Kids and Bikes: Advice from The Family Bike Collective

When I was 8 and my brother was 12, my dad took us to a park and rented us bikes to learn to ride on. Both our bikes were bigger than they should have been, but after a few falls, scraped knees, a tumble into a nearby drain, and a few dented trees, we learned to ride.

Back then, balance bikes weren’t a thing. I don’t think my father even knew what a balance bike was. It’s a wonder he hasn’t told me and my husband we’re crazy for setting up the Family Bike Collective, a non-profit bicycle organization teaching children and adults how to ride bicycles.

So, here’s how to help your child learn to ride a bike without falling at all. 

●      Start them off on a balance bike

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Our daughter, Katherine, started riding her balance bike when she was 16 months-old. Two months later, she was a daredevil and we took her mountain biking in Wildcat Canyon Regional Park above Berkeley.

The key is to get your child a bicycle that fits them. If they’re under 3 years old, a lightweight, size-appropriate balance bike will do the trick. But if you’re helping your older child to learn, look for a bicycle that fits them, remove the pedals, and you have a balance bike that fits them.

We’ve taught even adults with trauma to learn to ride this way.

The key lesson that we learn from a balance bike is… balance. Without pedals, our body begins to realize and remember that leaning to each side tilts the bicycle in that direction. This is essential so we don’t “drive” our bicycle by steering the handlebars later on as it is the number two reason we crash.

What’s the number one reason we crash then, you ask? Here it is:

●      Don’t learn on a bicycle without working handbrakes

Many children’s bikes come with coaster brakes. Those are the brakes that work when the rider backpedals.

Our shop works with many cycling teams and mountain biking teams throughout the East Bay, and in many cases, having a coaster brake habit can be trouble. In some cases, bicycle chains can be dislodged when a cyclist back pedals and the cyclist then needs to know how to replace the chain. Our advice to parents: Don’t let your child develop a habit they must later kick.

There are many children’s bikes that come with handbrakes. Pick those. Don’t let your children convince you that handbrakes are too difficult. Our daughter began using handbrakes effectively as she gained speed on her balance bike at 18-months.

Before our daughter could fit on her current bike, we made the mistake of allowing her on a little plastic bike with no handbrakes. We learned from our mistake when she rode the bike down the front steps of our house and scraped her lips and nose. But no worries, she was back on her bike within three minutes, just not down the front steps.

●      But how light is light?

 As a good gauge, a bike should be light enough for your child to be able to pick up if he/she falls on it. The child should not feel helpless because they have to wait for you to run over and help them.

Teaching a child to ride a bike is about empowerment. We want them to experience the freedom and independence they get from being able to ride a bike, as well as from the learning process, which is relatively fast and they can see success quickly (pedaling on a bicycle), unlike other endeavors such as learning a language or sport.

●      So, what bike brands can you recommend?

 Our Family Bike Collective in Berkeley specializes in lightweight, size-appropriate bikes for children. Our aim is to get more children on bikes that fit them.

In store, we carry Woom bikes, Cleary bikes, Frog bikes and Islabikes. When customers come in, our job is to help the child find the bike that they feel most comfortable on, and in many cases, it’s like trying out shoes. We highly recommend that the child get on the bikes and ride rather than stand around and look at them. In most cases, children are quick to express which they prefer.


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Join our Family Biking Demo Day this Sunday: 

February 11th (Sunday)

9.30am - 12pm

King Middle School parking lot (1781 Rose St, Berkeley, CA 94703)

Every second Sunday of the month, we hold a Family Biking Demo Day where we help kids learn to ride. Since we started about three years ago, we’ve taught about 350 kids to ride in Oakland and Berkeley.

On average, about 15 to 20 children and their families show up, and almost all of them learn to ride within the session. Whether you have a toddler who may be ready for a balance bike, or you have a youth cyclist who would enjoy trying out some bikes, join us this Sunday morning!

We recommend that you bring some snacks and drinks for the children as learning to ride can be hard work. There is also a water fountain on site.

If you can’t make it for the class, we also help kids learn right outside our store. Come visit us at 1409 Martin Luther King Jr Way, Berkeley. We are open from 11am to 6pm, Tuesdays to Saturdays, or reach out to us at (510) 545-2203/ brian@familybikecollective.org

Nia House

Nia House Learning Center, 2234 9th St, Berkeley, CA, 94710, United States

A Montessori Toddler & Preschool Program serving Berkeley since 1974