I learned how to ride a bike using training wheels. When the training wheels came off, down I went, and this cycle repeated until I somehow managed to stay upright. Looking back on the experience, it is a testament to the resilience of children, and my stubbornness, that I ever rode a bike again.
Last summer a friend in her 20′s mentioned that she had never learned how to ride a bike, and living in a bike-centric area, would like to learn. Since she was clearly too tall to learn on a bike with training wheels, and I wanted her to enjoy riding a bike, I set off to find some alternative teaching method. What I found makes perfect sense, but is apparently not very widely known.
The key aspect to riding a bike is balancing using your body movements and the bike’s steering. Pedaling, shifting, and all the other nonsense that you do on a bike is added on to that core skill. Training wheels teach you how to pedal, but not to balance, which is why everything goes downhill when the wheels come off.
The easiest way to learn to balance a bike is to take off the training wheels (if any), lower the seat so that your feet can be flat on the ground, and remove the pedals and the cranks if possible. This arrangement lets you use the bike as a riding scooter (and was the form bikes initially appeared in). Push off the ground with your feet and “run” while sitting on the bike. You will catch any large imbalances with your feet, but will get a feel for how the bike handles and how you can use steering to balance. As you become more comfortable with controlling the bike, pick your feet up and coast around. The more space you have to do this in the better, as you can go faster and make wider turns. The parking lots of office buildings are ideal for this on the weekends.
Once you are comfortable with coasting, and can control your direction without putting your feet down, put the pedals and cranks back on. Get coasting, and then put both feet on the pedals. Just get comfortable with getting your feet on and off the pedals to start with. Once you can do that with confidence, go for pedaling. From here on out, it is simply a matter of getting more practice riding and pedaling, you’ve mastered the basics!
In a little more than an hour or two my friend went from having never ridden a bike before to being able to ride home from where we taught her. It isn’t that she has exceptional abilities, just that this particular method is that effective. If only my parents had known about this method, I might have fewer scars. Good thing they “build character!”
- Robert Alverson