Last Saturday I took my daughter to a drive-thru birthday party. This is a typical birthday party organized now a days in covid-19 world. Parents drive their kids to the birthday person’s home so kids can give birthday wishes and spend some time playing outside while trying to maintain social distancing. Here few of my daughter’s friends were riding bicycle without training wheels (TWs). I could see my daughter wanting to ride like them, but she has not driven one without TWs yet. Her eye contact was firm for long time on her friends riding bike. With just couple of glimpses at her, I could understand that she wanted to learn biking more than ever. After all, she has turned 5 years old now and she is riding bike with TWs? Well, I should say today’s kids are fast. I did not have that thought remotely when I was 5. I am pretty sure I learned biking when I was 7 or 8 years old. Anyways, seeing other kids biking, I too started feeling a guilt that I did not take her out enough to teach biking. Enough is enough! I promised myself to teach her bike in next few days, rain or shine!
I had always taken my daughter for biking with TWs. One of the reasons was that her bike size was 16” which was a lot bigger for her age, height and weight. Children of her age would ride 12” or 14” easily. Hence, even with TWs on, I always held her so that the bike does not topple. Because of coronavirus, we did not want to go on some trail so we chose one of the business offices parking lots since they were empty these days and we would get long stretch of straight road to practice.
I take out the TWs.
She: Dad, why are you taking out TWs? Won't I fall without it? (She forgot that just a day before, learning bike was her biggest goal).
Me: Well, when you were toddler, you crawled using your hands and legs. But slowly you grew up and now can walk and run with just two legs. You are not falling by doing that, are you? Then why do you want your bike to ride you on four legs? Even your bike is grown-up. So let’s teach her to ride with two legs.
She gets excited by thinking that we will be teaching her bike to walk on two legs by sitting on it. We start slowly while I hold her back as well as handle. She gets a taste of what it is to ride a bike without TWs.
Me: Today, we will learn how to hold the handle straight. The bike will try to sneak, but you need to tell it to keep going straight and that it can't move without your permission. If you want to turn, move the bike's handle and it will know that you are asking it to make a turn, but never let it go without asking you.
I start by just holding her back and leaving the handle for her to hold.
She: Dad, see the bike is going in another direction. I am trying to keep it straight, but it is not listening to me.
Me: Yes, that is because your hands are just touching the handle and not actually holding it tightly. When you climb the rocks, you do not just touch the rocks but hold them tight. You need to do it likewise here too.
The analogy helps her and, in few rounds, she manages to control the handle. Since I am running on her left side, she cannot completely control the handle if she leans on her right side. I am confident that it should work out with some practice. She falls couple of times when I try to leave her back and letting her balance on her own.
Me: One last thing that I want to teach you today is what to do when you are about to fall.
She: But won't you be running with me? Will I still fall?
Me: Of course! You cannot learn a bike without falling. That is the rule. In fact, you are lucky that you just fell once or twice. I had bad accidents while learning bike. And, sometimes if I am not around you will have to either manage how not to fall or learn how to not get yourself hurt even if you fall. While we are learning how to ride, you will fall, and you should learn what to do in those situations. Since you cannot reach ground while you are sitting (remember, the bike is bigger than her height), try to get up and touch your feet on ground. The bike will fall, but you will not. You should continue to stand. Just remember to try to touch your feet down. Alright?
She nods her head pretending to understand what I said while also trying to memorize it. We have few incidents where she did fall, but she remembers the little trick and she did not get hurt at all. More importantly, the fear of falling went away because she knows how to not get herself hurt.
She: Look Dad, I let the bike fall, but I am still standing. I did not fall. Yay!
Me: Today, we will just practice what we learned yesterday. Keep handle straight and do not get yourself hurt. Remember, the bike likes to run. If it continues running, it will never fall. But the moment it slows down, it wants to take rest and so it falls down. So if you don't want to fall down, make sure you bike little faster.
Today, I leave her frequently while watching her balancing the bike for 5~10 seconds. Her handle is losing direction, but she is forcing it back straight to balance the bike. This is a great progress. Since there is a fear that she might lose the balance or since she does not know how to stop yet, I run behind her. I cannot just casually jog, but I must be literally next to her bike. That is quite a workout for me. In next few rounds, her bike speed increases and so is my heartbeat.
She: Dad, I am loving it. This is really fun.
Me: See, I told you. You just took 2 days to learn biking. You took longer than this to walk. Learning to bike is way easier than learning to walk, right?
Today, we practiced turns. At the end of our session, she is riding independently and taking nice turns. I am still burning my calories while running next to her bike because she is afraid of stopping on her own.
Me: Today let us learn how to stop. It is easier than learning biking. Remember, biking is easier than walking? Stopping is easier than biking. Whenever you want to stop, just stop pedaling and force your legs at one position without moving it. Doing that will slow down your bike and when it is about to stop, just touch your feet on ground while holding the handle of bike so it doesn't fall down.
(I did not know that kid’s bike comes with coaster brakes. I am not sure if this is the right way of teaching braking. I personally think that hand brakes are much easier, but it depends on kid to kid). We practice few rounds with slow speed. In every 5~10 seconds, I ask her to stop and she can stop. However, with the increased speed, it is a different story. I ask her to stop 8-10 times, but she doesn’t stop. Either she cannot stop pedaling or she is just enjoying riding.
She: When the bike is slow, I can make it to stop, but when bike is fast, I cannot force my legs to stop. My legs just go along with the pedal.
Me: That is ok. You need to do push pedal backward little harder. Remember if you do a bad job, how mommy and I ask you to stop it immediately. You need to do the same thing to your bike. Just tell it, hey stop right now! I am not pedaling you anymore.
That seemed to help. She tries few times but then she falls. Unfortunately, she does not remember her “touching the feet on ground” trick. We do some more practice and same thing repeats. Two things going on here. She is not putting enough pressure to stop the bike which is understandable because the bike is heavy for her age. Another, she is now little scared of falling after stopping and hence do not want to stop. I ask her to stop and she keeps riding.
Me: Alright, it is time to go home. But we will only go home when you stop on your own.
I want her to stop on her own.
She: Dad, hold me. I am not able to stop.
Me: You can stop. Just remember to do what I taught.
She keeps riding for 10~15 minutes without stopping. All that time, she asks me to hold her to stop and I run behind her but not holding her. In the end, I get super tired and help her to stop.
Me: Today, let us try different way to learn how to stop. We will learn by putting back our TWs. It will make sure that you do not fall. But just try to push hard on pedal to stop the bike.
She is happy seeing back the TWs. We practice multiple rounds and TWs tend to help her little bit, but she is still afraid that the bike might topple.
Me: Listen, I am there to hold you. I am running with you with my hands around you. If you fall, I will hold you. You just try to stop.
That gives her confidence of stopping with TWs. I push her to make the bike go faster and ask her to stop and she stops. With more practice, she can now stop independently with TWs. We take out TWs and she can now manage to stop her bike.
My daughter knows how to bike end-to-end independently. After few days, I realized that I should have googled to see “how long does it take to learn to ride a bike” and the answer was 30~45 minutes. We took longer than that. We spent 30 minutes every day for 6 days and that was about 3 hours to learn. But I will never forget those 3 hours. At the end of those 6 days, I felt happier than what I felt when I learned biking. Not only I spent quality time with her, but I realized that it needed lot of creativity, impromptu and humorous thinking to explain her things and giving several analogies and examples. I made sure that her morale is boosted, and she is excited all those days to go to learn biking. And the outcome is my daughter and I can go to a trail on our own bikes.