Kids and nature go together like peanut butter and jelly. And, for those of us who love exploring the outdoors on a mountain bike, sharing that joy with a youngster can be an extremely rewarding and fun experience for both parties. But, we know it can feel intimidating to go off road with your tot. A little planning and preparation (for both you and the kids) can make things a whole lot smoother, maybe even downright flowy. So, here are our top 10 tips, from MTB Moms Courtney (@Court_rides_bikes) and Emily (@groms_mom), for introducing your kiddo to two-wheeled, off-road adventures.
1. Get the Right Bike
Getting a properly fitted bike that isn’t too heavy will help your kid feel confident and in control on trails. Just like adult mountain bikes, kids' mountain bikes run the gamut of quality and price. So take time to do research, talk to other parents or visit a local shop to find a youth specific mountain bike that matches your kids ability, size and trail preferences. For smaller young riders, the weight of the bike can be the biggest factor in how it handles. Sometimes, a stripped down hardtail with fat tires will weigh several pounds less and be easier to ride than a similar sized bike with full or front suspension. Search for used or hand-me-down options to reduce the cost of keeping your kid on a bike that fits them as they grow through the size range.
2. Practice Before You Hit the Trails
Help your kid get familiar with their bike and basic bike skills before hitting the trails. You can get practice just riding around the neighborhood. Look for places to work on braking on a steep downhill, riding uphill in and out of the saddle, and going over small obstacles like curbs and speed bumps to get your kids accustomed to uneven terrain. Watch some YouTube videos together to get them excited about mountain biking.
3. Start Small and Build Up To Bigger Objectives
Choose trails that are shorter, close to home and gentle for your first rides. If you have a local pump track or skills park, that's a great place to start. Look for trails that are low commitment and fun. Emily likes to give their usual rides memorable names that help give her daughter a reference so she knows where they’re heading and what to expect. It will take time for both you and the groms to build up your confidence and desire to tackle longer trails. Involve the kids in deciding where to ride. If they’re asking for more challenges or longer rides, then ramp it up slowly to find the right level of adventure.
4. Stop and Practice Tricky Sections
Take time to session, or repeat, challenging sections of the trail. This helps to build the child's confidence on the bike and allows them to see progression when hitting a section of a trail a few times. Something that may have been really scary the first time may be fun and exciting after a few tries.5. Let the Kids be Kids
Got a princess fan in your group, or a dino lover? Kids love a little flair, whether it’s a tutu, tiara, or t-rex horn, let them add some of their own style to their ride. A small handlebar bag or lightweight basket can also be a great way to bring along a special friend or carry home treasures found along the way. For youngsters, a bike ride might be as much about searching for forest critters or cool rocks as it is about the actual riding. Give them the time and space to travel at their own speed and follow what piques their interest, you might be amazed at the cool things you find too.
6. More Friends is More Fun
Find other kids of similar ages and abilities to ride with. It can be empowering for kids to work together to figure out tricky sections, help each other up if there’s a crash or cheer on friends when they need encouragement. It’s also just plain fun to ride with friends (I think we can all relate). And if you can get an additional adult to come along too it can help share the responsibility of route finding and keeping everyone safe and comfortable. Look for local kids mountain bike camps or clinics as well, to give youngsters more opportunities to ride with peers and learn from different coaches.
7. Grab a Tow
A ready made tow rope like the TowWhee can make getting littles ones up trails much easier for everyone involved. It can be frustrating and exhausting for kids and parents when struggling up a climb leaves the littles too tired to enjoy the downhill. Kids are already at a disadvantage on climbs since their bike to body weight ratio is generally much higher than it is for adults. Towing them up the trail can extend your riding distance and make the day run smoother, plus the adult gets a little extra workout too.
8. Snacks, Snack and More Snacks
Bring all the snacks. All kinds of snacks, all the favorite special treats and plenty of water to wash them down with. It can be helpful to make designated “snack spots” along trails you ride frequently so the kids know when they’ll get a chance to eat, relax and play around. If your kiddo is psyched to have their own water bottle or hydration pack that’s great, but try to carry the bulk of the food and extra water yourself so smaller riders aren’t encumbered by a bulky pack.
9. Upgrade Your First Aid and Emergency Kit
We’ve all gone on a ride without a tube or air, or even a lone bandaid and hoped for the best. But, with kids it’s important to level-up on preparedness. Make sure to pack a flat kit with a tube that fits your kid’s tires, as well as your own. And make sure you have all the tools and knowledge to change a flat or fix minor mechanical issues on both bikes (some kids bikes don’t have quick release axles or skewers). Pack a small first aid kit, add in some fun bandaids, and any locally specific emergency supplies you might need. Be aware if you’ll be leaving cell range on your ride so you can take extra precautions, if necessary. And, as always, let someone know where you’re going, when you plan to return, and who is with you.
10. Keep Them Coming Back for More
Mountain biking can be a lifelong, fulfilling sport. Remember that your kid is just at the very beginning of that journey and the most important thing is to support them where they’re at. Kids go through so many stages and phases that one day they might want to session that technical rooty section and then next ride they’d rather spend an hour splashing in the creek. That’s ok, and totally normal so just take a breath, chill out and follow their lead. A no-pressure, positive experience will encourage kids to keep coming back for more, for years to come. And, before you know it, you’ll be trying to keep up with them.