Help! Why doesn't my child want to ride their bike?

At the moment cycling is one of the only activities its possible for families to still get out and do together (remember it must be just in your household group, close to home, for the purpose of exercise and do please keep 2m from other people).   It can be very frustrating if your child doesn't seem to enjoy riding their bike (especially if you've just bought them a new one!).  I'm often asked by parents what they can do to get their child cycling more, so in this article, I'm going to be exploring some of the main reasons children don't enjoy cycling.

This particular post is aimed mainly at those children who can already ride a pedal bike but aren't keen to cycle, for what ever reason.   It may however also give you some hints and tips if you're trying to get your child to learn to pedal, or if they're on a balance bike / trike and not enjoying it.

Why doesn't my child want to ride their bike? 

Sad child in bike helmet

Every child is different, so it may be one or several of these reasons that is causing your child to take a dislike to cycling.  In this article we explore the main reasons that could be upsetting your child.  Please be patient with your Sprog, talk to them and then support them in learning to love riding their bike.

They can't brake properly

Imagine how scary it would be if you were cycling or driving and didn't think you could stop when you wanted to.  For many children this is a real fear, and can be caused for several reasons:

  1. They don't know how to brake - if your child is new to cycling make sure you've explained how to operate the brakes. Here in the UK, most kids bikes come with rim brakes, meaning they need to know how to use the brake levers. There are some models with a coaster brake, which requires pedalling backwards to stop. These are a legal requirement in the USA and popular in mainland Europe too. Make sure you've explained to your child how the brakes on their particular bike work (and be careful if their new bike has a different braking system to their old one). If your child is riding a balance bike, then explain they use their feet to slow down and stop.
  2. They can't operate the brakes - children have smaller hands than adults, so make sure the brake levers on their bike are adjusted to fit them. A good quality kids bike will have age appropriate brake levers which can be adjusted to suit.  Some kids bikes are fitted with adult sized brake levers which small hands can't use.
  3. The brakes don't work - if there's a mechanical problem with the bike, then it could be that the brakes are malfunctioning.   One of my Sprogs once threw a tantrum when we were riding hire bikes on a holiday. "I never ever want to ride a bike again" he shouted and stomped off.  He wasn't old enough to articulate what was wrong, but we knew that something had to have happened to turn a little boy who loves riding bikes into someone who refused to pedal. It turned out that the brakes weren't working properly, and he'd spooked himself (thankfully before we'd set off on our ride). When we swapped it for another bike he was happy to ride all day.  Brake pads do wear out, so do check your child's bike is safe to ride.
  4. They're pulling on the brakes too hard - if your child is grabbing a handful of brake and stopping too quickly this can be as scary as not being able to stop at all.  It can feel as if you're about to go over the handlebars if you pull too hard on the front brake, or cause a skid if too hard on the rear. If they've just moved to disc  brakes this can be a particular issue.

Their bike is too big

It can be very tempting to buy a bike for your child to grow into. After all, they do grow so quickly, and a bike is a costly purchase. However, if they can't get their feet on the ground, or it's too much of a stretch to reach the handlebars they aren't going to feel in control. And who wants to ride a bike if you don't feel in control? Buying a size too big is a false economy - not only won't they want to ride it until it's the right size, you may find they're not keen to ride it when it's the correct size.

Their bike is too small

Knees up around their chin? This isn't going to be the most comfortable of experiences, so it's time to upgrade to the next size bike.

Further reading:  The best kids bikes 2020 - our pick of the very best

They don't know how to ride a bike

Riding a bike is a skill that needs teaching. You can't just give a child a bike for the first time and expect them to ride off on it. You need to help them by teaching and encouraging them.

Their bike is too heavy

This may be hard if you're reading this just having bought your child a new bike, but another common reason children don't enjoy cycling is because the bike they are trying to ride weighs too much.  If you pick their bike up and think to yourself "Blimey, that's heavy", then think how a child is going to feel trying to manoeuvre it around. The younger a child, the more they're likely to have difficulty with a heavy bike.

The general rule is that the cheaper a bike, the heavier it is. Kids bikes that are marketed as "toys" and themed around cartoon or film characters tend to weigh a lot more than kids bikes that are sold via a specialist bike retailer.  As with everything in life you do get what you pay for.

