Learning To Ride a Bike

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By Stacy Whitman

After three straight days of rain, my 1-year-old son, Whit, and I were going stir-crazy. We’d read every book, sung every song and played with every toy (including—eek!— Daddy’s BlackBerry).

We were both cranky from being cooped up. So when the sun finally came out, I strapped Whit into his bike trailer and took him for a ride. As we whizzed past a wagging puppy and waved to our neighbor, Lucy, I heard Whit’s goofy giggle for the first time in hours. Whether your little one is your passenger or learning to ride solo, two-wheeling can be a great way for the two of you to get outdoors and have fun together, says Garry Gardner, M.D., a pediatrician in Darien, Ill.

Even if you are the only one breaking a sweat, your child will learn the importance of physical activity by watching you. Plus, it will be an opportunity for him to see new things and learn about the world—far more than he would if he were parked in front of the boob tube.

As soon as your child can sit unsupported and has enough neck strength to wear a toddler helmet (usually by 12 months of age), he should be ready to come along for the ride. Before setting out, doublecheck that your child carrier is securely attached and your bike is working properly, advises Gardner, an immediate past member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Injury, Violence and Poison Protection. Also, be sure to take some practice spins before placing your wee one on board.

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While some kids may be content sitting for an hour or more, others won’t last much longer than 20 to 30 minutes, Gardner warns. So plan on taking short rides at fi rst and see how your toddler fares.

To help keep him entertained, choose a route that offers lots of interesting sights and sounds, suggests Nicky Elsbree, who rides with her 2-year-old son, Clayton, several times a week during the summer. But avoid motor traffic. Head to a park, bike path or quiet country road. If you’re using a bike trailer, Elsbree also recommends packing some toys, drinks and snacks.

If you’re using a mounted child seat, however, your toddler shouldn’t be allowed to carry anything, because a dropped object could get caught in the spokes, potentially causing a crash. If your little one gets antsy, you can always stop and take a break, Elsbree notes.

By your child’s third or fourth birthday, she should be ready—and anxious—to try pedaling herself, says Andrew Gregory, M.D., an assistant professor of orthopedics and pediatrics at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. If your toddler is under age 2, start with a push or scooter trike, a pedal-less tricycle that you can push or she can “walk” forward with her feet.

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Otherwise, get a classic tricycle, which will help teach her how to pedal and steer. Once your child has mastered her trike, she can progress to a run bike or a bike with training wheels. Since there are bound to be some spills, the best place for her to practice is a grassy fi eld with a gentle downhill.

Have her coast down the hill with her feet lifted to develop her balance fi rst. Once she gets the hang of it, she can work on pedaling and steering on a fl at surface—a grassy lawn or a deserted basketball court, parking lot or cul-desac. Whether your toddler is on a trike or bike, beware of letting her ride in your driveway. “It’s perceived as a safe place, but it actually can be extremely dangerous,” Gardner says.

First, it can be hard to see a small child when you’re backing out of the garage. Second, if your driveway is on a slope, your toddler could turn into a downhill racer and careen right into the street. Accidents can happen, no matter how careful you are.

That’s why your little one must always wear a helmet, whether she’s riding with you or has her own wheels. (In some states, it’s the law!) Look for a toddler-size helmet that meets Snell or ANSI safety standards. To be effective, it must fit snugly and cover her forehead. And while no one loves helmet hair, you should set a good example by wearing one, too.

To see our favorite bike gear and where to buy it, go to the next page…

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» Bike trailer-stroller combos
Bike trailers that convert to jogging strollers are all the rage among active families seeking versatility. True, you’ll have to fork out for both the trailer and a jogger conversion kit, which can add up. But you’ll only have one instruction manual to decipher and less gear to clutter your garage. Our fave: Chariot Cabriolet

» Center-mounted seats
Unlike rear-mounted seats, these child carriers—which attach between your handlebars and seat post— allow for better balance, especially on mounts and dismounts. Plus, you can see and interact with your little one more easily. One drawback: If your knees don’t clear the carrier, it could make for a wobbly or an uncomfortable ride. Our faves: WeeRide Classic Centre Carrier

» Scooter trikes
These simple tricycles are a perfect starting point for 1- and 2-year-olds who aren’t quite ready to pedal. Our fave: Radio Flyer Scoot About

» Push bikes
Pedal-free run bikes are helpful for teaching older toddlers the balance and steering necessary for riding a “big kid” bike. Our fave: Kettler Sprint Training Bike

Based in Sun Valley, Idaho, writer Stacy Whitman still remembers her fi rst “big kid” bike—with a purple banana seat, streamers and a bell.

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN TODDLER MAGAZINE, FALL ‘07

Whether your little one is a passenger or learning to ride solo, biking can be a great way to have fun together.

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