I really enjoy teaching people about bicycling, soccer, and many other things, but of all the things I’ve taught, teaching Learn To Ride is consistently the most fun and rewarding – it is so joyful to see my fledgling students earn their wings and learn to fly!
How many of you have taught others to learn to ride? How long did it take?
Can you teach someone who does not know how to ride a 2 wheel bike how to ride in 1-4 hours from start to finish? Yes you can!
Just say NO to training wheels!!!! Learning to balance is the most critical element of learning to ride a two wheeler and research shows balance bikes work best. An easy and inexpensive way to create a balance bike for someone of any age is to take a regular bike and just remove the pedals.
Here are 2 well proven methods, one super easy but slower (weeks or months), the second precisely engineered and faster (typically 1-6 hours total) to teach someone to ride but best done with an experienced instructor. This latter technique was perfected by John Ciccarelli, founder and owner of Bicycle Solutions.
1) Easy but slow method – just let the student play on a balance bike (or a bike with the pedals removed and the seat lowered so their feet can touch the ground). This works great but can take a few months to get to pedaling.
2) Fast Method – Bicycle Solutions created a refined scientific step by step method that can get some riding in as little as an hour, most in 2-3 hours, and a few may take as long as 4-6 hours. Here is the secret sauce for the fast method.
An easy gradual wide paved slope at least 100’ long where cars cannot go. 200’ long is even better. A car free slope like this can be surprisingly challenging to find.
A bike with hand brakes (coaster brakes will not work for this technique) – must allow students to sit on the seat with feet flat on the ground to start. The seat gets raised as the lesson progresses.
A positive experienced bicycle instructor/coach.
Motivated student preferably with helmet, closed toe shoes, and trim fitting slacks or shorts (no loose or baggy clothing that will catch on chain, handlebars, seat, or other parts of bike).
Motivation is extremely important - stay encouraging and positive! Recognize specifically what the student does right each step of the way.
Five positives for every correction ("Filling the Emotional Tank from the Positive Coaching Alliance).
Instructor demos and talks for each step but then student spends most time doing.
Do not move to the next step until they have accomplished the goal of each step.
Talk them thru each step but not too much.
Can help to talk to student about whatever interests them while they practice to keep them happy and relaxed. Some learners need to stay very focused. Others need a bit of light distraction to keep it fun and relaxed. Depends on the student.
Visualize fun rewards (be a brownie or an ice cream cone or whatever) - especially helps with kids.
Remove both pedals.
Have seat at height so student can sit in bike seat with their legs straight and feet flat on ground.
Practice walking bike including turns.
Be on left side of bike away from chain.
Goal: can walk bike and turn both ways.
Practice using brakes while walking bike.
Have student only use rear (right) brake - show how it can slow as well as skid rear tire but bike stays stable.
Demonstrate what can happen if front (left brake) is squeezed hard.
Practice slowing vs stopping bike with right brake.
Remind student to just use rear (right) brake for this lesson.
Goal: can slow bike and can stop bike using rear brake.
Mounting and dismounting
Squeeze brakes, swing leg over back of bike, may tip a tall bike toward you to make easier.
Goal: can get on and off bicycle successfully.
Stationary balance – finding balance point.
Bike vertical, squeeze brakes so bike does not roll, sit up straight, strong arms with slight bend at elbow, relaxed.
Rock back and forth from foot to foot to find balance point.
Look ahead, not down. Makes it easier to balance.
Wiggle turn handlebars to see what that feels like while trying to do stationary balance.
Goal: how long can they maintain stationary balanced while wiggling handlebars?
No pedal glide - this step usually takes the longest but can be as quick as 10 minutes (5-10 attempts) or as long as 3-4 hours (60+ coasting attempts). Most get it in an hour or 2.
Legs used to propel bike forward and as landing gear.
Use brakes to stop.
Push off with both feet.
See how long they can coast. Keep going down the slope until no more slope.
