How To Ride A Bike: Step-by-step guide to learning in a day!


Learning to ride a bike can be a daunting task, no matter what your age is. As a regular cyclist who only last year had to teach my partner how to ride a bike, I thought I would try and make things easier, especially as so many of the recourses online seemed to be outdated and hard to follow! The steps I outline below are suitable for children or adults! So, how do you learn to ride a bike?

Learning to ride a bike involves 3 key skills; balancing, pedalling and steering. You can learn all of these in a single afternoon provided you focus on them each individually. Once you have mastered those, you can then focus on more complex parts of riding a bike such as changing gear and signalling.

So, we’ve established that there are 3 main areas you need to work on to ride a bike, but what are the steps you need to take to work on these? I take a look at these steps, as well as cover some general tips for learning to ride a bike in the rest of the article.

Step 1: Pick a location (Estimated time – 5 minutes)

The first thing to do when learning to ride a bike is to find yourself a good space to learn.

Find somewhere secluded

When learning to ride, you will want to find an area that does not have any cars, lots of people or general traffic. Look for a quiet space where you have room to move around without fear of hitting someone or something.

Also, somewhere with a less people can be good for any nerves you might have, some people find learning to ride a bike a bit daunting and having less people around can make this easier.

Find somewhere with flat ground

Apart from this, you also want to find somewhere fairly flat. Some people will suggest learning somewhere with a slight hill, and while this is possible, I would suggest finding a nice flat piece of ground to start off with.

You also want the ground to be a as flat as possible, without any potholes or bumps in the floor.

Find somewhere with grass

When learning to ride a bike, there’s a chance you can fall off the bike. Because of this, you should try to find somewhere that limits any damage you could do to yourself.

A flat piece of pavement in a park, or grass is a great choice. Grass will be more forgiving if you fall, but can make the process of learning to ride your bike harder. If you plan to ride on grass, try and find somewhere that the grass has been cut short as this will limit its impact on your cycling.

Find somewhere legal

While it might come as a surprise, is not legal to cycle anywhere and everywhere. When you’re learning to cycle make sure you’re allowed to cycle where you are practicing. In many US states and countries, cycling on the pavement is not allowed, and some parks limit cycling as well.

Step 2: Prepare yourself (Estimated time – 5 minutes)

Set yourself a target

Getting up and jumping straight onto the bike might work for some people, but I would recommend setting yourself some goals for your ride. In the steps below I’ll go over the main stages of learning to ride a bike, and for some people they might do all of these in one go, but if you aren’t, try setting yourself a challenge of how long you’ll spend practicing or which skills you want to learn in this practice session.

Get the right protective gear

Everyone should wear a helmet while riding a bike. Accidents happen to even the most experienced cyclists, and they aren’t always going to be your fault. Wearing a helmet can be the difference between a painful fall and a life-threatening injury.

As well as a helmet, some people advise that you get yourself some elbow and knees pads. This might be helpful if you are learning on some painful ground such as tarmac, but might not be necessary if you are learning on the grass.

Get the right clothes

As well as elbow and knee pads, you could also consider wearing some gloves, a long sleeve top and long sleeve trousers. These are especially useful if you are learning on rough ground, as they can save you from any scrapes or cuts if you fall.

However, you want to make sure any trousers you are wearing aren’t too baggy, as they may get get caught in the gears of the bike. If you’re worried about this, try tucking your trousers into your socks.

Finally, make sure you are wearing suitable footwear. You will be using your feet to stop the bike and push yourself along as you learn to ride, and so making sure you have a durable pair of trainers can make a big difference. Don’t try to learn while wearing sandals!

Step 3: Prepare the bike (Estimated time – 15 minutes)

Set the saddle height

Normally you want your saddle at a height where you can only just reach the floor with one foot and your legs are outstretched when you are pedalling, however when you are learning this is not the best way to do it.

