Benefits of Bicycling
There's a special bond between kids and bikes that can never be broken. Riding a bike is a rite of passage, a passport to worlds beyond the front lawn. Bikes represent fun, freedom, and fresh air -- everything that's good about being a kid. Moreover, biking is a healthy pastime that kids will never outgrow. Here are some of the other benefits of cycling:
• Developing strength, balance, and overall fitness
• Burning up calories
• Strengthening the heart, lungs, and lower-body muscles and bones
• Developing and strengthening the muscles surrounding the knees without impact
But biking boasts other benefits as well. Children of all shapes, sizes, and abilities can ride a bike. Most important, bicycling is a healthy outdoor activity that the entire family can enjoy together.
Stages of Bicycling
Just as babies must learn to crawl before they can walk, your tyke will first pedal a tricycle before graduating to the world of two-wheeling. Here's what experts at the National Center for Bicycling and Walking say to expect along the way:
Tricycles (ages 2 to 5): Plastic three-wheelers, such as Big Wheels, and traditional trikes are perfect for preschoolers who are testing their newfound motor skills. Tricycles should be ridden only on a playground or within a fenced yard, not in a driveway or street. Toddlers can also get a feel for biking by riding with parents on a bicycle-mounted seat or by being towed behind an adult bicycle in a cushioned bike trailer. The important thing to remember is that toddlers, like all riders, should always wear a size-appropriate helmet when biking.
Training wheels (ages 5 to 6): The training-wheels phase may last a couple of months or a couple of years, depending on the rate at which a child's coordination and strength develop. Parents can gradually elevate training wheels to help build their child's confidence. Eventually, when a child shows a mastery of balance on the bike, the training wheels can be removed.
Single-speed bikes (ages 6 to 9): A child's first two-wheeler should be a one-speed with foot brakes. He won't be ready for hand brakes and gears until age 9 or 10, when his hands are larger and stronger. Also, kids aren't ready for street riding until sometime between ages 8 and 10. Until then, they should ride in a driveway or along park paths with an adult.
Multispeed bikes (ages 9 and up): Once your child is ready for a larger bike with gears and hand brakes, he can start riding on quiet streets, where you can teach him safe-riding skills. If your child wants to ride to school, and you feel that he's ready, help him plot a route that avoids busy streets and crowded intersections.