Olympic champion Sir Chris Hoy on the best ways to teach children to ride a bike
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There can't be many people who know more about riding bikes than the 11-times world champion and six-times Olympic gold medal-winning cyclist Sir Chris Hoy.
The champion is currently passing some of his invaluable cycling knowledge on to his own kids - his five-year-old son, Callum, has recently learned to ride a bike, and his two-year-old daughter, Chloe, is just starting to learn - at a much younger age than her famous dad did.
"I was six when I learned to ride a bike, which was relatively late compared to most of my friends," he says. "It wasn't until I watched the film E.T. and saw a BMX bike for the first time that I knew I wanted to give it a go...once I started riding I was hooked!
"I was so excited when we got Callum his first balance bike, but he didn't immediately share that excitement. Initially he took no interest in it so, fighting every urge I had, we left it in the corner of the room. Before long, he had a go and it wasn't long before I was struggling to keep up with him.
"Children will learn in their own time - the important thing to remember is it needs to be fun, they need to feel safe and comfortable and allow their confidence to grow. There's no stopping Callum now - he got his first pedal bike at four, and has been flying ever since! It's great fun being able to ride with him and see how much pleasure he gets from the freedom it brings.
"Chloe has started on her balance bike, and she loved it straight away - I think watching Callum on his bike whetted her appetite. Hopefully it won't be long before we can all go out together as a family - that will be a special moment. I love seeing how much pleasure it brings them scooting around on two wheels."
In fact, Hoy loved the pleasure bikes can bring so much that he created his own range of bikes, HOY Bikes (evanscycles.com/hoy-kids-bikes) for kids before he even became a dad. "I always felt there were so few decent bikes for children, most were way too heavy with poorly thought-out geometry and equipped with brakes and gears that were almost impossible for little hands to operate," he says. "We put a lot of work into the HOY kids bikes range, and it makes me so happy to see other kids out having fun on bikes that I helped design and create."
Here Hoy, 43, gives tips on how to help children learn to ride a bike:
1. Avoid stabilisers
The problem with stabilisers is as soon as you take them off the child has to re-learn how to balance and their confidence can take a hit. Without doubt the best option is a balance bike, it allows your little one to have complete control with their feet acting as the stabilisers. They start by simply walking, then striding, then eventually scooting. It's a natural process, and they do it at their own pace. It's important to keep it fun and let them lead you. You can always create a balance bike with a regular pedal bike by simply taking off the pedals and lowering the saddle to a height that the child's feet can reach the ground from. Once they've mastered scooting around, just pop the pedals back on and they're off!
2. Set the bike up properly
Fit is always the most important aspect when it comes to any bike. With kids' bikes fit is even more crucial because if a child's bike doesn't fit well, the experience could potentially put them off cycling. Lightweight bikes with child-friendly components will make learning an easier process for children. Set the saddle at a height where they can rest the balls of their feet on the ground. Making the transition from having their feet flat on the ground to the balls of their feet may feel daunting to them to begin with but will provide an optimum position for them once they begin pedalling and steering with more confidence.
3. Support your child
Rather than holding your child's saddle or handlebars, hold them underneath their armpits so you can gently lean them from one side to the other to show how steering and balance are related. This will give you more control over any potential crashes, while letting your child understand how the bike naturally moves underneath them.
4. Remember ... they're in control
Let your kids get to grips with where the brakes are and get used to squeezing them while you're guiding them. Make sure they know they need to put their feet down when coming to a halt. When they start off, make sure the front pedal is in a high position so they have plenty of power to get going.
5. Teach awareness
Make sure children keep their heads up and aren't looking down at their pedalling motion. It's also a good idea for when you integrate their rides into groups that they should be aware of their surroundings before grabbing their brakes suddenly.
6. Make sure their helmet is fitted properly
I can't emphasise enough how important this is. It's not enough to just have a helmet on, it needs to fit properly. A skid lid perched on the back on their head won't do its job in the event of a tumble. A local bike shop or a quick YouTube search will show you how to adjust the straps correctly.
7. Have fun!
As parents we can feel pressured into ensuring our children reach set milestones, and learning to ride a bike is one of them for many of us. Remember every child learns at their own rate and, to ensure a long-term love of cycling, it's important the process is a fun and enjoyable one - however long it takes. Yes, they'll fall off and suffer the odd scrape and bruise but that's what comes with independence and the freedom riding a bike brings. Enjoy the experience - the memories will stay with them - and you - forever.