Clancy Briggs five tips for teaching children to cycle

"Riding a bike is a lifelong skill. Once it's learnt at an early age, even if you don't actively do it for years, it's a skill that never goes away", says triple gold Olympian, Ed Clancy.

Ed Clancy at a Clancy Briggs Cycling Academy session

Cycling is great for boosting confidence and developing independence, as well as being a fun way to get active, especially during social distancing when other activities for children are limited.

Clancy Briggs Cycling Academy, founded by pro cyclists Ed Clancy and Graham Briggs, aims to teach children of all ages to learn to ride bikes and become more confident and competent.

"The best place to learn is in a park as the ground is softer", explains Clancy Briggs coach, Ali Slater. "Find somewhere with short grass so there isn't too much resistance to get up speed. A tarmac area like a playground is a good, car-free place to practise, rather than on a pavement near a road." 

Start with balancing

Take the pedals off and get children gliding. Pushing with their feet and lifting them up to building up speed. Focus on getting children to glide and balance in a straight line.

You may have to support the rider under the saddle if they are having trouble with balance, so they get a feel for how to position their legs and body. 

Coach, Ali Slater, recommends getting children onto a balance bike as soon as you can. The younger children start scooting and gliding on a balance bike, the easier it is for them to progress to pedals.

Ed Clancy teaches gliding and balancing

Tailor their brake to their hands

"Kids use their feet too much to brake. This is a really bad habit and it's unsafe, especially when they start going faster", explains Ed Clancy. "Kids use their feet to stop because they can't get their little paws round the levers to brake confidently."

Just because it's a kids bike doesn't mean the brakes are right for their hands. Check the reach of the levers and adjust the lever position using Allen keys up to help children reach the full lever. Oil the brake cables to ensure they pull without too much resistance. You can also adjust the lever tension to move the lever in, closer to the grips.

Pedals at the 10 o'clock position

When children are confident at gliding along, put the pedals back on their bikes. Put the starting pedal in the 10 o'clock position, and get children to remember that's where their pedal should be to start off. 

"This will ensure they have power instantly, and makes balancing easier. When they are on their own they will move the pedal into position each time and are much more likely to be successful at starting", explains Ed Clancy.

Ed Clancy leading children through a skills drill

The need for speed

Children often struggle with pushing on the pedals and getting up to speed. This is partly due to confidence and partly due to learning new motor skills. Speed is key for better balance.

Hold under the saddle to support them when they first ride with pedals. Never hold their handlebars

Ali Slater's top tip is to "get them to focus on pedalling. Remind them to push on the pedals and make a full pedal stroke. Praise good pedalling, and give feedback about them pushing onto the pedals." 

When you can feel them balancing on their own and steering, start to release your grip from under the saddle. "Whatever you do, don't tell children you are letting go. Run next to them whilst they get more confident." 

Set an example  

"Every child is different and they all learn at different rates", explains Ali Slater. "Usually after a couple of hours, kids can learn to cycle. Older children do find it harder to learn to cycle but they are more competent so they will listen to your instructions."

Ed Clancy advocates setting an example to help children learn. They gain confidence when they see their friends or adults cycling. "Show them what to do on your own bike. Explain what they are going to do using your own bike."

Get the equipment right

The essentials

Condor and Clancy Briggs recommend children wear a helmet to protect their heads. It should be level, with a gap of about an inch or two fingers between the eyebrow and the helmet. Make sure the straps are adjusted to fit around their face.

Weather permitting and depending on the surface you are learning on, it is a good idea to wear long sleeves to protect elbows if they fall on tarmac. A light pair of mitts or even just woolly gloves will protect hands.

Learn more about Clancy Briggs Cycling Academy

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