Ways to get your child hooked on mountain biking
Fun + adventure = mountain biking. A textbook equation that we have to agree with! When heading out for those initial rides with your offspring, fun and adventure are two vital ingredients to put you on the trail to success.
It’s fairly simple: kids like doing what they enjoy – and exploring the world on two wheels should most definitely rank highly in the enjoyment stakes. Follow these tips and tricks to instil your kid with a life-long love for mountain biking:
The right bike and equipment
If there’s one thing that’s fundamental to getting stoked on mountain biking, it’s finding the right bike for your child. You can see this two-fold: firstly, it means ensuring your child is riding a kids-specific frame size and build that fits them, and; secondly, that the bike is suitable for longer rides or more serious off-road riding. When selecting a bike, take the following elements into consideration:
- Size: not too big, not too small – but just right
- Weight: the lighter, the better
- Geometry: the frame needs to be easy to get their leg over when mounting and dismounting. A low centre of gravity and long wheelbase add stability.
- Components: child-specific saddle, smooth shifting, brake levers with a suitable reach, good braking power comparable to that delivered by disc brakes; at this stage, there's no need for clipless pedals yet
- Tyres: wide, knobby tyres to lend traction on climbs and add comfort on long rides and descents
You can learn more here about how to identify a suitable mountain bike.
In terms of equipment, make sure your child is covered for all eventualities, including sun, wind and rain. A correctly fitting helmet, grippy shoes and breathable clothing all form part of a rider's essential kitbag, but riding glasses and cycling gloves shouldn't be overlooked either. For the full overview of equipment, check out this list.
The right route
Forget scoring peaks, riding takes centre-stage for now. For kids, going cycling is not about training; instead, it's about having fun and being excited. Children are curious and keen to explore. Include them while route-planning and trace the route on the map alongside them so they know where you are headed and what to expect – this will arouse excited anticipation and give them a picture in their heads of the upcoming excursion.
Distance & endurance: When picking the route, take the ability level of your youngest or least experienced child into consideration. As a general rule to avoid turning the ride into something that resembles more punishment than pleasure for all involved, avoid anything that’s too steep, difficult or long. Base the decision on your child's ability and fitness level – you’re the best judge of what may or may not be achievable. How your child is feeling on the day is another key element to consider too. In any doubt, start with a small route, but keep your options open when it comes to adding an extra loop at the end if your child is keen to keep going. As they progress, you can cover more distance together and add in more exciting trails.
Tip: throughout your first few rides together it is worthwhile checking to see if there are any useful train connections on the route. Should your child fatigue earlier than anticipated or storm clouds erupt over your heads, you can salvage the bike ride with a comfortable train journey home.
Adventure: Long, oh-so-straight access roads in the woods can quickly become boring. Variety therefore needs to be high on your list of route planning priorities; looping in sections alongside streams, lakes, or adding in some trails, will keep excitement levels high. These sections provide an opportunity for your child to explore, acquaint themselves with nature, or simply let their imagination run free; the forest can turn a jungle that's ripe for adventures, or their bike transforms into a galloping stallion covering vast distances.
Heading to a bike park is a sure-fire way to take mountain biking up a notch in the eyes of your child. Most bike parks have trails that cater for all abilities. Pumptracks are especially well suited to newbies and these tyro mountain bikers will have a blast as they improve their technique in a fun way. You'll see that bike parks are home to many children as well as pro riders and experts, from whom your offspring will be able to pick up some tips. Introducing your kid to the joys of trails will also score some points. Flow trails – reminiscent of swooping roller-coasters through the woods – should be your first port-of-call.
The destination and the mid-ride goals: The promise of an exciting destination keeps morale high. But don’t forget the importance of intermediate stops and little on-route rewards to preserve the good mood on a long ride. The prospect of a dip in the lake, an ice cream or an adventure play park can unlock energy reserves that were long considered spent, or even non-existent; easy ways to overcome minor slumps.
A flexible break schedule
Depending on the distance and current mood, you should plan on regular breaks. Streams or lake-sides are ideal spots, where your child can let off steam or simply have a paddle. After a picnic or snack, they’ll get back on the bike with renewed vigor.
Always monitor your child’s hydration levels; children are much more vulnerable than adults and, amidst the excitement of the bike ride, may forget to drink. Drinking a sufficient amount is paramount to ensure our bodies function optimally – particularly when doing sport or an activity in the heat. A cereal bar, veg snacks, or a sandwich do the trick when it comes to boosting energy levels.
Stop frequently on downhill trails to shake out forearms and wrists (a condition known as ‘arm pump’) and use the time to realign cycling glasses that may have got jostled up along the trail.
You can split the ride up with little games to keep spirits high. There’s no shortage of natural props for skills sessions: use pine cones to mark a slalom course, or draw a stop line in the ground to practice high precision braking.
Drum up company for the ride
The fun factor will shoot off the scale if your child has company on the bike ride, such as their best friend or a similar-aged cousin. Kids learn from each other, support and motivate each other, and–perhaps most importantly – are less likely to fatigue early. Such two-wheeled adventures in the company of friends or cousins will form part of those cherished childhood memories that they’ll be able to share.
Don’t hold back on the praise. Keep your child motivated with positive feedback. This helps boost their self-confidence and heighten their sense of pride. For example, pass on a post-trick high five or compliment if they manage to jump over a root – such feedback means a lot to tyro mountain bikers.
Once you're up to speed with these tips, all that remains is to head out on your bike ride together and start sharing the love for the world's greatest sport. Before you know it, their passion might soon surpass yours.