Introducing your Child to Mountain Biking
|This article was created our readers
-- who submitted their advice based on experience teaching their children to
mountain bike. We got a lot of great suggestions. If you're starting your
child into off-road riding, you'll find this article helpful!
||Mental and physical preparation.
Your new biker
isn't ready to be "one of the guys." You need to spend some
one-on-one time getting him ready. For a not-so-tough kid,
that means general physical conditioning first. Make it fun. Kids hate
the "death-march" type of "getting-in-shape"
activities adults go for.
Don't assume that BMX skills are enough for
mountain biking. It's different. The bikes and the riding position are
different, and picking your way down a rough steep rock face is very
different than "taking a run" at the dirt bumps next door. A
kid who's good at BMX will often be over-confident, and that can be
|The right equipment.
Let the child be part of the decision process.
They're more likely to enjoy the bike if they helped pick it out. But
that means you need to do a little prep work, so he's ready to recognize
that a good bike is more than a bright-colored paint job.
Size the bike correctly: biggest wheels he can
handle on a frame that fits his size. Most 20-inch-wheeled bikes are
crap -- and the small wheels make life difficult off-road.
Get solid quality. If you can afford it, go top-of-the-line.
Quick-release skewers, trigger shifters, light frame. On kids' bikes, grip shifters are
the usual, but they're hard for kids to twist while trying to stay on a
|| If your budget is limited,
consider a good frame with cheaper components. When he's good enough to
need better parts, upgrade the components. Time spent in the garage
wrenching with your little biker can be as valuable as time on the
trail! But if you're not mechanically skilled, spend the money to get
Customizing: Consider building up a 12 or 13
size frame with disc brakes. Then fit it with smaller wheels (24")
and a smaller crank to start. As the child gets bigger, move up to
standard (26") wheels and a standard crank.
Get ready for that first ride carefully.
Remember the terror you felt when you faced steep downhill slopes --
slopes you now take with confidence. Save the rough stuff until he's
Spend some time riding on the lawn. A nearby
park with rolling grass hills is perfect for getting used to that
"off-road" feel. Grass-riding also gets legs toughened up.
Go to the church parking lot and set up a
steering course using cones, so he can practice tight turns. Lay a
series of 2x4's down where he'll ride over them, so he gets used to
hitting bumps as he turns and pedals.
Ride off the curb in front of
the house. Have him practice the off-the-seat, butt-back position as he
rolls over the curb. When he's ready, try rolling down a spot on the
sidewalk where there are 2-3 steps.
Starting to ride off-road.
Pick easy trails at first. Your first dirt can
be a broad jeep trail, or an easy spur off the neighborhood paved trail.
For very young kids, consider a trail-a-bike so he can get used to the
feel of trail riding and build strength.
Let your new biker learn at
his own pace. Often, it's best to let the child lead out, especially on
the uphill part of the ride. When it looks like he's wobbling, take a
Keep it simple; make it fun. (This goes for
teaching the wife or girlfriend, too.) Don't push to go too fast. Speed will improve
as ability and physical condition improve. Spend enough time, often
enough, on easy dirt before you go for the "real thing."
|Facing harder trails.
Never belittle his abilities, and never push him to take
dangerous slopes. Let him find his own solutions, and make it clear you
don't mind if he gets off and walks the rough or steep sections. In
fact, maybe you should get off and walk with him.
Have the child practice standing on the pedals.
The natural tendency for most kids is to take their feet off the pedals
and put them out to the side when they get nervous. They need to
understand that the safest way to go through tricky stuff is with all
their weight coming down through level pedals, and with the butt off the
Monitor the child's energy level, and build a
lot of breaks into the ride. Being tired can be very dangerous in
difficult terrain, and your kid may not want to tell you he's bushed.
Learning technical riding.
Show him techniques. Let him watch you ride
some tricky stuff. But
never pressure him to do things he's not ready for. If he's too nervous
to do something you think is easy, just accept it and go on. Stay
Work on steering, with attention to the
position of the head and eyes. Teach head-up, eyes-where-you're-going
steering. If a kid is looking at an obstacle, tree, or trail edge, he'll probably hit it.
Teach kids that in the tough stuff, they should
look ahead -- never at what's under the front tire. And they should keep
Some children are naturally nervous. Their
sense of self-preservation will actually get them into trouble. They
look down at the horrible threatening bumps under the front tire, freeze
up, and try to go too slow for the terrain. You need to be a lot more
patient, and provide frequent positive experiences. For these kids,
sometimes a single minor biff can completely undo weeks of
confidence-gaining activity. The last thing he needs is a big fall, or
even a big scare. Keep your expectations reasonable for your
child's mental state and physical condition.
On the other hand, some kids have little
appreciation of danger. They gain skills quickly and tend to become
overconfident. These little airheads require constant monitoring so they don't maim
themselves for life.
With appropriate supervision and gentle encouragement,
your little mountain biker will no longer be a "burden" who
keeps you from enjoying your own ride. He'll be a biking buddy.
These photos are of Vincent Bria, on his first
bike trip with the big guys (November 2003). As you can see, Vince was a
little nervous about the terrain of Gooseberry and Little Creek!