For many people, it is the time of the year to put the bikes away. I live in Louisiana, so now is the time to get the bikes out (too hot in the summer). Learning to ride a bike is a curious thing. Most parents use training wheels to get kids started. I do not think this is the best strategy. In this post, I will focus on teaching bike riding skillz. If you are looking for the physics of bike riding, there are some good links:
David Jones – “The stability of the bicycle” (pdf)This is a great article. The key aspect is that this guy modified a bike in unique ways to see if it was still “rideable”. For instance, some claim that it is the angular momentum of the wheels that keeps you up. To test this, he made counter rotating wheels to produce zero angular momentum. This article is old, but still awesome.
J. Fajans – “Steering in bicycles and motorcycles” (pdf) Another good article. This one has much more detail on the stability of 2 wheeled vehicles. Where as the first article included a large experimental component, this one is more theoretical.
Both of these were found at Fajan’s site – Physics and Bicycling. So, for the physics, here are the key points:
- Is a bike stable due to angular momentum of the wheels? No.
- Does the bike have inherent stability properties? Yes. If you let go of a standing bike, it will fall quickly. If you push it and let go, it will take much longer to fall.
- The most important aspect of bike stability is a positive trail. The trail is the distance between the axis of the front wheel and the axis of rotation for the steering fork.
- Can you turn a bike by JUST turning the handlebars? No. If you try this, you will fall.
Now on the bike instruction school.
When one of my kids had trouble getting the hang of the bike thing, I decided to take action. There were a couple of problems. First the bike is the right size for someone that already knows how to ride a bike. Apparently, it is easiest to learn on a bike that is way too small (but then it is not good to ride after you learn). The second problem (as I already mentioned) is that training wheels don’t help a child to learn to steer the bike. The only thing the training wheels really do is to help kids learn how to pedal (but a tricycle can also do this). So, to help him out, I modified (temporarily) his bike in the following way:
Notice the two modifications:
- Removed the pedals
- Removed the seat and put some carpet padding there (effectively making the bike shorter)
This will help with the primary problem of learning to riding a bike. When you are on a bike and it starts to fall over to the left, what do you do? (if you are not sure, try this on a slow moving bike). To not fall over, you TURN LEFT (into the fall). This is why bikes are difficult to learn to ride for kids (and why training wheels are essentially stupid). Here are the steps to learning. Using these, two of my kids were riding fine in less than a week.
- Remove the training wheels.
- Remove the pedals. Just the pedals, not the crank shaft. This is usually fairly easy to do. Removing the pedals allows the child to put his/her feet on the ground and push or “walk”.
- If the child can sit on the seat and fully put both feet on the ground, skip this step. Otherwise, remove the seat and put some type of pad over the post. It is important that the child sit on the bike and be able lift both feet up but also firmly place both feet on the ground. Ideally, if the bike is too big find a smaller bike.
- Get the child to walk around on the bike until they start to get the feel for it. Encourage them to push with both feet at the same time instead of walking. This will make them have both feet off the ground at the same time. Have them play a game where they can see how long they can keep their feet off the ground. It is very useful to do this on a very slight downward slope.
- Work on step 4 every day for about a week. Once the child can hold both feet off the ground for around 5 seconds, he/she should be ready for the next step.
- Put the pedals and seat back on. When the child is on the bike, support the child from either one or both underarms. This way you can prevent the child from falling, but the child still has the ability to steer and lean as needed. If the child is doing really well, you can just place your hand on the child’s shoulder. This is a great position to support the child because you can easily feel how much they need your help. You don’t need to lie and say you are aren’t going to let go, the child might feel comfortable enough to tell you to let go.
- When the child is going by him/herself, there are a couple of skills to work on. First is stopping. One strategy for this is to just ride into the grass. The other skills needed are turning around and starting from a stop.
Good luck and good riding. Oh, and wear a helmet. Oh, and don’t do drugs. Also, Here is a great site by Sheldon Brown that talks alot about teaching kids to ride a bike