A while ago I learned about my best friend Peter and his ordeal with being a grown-up man and not knowing how to bike. His parents kept traveling between countries searching for better work opportunities. Despite the rich cultural background, he missed his chance to learn how to ride a bike as a child.
After settling down as an adult, this came first in his bucket list. He wanted to bike to work since it’s pretty hard to find empty car parking slots where he lives. We’ve been friends for long and since I was the one who kept nagging about the topic, he asked me for help. Thankfully, it wasn’t that hard to teach an adult how to cycle.
In this article, I’ll share my personal experience teaching Peter how to ride a bike. This can serve as a guide on how to teach an adult to ride a bike. Surely, you can also use it if you want to learn it yourself. Let’s get going!
Step 1: Establishing the Basics
He was always worried about falling off his bike. This was one of the main factors that deterred him away from cycling for a long time.
To make matters worse, he didn’t know what it was supposed to do. How to balance something that keeps jiggling right and left whenever we ride it!
One day, I thought of a conception on how to teach him how to do it, and that changed things forever. It turns out that bikes balance themselves. You don’t have to do anything other than maintaining enough speed.
Honestly, I found it hard to explain at first. Similarly, the person who you’re trying to teach might think you’re just encouraging him. To prove this concept, push the bike downhill with enough speed. If it’s properly tuned, it should stay up until it loses momentum.
Step 2: Safety First
Anyone who learned cycling, either as an adult or child, will tell you one thing; falling is inevitable! I, for one, broke a lot of my bike’s parts in the journey.
That said, your friend must be equipped with all the required safety gear. Here’s a quick checklist to make sure you forget nothing:
- Knee Pads
- Elbow pads
- Bike light for nighttime training
- Small first aid kit
Step 3: Find a Bike That Fits
Truth be told, anyone can ride any bike once they have the required skill. However, it’ll be extremely easy to learn on a bike with a suitable size.
First and foremost, your friend must be able to comfortably straddle the bike with feet flat on the ground. In this position, the crotch must be above the frame by a couple of inches.
Then, moving up to the handlebar, he must be able to reach the breaks easily without losing his grip.
Ideally, the bike seat should be high enough to allow for easier pedaling. But it would be better to lower it down until your friend can be seated with both feet touching the ground. This way, it’ll be easier to avoid falls by landing feet.
Step 4: Pick an Empty, Wide Area
Obviously, you don’t want pedestrians and other cyclists to be cramming the area. Your friend needs to focus on nothing but the bike for fast and efficient learning.
You’re free to choose between paved and short-grassed areas. The paved ground would be easier to balance over. But the grass would absorb the falling force.
However, long grass should be totally avoided. Since it would slow down the bike, it would make it harder for a beginner to balance.
Moreover, pick an area with a faint slope. This will allow your friend to practice coasting and sliding effortlessly.
Step 5: Practice Getting On and Off the Bike
I know what you’re probably thinking. Getting on and off the bike aren’t things that need to be practiced.
While it seems like second nature for you and me, a bike might feel like Mount Everest for beginners! This happens because they often focus on swinging their legs as high as possible.
Alternatively, instruct your friend to tilt the bike toward him before lifting up his legs. This way, the bike would be notably lower, making it easier to reach the other side. Similarly, to easily get off the bike, he should tilt it toward the leg touching the ground.
Make sure your friend is familiar enough with this movement before proceeding to the next step.
Step 6: Start with Scooting
Remember, your #1 priority should be familiarizing your friend with balancing a bike. He should be comfortable with passive coasting before using pedals.
Start by instructing your friend to walk while being seated on the bike. Like I said earlier, the seat must be low enough to make this possible.
After gaining enough confidence, encourage your friend to scoot faster by pushing and lifting his feet off the ground. If the pedals are interfering with your friend’s legs, you can easily remove them with a wrench.
Step 7: Practice Turning
Once your friend can keep the bike balanced upright, you can gradually incorporate some turns. Start by simple right/left turns and walk your way through complex figure-eight maneuvers. Again, we’re just trying to get your friend accustomed to the mechanics of a bike.
To shorten the training period, make sure your friend is satisfying the following requirement while turning:
- Looking up and forward rather than downward
- Keeping the body upright and nearly perpendicular to the seat
- Loosely gripping the handlebar
- Turning smoothly without jerky movements
Step 8: Call It a Day (Optional)
If I had the chance to go back in time to when I was teaching Peter, I would definitely take it easy. He was extremely stoked about it, which made him bear more and more falls.
Generally speaking, it’s better to stick to a maximum of 1-hour training sessions. If your friend can’t seem to achieve any progress, it’s better to call it a day to avoid discouragement.
Also, it would be beneficial to take a day off between scooting and pedaling. When you sleep, your mind starts organizing and storing information picked up throughout the day. This way, your friend can fully grasp the concepts he learned.
Step 9: Prepare the Bike for Pedaling
Before moving on to pedaling, you have to undo any changes you made to the bike.
