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Learning How to Ride a Bicycle

Have an experienced cycling friend or bike shop person help you with the following:
Make sure the bicycle is the right size for you.  You should be able to straddle the top tube and have at least two inches of clearance between your crotch and the top tube.

Lower the saddle so you can sit on it and put your feet flat on the ground.

Shift the bike into a medium gear by moving the left-hand shifter so that the chain is on the smaller or middle chain-ring on the front crank.  (Use the smaller ring if your bike has two chain-rings up front; use the middle ring if it has three.)  Shift the right-hand shifter so that the chain is in one of the middle cogs in the cluster on the rear hub.

Remove the pedals.

Go to a long driveway or an empty parking lot.

Sit on the saddle and squeeze the brakes to keep yourself from rolling until you're ready.  Release the brakes and slowly move yourself forward by pushing yourself along with your feet on the pavement.  Practice using the brakes so that you get a feel for how much pressure to apply and how well they respond.

Once you’re comfortable with the brakes, push yourself along faster so that you get a feel for how the bicycle handles.  A bicycle actually stays upright because you steer toward whichever direction the bike leans in order to keep yourself from falling over.  If the bike leans to the right, you steer right to bring it back up underneath you.  As you go faster, you can pick up your feet more and more to improve your steering and balance.

Practice steering the bike to the left and right.

When you feel comfortable with the braking, steering and balance, put the pedals back on the bike.  Get yourself moving with your feet as before, but quickly put them on the pedals and start pedaling.

Once you’re comfortable with pedaling, you’re ready to learn how to mount and start the bike properly.  Straddle the bike but do not sit on the saddle.  Squeeze the brakes.  Pull one of the pedals up so that it is in the 10-o’clock position when viewed from the left side, (whichever pedal feels most comfortable for you) and put your foot on that pedal.  Release the brakes while you stand up on that pedal.  This will naturally push you up onto the saddle as you start rolling.  Put your other foot on the other pedal and start pedaling.

Finally, have your helper raise your saddle to the correct height.  You can do this gradually if you’re not comfortable raising it to its full proper height all at once.

 

 

 

 

How to TEACH someone to ride a bicycle

First, get a bike that fits the student.  One with low step-over height is ideal.  Grip ("twist") shifters are good for learning to shift, which happens late in the process.  A fairly upright riding position is best -- the more leaned-forward they are, the harder it will be to learn balancing and gliding. 

Find a large parking lot or schoolyard with a gentle slope, such that if you walk the bike up to speed and then glide with your legs off the ground, the bike will continue rolling but not pick up much speed.  This is essential -- it's much harder to teach on a level surface.

Bring your tools.  Take both pedals off the bike with a pedal wrench.

Lower the seat so the learner can put both feet flat on the ground, but no lower than that.  For some people you may need to remove a seatpost-mounted rear reflector in order to get the seat low enough.

Adjust both brake levers so they can reach and modulate the brakes successfully, especially if they have small hands.

If needed, loosen the stem bolt and rotate the handlebars toward the learner to create a more upright riding position so they don't have to bend over and place much weight on the bars.  Of course, if you do this, rotate the brake lever and shifter assemblies to compensate.

If they're wearing long pants, put cuff bands or clips on both legs.

Show them how to gently brake the bike with the right hand (rear brake) so they don't stop it abruptly.  Do this with them walking beside you as you walk the bike at the speed they will be gliding, so they can experience the brake action without fear of falling.

Have them get on the bike, holding one brake to keep the bike from wobbling as they mount it.  Have them walk the bike up to a mild trot, with their head up and eyes forward (not looking at the bike), then lift both feet and glide.  Initially, these glides will be very short -- watch closely and congratulate them on every incremental improvement; your cheering will help them lose their fear of falling and begin to enjoy the sensation of rolling free.  It will also help them sustain their confidence long enough to "get it", which can take over an hour for some students.  Have them take longer and longer steps as they get the hang of balancing.  Tell them to surrender their weight down through their torso and back onto the saddle and into the wheels, and sit up fairly straight (but not keep their arms straight or tense).  Walk or run down to where they stop, and walk the bike back up the grade for them, so they can conserve their energy.

Coach them on this "gliding" process as long as they need to "get" balancing.  When they do, they'll lose the stiffness and will glide easily down most of the length of the practice area.  Don't move on to the next step until they can glide with ease and stop gently and precisely.  Some students will get it rapidly, especially if they have an athletic background that includes balance (e.g. dance, snowboarding, skiing).  Others may take over an hour especially if they're initially fearful.

Re-install one pedal.  Have them glide just like before, but this time with one foot solidly on this "down" pedal with the ball of the foot properly over the pedal axle, using the other leg to push off and get the bike up to speed.  Only do this step long enough for them to get as good as they were with both legs out.

Get on the bike and ensure that it is in a low enough gear that they can start pedaling successfully.  This may be a lower gear than you would choose, especially if they have never experienced pedaling. (If you can, urge the student to try an upright exercise bike at the gym before the lesson, to get the hang of keeping both legs energized and both feet on the pedals as they turn.)

Off the bike, show them how to lift their "second foot" up, over, and down onto the "second pedal" as it rotates into place.  If there is a picnic table nearby, the height of the seat plank is ideal for practicing as follows: lift foot off ground adjacent to plank, up above seat plank height, shift the raised foot inward over the seat plank, and solidly down onto the plank.  Over and over.  Quickly!

Put them back on the bike and have them continue doing the "one foot on the pedal glide-start", but tell them that as soon as they have the glide going smoothly, lift the second foot onto the pedal and start pedaling with both feet.  This is easier than teaching a standard start.

Once they have this interim "glide start into pedaling" technique working, teach them the standard start, demonstrating how you throw your torso forward briefly to assist the starting leg.  Show them how to rotate the starting pedal up into the "10 o'clock" position using the top of their shoe.  Don't let them do sloppy starts.

Next, work on turns in big lazy loops, first one way then the other. For some students, one turning direction will be harder than the other.  Tell them to "lead with their eyes", i.e. look the way they want to turn, and have the bike follow their gaze.

When they can turn at will in both directions, introduce figure-8's -- again, big wide ones.  However, demo how it's possible to do very small figure 8's with good slow-speed control, and tell them to practice on their own with that goal.

Somewhere around this point, show them how to shift.  Use just the rear shifter, one click up or down until they get the feel of it.

Close with "start-stop drills": show them how to stop precisely with the pedals in the starting position so there's no fumbling when they need to get going again.  Demo this over and over, using the parking stall markings as guidelines for where to stop.