While you are learning you will want to put the seat down low enough that both feet can touch the floor. Low enough that you feel comfortable, but not too low that you are cramped up on the bike.

Test the brakes

While you can’t ride a bike right now, in the very near future you will be able to. The most important thing to know is how to come to a safe stop on a bike.

First of all, test the brakes while you are pushing the bike along. Make sure they work.

Then, try sitting back on the saddle, making sure you can comfortably reach the handlebars and brakes when sat down. If at any point you want to slow down or stop, try to pulling both breaks in a gentle and even manner. Squeezing a single brake or both too hard can cause you to skid or fall.

Adjust the gears

Many new riders get very confused about which gear they should be using, in fact, many experienced cyclists use their gears wrong without even knowing.

At this stage I would suggest putting the bike into a low gear (for example the 2nd or 3rd easiest gear). Make sure that when you change the gear that you are turning the pedals as otherwise there is a chance that the chain will come off.

Take the pedals off the bike (optional)

Many cyclists will suggest taking the pedals off of the bike while you are starting to learn (effectively turning your bike into a balance bike). This is because the first thing you need to learn about riding a bike is how to keep your balance. You won’t be pedalling at all for the little while!

Some people find that the pedals get in the way, and removing them helps them to focus more on their own balance rather than where to put their feet. It also has the added bonus of stopping you from banging your shins on the pedals.

If you want to remove the pedals, make sure to look up how to remove them properly, bike pedals are threaded in a certain way to make sure that the dont unscrew as you cycle. Because of this, taking them off the wrong way can break them.

If you decide to take off your pedals, take a look at my article here where I walk you through how to remove them.

Step 4: Learn to balance (Estimated time – 2 hours)

The most important step of learning to ride a bike is how to balance.

Practice getting on and off the bike

To get onto the bike, apply the brakes while leaning it slightly to the side. In this position you should be able to swing your leg over the middle bar without the bike wheeling away.

Waddle with the bike

While sat in the saddle, take some time walking the bike around, with your bum on the seat and your feet either side of the pedals. Do this until you can comfortably walk around without feeling unbalanced.

Scoot the bike with one foot

Once you’re able to walk the bike comfortably, try increasing the amount of time your feet are off of the floor. Taking it in turns with each foot to scoot yourself along, gliding for a few seconds before you push yourself with the other foot.

Glide the bike with two feet

Once you are comfortable doing each foot at a time, trying pushing off with both feet at the same time and then lifting them up into the air, and eventually up onto the pedals (if you still have them attached).

Slowly increase the amount of time you can spend with your feet off the floor, gliding forwards until you feel happy with this stage.

Step 5: Learn to pedal (Estimated time – 1 hour)

Practice the motion of pedalling

So, you’ve mastered balancing, but pedalling is the next level up. While off the bike, put the pedal into the 2’o clock position of the cranks (obviously put the pedals back on if you took them off).

Step onto the bike so that the middle bar is between your legs and then push onto the higher pedal. As you put your weight down, the bike will move forward (make sure to watch out for the other pedal coming around behind you).

Try this with both feet so that you can get used to the feeling of pedalling down with both legs separately. If you’re finding this step hard, you can try practicing the motion of pedalling on an exercise bike which will isolate this movement for you.

Practice gliding while pedalling

Now you’ve learnt how to push off and pedal, try pushing off, but this time carry on gliding like you were when you pushed the bike with your feet. At this stage try working on placing both your feet onto the pedals as you push away, this is one of the harder steps, as there is a lot you have to keep track of.

Try pedalling completely

Once you are able to push off, put your feet on the pedals and then glide, the only last step is to pedal your bike. Just keep going, and at this point just focus on pedalling, not on where you are going or trying to change direction.

A little hint, while it seems scary, going faster actually makes pedalling and balancing while you pedal easier. As well as this, make sure you try to keep looking ahead rather than down at your feet.

