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  • Leah Fischer, PT, DPT

Better Biking


Spring is almost here! That means it is time to get outside and enjoy the beautiful weather. Biking is an activity the whole family can enjoy. It is fun to for an adventure on a trail ride, to a park, or even to get ice cream. But, is your child developing the skills necessary in order to ride a bike? Is you child riding the appropriate bike for their age?

What is needed to ride a bike?

Strength, balance, coordination, and endurance are just a few skills needed to ride a bike. Children with a weak core or weak legs may have difficulty riding a bike. Some kids with weak legs have a hard time completing a full revolution with the pedals because they can be hard to push while maintaining balance. Other kids have a hard time completing several consecutive revolutions because of the coordination it takes to push hard with one leg and then the other. It takes a significant amount of coordination to sequence the steps necessary to start biking, pedal, and then stop. Children with a weak core may have a hard time balancing on the bike, especially as they progress in the type of bike they are riding. Maintaining balance on a 2-wheeler takes significant core strength for a kid in order to keep their center of gravity aligned with the seat and bike. Finally, for a child to go on longer bike rides with the family, they need to build up their endurance. Initially, a child may only be able to bike to the end of the driveway, then to the end of the street, but with increased practice bike riding, they soon will be off on adventures before you know it. If your child has difficulty for any of these reasons, or if you are concerned about your child’s bike riding skills, a physical therapist can assist with jump starting your child to developing the skills necessary to be successful in bike riding.

When should my child begin riding a bike?

Below is a general timeline of when children should be riding different bikes:

  • 19-20 months: Riding a push bike

  • 3 years (35-36 months): Riding a tricycle

  • 4 years (49-52 months): Riding a 2-wheeler with training wheels

  • 5 years (59-62 months): Riding a 2-wheeler without training wheels

Tips for teaching your child how to ride a bike

  • ALWAYS wear a helmet!

  • Wear long sleeves and long pants or elbow and knee pads to decrease chance of scrapes and bruises in case of a fall

  • Bike seats should be low enough that your child’s feet rest flat on the ground. This gives lets them stop the bike if they begin to lose control.

  • Practice stopping: Draw 2 chalk lines on the pavement about 6 feet apart and perpendicular to the path of the bike. Have the child start braking when they cross the first line and try to be fully stopped by the 2nd line. Also practice sudden stops (i.e. stop when you clap your hands or say boo).

  • Practice starting: Rotate the right pedal to the parents’ 2:00 position when looking at pedal as if it were a clock. Have your kiddo stand and place their right foot on the right pedal. Push down hard on the right pedal while pushing off the ground with the left foot then have them slide down/back to sitting on the seat. Play a game by drawing parallel lines on the ground about 6 feet apart and 10 feet long. This is the “runway” and your child has to stay on the runway when they “take off”!

Fun bike trails around Dayton

Once child is getting better and more comfortable at riding a bike, it is time to have fun with it! Check out the Miami Valley Bike Trails website at http://www.miamivalleytrails.org/nations-largest-paved-trail-network to find a fun trail near you! You may want to start with a shorter trail or only do a portion of the trail based on your child’s abilities. Also, look for trails that are paved as they are much better for riding. Don’t forget to always wear your helmet!

Adaptations to bicycles

If you know your child has special needs or has low muscle tone or decreased endurance, bike riding can still be a fun activity while helping your child improve the skills necessary for biking. Talk to your physical therapist about adaptive bikes, and they will be able to fit you for the appropriate bike to best fit the needs of your child. Everyone of all abilities can enjoy biking!

#BikeRiding #LearntoRideaBike

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