Need not be in a straight line, they can go wherever they wish and can glide safely, in fact weaving around is better than sticking to a super straight line – they are learning to turn without realizing it.
Goal: they can coast at least 100’ without feet touching the ground to earn their first pedal.
Very important for coach to recognize each element the student does right – 5 positives for each correction - motivation is EXTREMELY important.
Some people just super cautious, some twitch their body all over instead of using steering to balance, some slouch or lean, some grip the handlebars with a death grip.
are they keeping their head up while looking around? (do not want them looking down as it is harder to balance)
are they keeping their bike centered under them and vertical? (bike should not be wobbling under them)
are the sitting tall with a calm centered body? (not twitching and shifting their body all over)
do they have strong arms with a slight bend in elbow?
are they using their steering to balance? (this is what we want!)
the student may have very short glides but with practice the glides will get longer and longer
recognize them for what they do correctly (5 positives for every correction). For instance recognize each glide that gets longer without feet touching on the ground.
One pedal glide
Student chooses which pedal they want to keep their foot in, or what foot they want to have touch the ground first, instructor adds that pedal
Raise seat a bit.
Place foot on pedal, push off with just one foot.
Goal: coast at least 100’ with one foot staying on pedal and other not touching the ground to earn their second pedal.
Finding the pedal static practice
Add second pedal
Raise seat a bit further. Mention that most people walk with their legs straight, not bent. Eventually want leg straighter and not always bent when pedaling.
Student positions bike parallel to a railing they can hold onto so they do not fall over
Hold brake with one hand and rail with other (or instructor holds bike) and have student start with first foot in pedal when pedal is all the way at the bottom of its stroke (just like they had it with one pedal glide) and move foot onto other pedal and back to ground repeatedly with their other foot starting from many different spots around the pedal so their body memorizes where the 2nd pedal is when the 1st pedal is all the way down.
Look ahead and do not at pedal, just practice finding pedal and putting the foot back down on the ground.
Build muscle memory
Goal: They feel confident and can find pedal while looking straight ahead (not down)
Finding the pedal while coasting
Now try when coasting
Put 2nd foot in pedal when they are confidently coasting
Goal: can they coast 100’ with both feet on pedals?
Glide start (scooter start) and start to pedal
Goal: now can they pedal the bike while balancing and not touching the ground with their feet for 100'?
Look where you want to go
"Think" yourself in the direction you want to go
Goals: Left turn, right turn
Practice just riding around wherever student wants to go with instructor following
Students are usually super happy at this point
Goal: ride a complete loop without touching the ground
Goal: ride figure 8s
Power Pedal Start
Pedal cocked at 9 or 10 o’clock position, push down hard to get bike moving and start pedaling right away
More riding practice
Goal: Execute correct power pedal starts on downhill, level, and slight uphill areas
Shifting rear gears
Show how bike shifts (helps to have a bike with 2 leg kickstand so you can pedal bike with your hands to show chain shifting)
Let student try out the right (rear shifter) first
Goal: they can shift thru all their rear gears
Shifting front gears
Try left shifter – bigger jumps between gear ranges.
Do some longer continuous rides
Goal: they can shift thru all their front gears
Advanced turning (optional)
Have outside foot down when making turn
Goal: They have their outside foot down when making left and right turns while coasting (a slope helps)
Celebrate! A new rider has earned their wings and can fly!!
Tim's Learn to Ride Presentation from CalBike Summit 2022.
Before riding on roads it is important to be able to ride with one hand so you can use the other to signal and look behind you without swerving. Bicycle Solutions offers 3 levels of classes:
Learn to Ride - the curriculum outlined above.
Handling skills - after student practices on their own and can ride with one hand on their hip, we then practice riding with one hand, signaling, looking behind, simple bike maneuvers in safe paved area, bicycling rules of the road. This lesson often continues into a simple road ride on very quiet roads.
Ride Along Coaching - practice all of the rules of the road on real roads. We will show students how to ride to any location a student desires whether it be school, library, work, stores, or wherever.