How To: Take Your Kid Mountain Biking

This coming weekend is IMBA’s annual Take a Kid Mountain Biking Day, so we felt this was a timely opportunity to share some of our tips for taking your little shredders out on the trails.

Kids are resilient but if they have a terrible experience on a bike, they might not be quite so willing to engage in your favorite activity with you next time. Here are a few suggestions for making sure everyone has fun and you all continue to share smiles for miles as a family.

Tips from Dirt Rag Art Director, Dad Bod and parent Stephen Haynes: 

1. Spontaneity

Sometimes the best time to hit the trail is when you least expect it. Having all your riding gear (helmets, shoes, gloves, water packs, etc.) ready to go, and your bikes in good working order, makes it easier to capitalize on free moments. We like to put our riding gear in reusable grocery bags, one for each member of the family, which makes it easy to grab and throw in the truck at a moment’s notice.

2. Gear

I can’t stress this enough; ride what you have. Neither of our kids had legitimate mountain bikes the first handful of times out on the trail and I’m convinced it isn’t necessary for them to have a good time. Anything short of a road-racing bike will likely be fine for them to get a sense of what mountain biking is all about. You’ll be taking it very slowly either way, don’t complicate the issue by investing in equipment your kid may or may not use. After they’ve gone a handful of times (or more) and show a sincere interest in the activity, look at what you can afford and take your kid to a local shop so they can help pick out their new ride.

3. Recon

If your child has never been mountain biking before, take them somewhere that you are familiar with, and is entry level. Don’t confuse the issue by getting lost or being indecisive. You want to be able to call out directionals or explain what’s coming. If you’re confident, your kid will have confidence in you. Go get lost after you’ve built a mountain biking rapport with your child. Then it’s fun and funny to get a little “lost”. You can even let them try to figure out how to get back to the car.

4. Patience 

Kids go slowly (at least our kids do), and that’s perfectly fine. The best solution I’ve found to riding with our kids is to have a partner with you to help corral them – one in front, one behind. The person in front can dictate the pace, so the child doesn’t take a corner too fast and can be warned about obstacles. The lead person can also demonstrate obstacle clearance for the child, letting them see that things are possible. The trailing person simply stays with the child and shouts encouragement as needed.

The other benefit to having two adults along is the ability for one adult to free up the other to ride ahead, at speed, without leaving the child behind. My wife and I will take turns riding ahead and riding with our son, so we all get a good ride in.

If you only have one person to ride with your kid, you can ride ahead of, or behind your child. If you ride ahead, you have to monitor your speed and constantly check to make sure your mini-me is with you. If you ride behind, it’s easier to shout encouragement and give them warning about what may be coming up around the next corner. Try both to discover what works best for you.

5. Encouragement

Most kids want to make their parents proud, yet there is a fine line between encouraging a kid to try their hardest and pushing a kid into giving up. Where that line exists for your kid is something you’ll have to discover for yourself. Still, when riding with your kid, it is important to give them verbal cues that they are doing great and that you’re there to witness it.

The areas I seem to encourage my kids the most:

  • Standing up while descending. Both of our kids take the appearance of a downhill to sit on their saddle, which in most cases is fine, but while mountain biking can result in getting bucked out of the seat, or thumped in the rear. My wife and I are constantly encouraging them to stand up while riding in general, but especially when going downhill.
  • Climbing hills.  Another area where standing can make all the difference is climbing hills. I tend to let our kids know when a hill is coming so they can prepare for it (read: grumble about more hills), then as we approach and while they’re climbing, I give them a steady stream of encouragement and a hearty high-five when they make it to the top. Or, conversely, a hearty high-five for effort if they fell short.
  • Going over roots and rocks and bigger obstacles. What seem like small obstacles to adults can loom large for a child. I try not to take for granted how big or small something is for me, and encourage my kids as necessary.
  • Crashing or falling over. Happens all the time in mountain biking. Most low-speed crashes are harmless and I approach them with good humor. Remember, your kid will react to you, not the crash, so keep it light until things really go wrong.
  • End of the ride. High-fives, smiles and recounting all the good things your kid accomplished on the ride help leave a positive, lasting impression on them. If you’re having a hard time pulling out positives, try to think of something that you both saw while riding (birds, bugs, rodents, snakes, etc.), nature is awesome! Just don’t be critical of your kid, you want them to associate mountain biking with being positive and being outdoors.

6. Treats

Take this in any direction you want, be it fast food, ice cream, or fair-trade, organic, kale chips, kids (and adults) love positive reinforcement, so treat yourself and your kid for being awesome and getting out on the trail!

Do you ride with kids? What tips do you have for getting them out there and making sure everyone has fun? Tell us in the comments!