- Reinstall the pedals with a wrench
- Get the seat to a height comfortable for pedaling
- Remove the training wheels if previously installed
Step 10: Establish the Starting Position
After learning the basic balancing techniques, beginners usually get caught in a similar problem. They can’t figure out how to move the bike without being too slow. If your friend faces this problem, adjusting the position of the pedals can help.
For efficient propelling, the pedal under the dominant leg must be in the 2 o’clock position. Placing it lower wouldn’t generate enough momentum. Higher positions aren’t better since they would be harder to push.
As the dominant leg is pushing, the other leg must keep in contact with the ground to maintain support. Your friend shouldn’t lift it until its corresponding pedal moves to the 12 o’clock position.
Once your friend gets familiar enough, you can encourage him to scoot a bit with the non-dominant leg. This would give higher momentum, making it easier to cycle faster.
Step 11: Emphasize on Looking Forward
When beginners move to the pedaling, they tend to keep looking at the pedals to correctly place their feet.
In addition to messing up the balance, making a habit out of this behavior might jeopardize cyclist safety in the long run. You must look forward at all times to maneuver around obstacles.
Tell your friend that it’s fine to search for the pedals via legs. If it feels hard, the muscle memory should pick it up in no time. Most importantly, assure your friend that he can always reach for the ground to balance if anything goes wrong.
Step 12: Don’t Hold the Seat or Handlebar
If you’re training a child, it’ll be perfectly normal to assist by holding either the seat or the handlebar. With adults, however, this can do more harm than good.
Kids need this kind of help since they might not react fast enough when they lose balance. Clearly, adults don’t have such an issue. They need to have the full experience to learn as fast as possible.
Step 13: Remind the Rider to “Just Keep Swimming”
Remember the iconic lines of Dory in Finding Nemo? “When life gets you down, do you wanna know what you’ve gotta do? Just keep swimming!”
Remind your friend with the basic concept established earlier. The bike balances itself. All you have to do is pedal with enough speed.
When the bike starts wiggling right and left, beginners tend to grip the handlebar firmer to keep it balanced. By doing this, they completely forget about pedaling, which ends in an unfortunate fall.
“When the speed drops, the pedaling starts!” This was a rhyme that helped us apply this concept. You can also write one yourself to make it more personal.
Step 14: Practice Using the Brakes
After getting confident with pedaling and turning in an empty area, your friend must start practicing the brakes.
Always Start with the Rear Brake
As you probably know, using the front brake needs the cyclist to be quite experienced. If you engage it too hard, the front wheel might suddenly turn. Under low speeds, this shouldn’t be a problem. But if the cyclist is going fast, the body might be pushed over the handlebar by inertia.
The rear wheel, on the other hand, isn’t physically capable of doing the same. Therefore, the rear brake should always be used for speed control, leaving the front for braking in tight distances.
On downhills, however, the front brake should never be used. It has a high chance of flipping the bike forward, even if pressed lightly.
Keep Stressing on Light Pressure
If your friend isn’t familiar with cars, he’ll probably give you a hard time with this. Explain that the target is to keep the wheels rolling normally but with lower speeds. You don’t want the wheels to skid to avoid losing balance.
That said, keep tabs on how your friend presses on the brakes. The perfect approach is a light touch that gradually increases to the desired amount. Nervously pressing it would inevitably cause the bike to skid.
This is by far the most complicated concept about riding bikes. It’s a really thin line between rolling and skidding. Peter took a whole month to know the right amount of pressure.
Worst of all, it can differ to some extent between bikes. This depends on the material of the brakes, the wheel diameter, and even the tire pattern.
That’s why it’d be better if your friend can train on his own bike. He’ll end up using the same skills he learned, saving a lot of time and frustration.
Step 15: Enjoy!
Peter told me he was lucky enough to have me by his side to teach him. As I mentioned before, we’ve been pals for long and we goof around constantly. As such, I gave him a hard time whenever he fell by making fun of him. He still persisted and took the help very seriously and I’m very glad he did. We laughed and had a good time but thanks to his will and focus, he now joins me on riding uphills and going downhill for fun and fitness purposes.
Similarly, learning to ride a bike can be a life-changing moment for your friend. It’s definitely important to have fun. Don’t take it seriously by getting upset over your friend’s mistakes.
Also, people differ considerably in their learning potential. Some people can cycle like pros in one day only. Others might take up to a week.
Step 16: Spice It Up with Competition
Hold your horses! I definitely don’t mean to go sign up your rookie friend to a fierce race. But holding a mini competition against your friend can be another fun way to get him ready for real-life cycling.
For instance, you can place some boxes around to practice maneuvering and braking. Time each other to see who can get around faster.
To Sum Up
Knowing how to teach an adult to ride a bike can change people’s lives. It’s a tremendously fun task for both the rider and the instructor.
If the rider understood the physics behind a bike, it would save him a lot of practice hours. When the bike has enough momentum, it’ll literally balance itself.
Remember, any beginner riding a bike will inevitably fall, no matter how good he is. That’s why it’s crucial to wear the safety gear even for the shortest rides.
Stay safe and have fun!