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by Michael Kirwan

Related: bike, workshop, kids, safety, pedals, balance, bicycle,

Remember learning how to ride a bicycle, a parent running anxiously alongside in a futile effort to avoid spills? Bike New York, an organization dedicated to bicycle promotion and safety, has a different approach, one that lets kids ages 5 and up feel their way to riding.

   In Bike New York’s workshops, the first step is to remove the pedals from the bike. In the absence of pedals, children learn to balance by pushing themselves with their feet and catching themselves should they lose their balance.

   Emilia Crotty, Bike New York’s bicycle education program manager, is a strong proponent of the balance-first technique. “Balancing-first puts the power in the kid’s hands,” she says.

   For this method to work, the rider must be using the correct size bike, meaning she can rest her feet flat on the ground while sitting on the bike seat. Seats can be easily adjusted into place.

   Once the child is comfortable gliding without pedals, the pedals can be reintroduced with the twist of a wrench. Then it’s time to hop on and ride. If your child doesn’t succeed right away, stay calm and keep encouraging her, and soon enough, she’ll be on her  way!
Safety First
   The first concern when your child is learning to ride a bike is safety. Make sure the bicycle is in good working condition, the helmet fits properly, and the location is clear of any vehicular traffic.

   Wearing a helmet when riding a bike is a no-brainer. Excuses related to discomfort, lack of style, and the dreaded helmet-hair have been rendered passé. Today’s bike helmets embrace style and comfort in a way that older models did not. Adults who send children off to ride without the protection of a helmet increase the chance of a severe or fatal injury, and in the case of riders under 14 years of age are breaking New York State law.

   When strapping a helmet onto your youngster it is important to make sure the helmet fits properly (stays snug to the head) and is strapped tightly, but not uncomfortably, under the chin.  

   For many children, hopping on a bike is an important step in the assertion of their independence. While parents might worry, be forewarned: it is easier than the teenage driving lessons that lie in the future.

Bike New York will be holding free learn-to-ride workshops in parks throughout the city all summer long. Consult www.bikenewyork.org for an updated schedule.

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