip,a few times, no need to buy the video - you turn the wheel into the direction you think you're falling (and pedal faster if possible), and no training wheels ever. Also, buy, rent of borrow a small bike for the lesson, and all the pads, too.
Be sure to teach how to turn and to stop in the same lesson; I remember riding down the street yelling "Dad, how do I turn???", with him racing to catch up with me before I reached the main road.

Just get a small enough bike the kid can touch the ground. Then sit back with a cold drink and watch.

Going along with the turn into the fall technique....have her ride in a circle with you in the center. You may get dizzy but at least you won't be out of breath!

From About.com:

Okay, put your child on the bike and hold onto one handlebar and the back of the sweatshirt (like a handle), have the child begin to pedal, while you help steer. Your child will feel the wobble of the bike, and you shouldn't try to prevent this. Your child will learn to balance using the wobble as a guide. Give your child the confidence that you are there with them and will stay right there.

After a few lessons, let go of the handle bar (You, not the child!), and hold onto the back of the sweatshirt only. This is a new sense of freedom for the child. Within a short period of time, you won't even have to hold onto the back of the sweatshirt.

This will not be a skill that they learn over night. It is likely to be highly frustrating for many, both parents and children. Then one day, off they go, rising a two wheeled bike like they were born there!

Congratulations, you survived!

They leave out any mention of Jack Bauer or Dick Cheney. I guess the overall answer is, "no".

Better even than pedalmagic...get the kid into appropriate safety gear, then tell her she's not getting dinner until she can stay on a unicycle for three minutes. At the end of the day, the bicycle will be a breeze.

J max,

Went to the pedal magic site. I'm a little confused as to how a 15-minute video teaches how to ride a bike in 2-5 minutes. Do you put the thing on fast-forward? Are the first 2-5 minutes the actual instructions, and the rest are just credits?

I agree strongly with judi that training wheels retard the process. It makes the kid used to not having to balance when on the bike.

My dad took me to our driveway, gave me a push, ran alongside me for about 10 yards, then said, you're on your own -- pedal when you start to slow down or put your feet down to get off. I pedaled and I learned to ride on my first try. Took a total of about 3 minutes.

Of course, that's probably not the norm, but I think it's important to give the kid confidence, not fear. If you or your wife appear worried about the process, the kid will worry -- and that will be more of a hindrance than gravity. Riding a bike just takes a little confidence. Everything else falls into place. Give them a helmet with confidence, and be sure they see that when you ride, you wear a helmet -- it's not just for kids but for everyone, so there's no reason to think helmet = possibility of getting hurt.

Of course, that confidence led me to try to ride while standing on the handlebars a couple of years later -- I had to learn that lesson the hard way!

Dave, be sure to stretch. I remember the story about you guys having a race at the Times, with a hamstring exclaiming "pop."

Not a parent - I learned to ride using training wheels, but just today in Boing Boing there was this contraption you might find interesting.

Technology has a new solution. Please see http://www.makezine.com/blog/archive/2006/03/the_modern_marvels_invent_now_4.html (via BoingBoing)

What worked for my son, who was considerably past age 6 and had ridden with training wheels for a long time, was similar to the suggestion about taking the pedals off the bike. I didn't take off the pedals but had the seat low enough so his feet could comfortably be on the ground. Then I told him to just push the bike along with his feet as fast as he felt comfortable. After doing this for several hours on and off, he got the confidence to take off on his own with the pedals.

Dave, my 5 brothers put me at the top of a hill and let go. I landed in a rose bush. After Mom pulled out all the thorns, I never asked my brothers for help again. I did, however, learn to ride my bike very quickly!

Let go of the seat once she's steady. Keep running beside her, saying "you're doing great!" and at some point stop - she'll probably fall off when she realises you're not there, but you can tell her how far she got on her own.

Or wait till Rob visits for the weekend and call it "brother-sister bonding time"

I agree with Judi and Andrew K: training wheels should go the way of the dinosaur. Also grassy slopes and fall into the turn. And (sorry) the "You're doing great!" part is essential.

