Kids are ready to ride a bike by the time they are 2 years. A 10” or 12” bike with stabilisers or a balance bike is ideal for this age.
By the time they are 3 or 4, most kids have learnt how to pedal and balance on a bike and are ready to move up to a bigger size.
If your child is 8 years and they still cannot ride a bike, there is definitely something holding them back. A typical 8 year old should be able to ride a 20” or 24” bike.
It’s not their fault
What to do if your 8 year old still can’t ride a bike? The most important thing to remember is that is not their fault. Do not treat them as if it is.
I know it’s easy to get a bit impatient with a child who refuses to get on a bike or cannot seem to learn how to balance.
But reprimanding them or excoriating their poor riding skills might actually be making the problem worse.
Make sure they know that it is not a big deal that they cannot yet ride a bike. Encourage them to take their time and not to compare themselves with their bike-riding friends.
This will build their confidence and make it easier for them to learn.
In the meantime, try to pinpoint what’s causing the delay and get to work finding a good solution.
Possible causes and Best solutions
1. Wrong bike
It’s not always a good idea to give your child their older sibling’s bike. It may be the wrong size, which would make riding uncomfortable and balancing difficult.
To check if the bike is the right fit measure their inseam (the inside part of the leg).
An 8 year old has an inseam between 22”and 25”. That corresponds to a 20” bike. If your child has longer legs, try a 24” bike.
If the current bike is too small or too big, buy a new one that is the correct size.
Then adjust the saddle and handlebars until they are completely comfortable riding the bike.
2. Lack of confidence
Riding a bike may feel easy and natural for you but it is terrifying for a kid who is doing it the first time.
Most kids quickly get over the fear and learn how to ride. But it’s normal for some children to get too afraid that they don’t even want to get on a bike.
The best solution is to build their confidence gradually.
Start by riding somewhere safe like the backyard or the park. You may have to hold the bike the first few tries.
Keep encouraging them even for tiny victories. When they lose balance or fall, do not reprimand them. That kills confidence.
Tell them they are doing great and to keep trying.
3. Poor training
If your kid has been riding a bike with training wheels all this time, that could be the problem.
Training wheels are good for teaching kids how to pedal and use the brakes, but they are a terrible way to teach balancing.
That’s why experts recommend balance bike for kids rather than a bike with stabilisers.
If you want them to learn quickly, remove the training wheels. This will force them to develop balance.
How to teach an 8 year old to ride a bike
Before you start, make sure they are comfortable on the bike. Adjust the saddle until their feet can easily reach the pedals with the knees slightly bent.
- Have them ride on a slight slope where they don’t need to pedal. Trying to pedal and balance at the same time is tricky. Their feet should rest on the pedals in the 3 and 9 position.
- Hold the rear of the bike as they go down the slope (remember to choose a very slight slope that is safe to ride on).
- As they pick up momentum, let go of the bike for a couple of seconds at a time.
- After a few tries, they should be able to go down the slope without your help though they may still struggle with braking and stopping. Make sure they have a helmet on; a few falls are inevitable.
- Alternatively, remove the pedals to transform the bike into a balance bike. Then ask them to scoot along with their feet until they get the hang of balancing.
- Once they have learnt some balancing (they don’t have to be perfect), ask them to pedal over short distances. A flat area is best for this. Make sure they make a lot of turns to practice cornering without losing balance.
- Have them practice every day until they are confident on the bike.
Once they have gained confidence, it’s easy to move to bigger challenges such as riding an MTB on a trail.