Step 6: Learn to steer (Estimated time – 30 minutes)

You’re nearly there, this is the last major step (all the other bits like changing gear are just a bonus). While pedalling your bike, decide on a location that you want to aim for (that will require a slight amount of turning). You might even find you’ve been doing this already.

The most important thing about steering a bike is to keep yourself looking at your goal. A bike steers with the handlebars as well as how you move your body, both of these are set by the direction you are looking. Dont try to turn too sharply, take nice wide arcs to where you want to go, and make sure you aren’t turning while you’re cycling too slowly as this makes it easier to fall off.

If you’re finding this step hard, try taking a step back and practice steering while you do some more 2 foot gliding, or even try not pedalling as you turn the handlebars. These can make it a little easier.

Step 7: Reset the bike (Estimated time – 15 minutes)

You’ve done it, at this point you can officially tell everyone that you can ride a bike. But there are still a few more steps you can take to make your cycling easier and safer.

Remember when we lowered the seat post at the beginning, now is the time to try and raise it again. Increase the height of the seat post by a few centimetres at a time, spending some time cycling between each raise to help acclimatise you to the new height.

Raise the saddle bit by bit until only 1 foot is able to touch the floor at a time and your legs are completely outstretched at the bottom of each pedal.

This might sound daunting, but it really does improve ability to cycle, meaning you can go much further and much faster with less effort and strain on your muscles.   

Step 8: Learn to change gears (Estimated time – 30 minutes)

Once you have pedalling and steering down, learning how to change gear, if you have them, is the next step.

How to use different types of gear shifter

Bikes come with either 1 set or 2 sets of gears. Normally there is a big set on the front of the bike (by the chain-ring), and a smaller set on the back (by the sprocket). To make a big change to your gear use the front gear, and to make smaller more intricate changes you use the back one.

Different bikes change gears in different ways, with the most common being “twist grips”, “triggers” or “integrated shifters”.

Twist Grip
Triggers
Integrated Shifter
Type of shifterHow to change gear
Twist gripTwist the handle of your handlebar forwards or backwards to shift gear up or down.
TriggerPresses one of two short levers mounted on the handlebar, one goes up and one goes down
IntergratedPush the brake handle left or right (rather than backwards like you would do to brake) to shift up or down.

Depending on if you have one or two sets of gears, you will have gears on one or both sides of your handlebar. Make sure to work out early which one works for which gear.

General tips for changing gear

When changing gear, the first thing to learn is that you can only change gear while you are pedalling the bike. It is only while the chain is moving that the bike can swap gear, and doing so when the chain isn’t moving can result in the chain falling off.

Another key point to know is that you should try not to “cross over” your gears. This is what it is called when you are in a high gear on one side and a low gear on another. This puts more strain on the chain and can wear it out more quickly and increase the chance of your chain breaking.

Finally, for this this same reason, try not to change gear while on a big hill. Obviously you will want to be in a lower gear when you do the hill, but try and change in advance of the hill itself. Changing gear while you’re putting a lot of strain on the pedals, for example when you are pushing as hard as you can to get up a hill, also puts more strain on the chain and can wear it out more quickly or cause it to break.

You can take a look at my article here if you want to learn when you should be using which type of gear.

Step 8: Learn to signal (Estimated time – 2 hours)

The final step of learning to ride is bike is learning to signal. You should not be cycling on the road until you feel very confident on a bike and know how to signal. Without this, other road users won’t know where you are going or be able to predict your movements.

Signalling on a bike involves putting one arm out to the side to indicate that you plan to turn in that direction.

Learn to take one hand off of the bike

To practice this, cycle in a straight line and lift one hand a a time only a very small amount from the handlebar (only a inch or two at first). Keep it hovering over the top of the bar and slowly increasing how long you can do this for. Once you can cycle along like this, start to increase how far you can move your hand from the handlebar.

Eventually you will get to the point where you are able to cycle along with either hand raised off the handlebar of the big for an extended period of time. It is likely you will find one hand it harder to learn with than the other, that is completely normal.