Further reading: Why you shouldn't buy a really cheap kids bike

They've forgotten how to ride a bike

No matter your age, if you don't do something for a long time you're going to be rusty at it when you next have a go.  Cycling is no exception. I know the saying goes "You never forget how to ride a bike" but you can forget how to ride it confidently. If your child hasn't cycled for months or years, then help them ease back in gently, reminding them how to pedal, brake, steer and change gears as appropriate.

Why doesn't my child want to ride their bike? - ADOBE STOCK PICTURE

They've had a bad experience

Has your child fallen off  their bike in the past?  Did something upset them last time they went for a bike ride?  If they've associated riding a bike with getting hurt or upset then you need to provide lots of reassurance, and help ease them back into riding their bike gently.  Start with short periods of time on the bike, and let them ride to their own ability and pace. And more importantly, talk to them and find out what's upsetting them.

They're scared of getting hurt

Cycling does come with risks, and yes, sometimes children do fall off their bikes.  Some children are big risk takers, and others are very risk adverse. You'll know your own child, so if they tend not to enjoy "risky" activities, then try to make sure your words and body language don't make them more nervous.

Helmets and cycling gloves are sensible safety precautions, and wearing long trousers and sleeves may help them feel less exposed.

If they're old enough, then a conversation about the risk of falling off, vs the benefits and fun of riding a bike may be appropriate. And of course, let then ride and develop at their own pace - be patient.

Stabilisers are getting in the way

Girls riding on stabiliser bikes

Stabilisers (or training wheels) can be a good way to help your child learn how to pedal, but they don't teach balance, and they can make cycling slow and cumbersome - especially going around corners.  If your child is struggling and is using stabilisers it might be worth considering a balance bike, so they can speed up and learn to balance. This usually makes the transition to pedalling unaided much easier.

If you want further information on balance bikes: The best balance bikes as recommended by parents

If your child is aged 4 or older or is very tall go to: Big balance bikes for taller children

You're asking them to do too much

This is a common problem with slightly older children who have learnt to pedal.  To suddenly be asked to cycle longer distances or on more challenging terrain can be scary. Make sure you build up distance and technical skills gently if you want your Sprog to continue to enjoy riding their bike.

Your child has the wrong type of bike for the riding you're doing

If you're expecting your child to ride long distance on the road on a fat bike, or climb big hills on a single-speed bike then you're probably asking for problems. Mountain bike and Fat Bike tyres are harder work on tarmac. Road tyres don't provide grip in the mud.

It's not fun!

Relax!! Riding a bike should be one of the pleasures of childhood. Don't put too much pressure on your child to ride, and makes sure when they do it's fun. Whether they're 3 years old and just starting out, or 13 years old and racing off ahead of you, they are only going to want to carry on if they're enjoying themselves. When the fun stops, so will they.

They feel under pressure to perform for the camera

Taking too many photos or social media of your child

If your child is feeling a bit nervous about their cycling ability and you're trying to capture it on your phone at all times they are likely to get upset.  Let them learn and gain confidence without the worry that their efforts are going to be shared later on social media.

They're worried about letting you down

Are you a really keen cyclist?  Do you joke about when they're ready to ride their first race, do their first long distance ride, get their first QOM/KOM or perform their first tricks?   Remember, cycling is your passion, not theirs (yet).  They need to find what gives them that amazing feeling - be prepared for that to be different to what you had planned for them!

Perhaps they're just not ready to ride a bike

We see this a lot. Parents are desperate to get their child cycling, and often compare them to another child of a similar age.  There's no set age at which a child MUST be able to ride a bike. If they're not ready yet then let off the pressure and try again another day.  There are plenty of other ways they can join you for a bike ride, without riding themselves.

Further reading: The best front bike seats for toddlers and young children

I hope that this article has helped you to identify why your child isn't enjoying cycling and helps to get them back onto two wheels.   Remember to:

  • Check your child's bike is working properly and the correct size / weight for them
  • Talk to your child about what is upsetting them
  • Keep things fun and don't put them under undue pressure
  • Be patient

If you've found this useful, why not sign up for the Cycle Sprog newsletter and follow us on Facebook and Instagram so you can help your child develop their love of cycling as they get more confident. 

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