How Do You Know When Your Child is Ready to Start Riding a Bike?
Learning to ride a bike is a huge milestone for kids and their parents alike. When do kids typically learn to ride a bike? Is it ever too early (or too late) for your kid to get started?
The short answer? It depends.
The average age for kids to learn to ride a bike is between 3 and 7 years old - but this is just an average. Some children may be ready to start building their basic cycling skills earlier. Others might want to wait until later when a two-wheeler isn’t so big and intimidating.
Regardless of when they begin, every child follows roughly the same path to mastering riding. Here’s a basic guide to the developmental skills and safety tips your child needs to get pedaling - plus answers to some frequently asked questions about kids’ bike safety.
How long does it take for children to learn to ride a regular bike?
For adults who have ridden bikes since childhood, it’s easy to forget just how many skills are involved. Think about it - biking safely requires a complex combination of skills, including:
- Pedaling (with enough strength and endurance to keep moving)
- Hand-eye coordination
- Reaction time
So how quickly will your little one put these skills together and learn to ride? It depends a great deal on the child and the bike. Some kids pick up the basics almost immediately. (within as little as 5 minutes)! For others, it can take a full afternoon of practice. Yet other children might spend a week (or several) trying, getting discouraged, and trying again, before they finally get the hang of it.
There are also different ways to teach children the basics of cycling, and this may impact how long the process takes to build the child’s confidence and momentum. In the past, most kids progressed from a tricycle to training wheels to a standard two-wheeler. This method leaves the hardest skill - balancing upright while steering- until the very last step.
Recently, however, people are flipping the learning process. Balance bikes (bikes without pedals) allow children to acquire the essential skill of balancing first, and when it comes time to start pedaling, they’ve already mastered the hard part. Many people find that this speeds up the learning process, especially with younger kids. This process makes training wheels unnecessary, and the transition to a standard bicycle much easier.
One thing is for certain: Your younger child’s comfort plays a huge role in their progress. They won’t learn to ride a bicycle until they’re ready, and pushing them beyond their comfort zone can actually slow down the process. Listen to what your little one tells you and above all, make sure biking continues to be fun!
So when is the right time to start learning basic bike riding skills? Let’s look at some examples.
Can a 2-year-old ride a bike?
While most kids aren’t ready for a regular pedal bike at two, there are several ways you can help them start building their skills with these tips from our kids' bicycle buying guide.
- At 18-24 months, your child may be ready for a balance bike. Be sure to wait until your child is walking steadily on both feet before introducing a balance bike. This is when they’ll begin honing the gross motor skills that will support them as bike riders. Kids who learn on a balance bike this early on can be ready to take a seat on their first pedal bike by their 3rd birthday.
- At 2-3 years old, most kids will be ready to ride a balance bike. This allows them to skip tricycles and training wheels altogether and prepares them for their first pedal bike by four years old.
Developing the fundamental skill of balance makes it easier for your kid to skip other learning methods (e.g. training wheels) and succeed with standard two-wheel pedal bikes sooner.
Can a 4-year-old ride a bike? Can a 5-year-old ride a bike?
Between ages four and five, many children are ready to progress to two-wheel pedal bicycles. When looking for the right bike, they need one that safely develops their:
- Balancing skills
- Pedaling power
- Navigation and handling abilities
If they haven’t yet mastered the balance bike, they can still learn this way by leaving the pedals off their first pedal bike.
Additionally, it’s important to introduce the fundamentals of bicycle safety, and to supervise your child at all times, as they don’t have the judgment or response time to react to hazards. It goes without saying that a helmet is a must!
Choosing a bike for your child
Bikes for four-year-olds most frequently have coaster brakes (operated by pedaling backwards). These brakes offer less safety and control, as children can inadvertently brake when simply trying to backpedal. This can result in braking mishaps and serious danger.
Traditional front and rear two-hand brakes, on the other hand, offer better control and stopping distances but require an advanced level of control to use. Squeezing too hard with just one hand can cause an accident. Oftentimes, cheaply-made handlebar brakes are simply too heavy for kids’ small hands to fully squeeze.
Fortunately, there’s a better solution on the market - the patented SureStop brake system, which every bicycle from Guardian Bikes comes equipped with. SureStop provides a single hand brake that any child can use. It perfectly distributes braking pressure between the front and rear tires, which helps kids stop faster while preventing head-over-handlebars accidents.
The smallest riders can start with Guardian Bike’s 14-inch bike. These come with all the safety features your child needs to transition from balance bikes to pedal bikes. Plus, they’re lightweight, incredibly durable, and the design was chosen by kids themselves! Not sure the 14-inch bike is the right size? Try our bike sizing tool.
Tips for a successful first ride
However old your child is, there are some straightforward guidelines you should follow to make their life easier (and safer). Here are three of our recommendations:
- Start in a park, backyard, or open space without obstacles. This helps reduce stress and increase confidence.
- Always require a helmet to prevent injuries.
- Make sure your child has a correctly sized bike. Although selecting by wheel size is a common practice, it’s not the best way to choose a bike for your child. Read more about kids’ bike sizing and try our bike size tool here.
Why Guardian Bikes are different
At Guardian Bikes, our mission is to create the safest kids’ bicycles on Earth. We start with our own specialized bike frame designs that make it easy for kids of all ages to learn balance and pedaling, giving them the confidence to learn. We also use high-tech materials like aircraft-grade aluminum, so you know your kid’s bike will stay light, strong, and fun to ride for years to come. With our patented SureStop brakes, your child will be riding safely in no time. Learn more about what we do here!
“Bike Riding Milestones.” ABC Pediatric Therapy. https://www.abcpediatrictherapy.com/bike-riding-milestones/ Accessed 11 June, 2020.
“Buying a Bike for Your Child.” Stanford Children’s Health. https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=buying-a-bike-for-your-child-1-2954 Accessed 11 June, 2020.
“Teaching Children Bicycle Safety.” International Bicycle Fund. https://www.ibike.org/education/safety-kids.htm Accessed 11 June 2020.