Learning to ride a bike has never looked like more fun.
On a chilly spring day at Weems Creek Nursery School, seven three- and four-year-olds zoomed around in circles on the playground on tiny balance bikes. The kids were learning balancing skills with their teacher, Rachel Varn, the owner of PedalPower Kids. Varn was encouraging and patient with the little ones, and had a command of the group as they practiced bunny hops, blast-off starts and obstacle courses. This was only the kids’ second lesson with Varn, yet not a tear was shed even as kids bumped into each other and crashed on several occasions.
It’s no surprise the kids were having fun and were calm in learning. Varn has been dubbed by local parents as the “Bike Whisperer,” having taught over 250 kids since she opened PedalPower Kids a year ago.
Varn decided to start PedalPower Kids when she realized there were a lot of parents who were frustrated that their kids weren’t riding. “I knew that families in this area were using great swim instructors and, as a lifelong cyclist, I thought that there would be a market to do something similar,” says Varn. “So I started offering private lessons. I quickly added on camps through Anne Arundel County, and then through the city. And it’s grown like crazy.”
Varn, who lives in Severna Park with her husband and four kids ranging from second grade to a freshman in college, has worked in the bike industry, as well as in franchising. Plus she has a background that includes a lot of teaching and coaching, including in track, field hockey and swimming, she says.
Varn says there’s two pieces of learning to ride a bike—balance and pedaling. “Pedaling, developmentally, is something that most kids five and above can do able to easily,” she says, adding that many kids are “stuck on the balance piece, and that’s rooted in fear. So the way that I teach is really focused on developing balance, developing the core skills and independence. We put all the control back on the child.”
Also woven into that curriculum are lots of games and fun stuff, which helps kids develop a rapport with the instructor and to feel comfortable on their bikes. Riders also learn skills that parents might not recognize need to be taught—like how to get on and off a bike properly and how to use brakes the right way.
When it comes to picking bikes for your child, Varn says developing trust in the bike is key. “I think a lot of the trouble that kids have is because their bikes are incredibly heavy, and really unwieldy.”
She teaches kids almost exclusively on her fleet of Woom bikes, which range from balance bikes to beginner and big kid bikes. “But, whatever we’re doing,” she says, “we’re always going to transition them back to the bike that they’re going to ultimately be using.
Now that PedalPower Kids has taken off, Varn is offering camps this summer at Pip Moyer Recreation Center in Annapolis and Kinder Farm Park in Millersville. For kids who want to become better riders, or who want an opportunity to get out and ride more often, PedalPower offers bike clubs where kids meet and ride on trails and in parks.
PedalPower Kids also hosts bike rodeos at organized rides and other community and school events. Varn sets up a number of different kinds of safety and skill stations at the events, where kids can also learn about bike, traffic, and helmet safety. “It’s my goal to get out there and touch larger populations and not just the families that can afford classes and bike rodeos or a nice way to do that,” Varn says.
Whether your kids are just starting to toddle along on a balance bike, need the confidence to ride on their own or are looking for a group of biking buddies, Pedal Power Kids has something for all skill levels.
Check out the company’s programs at pedalpowerkids.com.