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harple's avatar

Any advice for helping an adult learn to ride a bicycle?

Asked by harple (10446points) April 13th, 2012

I have a dear friend who has never ridden a bicycle before. He is in his forties, and I have recently helped him purchase a bike and have offered to help him learn. He can drive a car, so I guess there will be analogies there that may help (eg look further ahead to avoid wobbly steering).

Do you have any tips, be they in general or specifically for helping an adult? Many thanks in advance.

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25 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

Would he be humiliated to use training wheels (if you and he practiced somewhere private)? That’s how I learned, when I was six.

My father took the wheels off and then ran along side me when I pushed off. So he was there to grab as I toppled.

Make sure he wears his helmet, knee pads, thick gloves and perhaps a big down anorak for padding. Or bubble wrap? (I remember the gravel bits that were embedded in the palms of my hands.)

Can you find a dirt path where the impact will be less severe than falling on cement?

What a good friend. The only trick is to keep peddling no matter what, until you really want to stop.

Oh, teach him how to brake with both feet also.

I love thinking about this. Keep us posted.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

What a wonderful story!

I wonder if it would be worth investing in one of those bike stands? It might help him get used to balancing and pedaling at the same time. Probably not, but worth considering.

Another idea might be to rent a tandem for practice, with you in the front.

gailcalled's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffe: Using a bicycle built for two is a brilliant idea and better than any of mine. Good thinking.

mazingerz88's avatar

Face mirror. Slap face. Lol. Sorry, just kidding! : )

If possible, he should be assisted by two adults, one on each side. Help him keep his balance and letting go when he seems to be on a nice roll. It’s practice, practice, practice really. It’s like magic. One day he would just wake up and do it all flawlessly by himself.

jerv's avatar

The hard thing for some people to remember is that bikes balance themselves when they go fast; going too slow is what makes them tip over. You don’t need to go terribly fast to have a bike stabilize itself, but you have to be moving faster than walking speed. Some people think that going slow will give them more time to react, but the truth is that all that does is force the rider to do crazy things with the handlebars in order to try remaining upright. Going faster turns the rims into gyroscopes, and the bike will keep itself upright.

muppetish's avatar

I don’t have anything to add, but since I am an adult who also never learned how to ride a bicycle, I think this a great question and am taking note of the various suggestions :)

FutureMemory's avatar

What kind of bike did he buy? I hope it wasn’t a road bike, more commonly referred to as a 10-speed. Those are just too hard to balance for a beginner compared to something with a wide handle bar.

I learned to ride a bike in one day on a BMX bike when I was 7. I just sat on the seat and pushed myself around, trying to learn balance before progressing to putting my feet on the pedals.

mazingerz88's avatar

@muppetish Don’t you have muppet bike puppeteers doing it for you-? : )

harple's avatar

@FutureMemory It’s a “town & trail” bike – much fatter tyres than a road bike, but not as chunky (or as heavy) as a mountain bike.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@harple You are wonderful to try this. I have a tip for you.
Remember how your Dad ran along side of you and sort of kept you up when you started to fall? You were small, close to the ground and weighted a lot less than him. Well, your friend is (likely) bigger, and heavier than you. It will be very difficult for you to offer support. Don’t even try since you will be injured no matter which way he falls. He needs to be responsible for keeping himself up. Make sure he wears something to protect his wrists. Rollerblading wrist supports.
Good luck!

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Start out on grass, not concrete or ashalt.

mazingerz88's avatar

Oh and please don’t forget, never ever watch Jackass for bike riding tips! : )

john65pennington's avatar

Wear a helmet, knee and arm pads and have the heating pad and BenGay ready, when you return.

FutureMemory's avatar

Also, If he lowers his seat a little bit he might feel less precarious during the learning stage.

6rant6's avatar

No dirt! Riding a bike on nice soft dirt is ten times harder than on nice hard concrete. Also, I’d suggest starting off on a short, gentle downhill run. A little speed makes steering much easier.

Charles's avatar

Like mentioned above, start out on grass, on a low grade downward slope.

ucme's avatar

I think this is just one of those things that can only be overcome with a lot of patience coupled with trial & error.
No practical advice, just broad strokes from me.

jerv's avatar

For those that recommend riding on surfaces other than pavement because pavement hurts more when you hit it, you should know that you are far more likely to hit the ground on unpaved surfaces, and falling on grass hurts more than not falling at all. Take it from a mountain biker who has ridden on and off road; pavement doesn’t try to rip the handlebars out of your hands or throw the bike sideways like unpaved surfaces do. Plus, “town and trail” bikes risk serious rim damage on anything other than pavement or dirt they is packed down until it’s just as hard a asphalt.

If you’re worried about being hurt in a fall, wear pads and stay on smooth, hard surfaces that allow you to retain full control of the bike without external influences like bumps or soft spots that your tires sink into.

augustlan's avatar

How fun! I’d start on flat, wide pavement (not a sidewalk). Maybe an empty parking lot? Adjust the seat low enough for both his feet to be on the ground, and have him “walk” himself around on the bike for a bit. As he learns to balance and steer the bike, ask him to increase his ‘walking’ speed a little. Then he can lift his feet off the ground and coast, being able to easily stop himself by putting his feet back on the ground. Once he gets the feel of that, move on to pedaling and braking properly. Please let us know how it goes!

Also, [mod says] This is our Question of the Day!

zenvelo's avatar

@augustlan took the words right out of my mouth. It’s all about learning balance while coasting, and how to lean while turning. If you have him sit with his feet out to guide him, and he gets some speed, tell him to tun the handlebars slightly and let the bike turn. He’ll instintively lean a bit as it turns, then straighten the bars out so the bike is straight.

A high school parking lot on weekends is often a good place to learn.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Just stick him on it and give him a shove!

harple's avatar

Aw thanks everyone – there’s an invaluable mix of tips in here! I’ll let you know how it goes :-)

FutureMemory's avatar

Tell him he has a whole website rooting for him :)

harple's avatar

Hi all – an update for you.

We’ve done 3 sessions on the bike now, each of about 2 hours. I found a park with a tarmac lane through it, but with grass on either side. The lane has a very gentle slope on it, then goes up again, so it’s perfect. We’ve been practising pushing himself along whilst sat on it, and trying to coast slightly (very slightly). We have also done feet on both pedals whilst holding onto a lamp-post, and trying to back pedal just to feel the motion.

We then moved onto one foot on a pedal and using the other to push himself along, and again trying a little coasting to feel the balance. And we’ve also had him on the bike with someone either side of him, and he’s put his feet on the pedals, and taken one hand then the other off the handle bars, practised back-pedalling, and we’ve moved him (both of us holding the bike steady) with him on the bike and feet on the pedals.

It’s a huge undertaking, and I can’t tell you how much I admire him for doing it – it’s a real scary thing for him (lots of reminding him to breathe) and as much as anything he’s having to learn that it really is as simple as putting the brakes on and a foot down to stop. It takes a lot of guts to put yourself in a position of overcoming a fear like this. :-)

gailcalled's avatar

@harple: What a wonderful friend. My memories of learning when I was six seem to be of an almost effortless experience but

1) I was very low to the ground

2) I still believed that my father knew everything and he said I could do it.

I have heard how difficult it is for adults to learn how to drive a car and to swim; it must be a similar experience re; one’s central nervous system.

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