Just be patient and supportive, so that Sophie will lovingly recall the experience when she delivers her valedictorian speech when she graduates suma cum laude from some prestigious Ivy League university ("Dad nursed a beer the entire time.")

DaveBarry you're doing a great job as a dad and GuyWhoWritesSoGreatThatNobodyWantsToMissAWord and I think it's so COOL that so many folks want to help out. There's great advice here!

The only other tip I would add is: Have little cutie STOP and STEP AWAY FROM THAT CONTRAPTION when her grammaw is near the area.

I don't wanna see my little kiddle scrape anything anywhere in the least - I can't take it!!!

I was born with CP, so when it was time for me to use a bike, my dad spent a while just talking about the muscles, the movements, etc. then after a while we worked on a stationary bike and later a real bike, braced against movement. The whole time, my dad just lectured about muscles and body movement, and turning with the wheel, etc. Then I got on the two-wheeler on the road, and 3 hours later I had the hang of it. Two days after that, my sister (then 6) got it. She'd previously shown no interest. When I asked her how she did it so fast, she replied: "Listening to Daddy talk at you."

Get my dad to give his lecture. It worked.

I too learned from the 'push her down the hill' method - my brother was the one who kindly taught me. I'm 41 and I remember it clearly. Maybe not fondly, but definitely clearly.

He seemed to think his method was perfect because he came running to me eager to do it again as I was picking leaves/shrub out of my little teeth, locating my glasses, etc.

It worked because I learned how to pedal the hell out of his grasp so he wouldn't push me again.

Just don't do it!! I did exactly as you described teaching my 5 year old to ride, next thing I know I am in the hospital with a herniated disc. After a surgery, the next kid is on her own! They are trying to take over the world at a younger age now.

i remember training wheels made things more difficult for me. like i couldn't figure out why turning felt so unnatural and stuff.

Dave, this is serious. Take the pedals off, lower the seat so her feet are comfortably on the ground. and let Sophie push the bike around with her feet for as long as she wants. In the driveway, on the sidewalk, in the schoolyard, etc. She'll get the balance thing down and when she can coast along comfortably, put the pedals back on. I promise it will work. If it doesn't, I'll kiss a snake.

Let the kid try riding the bike on his/her own for awhile so they don't have to think about impressing their dad. That's how I finally learned.

Training wheels worked great for me. You learn with confidence, and then just pop those babies off. But when I first went, and I realized my dad let go, I rode straight into a wall because I forgot how to brake.

Come to think of it, the same thing happened when I learned to drive.

My Dad followed the traditional method, running with me down the street then letting go without telling me. The problem was that the street made a sharp right at the end, and when I looked back and saw that he had let go I froze and couldn't turn the wheel. So I rode directly into a thick stand of hedges and was catapulted over them onto my face. The remainder of my cycling experiences weren't much better.

Dear Dave,

Actually, no.

This is my first time commenting on your blog and I'm very pleased I could be of assistance.

Any time you have a question, please don't hesitate to ask.

Ok, first of all, grass is a bad idea. #1 that's for sissies. #2, it's like trying to pedal through loose sand!! Although, if a kid can make it across the yard to the street they'll probably have no problem once on the asphalt.
Face it, you're just going to have to run along next to them while holding and releasing the seat until they get the hang of it, and quit turning thier head to see if you've let go. The head turning being the leading cause of child/bike/father intanglement crashes. Here's a couple of tips: #1 teach them to turn their head away from you. (You'll find the bike follows the head.) #2 carry a can of frosty brew in your "off-bike" hand, for balance and to help keep you hydrated, and in an emergency you can use it to rinse off a "boo-boo"! Good luck!!

Brilliant, bbescuela! I have a nine-yr old son who is terrified of his bike. He gets shaky and his bottom lip quivers. I've been reading this thread with quite a bit of interest.

Bad news Dave, you nailed the only way. I taught three kids to ride two wheelers, none used training wheels. Once they get the balance down it happens quick. The SECOND big challenge is learning how to STOP!! yes the new bikes don't have the "coaster brakes" like when we were kids which are kinda intuitive, and figuring out to squeeze this lever on the handlebar to stop takes some time.

