Source: The Oregonian (Portland)
Author: Jacob Arnold
(Oregon) Learning to ride: Teaching an older child requires some different methods
PORTLAND - Teaching older kids to ride a bike can be a little different. (Have you ever taught an adult to drive? Yeah, like that except hopefully with fewer "Save me, Sweet Baby Jesus, Save Me" exclamations.) By middle school, they've discovered that they can fall down and be hurt and you won't always catch them. They can also pedal a lot faster even as beginners than you can run and are too heavy to catch as they fall. And training wheels or a balance bike in sixth grade is not the path to good self-esteem. Scott Lieuallen has helped develop some guidelines for the bike safety education classes put on by the Bicycle Transportation Alliance. The course for fourth- and fifth-grade kids in Portland schools focuses on safety and the law, but some kids haven't mastered basic riding. Lieuallen and his methods can generally get a kid started in a day's time. Initially, a youngster might be reluctant to stand over the bike. The kid won't know how to get started and won't know it takes some movement to effectively steer. And of course, there is the more concrete fear of falling than a 4-year-old's vague notion of the workings of gravity. The first step is talking to the child reassuringly before ever starting. Don't try to get her (or him) too pumped because too much encouragement can have the opposite of the intended effect, making it too big of a deal in a child's eyes. Instead, keep it casual. This is something fun. Learning will take some practice, but it is no big deal. Introduce her to the bike, in particular to the brakes. (This also holds true for adults in cars or more swearing will follow.) A bike seems pretty simple to you, but the strange and unsteady machine can intimidate a child. Show her around the bike and how it all works, letting her acclimate. Start off by lowering the seat so she can put her feet flat on the ground. This is not ideal ergonomics for riding, but for beginners, it builds confidence if they can feel steady on the ground. Have her sit on the bike and test the brakes a few times. Hand brakes are nice for beginners because by engaging the brakes, the rider can keep the bike steady while saddling up. Ideally, you want to start the child at the top of a slight incline. Have her push off with both feet and see how far she can coast before putting her feet down. Often it helps if you demonstrate first. Make it a game by marking with chalk or a stick how far the kid gets and try to beat it. Try this a few times with her letting her feet hang loose or stick out. Once she can do a decent distance, have her try it with feet resting on the pedals. Initially there will be a lot of sawing at the handlebars, twisting side to side to try to keep balance. However, this should settle down as the she gets the feel of what it means to balance a bike. Remind her to keep her eyes up, looking forward. The temptation is to look at your feet, particularly when trying to find the pedals, but that throws the balance off. Stand in front if you have to, keeping locked on her eyes. Now it's time to add in the steering. Pick a point off the straight line and have your student aim for it. It should require a slight turn, but nothing dramatic. Then add another point in the opposite direction, so the rider has to lean and turn one way and then lean and turn the other. As proficiency increases, move the points so they require sharper turns. It's OK if the rider puts her feet on the ground for balance or to get more rolling speed while moving from point to point. By now there should naturally be some pedaling, but if not, encourage trying to do a little pedaling while rolling. Finally, teach your student how to get the bike started. This takes the most balance, so you don't want to start with this until the balance has improved a little. Position one pedal so it's a little past the top of the turn and place a foot on it. Push off like with a scooter with the foot on the ground while the pedal foot pushes down. And you're off. This might seem obvious to you, but to a child, this is a new operation and needs explaining. Most imprint, remember this is fun, not life and death. (Like teaching an adult to drive your 1983 Firebird ... I mean car.) And if it's not fun, take a break.