Before you are able to use this on the road, make sure that you are able to maintain your signal as you turn, many people find it harder to keep their arm extended at they turn their bike, and because of this have to stop signalling too early (which can lead to an accident).

General tips

Have patience

As with all things, time will help. Learning to ride a bike is a completely new skill for many people and will be unlike anything you have tried before. You might not be the best cyclist straight away, but it will come with time.

Staying safe is a priority

Remember that learning to ride a bike can be dangerous, even if you are wearing all the protective gear. If you find yourself getting tired, take a break.

It is also important to make sure that you do not go from one step to the next until you are completely, ridiculously, absolutely comfortable with the step before.

Think about bike riding lessons

If you dont want to learn to cycle on your own, there are many groups in the UK that run cheap or even free classes. Take a look at Bikeability for more information.

Try to relax

Relax. Make sure relax your face, your hands, your legs, in fact, just relax everything. When you are tense you’ll feel every bump in the road more than you would normally and your body wont be able to easily adjust you change direction or move in your seat.

Why would you want to learn to ride a bike?

So now you know how to learn to ride a bike, buy why might someone want to learn to ride a bike in the first place?

Cycling builds muscle

Cycling can be a great way to increase the muscle you have, particularly in your lower body. Cycling works many major muscles groups including your glutes and quads (some of the largest muscle groups in your legs). While some types of cycling are better than others at building muscle, any form of cycling will help you with toning you muscles.

Cycling can help you to lose weight

Cycling can help you to lose weight. Losing weight is a means of calories in vs. calories out. Cycling can be a great way to burn calories (increasing your calories out) as it is a low impact activity that burns a good amount of calories per hour.

Cycling is good for your mental health

Not only can cycling be good for you physical health, cycling has been shown to be great for your mental health and wellbeing. Doing regular physical activity, as well as getting outside and socialising are key ways you can improve your mood and help to protect yourself from mental illness’s such as burnout, anxiety or depression

Cycling can save you money

Not only can cycling help your physique, it can also help your wallet. Cycling has a very low ongoing cost once you have invested in a bike. And now many larger cities have bike rental services that are much cheaper than taking public transport or driving a car.

Cycling can be a fast way to commute

While you may know that cycling is cheaper than many forms of public transport, in large urban cities it is often faster as well. As a regular cyclist who commutes to work on my bike, there are plenty of times I will overtake huge streams of traffic stuck waiting in a queue.

Cycling is good for the planet

As well as being cheaper and faster, cycling is much better for the planet than almost all other forms of transport. The carbon footprint of cycling is very low with only a few other alternatives such as walking being better for the planet.

Cycling has lots of transferrable skills

In your journey to learn how to ride a bike, you will also learn many transferrable skills that can be used in life generally. For example improving you balance or the ability to keep your eyes focused on multiple different objects while performing a complex task.

Should I use a tricycle to learn how to cycle?

Many adults will wonder whether or not they should use training wheels or a tricycle to learn to ride a bike, after all, many children learn this way. However, in recent years there has been a large push away from using either of these methods, even with children.

We have come to realise that riding bike is actually about learning how to balance on two wheels. If you spent your time learning how to balance on a tricycle, or steer with training wheels, all you’ll be doing is slowing yourself down.

The skills you need on a two wheel bike and a tricycle are very different, and in reality the only thing you’ll be learning is how to do the action of pedalling (which can be taught much more quickly).

So in summary, no, you don’t need to learn how to ride a bike with three wheels.

Overall

As you can see, learning to ride a bike isn’t as complicated as most people think. If you follow the steps above, and make sure you always have your next goal in mind, you’ll be riding in no time.

If you want to take a look at someone else learning to ride a bike, this video below from Tom Scott can show you what you might expect and how quickly you can learn!

Mark Holmes

30-year-old doctor with an interest in cycling, bikepacking, and statistics.

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