“Michael can ride a bike?”
Riding back from the bakery. There he was, pedaling his bike, like any other kid, except that his smile was much bigger.
“How’d you do it?” asked my sister. “What happened?”
Even though it seemed like the impossible, Michael actually got the hang of it pretty quickly once I figured out how to teach him. It was the summer before second grade and he’d longingly watched his friends and the neighborhood kids as they’d speed past him on their new bikes, showing off their newly acquired talent.
Riding a bike for Michael would be especially difficult being that it requires so many skills that don’t come naturally to SPD kids. I knew pedaling itself was hard for Michael because I’d bought him a tricycle when was one year old and he had never figured out (in all 5 years!)how to make the pedals work. Just like throwing a ball or carrying a suitcase is difficult because SPD kids don’t generally know how much strength and effort to put in, pedaling for Michael was the same problem.
Balancing on a bike would be another major hurdle being that Michael was kind of a walking accident waiting to happen. Bumping, tripping, and knocking things over, the poor child had obvious proprioceptive and vestibular dysfunction.
Add to all this, the steering. How could he learn to steer straight, or to turn around gracefully, if he couldn’t do it on foot?
Learning to ride a bike is hard enough for the typical child. Teaching Michael to pedal, balance, and steer simultaneously seemed to me like climbing Mount Everest. Every skill he needed to use for riding was not his strong point.
I knew there was no magic button and so I decided that the only way would be for him to conquer one skill at a time.
Michael and I went out early Sunday morning when the rest of the neighborhood was still waking up. He hates when people stare at him, it makes him anxious. We brought along pliers and the first thing I did was remove the training wheels. He got on the bike and practically gave up at the first instant. I really shocked him next when I also removed the pedals.
Michael sat down again on the bike with his feet dangling on the ground. I did what anybody would do to teach a beginner (with the pedals on): standing beside him, holding one hand on the handlebar and one on the seat, rolling the bike, and walking a bit alongside. Then I told him I’m letting go, and he continued to roll a bit further on his own. The wisdom of this system was that he didn’t have to worry about pedaling at all, and since his feet were near the ground, he’d catch himself before falling- thus learning balance.
After some time, he’d roll himself with his own feet, and sometimes I’d help him by giving the bike a gentle push. At this point I no longer had to stand alongside the bike or hold the handlebar or his seat. Eventually I’d give him a harder starting push and he’d be whizzing away on his own- feet out, ready to catch himself. Balance accomplished! It was amazing!
With all that balance practice, he had also learned to steer a bit. We did have to constantly remind him to look straight out and not down at the ground in front of him- and when he did it helped both his balance and steering. If he had to learn pedaling at the same time, he’d be looking at his feet to make sure they were on the pedals and to concentrate on them pedaling in turn. Without the pedals, he mastered these first skills easily.
After about a week of practice, I replaced the pedals (not the training wheels ) and we worked on the next big step. I stood behind the bike as he got his feet on the pedals and his feet ready to pedal. To make it easier for him, I showed him how to make the right pedal higher than the left one, so that his right foot (he’s a rightie) would easily push down on the right pedal as soon as he was ready to start pedaling.
Just as we had practiced without the pedals, I gave him a push from behind and as he started to roll, he was able to continue on his own by pedaling. It took practice to get the pedaling consistent and perfect, as well as many reminders to look straight ahead and not down at his feet. Eventually he was able to start up on his own without my pushing him, steer better, and brake correctly.
Michael has a younger (non-SPD) brother who also wanted to learn to ride a bike. I figured, if it worked for Michael, it should work for him too. In a short time, we had another bike rider.
Good luck teaching bike riding and have fun riding together!