September 05, 2019 5 min read
We're getting children on bicycles with derailleurs at a very young age. Because of that, we often get asked how to teach young children to shift. Here at Prevelo I've been successful at teaching kids as young as 3½ to shift. Every 4 year old that I've worked with has been able to shift using the Shimano Acera RAPIDFIRE shifters that come on the Alpha Three and Alpha Four. To be clear, I'm not implying that all 4 year olds should be able to shift (in fact, size wise few 4 years olds are ready for the Alpha Three, which is our smallest bike with a derailleur). But with proper instruction and quality shifters most young children can learn to shifter easily.
Hands down my preference for young children is a Shimano RAPIDFIRE style shifter. This type of shifter has two levers. One is lever operated with the right thumb and the other lever is operated with the right index finger. The shifting is binary and easy to learn. And the action is smooth and well indexed.
Here's a little handy chart to remember what each lever is for:
|Cog||Moves to Larger Cog||Moves to Smaller Cog|
|Gear Ratio||Lowers Gear Ratio||Raises Gear Ratio|
|Use||Going uphill||Going fast or downhill|
I like to start by introducing children to the two levers and how to use them. This entire step happens with the bike standing still in a safe and level place. The rider isn't moving or pedaling. I want the rider totally focused on those two black levers on the right side of the handlebar.
Once the rider is proficient at operating the shifters, I like to have them see what they actually do.
Goal: The objective here is to help the rider understand that (1) when the shifter levers are operated, the chain moves on the cassette and (2) that this only happens when the pedals are spinning. The later is an important lesson - in order for shifting to happen the rider must both (1) operate the shift lever and (2) spin the pedals.
Now that the rider knows how to operate the shifters, it is time to bring it all together.
The next step is for children to learn when to shift and what gear to shift into. As long as the rider responds to your "finger" and "thumb" instructions, you'll be able to coach the rider to shift into the gear that you believe is correct for the terrain. For example, if you approach a steep hill you might instruct the rider to "click the thumb lever 3 times". From my experience, through this type of coaching children quickly catch on to when they should be shifting and the gear that they should be in.