Good luck

Take the Douglas Adams approach.... tell her to aim for the ground and miss.


My daughter is 25 now, and I still run alongside her car when she drives. Freeways are hell.

My dad did what you're doing Dave, and he let go and kept running and when I found out I got mad and pouted for a while but then realized that I'd actually done it by myself!

Here in su.so.ca. we have Oxygen Bars. $10 for 10 minutes. Maybe they could rent you a canister - oooh 24. Maybe not.

Take her to martial arts classes. Learning to fall without getting hurt is the first thing they teach. Have her practice pedaling and braking with the back tire off the ground. Learning a bit at a time is easier than trying to remember everything the first time.


We JUST Got my ten year old onto her bike this weekend.

The trick was to give her a scooter first.

Seriously. She learned to balance and turn and all that jazz - then we pulled out her bike and she was off and running -- er, riding -- within five minutes.

I say use the training wheels - we're letting our youngest do that - because then they learn how hard to pump the pedals to get enough motion to stay balanced. We didn't do that with Katie and we think that was our error.

But the scooter has been a great interim tool to learn on.

Fifty years ago my dad just did the "push and encourage" thing, but after about the second or third segment, he told me that he had let go for a few seconds. I think he was probably lying to me, but it worked. I say ignore your conscience and lie to the kid.

Just tell her that, as far as you know, the all time Barry record for riding a bike is however old she will be tomorrow.

She'll have it figured out on her own by lunch.

Make sure she has a helmet.

MOTW, it's the best method I've found. I hope you give it a try. Good luck!

yeah, what they all said ^^^^ except, murphy's law dictates that she will still damage the only inch of her body that you didn't bubble wrap. related story: when my sons were learning to rollerblade, I got them helmet, full padded gloves, elbow pads, knee pads, and shin pads, plus they wore heavy jeans and long sleeve shirts. my older son quickly took off and just as quickly wapped a bleacher with the back of his hand when he forgot how to brake. we thought it was ok, until his shower that night, when the hot water turned his hand a beautiful shade of every purple ever invented and it swelled twice it's size. the emergency room doctor almost called child protective service on me for "allowing him to get hurt" .... despite him wearing everything BUT bubblewrap. so the moral is - learn to fix all the boo-boos yourself. or do like I learned to do - close your eyes and just let them (or her) have fun.

Dave, with our second child we bought her a scooter (because her older sister had one and she wanted one) and once she learned to balance on the scooter the bike was no problem.

Variation on the grass idea -- we had her ride on a long sidewalk that had a nice grassy median between the walk and the curb, and told her "if you think you're falling, fall on the grass." Worked just fine. She fell about twice and then was fine.

How I learned: I was riding a few blocks from home still using my training wheels (small town America -- you could do that alone then) and when I ran over a curb my training wheels buckled. Faced with the choice of walking or riding without them, I chose the latter.

Don't we all remember the day we learned?

I had a circle-drive in the country so dad made sure I could turn. He dutifully ran along, yelled encouragingly, silently let go, walked to the garage and 3 hours later emerged to find me still riding in a circle. Of course I'm sobbing and have gone horse since I'd been yelling for help. So he walks up to me as I cruise by, casually reaches out and grabs me, wraps me up in a big hug and says, "why didn't you just tip over?"

I didn't go to an ivy league school. Come to think of it, I didn't ride a bike much the rest of that summer either.

Dave --

A pleasure to help. We found that giving my 6-year-old a summer of riding a Razor scooter gave her the experience of learning balance on two wheels. Once she mastered the scooter, moving to a two-wheeled bike was almost second nature.

Hope this helps!

The most authoritative article on the subject is from the slightly-crazy sheldon brown:


But the short answer is, 'No, there is no better way.'

You gotta try the bike listed here:


We have two kids. The first we did the run behind method. In 2 short years, he was fully confident and able to ride.

On kid number 2, we went to a large parking lot. It had a small incline, so this kid could just go to the top of the hill and concentrate on steering instead of pedaling also.

I also highly reccomend getting a bike that is SMALL enough. Too often parents get a bike that the kids can grow into. This is a fantastic way to teach your children about planned failure.

