Training on two wheels requires strength, balance


I caught a whiff of concrete dust as he ran beside me, his rough hands steadying my handlebars. Dad, who was exhausted from laying block all day, probably only has a vague recollection of teaching me to ride a bike.

But the exhilaration I felt when he let go and I coasted across our yard solo is one moment from childhood I'll never forget.

My son, who turned 5 a couple of months ago, was still clinging to his training wheels at the end of last summer. But I think he'll want to ride on his own in the next couple of months, and I want to be ready to teach him how.

The question is where to start.

First, make sure your child has the strength and ability to steady a bike and balance on it, says Pete Piringer, spokesperson for the Maryland State Police.


Some children will be ready at 5 years old, but others won't be ready until they're older, says Doug Donaldson, associate editor of Bicycling magazine.

"One of the worst things you can do is make them ride," Donaldson says.

If your child expresses an interest and if you feel he is ready, teach him in your yard or at a park on a gently sloping grassy hill, Donaldson says.

Take the child to the top of the hill and point the bike downward.

When the child is ready, let go of the bike.

The momentum of going downhill will get him used to the feel of the bike when he doesn't have to concentrate on pedaling, Donaldson says.

Prep your child for this exercise with these tips:

* Don't rock back and forth.

* Keep the handlebars straight.

* Don't lean too far forward over the front wheel.

* Don't look at the ground directly in front of you. Look 10 to 20 feet ahead.

If your child has been riding around the yard and wants to take to the street, consider his age and ability before giving your OK.

Most children don't develop depth perception until about third grade, says Piringer, whose office issued these "Ten Smart Routes to Bicycle Safety":

1. Wear a helmet.

2. Make sure your bike is properly adjusted.

3. Always check brakes before riding.

4. See and be seen.

5. Avoid biking at night. Reflectors and lights are required if you ride at night.

6. Stay alert. Look for obstacles in your path.

7. Stay on the right side of the road.

8. Be aware of the traffic around you.

9. Learn the rules of the road and obey them.

10. Wheels should be securely fastened.

Teach a child to stop before he rides into the street, check behind before swerving, turning or changing lanes, and, if he is riding with friends, to ride single file in the same direction, Piringer says.

"It's important for parents to take the time to work with their child," Piringer says. "The most important thing is to always have adult supervision or older children to look over them."

Tell us what you're trying to teach your child. We'll ask an expert for advice. Call Lifestyle Editor Lisa Tedrick Prejean at 301-733-5131, ext. 2340, write to her at P.O. Box 439, Hagerstown, Md. 21741, send a fax to 301-714-0245 or e-mail her at

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