Sunday, August 2, 2009

'Glide-to-ride' makes biking easy

Jack took a bicycle safety course last week, and it reminded me of the day(s) he first learned to ride without training wheels.

Then I thought about how that process consumed us -- it was all he thought about and, consequently, all we thought about for days and days and days. Thankfully, we employed a pretty foolproof method that I share with other parents every chance I get.

Here's a column I wrote about the "glide-to-ride" method, published in The Eagle in June 2007:
I'm thrilled to announce that the Tobias family is 2-for-2 in successful bicycle instruction, after my 6-year-old son learned to ride without training wheels last week. (Insert joyous applause, high-fives and relieved sighs here.)

I'd love to take credit, but I can't. The secret was something I call "The Glide-to-Ride Method," a strategy advocated by Bob and Ruth Holliday, owners of the Bicycle Pedaler in Wichita.

"Twenty-seven years in this business, and it's never failed," Ruth Holliday told me recently. "I've even used it on adults."

Not long ago, she said, a woman came into the store to buy a bike -- and some lessons. Her son wanted to go riding, but she had never learned how.

Holliday took the woman into the store parking lot, "and within two hours, she was riding," she said. "It was such a thrill for her."

Indeed, riding rocks. And it's possible to learn without scraped knees or frayed nerves, using the Hollidays' step-by-step method:

* First, make sure the child is ready. A clear sign? He asks you to take off his training wheels. Older brothers and sisters often act as catalysts.

* Think safety. Whenever he rides -- with or without training wheels -- a child should wear a helmet and shoes that won't slip off. Also, a beginner's bike should have a foot brake.

* After removing the training wheels, adjust the bicycle seat. The seat should be low enough that the child, while seated, can put his feet flat on the ground. If it's still too tall, consider buying or borrowing a smaller bike.

* Find an open, paved area with a very slight incline. A parking lot with a slight grade works best, but even a driveway on a cul-de-sac is OK. You don't need lots of room, but you'll want to avoid traffic and other distract ions.

* Have your child sit on the bike and dangle his feet on either side. Have him walk the bike, taking little steps, on a flat area. Eventually, encourage him to "leap" -- picking up both feet at once -- to get a sense of balancing longer distances.

* Take the child to the top of the incline and have him coast to the bottom. At this point, he still should not pedal. If he feels like he's about to fall, he should simply put his feet down to stop the bike. Repeat this step until he can glide down several times with his feet an inch or two above the ground.

* Next, have the child coast down the incline with his feet on the pedals (but not pedaling). Repeat until he feels secure.

* Finally, have the child pedal the bike once or twice on the way down, to get the feel for balancing and pedaling simultaneously. By that point, most usually take off riding.

The method takes more patience than courage, a fact that my cautious daughter appreciated a bit more than my daredevil son. But riding off by himself, Jack's final review echoed my own:

"This feels so easy!"