Run behind. No training wheels. Make sure kid wears "grabbable clothing" (sweatshirt collar is one of many many options). Oh and make sure Mom has the camera handy *with charged batteries* when the magic moment arrives.

For us, it took 5-6 days. Our (then) six-year old wasnt exactly the athletic type. But patience, more patience, much support and encouragement did it!

Now we're ready for snowboarding.

Thanks everybody, for all the advice. I see there is no hope.

What we did is take the training wheels off and let the neighborhood kids ridicule the child until they get the gumption to just learn.

Try the method my Aunt Catherine used. On a visit she told me, “It’s shameful that a boy your age can’t ride without training wheels. Take them off. I’m not leaving until you can ride without them.” She put me on my bike and ran alongside me, holding my bike, until she felt I had attained enough speed. Then, instead of letting go, she PUSHED me away, and I fell to the ground. “Try again” she commanded. After several trials I got the idea and said, “Uh, Aunt Catherine, I think I can do it by myself now . . .”

i taught my daughter by riding behind (crazy you say) and holding the seat of the bike on its underside. that way, one, she is pedaling "by herself" without you next to her, and two, you are providing the stabilizing force to keep her stable through the wobbles. of course we had training wheels before that.
and living in FL, there may not be a whole buncha hills to gently glide down...

Lots of good advice. I have just one addition. This is VERY important. Disconect the front brake. Repeat... DISCONECT THE FRONT BRAKE! Trust me. The only purpose the front brake serves is to flip the rider over the handlebars.


Actually, I had the extended director's cut, which eliminates the tedious narration and leaves some room for speculation as to whether or not the little kid on the bike was a replicant.


Just don't do what my dad did. He believed he was mechanically inclined, and could NOT be told he was wrong. So there he was, assembling my bike. He put a training wheel on the back wheel, and one on the front, both on the left side.

"But Dad, shouldn't there be something on the right?"

"Don't worry about it. If you fall, we'll get some for the other side."

If that were not bad enough, he sent me riding down the sidewalk with the traffic whipping by on my right. But I learned to ride without falling.

I was frikkin' scared silly to fall.

The way they taught me, my mom was running after the bike shouting "you're doing great", and then I turned back to look and noticed she wasn't holding the bike (for quite some time already as she ater told me), and the next thng I did was plunging into bushes

Don't you ever buy pedalmagic / pedal magic (http://www.pedalmagic.com)! Had a terrible experience with them. And the video I even viewed won't work properly. Won't give me a refund since they claim I already played it, but I just tested it and it didn't even work! (Although the test clip worked the actual video was corrupted!) And they reply to you in email like you are the most stupid person in the world! Total rip-off. Shame on you pedalmagic! I paid and got nothing!

Hi everyone! I just learned how to ride a bicycle in the past hour after reading this blog! Thank you Joeski!

I am 24 years old but it was my parents who made a huge lapse in judgment by not buying me a bicyle when I was 5. Well, I bought a bicyle in 2009 intending to learn but found it difficult. Today evening, I finally got sick of behind helpless and began searching on ebay for trainer wheels!

I went to search on Google as well as I wanted to buy the right trainer wheels for my bike. It is a Pacific Evolution mountain bike. Then I learned about pedalmagic.com

Ofcourse, the website was being vague and they want me to buy the video. I checked 2 YouTube videos about pedalmagic and gleaned enough information to get me going! I knew what I had to do. Still I was slightly a bit unsure, I Googled more and found this blog posting! Joeski clearly explained it.

I put on my knee and elbow guards and put on my motorbike helmet. I removed the visor. Then after I was suited up (I didn't want to take any chances), I got my bike out and it was like AWESOME! I did it! And it took me only 2 mins NO KIDDING!

I still can't believe that I got the hang of it! So basically you have do only 2 things:

Keep pedaling! And turn the wheel in the direction the bike is falling. You learn how to balance JUST LIKE THAT! Thank you once again Joeski! you are awesome! What my dad failed to do, you did tonight!

I hope every parent uses this to teach their kids. So you can save on trainer wheels. Good night! It was great riding at night with the wind blowing all over. I will never forget this night.

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