But hardcore mountain biking probably seems a long way off. So how do you start them off on the right foot?
1. Take them along for the ride
Maybe your little ones aren’t quite peddling with their own power just yet. Fear not, there are so many different ways you can carry them with you during your bumpy rides. It’ll help introduce them to the sport and develop a positive relationship with the bike. Of course, you might not want to hit all those gnarly bumps and steep descents, but it’ll get them used to the sensations and thrills of mountain biking.
Trailers are pretty limited on mountain bike trails unless you’re sticking to the fire roads. It’ll be far bumpier for them in the back too. There are other options, like a front-mounted bike seat. This is a great option since it gives them a real perspective, as well as not adding much weight for you or increasing your turning radius. The only downside is that if you crash, they crash too. It’s part and parcel of learning to bike off-road, but sticking to slightly easier trails will ensure their experience is a positive one.
2. Get a balance bike
Using stabilisers isn’t helpful off-road, and it’s important that your little one learns good balancing skills. A balance bike will get them used to being on their own bike as well as building confidence on two wheels. Using their own power, they’ll feel a sense of achievement and learn to love their bike, giving you a great start to getting them off-road.
3. Head to a pump track
Carrying a balance bike could be pretty tricky if they get tired whilst you’re out on a ride. Instead, you could just head to the pump track first. Let them ride around on that until they’ve burnt some energy, and then carry them on your bike (see point 1). That way, you can ride at your own pace and the little one enjoys your ride but they’ve also enjoyed their own riding too.
4. Invest in a decent bike
If you know what it’s like to ride a heavy bike that’s been poorly maintained, with sticky gears and no suspension, then you’ll also know the contrast of riding a really good bike. It can make or break a ride. It’s the same for your little ones. Start them off on a decent bike to minimise some of the difficulty of learning to ride. A lightweight bike can make it feel effortless, meaning they’re more likely to stick with it.
5. Don’t be too overprotective
Invest in a good helmet as well as knee and elbow pads and let them fall off their bike at slow speeds. Learning to fall is part of doing an inherently risky activity. They’ll learn to control their falls, reducing the potential for injury when they do come off their bike. They’ll soon be off riding on their own, so ensure you’re equipping them with the skills to ride safely and confidently from the outset.
6. Snacks. The more the better.
This is just good advice for anyone who has kids, regardless of their age or what they’re doing. They’ll inevitably burn a lot of energy learning to ride, especially on challenging terrain. Bring snacks to keep up their energy and maintain motivation. We’re not saying you have to bribe them, but it might help to encourage them whilst eliminating hanger.
7. Keep them warm, dry and comfortable
If you’re carrying your little one along with you, they’ll not be working as hard. That means they’ll need more layers than you if it’s not a warm day. Hats, gloves, extra layers, a warm drink. Even if they’re riding, it’ll help to have an extra layer for snack stops so they don’t catch a chill if they’ve been getting sweaty on the climbs.
8. Lower the pressure in their tyres
It’s nothing major, but it can help reduce the bumpiness of their ride. Unless it’s a flat, rolling ride and they’ll want to gather speed, less pressure in their tyres can take out some of the bounce whilst they build their confidence.
9. Invite their friends
Make it a social activity. If you’ve got friends who are also getting their little ones into biking, or they’re already riding the bumpy stuff, then bring them along. It can help make the activity more fun whilst they learn, creating a positive association with the activity and making it more likely they’ll want to go again. Kids can learn great tips from each other too.
10. Start small and keep your expectations realistic
There’s no rush. Whether they’re peddling away or still on a balance bike, make sure your expectations are realistic. Plan short rides with plenty of stops, a decent cafe or a good packed lunch and toilet breaks. Maybe even stop to look at bugs or play on the swings along the way. It might not be the riding that you’re used to, but those little legs aren’t as fit as yours yet. Don’t worry, the time will come when you’re chasing them down trails, but start small and build distance and difficulty slowly over time.
Sharing activities you love with your kids is one of the best things you can do. It’s a great bonding experience, and can set them up with their own great hobbies for life. But of course, it comes with its challenges. Yes, you want them to love it, but you can’t rush these things. It won’t be long before you’re chasing them down gnarly descents and wishing they’d slow down so you can catch up on the climbs!