It's Like Learning to Ride a Bicycle

Q & A with Pediatric Physical Therapist, Dr. Joni Redlich of KidPT

1) How do you know that a child is ready to ride a bike without training wheels?

There is no perfect age to take off the training wheels. Every child will be ready at their own pace based on their physical abilities and their personality. The best time to learn is when a child is ready to try.

2) What is the best method to give a child the confidence to ride?

My favorite method of teaching bike riding is to first practice gliding on a bike without pedals.  Learning to glide will teach the child how to balance and steer. Then, they will already have accomplished most of the skills to ride when they add in pedaling!

3) What other activities can children practice in order to help them with the skills needed to ride a bike?

We all remember that “aha” moment when we figured out how to ride a bike. The skill that leads to that moment can actually be taught! The trick is that when the bike leans to one side, the rider turns the handlebars to the same side. The child can practice that with you supporting the bike and then practice it during gliding. Learning this piece can make the whole process much quicker and easier!

A balance bike (one with no pedals) is also a great option for children to prepare for bike riding.  Some children can move from a balance bike to a two-wheeled bike and skip the training wheels altogether.

4) How do you know that a bike is an appropriate size for the child? 

A new rider should be able to put their feet flat on the ground and be able to reach the handlebars while keeping their back straight. A lower bike will be easier for the child to learn on rather than a bike that is bought with the idea that the child will grow into it.

5) Is there a particular brand of bike that you recommend? 

The type of bike is not very important for beginners. It is more important to get kids riding so that they can have the social and fitness benefits of being bike riders!

6) What are some adaptive options for kids with special needs? 

Many children with special needs will be ready to learn to ride later than other children. It is important to let the child’s physical strength, coordination, balance and sensory processing skills guide their readiness, along with the child’s motivation. Children with special needs can benefit from the therapeutic eye of a physical therapist or occupational therapist, to break down the motor learning process and help make it more successful.

Some children with special needs benefit from adaptive bikes to become independent bike riders.  Standard training wheels can be too unstable for some children and only work with smaller sized bikes.  A product, such as Fat Wheels, can be used to give any size bike stable training wheels.  There are also various styles of adaptive bikes that have different options including three wheels for stability, recumbent bikes, and arm propelled bikes. There are endless opportunities to adapt a bike to a child’s needs.     

7) Are there any resources you recommend for children to learn about bike safety?

Kids Health by Nemours has an excellent bike safety resource: https://kidshealth.org/en/kids/bike-safety.html

The Bike Safety Helmet Institute is a great resource on how to fit a bike helmet properly: www.bshi.org

Dr. Joni Redlich is a physical therapist and owner of KidPt in Bridgewater. KidPT offers both physical therapy and occupational therapy. Their specialized physical therapists work with babies with developmental challenges, children with neuromuscular disorders, children with autism spectrum disorders and young adults with neurological disorders. Virtual therapy sessions are available as well.

Dr. Joni has focused on using children’s strengths, curiosities and learning styles to help them meet their goals.  She focuses on the whole child and believes that every child has unlimited potential.


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