Did you know that May is National Bike Month? We couldn’t think of a better time of year to get back into bicycling regularly. We recently partnered with a new kids bike company called Prevelo Bikes. The owner, Jacob is passionate about getting kids on two wheels and the freedom, confidence, and FUN that comes with this healthy activity. I love how he summarized watching his two sons riding their bikes:
Like watching a sunrise in the high Sierras while eating a fish taco with fresh guacamole and getting a foot massage awesome.
I can certainly relate! We are currently testing Prevelo’s 20 inch bike, the Alpha Three. A full review is coming soon, but in the meantime I wanted to share our experience teaching Bergen how to use a bike with gears. Learning to switch gears wasn’t something I thought our 5-year old would be tackling at this point in his riding career. I figured we had a couple more years of him coasting along in one gear. Despite the fact that the Prevelo Alpha Three has 8 GEARS, I even thought Bergen wouldn’t use them for awhile!
However, once comfortable with the new size of bike, (he was previously riding a 16″ bike that he outgrew), we realized he would be a lot more successful and comfortable riding up some of the tough hills in our neighborhood if he knew how to use the gears available.
Bergen picked up the skill of shifting gears quicker than we expected! Not all kids learn the same way, but we thought at least having some insight might help those who are also making the transition with their kids.
Important note: For the purpose of this post, we’re sharing our tips for helping kids learn to use their REAR (right) gears. We’re also assuming the gear levers on the bike are above and below the right handlebar. And finally, we are by no means experts! We are just describing our experience helping our 5-year learn to use the gears on his new bike.
Teaching Kids to Ride a Bike with Gears
Take it easy at first. Don’t worry about the gears at all, and just let your child get used to the bike. Whether they just moved up to a new size or they are getting the hang of using a pedal bike for the first time, you want them comfortable and confident. Once they build up that confidence and comfort, move on to the next steps.
Basic Bike Overview.
Give a VERY brief lesson on the basic anatomy of their bike. Point out the gears and the shifters/levers, and talk a little bit about how they work, and how they will HELP. Try to help your child build their vocabulary around the bike.
Talk to your child about which finger they will use to shift up, and which finger they will use to shift down. When my husband Slaed was first working with Bergen, he called the index finger the “trigger finger”, and taught him to use it for shifting up (harder gear). The thumb is used to shift down (easier gear). Emphasize those job assignments and corresponding fingers!
Also important to note: When we first introduced the down shifting to Bergen, for some reason, he physically couldn’t do it! We backed off for a couple of days, and then brought it up again. He shifted just fine. So I think it goes back to being comfortable and confident on the bike in first place.
Walk along side.
Once your child has the basics down of how shifting gears works, and a little bit of vocabulary, walk next to them as they give it a try. Coach your child reminding them that shifting down will make that uphill climb SO much easier.
Mention and Suggest.
After walking through the process with your child, and almost hand holding, give them a little space. Drop back, and merely mention or suggest that they may want to shift down or “press their thumb on the bottom lever” as they approach a hill or incline.
Go on rides TOGETHER.
It was actually when we hit the road all together on our bikes (rather than just walking while Bergen rode) that the wheels started turning (pun intended), and Bergen really started to understand and gain confidence in shifting gears on his own.
It makes sense! One effective (and easy) way to learn a new skills is to copy others. Bergen could hear Slaed shifting his own gears, and would then do the same on his bike. The feedback of easier pedaling was a great reinforcement. It takes patience though. We as parents really need to be in the teaching mindset rather than worrying about when we are going to arrive at our destination. Build in time for practice, and allow time to stop and readjust.
If things just aren’t clicking for your child, and you both seem frustrated by the whole idea of shifting gears, remember to go back to square one. Just ride. You can always pick up the lesson the next day or even after a week or so.
Bergen learned to shift gears fairly quickly (he has the opportunity to ride his bike nearly everyday), but he’s still 5 years old, and by no means perfect! We still need to remind him at times, and he’ll even resort to walking his bike from time to time. He’s got the basics down though, and we hope our insights might be helpful to you as you teach your young rider!
When did you learn to shift gears on a bike? Any tips to add to our list? Full review of Prevelo’s Alpha 3 20-inch bike for kids coming soon!
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A very special thanks to Prevelo for providing us with an Alpha-3 20-inch bike for purposes of review on the blog. As always, all opinions expressed here are our own, and completely honest! This post also includes affiliate links. Purchases made through our unique links will provide us with a small commission that will go toward keeping the blog running. Thank you for your consideration!