We’ve all seen them on the ski slopes: 3-year-olds shredding black diamonds with the parents chasing behind. But where are these little shredders when the snow melts and singletrack appears across the mountain?
With the invention of balance bikes, bike parks, and lightweight pedal bikes there is no reason your child can’t start learning to shred singletrack. Start with these five tips and watch your little one rip.
TIP 1: START THEM ON A BALANCE BIKE
Learning to balance, lean, and get your feet down when you’re in trouble are important skills to learn early. And nothing does that better than a balance bike. You can introduce a balance bike into your child’s life around the age of 18 months. Balance bikes eliminate the need for training wheels, teach balance, and most models are lightweight. And, as your child progresses, balance bikes are still a great alternative to heavy 12-inch pedal bikes. They allow little ones to not only maneuver it easily, but they are also able to lift and carry the bike themselves as well – something they simply cannot do with a pedal bike that weighs more than 60% of their body weight.
As Strider’s Marketing Manager Kyla Wright says, “This is comparable to asking a 168 pound adult to ride a bike that weighs over 100 pounds!”
There are a number of balance bikes on the market. Look for one that is within your budget, weights less than 7 pounds, and has a platform for kids to rest their legs. A bonus for older kids is a hand brake. We love Strider Bikes around here like this one: Strider – 12 Sport Balance Bike
TIP 2: TAKE THEM ON ADVENTURES
Even a 2-year-old can start down the singletrack with you for 1/2 mile or play on the start of the trail. While it may seem hard to load up the entire family, it’s worth the extra effort for the exposure and experience.
Max, father of two and owner of Spawn Cycles states, “My kids aren’t big enough to ride longer trails with me, so I’ll go for a shorter spin with them on a trail or ride with them at the skatepark or pump track. When my kids get a little bigger I will spend as much time as I can with them on the trail because as we both age one thing is for sure – they will get better and I will get worse. Right now, and I imagine for a limited number of years in the future, they love riding with me. I can help them improve their skills and we can share a lot of fun times. They won’t want to ride with me forever so I want to enjoy it and help them develop as much as I can while I have the chance. I also find that it has the added benefit of getting me out riding more often than I had in the past few years.”
TIP 3: THINK BIKE PARKS AND BMX
If you have a chance, get your kids involved in BMX or visit a local bike park. They are a great way to build bike skills in a family-friendly environment. A lot of great mountain bikers have roots in BMX. It helps kids pick a line, handle a bike in tight quarters, and move their body weight around a bike to weight and unweight the bike. Jumping, bunny hopping, and manuals are great skills that transfer readily onto a mountain bike and can be a lot easier to master on a smaller BMX bike. Any type of exposure to pump tracks and trials-type features at a young age is also great, be it skinnies, teeter totters or any other number of fun things for kids to ride. Many BMX parks are also offering balance bike courses, races, and skills clinics.
TIP 4: QUALITY MATTERS
While you shouldn’t break the bank outfitting your child to ride, a quality pedal bike will go a long way to instilling a love of mountain biking and enhancing their experience. Once they have graduated from the balance bike, make sure their first pedal bike is appropriate for their size and weight.
“We hear tons of parents worried about the price of lightweight, high quality kids’ bikes,” says Max. “But think nothing of dropping hundreds on titanium parts or dropper posts for their own rides. I know from my own experience, my kids have a lot more time to ride than I do, and the benefits of a pound off of one of their bikes means a lot more to them than it does to me.”
It’s true that you don’t see many kids progressing or riding a lot when they have overly heavy or cumbersome bikes. It’s just not fun to deal with faulty brakes, shifters that don’t shift, frames that don’t respond, and shocks that don’t work. Also, a quality used kids bike has good resale value while the typical department store bike is probably headed for the trash making the net costs similar.
TIP 5: ALLOW PROGRESSION
Remember your first few years of mountain biking? I bet as you progressed along the rather steep learning curve you took your fair share of tumbles. And while your kids probably have better balance than you, they are also going to tumble as they improve. Don’t put labels on where they should be based on their age. Some kids will be ready for intermediate and advanced trails well before you think, while others may need additional time on the kid’s loop.
“Guaranteed, kids will take their share of spills and wipe-outs while learning to ride on both balance bikes and pedal bikes. Try to keep a positive attitude, bring lots of snacks, and dress for the falls. We had a rule in our house against wearing shorts for riding, and whenever possible I put my son in a long-sleeved shirt, bike gloves, and socks. Anything to cover up skin and protect it from the spills,” explains Tanya, an avid outdoor mom and blogger from Calgary.
And once you’ve covered the safety issues, push your kids to progress, while keeping things within their ability levels. Pushing the envelope is important, but scaring kids with bigger features they’re uncomfortable with, or taking them on long grueling rides, aren’t likely to motivate them. When in doubt, err on the side of caution when you’re trying harder features or longer, tougher rides for the first time.
Bottom line – Make it challenging, yet fun, and get them out regularly to build skills and a lifelong love of riding.
This article originally appeared in Issue 1 of Mountain Bike for Her.
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