Learning to ride a bike as an adult is exactly the same as learning to ride a bike as a kid.
There is no quick and easy way to do it. You just have to build up your courage and climb aboard.
But while the skills required are the same for kids and adults alike, adults do have a couple of major roadblocks when it comes to riding a bike for the first time.
One, adults typically lack confidence when it comes to trying to new things (at least compared to kids), due to greater experience and fear of injury.
Two, adults are more prone to embarrassment than young children. (Though, adolescents are generally more embarrassment-prone than adults.)
These two things can be serious de-motivators when it comes to crawling onto a two-wheel frame and trying to learn to balance.
But that doesn’t mean it’s harder to learn to ride a bike as an adult than it is as a kid (barring any physical limitations).
The most essential thing to remember when trying to learn to ride a bike as an adult is that it’s not your physical skill set that’s most likely to get in your way, but your mindset.
Learn to Ride a Bike
Like most activities that require balance, learning to ride a bike is largely about getting a feel for it.
That means you simply have to practice until you can propel yourself forward, turn, come to a stop, and stay upright while doing all of these things.
As stated above, there is no easy, foolproof way to do this.
However, there are some simple steps you can take to get started learning to ride.
1 – Learn to get on and dismount from your bike.
To get onto your bike:
- Stand on one side of it, holding onto the handlebar with the proper hand (left hand=left handlebar, right hand = right handlebar).
- Tilt the bike slightly toward you and swing your leg over the back of the bike’s frame.
- Put your foot down on the other side so you are straddling the bike seat.
- From this position, you should be able to put both feet on the ground and hold the bike upright. (If you can’t touch the ground with both feet, your seat is too high.)
To dismount from your bike:
- Distribute your weight to the leg on the side of the bike you want to dismount on.
- Tip your bike slightly in that direction and swing your leg over the back of the bike frame to return it to the same side as your dismount leg.
Notes on mounting a bike:
- It’s best to get on a bike from your non-dominant side (right-side dominant people should mount from the left). This will help when you’re ready to start pedaling.
- Eventually, you will learn to move your dominant foot pedal to the proper one to two o’clock position before mounting, which will allow you to start pedaling immediately.
2 – Learn to balance your bike without pedaling.
You can only balance on a bike that’s in motion.
That’s one of the hardest things about learning to ride a bike.
But you don’t have to pedal to move a bike forward.
Instead, you can coast to get a feel for how to balance.
To start practicing balance on a bike:
- Straddle the bike and walk quickly forward.
- Once you get a little speed going, lift your feet. (Raise them just an inch or two. Don’t worry about the pedals.)
- If you start to tip, put your feet down.
- Practice this until you can stay upright for as long as the bike rolls forward.
Notes on balancing:
- The more speed you have on a bike, the easier it is to balance (up to a point). So, try to get some speed up before lifting your feet.
- Once you can balance for a good long stretch, practice pushing off and coasting instead.
To push off and coast:
- Straddle your bike and stand with your weight on your dominant foot.
- Put your non-dominant foot on its pedal and move the pedal to its lowest position, pushing slightly back so the opposite pedal sits slightly forward (one to two o’clock position) instead of straight-up. (You can spin the pedals backward to get them into place.)
- Push off the ground with your dominant foot and try to bring your dominant foot up to its pedal.
- Coast for as long as you can stay balanced like this.
- Put your feet down and start again.
Notes on coasting:
While walking a bike forward can help you learn to balance, it’s not a natural starting position for pedaling.
Transitioning to the “push off and coast” technique will help you prepare to start pedaling.
3 – Learn to pedal your bike.
Once you have a feel for how to balance on a bike, it’s time to start pedaling.
Pedaling is how you propel your bike forward while riding.
To learn to pedal a bike:
- Sit on the bike and put your weight on your dominant foot.
- Put your non-dominant foot on its pedal and move the pedal to its lowest position, pushing slightly back so the opposite pedal sits slightly forward instead of straight-up (just as in the “push off and coast” technique above).
- Push off with your dominant foot to start the bike rolling forward.
- Bring your dominant foot up to its pedal, which should be in the perfect position to start pressing down on it.
- Press the pedal with your foot to turn the wheel and propel the bike forward. This will press the pedal toward the front of the bike and bring the other pedal up.
- Press the other pedal toward the front of the bike to continue pedaling.
This is all pedaling is, pushing forward and down with one foot and then the other over and over again to turn the wheels and keep propelling the bike forward.
Once you’re more comfortable with balance, you can do this from a stopped position.
Just make sure your pedal is in a high enough position, just front of straight up (the one to two o’clock position), to get enough propulsion to stay upright.
4 – Learn to stop on your bike.
Brakes on bikes have different levels of responsiveness, and front and back brakes on the same bike respond differently due to weight distribution.
This makes it a good idea to walk around with your bike and test both the front and back brakes to get a feel for how responsive they are before you climb on.
It also makes it a good idea to get comfortable using your back brakes first.
To learn to stop on a bike:
- Walk your bike around a flat surface.
- Press your brakes one at a time to see how they respond.
- Try different levels of pressure when pressing the brakes to see how it changes their responsiveness.
- Get on the bike and start coasting forward.
- Press the back brake to see how it brings you to a (slightly delayed) stop.
- When you’re comfortable braking with the back brake only, incorporate the front brake. (Make sure you apply both brakes at the same time and use gentle pressure.)
Notes on stopping:
- While you’re learning to stop/brake on a bike, keep things slow. Don’t start riding at speed until you are very comfortable with how the brakes on your bike work.
- Most back brakes will not bring you to an immediate stop. Since the weight distribution is in front of them, you will stop slower and slide somewhat before you stop. Keep this in mind as you learn.
- Most front brakes (when fully depressed) will bring your bike to an immediate stop. If you are stopping from very high speed, a sudden stop can throw your bike off-balance, make you skid sideways, or even toss you over the handlebars.
- Don’t let the responsiveness or slow-responsiveness of your brakes scare you. It’s just a reminder as to why it’s so important to learn to use the brakes on your bike well before amping up your speed.
5 – Learn to steer your bike.
Once you can go forward and stop on your bike, you can start to learn how to steer.
Steering is one of the most intimidating parts of learning to ride a bike because turning on a bike changes its balance and momentum.
Just like riding forward, it’s something you’ll get a feel for the more you ride.
To practice steering on a bike:
- Start pedaling forward.
- Stop pedaling and turn the wheel slightly to make a large, wide turn.
- As you come out of the turn, start pedaling again to maintain your momentum and stay balanced.
- Keep practicing wide turns until you are completely comfortable and feel balanced as you make them.
- Once you can make wide turns, start practicing smaller, tighter turns.
Notes on steering a bike:
Don’t forget to practice turning to both sides.
Be Brave and Have Fun
Learning to ride a bike as an adult (or even as a child) can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be complicated.
There are no fancy techniques or skills required (at least, not when it comes to casual or fitness riding).
To get going, you simply have to get a feel for the balance and movement, just like everyone else.
When it comes down to it, learning to ride a bike is really a matter of steeling your nerves, climbing into the saddle, and accepting that you’re going to wobble a bit before you get your wheels beneath you.
New to cycling? Check out our guide at Getting Started With Cycling (Cycling For Beginners).