Posted on Sun 20 September 2015

the no-falls bike riding method

My older son has balance and coordination issues. At the beginning of summer, we bought him a bicycle – and one for his brother, and one for his mother, and we were going to fix up mine. Were. Probably still will, at some point with just a few days of good riding left in the year.

This summer was, frequently, too hot to be outside. Many of the other days I spent at work. Nevertheless, we got in a few days of riding practice, and I hit upon a method which seems to work well.

He fears falling down and getting hurt. Reasonable. So we lowered the seat on the bicycle all the way down. He practiced getting on the bike, and scooting his way along with his feet.

Turns out that bicycles are difficult interfaces. Among the things you need to do - simultaneously:

  • steer by pushing or pulling the handlebars
  • keep yourself upright by pushing against the handlebars
  • get your feet up on the pedals
  • have enough speed to maintain stability
  • balance left and right
  • watch where you are going
  • avoid obstacles and traffic
  • adapt to changing road conditions
  • obey traffic regulations
  • apply brakes as necessary

…that leaves out actually navigating to where you might want to go.

It is vitally important that you not overload the new rider with all of these distractions, even though all of them will be absolutely necessary.

So he scoots, and he scoots. Up and down the driveway. Then I get him to glide, just a bit - feet up for a meter. Sometimes two meters.

Do not do this all at once. Make progress. Review lessons before you start again. Take many days. Stop when either one of you is tired.

Above all else: do not fall. Nothing kills the desire to learn like pain; nothing inspires like partial success. When we started, he wore knee pads, elbow pads and a rigid wrist-brace/glove. After a few days of not falling, we dropped the knee pads. Then the elbow pads. Then the braces. We will add back in thin riding gloves and a helmet soon.

Back and forth. Individual elements, one at a time, building on the last: steering for balance is the most important. No, stopping safely is the most important. Build the trust that you can always put your feet down and not fall off.

Braking - rear first, then gentle squeezes of the front. Brakes are analog, not digital. This is not intuitive to a kid raised on video games.

Getting the first foot up on the pedals is easy. Getting it back down to the ground safely needs to be tried several times. I held the bike steady and upright while he did that.

Practice, practice, practice. Stop when you get tired.

Find a flattish practice area without traffic. The cul de sac across the main road turned out to be the right choice for us. After innumerable attempts at pedaling, followed by one stroke, followed by two strokes and stop-in-a-panic - he took off

and did not stop

just went around the bend

and shouted his glee.

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