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!
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 dangerous.
.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 bumpy trail.
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 quality.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 ready.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.
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 break. 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 seat.      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.
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 positive. 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 pedaling. 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!