If you’re a mountain biker, you know the joy of navigating single track, banking a turn, and challenging yourself on terrain as you whip past boulders, trees, or mountain peaks. But how and when to introduce your kids to the mountain biking sport? Children can absolutely mountain bike and enjoy the many benefits of this sport: building fitness, gaining confidence, and enjoying time in the outdoors. All they need is the correct gear, instruction, and practice. Here’s how to get kids on two wheels and on the trail:
Most quality mountain bikes, padding, and apparel are sized for kids over age eight, but that doesn’t mean you should leave younger kids at home. Consider biking tandem with babies and toddlers (on wider, flatter, or paved trail), or invest in balance bikes for toddlers and preschoolers. These small bikes without pedals are ideal for kids who have only recently mastered learning to walk, and teach balance while giving young children a feel for cycling.
When kids are approximately six to eight years old, most will be ready for their first mountain bike (see section on sizing and selecting bikes below) and their first taste of longer distances and dirt riding. Start on paved bike paths or rail trails, focusing not on the journey, but on the destination. Bike to a favorite playground, a lake or river to swim in, or to a picnic location. Parents enjoy the process of pedaling along the trail, but kids? Not so much.
Allow kids to progress from paved trail to dirt by beginning with wider, smoother dirt roads like Jeep roads or Forest Service roads, and graduate to pump tracks (bike parks) and single track (trail-width track) slowly.
Kids who have previously only biked on pavement need to learn proper mountain biking technique before tackling single track. Teach kids what’s commonly known as “default position” or “attack position”: stand with pedals level, elbows bent, and weight centered over the bike. Remind kids to remain relaxed; no stiff muscles or death grips allowed.
No matter the terrain, whether it be steep, rocky, or technical, teach kids to keep their head up and their eyes focused on the trail ahead of them, not on the obstacles they’re currently trying to avoid. Looking at obstacles such as trees, trail edges, or boulders just about guarantees you’ll hit them.
Encourage kids to practice often, even if just at home. Grass, dirt, and even curbs, gutters, and stairs can be great places to hone mountain biking skills between trips to the trail.
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