Learn-to-ride Instructions

The “balance bike” method:

You may already know how to pedal a bike a a child from riding a tricycle, or with training wheels; or, if you are an adult, on a stationary bike. It is very helpful to practice pedaling before you learn to ride a bike so you are used to moving your feet in circles and keeping them on the pedals.

Next you will want to learn how to balance: Start by standing on some grass or carpet (just in case you fall). Pick up one leg, and see how long you can keep it up. How did you keep from falling?  You might have moved your “free” leg, your head, your arms, or your hips to keep your balance. You can also keep your balance by hopping on one leg. Try it!  Which way did you hop?  You’ll see that you always hop in the direction you are starting to fall, so  your foot lands in your “center of gravity,” keeping you upright. 

Another fun way to see how finding your center of gravity works is by balancing a broom stick with the end of the handle resting on your palm:  You will need to keep moving your hand to keep it directly under the broomstick.  Try it: It can be a fun contest to see how long you can keep it up!

Balancing on a bike works the same way, but you don’t move your body — you just use the handlebars to steer the front wheel toward the direction you are falling to keep the bike underneath you, using little adjustments like you did hopping, or keeping the broom up

So you won’t have to worry about falling, the easiest way to learn is by sitting on the seat and pushing the bike along with your feet on the ground.

How it works:

You balance on a bike by steering to keep the bike underneath you. When you start to lean too far to one side, you steer toward that side.  By starting with your feet off the pedals where you can put them on the ground quickly, you can keep yourself from falling while you learn how much to steer.  It’s the same as using a push-scooter, only with a seat.

You won’t use the pedals at first — but don’t hit your shins on them while you are pushing along. It helps to put the crank arms horizontal, with one pedal forward and one back. If they are still in your way, you can take them off (see the instructions at the end of this tutorial).

First get ready:

Wear a helmet! Even though it is hard to fall learning this way, it helps to not have to worry about hurting your head. Wear shoes that will stay on your feet (like tennis shoes: not flip flops!), and clothes that won’t snag on the bike.

Adjust the seat height so you can just reach the ground with your feet flat, and you should be able to just reach the ground with your tip-toes when your feet are out where you won’t hit your shins on the pedals. (Be sure you don’t put the seatpost up past the safety line!)  Make sure the seat is tight by trying to twist it hard while you hold the rear wheel between your legs.

Pick a spot without traffic (or walkers!) that is flat, smooth, wide, and long enough. A very little downhill helps. There are lots of good spots in school yards.  Be sure you have room to come to a stop — don’t ride out a driveway into the street! Make sure the crank arms are horizontal (with one pedal forward and one back).

Start by standing still:

On a flat, level spot, to keep from rolling (put the handbrakes on, if you have them!), sit on the seat with your feet on the ground. Without rolling, pick up one foot just a couple inches, balance on the seat, and start to lean toward the foot that is up: stop yourself from falling by putting your foot back down. Try this on both sides a few times. Then try picking up both feet at the same time, and see how long you can balance. Keep your feet out, just above the ground, where you can put them down quickly: don’t put them on the pedals, or on the bike frame.  If you have trouble with the next part, stop, and start over again standing still, not rolling.

Get rolling:

When you have found the balance point, start pushing the bike along with your feet on the ground. You can use one foot at a time, like walking, or both together, like hopping.  Be sure to keep your feet near the ground, sit on the seat, and look up where you are going. Relax your arms, and practice steering!

Keep your feet out where you can put them on the ground easily, and hold them out to the sides so you won’t scrape your shins on the pedals. You can also try going around in a big circle, pushing with only one foot (the one inside the circle). Then try going in a circle in the other direction. When you can glide without touching either foot to the ground, you are ready to start pedaling. 

To start pedaling:

First be sure the crank arms are horizontal, and sit on the seat while you hold onto something solid like railing or a fence post with one hand. You can also have a helper hold the bike up by standing facing you, holding the handlebars in the middle, with the front wheel held between their knees. 

Without rolling, practice putting your feet on the pedals — getting your foot on the front pedal just before the back one. Then put your feet on the ground with the back foot first (so the pedals always stay in the horizontal position).  Do it a few times looking down at your feet, then without looking, until you can get them on the pedals easily without looking every time.

Now start like before, pushing on the ground with the cranks horizontal. When you get a good long glide without touching the ground, put your feet on the pedals (without looking down!) and don’t forget to pedal! 

Next you’ll need to learn to brake. For a coaster (back-pedal) brake, be sure to stop with the cranks horizontal, and put your weight on the pedal in back.

Now you’ll start putting the seat up about an inch at a time, and practicing starting off with your foot on the right pedal at the bottom position, and give a push with your left foot on the ground, very much like riding a scooter.  You may need to practice getting your left foot onto the pedal, because it will be at the top position now that the right one is at the bottom.  You should also try to do this standing up, with all your weight on your right foot: you will need to push down on the left handlebar at the same time.  As you get better, keep moving your seat up a bit at a time until you can start from the power pedal position (video).

What next?

When you can ride at least a mile, we can help you have more fun riding, and avoid crashing, with a Family Traffic Skills ride for kids, and adult companions (just email or call to make an appointment).

If you want to remove the pedals:

They are on tight, so use the right wrench (usually an open-end 15mm wrench), hold the wrench all the way at the end, and be careful of smashing your fingers between the wrench and the bike. The left pedal (on the left side when you sit on the bike) has left-hand threads, so turn it clockwise to loosen. The right pedal has right-hand threads so turn it counter-clockwise to loosen. A good method is to put the pedal forward and the wrench pointing back, and push down on them both while you lean over the bike from the opposite side, so it doesn’t roll away from you. To put the pedals back on once you have gotten your balance, do the reverse. They are marked “L” and “R,” for left and right. Be sure they are on tight.

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