Can We Please Stop Terrorizing Novice Bike Riders?

Novice bike riders get nervous.

Let’s say you know how to do something, and you are trying to persuade someone else to do it, too. What is the ideal way to promote their attempts to try it?

A: “The best way to approach this is …”


I witness exchanges like this regularly, especially with children who are “graduating” to hand brakes from coaster (foot) brakes:

“Now honey, don’t forget, if you only use the left brake you’ll go flying over the handlebars!”

“I broke my [bone, tooth, arm, nose] when I used the brakes too hard!”

“Don’t go too fast or you’ll crash!”

Your experience is your own learned experience, which then allows you to inform others of mistakes you’ve made. But – what if they would never make that mistake? What if, by reinforcing the mistakes you made as a novice bike rider, you are actually SETTING THEM UP TO MAKE THEM, TOO.

I have watched kids who have never been on a bike before swing their leg over the saddle like they’ve been doing it for years. Intuitively, instinctively, they know how to get on a bike. They know that pedals make the bike go. Allow kids a chance to grow and learn on their own; with gentle guidance, they will figure it out.

Teach a Kid How to Ride a Bike, Not How to be Afraid of One

It has been proven again and again that experiential education is the best way to learn something – if you teach someone else, you will retain that knowledge far longer than if you just sat and listened to someone tell you how to do it.

So, teach novice bike riders the truth: The front brake (generally the left-hand brake on North American bicycles) is the most effective way to stop the forward momentum, and should be used IN COMBINATION with the rear brake for safety. Demonstrate it to them, and then have them teach it back to you.

No need to mention pitching over the handlebars. No need to go into the gory details of your youthful crashes. As soon as you mention NOT doing something to someone, especially a kid, it’s ALL they can think about doing.

As a kid, I rode on the back of Mrs. Majette’s bike in our neighborhood in Wilson, North Carolina. One day, after a few months of doing this, she paused to tell me, “Now, make sure you don’t stick your foot in the back wheel!” Oh, I wondered, what will that do? I stuck my foot in the wheel, we toppled over, and I have a small scar under my chin from stitches I needed to close the cut. Had she said, “Now, make sure you keep your feet up!” or “It’s more fun to ride with your feet up!”, the outcome might have been different.

Mrs. Majette, I’m sorry we toppled over on that bike ride. I know better now. And I know better now how to teach novice bike riders to approach riding a bike, too.

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