How To Bike With Kids

Learn to ride together with a step-by-step guide to unlocking one of the hallmarks of childhood—and great joys of parenthood.

Is there anything more iconic than a kid riding a bike through his or her neighborhood? The early freedom to ride is one of the hallmarks of childhood, right up there with playing Little League or having that first backyard campout. The same could be said for a parent teaching his or her kid to ride a bike. It’s exciting and difficult and scary and then, suddenly, all that effort pays off: Your child is pedaling (or scooting if they’re toddlers) down the sidewalk or driveway on their own. And then getting to ride bikes with your kids, whether you’re spinning around the cul-de-sac or careening through a forest trail, is one of the true joys of parenthood—right up there with introducing your kids to The Goonies, or telling them about how difficult life was before cell phones. Here’s a step-by-step guide to riding bikes with your children, whether they’re just barely toddling through life or full-fledged big kids, from neighborhood play sessions to extended adventure rides in the wild. 

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • Safety tips
  • Where to ride with kids 
  • Key gear you’ll need
  • Tips to make riding more fun for kids

Safety First…and Third

Depending on how old you are, you might not have worn a helmet when you rode bikes as a kid. Fortunately, we’re smarter now, so every time your kid is on a bike, she should be wearing a helmet. Always. Even if she’s just spinning around the backyard. Gloves are another smart safety addition. They’ll make riding more comfortable and when she falls (it’s inevitable), the gloves can help cushion the blow and limit damage to the hands. 

If you don’t have a driveway, empty parking lots are a great place for kids to learn the nuances of biking. The open space and flat terrain are ideal for learning pedaling, braking and handling skills. From there, move on to sidewalks or car-free greenways and teach your kids proper biking etiquette, like passing on the left and announcing to a pedestrian that you’re going to pass them. Adding a bell to the handlebars is a fun way for kids to let the world around them know they’re on the move. 

It’s never too early to teach kids about car safety. Younger kids can ride on sidewalks and should stop at all street corners, but eventually, your kid will have to move into the street with traffic. Teach them early about riding on the right-hand side of the road, using hand signals to turn, and watching for incoming traffic at intersections. 

And don’t forget the blinking tail light, which helps drivers see bikers, whether they’re on the road or sidewalk.  

The Gear Your Kid Will Need

Obviously, the bike is the main purchase here. If you have a toddler that you want to get started in the two-wheeled life, balance bikes help teach younger kids the fundamentals of balance and handling without introducing pedals into the situation (they scoot the bike with their feet). Typically, kids who start on balance bikes are able to make the transition to their first pedal bike without the need of training wheels. 

A tag-a-long, which looks like the rear end of a tandem bicycle that attaches to your seatpost, is a great addition if you want to get your kid used to riding on streets, or would like to take them on longer rides. They can pedal as much as they want, but aren’t reliant on their own power to get them up the hills. 

Most kids bikes (12” wheels to 20” wheels) are mountain bikes with a short-travel suspension fork in the front. They’re heavy, but they can typically take a beating and can handle any terrain your kid is likely to encounter. That front shock offers just enough cushion to soften the blow of hopping curbs and small jumps. You can spend several hundred dollars on your kid’s bike, but remember that you’re just going to have to buy another one after the next growth spurt. 

If your kids are interested in trying bigger rides but don’t have the leg strength to muscle up long climbs, you can also find bungee-like tow straps that connect your seat to your kid’s stem. They still need to pedal, but you can provide the muscle and take the sting out of long climbs.  

A family on bikes

Riding Tips 

Pick a destination

Eventually, your kids will learn to love riding bikes simply for the sake of riding bikes, but sometimes a little external motivation is needed. It can be a neighborhood park, an ice cream shop, or a waterfall at the end of an easy trail, but having a concrete destination in mind gives kids a goal to work toward and sets parameters for the ride. Even riding bikes to and from a store or library can turn a regular errand into an adventure. Just remember to keep the destinations reasonable. Believe it or not, your 6-year-old does not want to ride 100 miles to get a latte. 

But riding in circles is OK too

Riding to the other side of town for an ice cream is awesome, but so is riding in circles on your driveway, or in a cul-de-sac. Pedaling aimlessly and going nowhere is one of the best ways to fall in love with biking. Make it fun by introducing little challenges, like riding over curbs or seeing how far you can pedal without touching the handlebars. When your kid gets older, it’s time to start building jumps out of bricks and scrap wood. Nothing will get your kid psyched to ride her bike like catching that first bit of air. 

Take breaks

A bike ride with your child isn’t a suffer-fest and it’s not a chance to beef up your Strava stats. It’s OK to get sidetracked on your bike ride. Your kid sees a cool fountain or pond he wants to check out? Do it. Your daughter wants to spend 30 minutes riding up and down the same grassy hill at the park? Encourage it. The more fun she has on the bike, the more often she’ll want to get on that bike. 


Let them pack their own snacks in a backpack if they’re old enough. And yes, candy bars and M&Ms are OK when you’re riding bikes. Everyday snacks are fine, too, but you can always make riding bikes more special by introducing “biker” snacks like gels and energy chews. 

Behold, the tantrums 

Biking is like life: sometimes it’s fun and sometimes it’s hard, so, your kid might throw a tantrum or two in the middle of a ride. Keep cool and don’t let an outburst discourage you. Take a spill? Take a break, bring out a snack, or call it quits and head home; you know how to handle your child’s moods better than anyone. But keep in mind that there aren’t many activities that illustrate the direct correlation between hard work and success better than riding your bike up a hill and immediately being able to bomb back down it. 

Incorporate bikes into your vacations 

Headed to grandma’s house for the weekend? Check to see if there’s a cool pump track along the way, or a greenway on the edge of town. Break up the drive and turn exploring a new park or trail into a family adventure. 

Plan a big bike adventure 

After you’ve been riding with your kids for a while, pick a big ride to do together. This can be an organized family-friendly event, or a big rails-to-trails greenway in a fun destination. Some former rail lines have gentle downslope grades that essentially turn a 20-mile section of trail into a downhill fun-for-all. Train for it together by doing longer rides and discuss how awesome it will be to accomplish a big ride together. 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.