How To: Getting Your Kids and Spouse to Mountain Bike

How To Kids

“Biking is life”

Update: March 19, 2013
Well it’s that time of year again as days get warmer and longer. Get the kids riding now and you’ll enjoy a full season of adventure with them as the family goes out on many adventures throughout the season. Our Roadbikereview editor Jason Sumner wrote a fabulous article about this same subject and he echoes a lot of our key points and adds several good ones here.

We’ve practiced what we’ve preached throughout the year and have gotten many kids riding. One of the things we’d like to reinforce is to make riding normal. If you ride all the time and make it part of your daily or weekly routine, your kids will ride all the time. Trips to the park, school and friends are fun bike rides instead of car hauling routines.

Another revelation is us cyclists need to support cycling infrastructure like BMX parks, pump tracks, bike lanes in your town. The timing is good to build the first pump track in your town, neighborhood and backyard. Kids are ready to bike if there existed fun places to do it.

And what was that quote from that movie Sandlot? “Biking is life.” ūüôā

Originally published Oct, 2012

You are an avid mountain biker and it’s more of a lifestyle to you than a mere hobby. So the dream is to ride with your spouse and/or kids. You want to share your love for the sport and you want them to benefit from all that mountain biking has to offer.

But it is easier said than done, right? Mountain biking involves hills aka ‘suffering’ ¬†and rocks aka ‘scary stuff.’ ¬†It is not easy but it is worthwhile. What is the best way to expose them and motivate them to the sport that you love most? ¬†How do you get the fire started in them so they actually fall in love with mountain biking and start looking to ride themselves?

Here’s a few pointers. Feel free to agree, disagree and add your own.

Start Early and Often – Expose them to the glory of a cycling lifestyle early and often. Get them ¬†a balance bike and get them on two wheels early. Go on short family rides around the neighborhood often. Watch fun cycling videos and races. Take them to events. ¬†Start when they’re around 5 years old, not when they’re teenagers. Use a trailer bike (third wheel connected to your bike) to get them out in the good hills early.

Peer Pressure – Nothing works like positive peer pressure. If there’s a bunch of moms or women going for a group ride, your wife will probably want to join them, specially if they’re her friends. Your kids will want to climb up a big hill if all their cool friends are doing it. Get their friends out riding and your family will go out riding with them. Hang around other families who have kids that ride bikes.

“Training wheels are the worst invention ever created for cyclists.”

Avoid Training Wheels – Training wheels are the worst invention ever created for cyclists. No one has ever been trained by these contraptions to ride a bike. In fact, they do the opposite. Training wheels are basically crutches that ruin a kids ability to balance a bike. Balancing a bike involves momentum and steering into the direction the bike is falling. Training wheels make a bike behave opposite of this as it will kick back at you if you try to balance a bike correctly. Also, when a kid is falling, they need to stick their foot out to catch themselves. Again, training wheels completely ruin this instinct. ¬†As a result, when kids remove the training wheels for the first time, they really have no idea how to balance the bike. ¬†They fall and get demoralized. ¬†The only skill they’ve learned to do is how to pedal a bike. They’re better off learning to pedal on a tricycle. Then they can learn to balance using a balance bike or two-wheeled scooter. This should only take a few weeks and they can then move on to a real bike.

Ride the road – Even though mountain biking is the ultimate goal, the road is the perfect place to train. It gets the muscles toned and it gets the rider comfortable with the bike. Ride the road dozens of times. Make it regular, fun and most of all, normal. Every hour they spend pedaling is like money in the bank. Make it count by teaching them how to drop curbs with ease. Mock up some races by sprinting to certain landmarks. Ride to the all the short errands and avoid the car. Make bike riding as natural as walking. Your spouse will most likely get hooked on road riding before they do with mountain biking because there is less ‘risk taker’ element to it.

Find the right bike -Give your family bikes that fit and make sure they are tuned perfectly. Make sure their saddles are soft and comfy. A little kid doesn’t need 35 psi. They need more like 15 psi. And make sure they can reach the brakes easily with their tiny hands. Optimize for control rather than speed. Do not force them into a big bike that they will grow in to 2 years from now. Do not use training wheels on the trail. Make sure everyone is on flat pedals.

Train them how to ride a bike. – That probably means you need training on how to properly ride a bike. Most adult mountain bikers have never had training on how to ride a bike and it’s a shame. Kids do not know how to use shifters and they usually ride in too heavy a gear or shift the opposite way when needed. Teach them to use both brakes all the time. Teach them how to keep the pedals level and absorb shock with their knees and elbows when dropping curbs.

Find the perfect trail – Do not find the best trail for you. Find the safest, easiest, funnest trail for them. Study the course and the route and make sure the course is dialed. Know every turn and every rock. Delete the words ‘epic’ and ‘adventure’ on the first rides with your family. Everything has to be perfect and make sure you have an alternate plan when it all goes wrong. Teach them adversity and suffering later, when they are hooked on the sport.

Behave like this is the funnest, most incredible thing in your life. – Their attitude will be a reflection of yours so show excitement and enthusiasm on every part of the journey. Do not get mad or frustrated no matter what happens. When something goes wrong, do not panic. Roll with the punches and they will learn to do the same. Overprepare for the ride but act like it’s a spur of the moment event during the ride.

Set up a reward or a goal. – Take them to ice cream or pancakes if they make it up a hill. Buy them a new bell, kickstand, stickers if they achieve something new. Get them something for their bike so they will love it and personalize it.

Make it an adventure РTake a ton of pictures and make an album or a video and relive the adventure with them. Marvel at all the animals and creatures you see. Make a game of who can spot the biggest animal or biggest tree.

About the author: Francis Cebedo

The founder of mtbr and roadbikereview, Francis Cebedo believes that every cyclist has a lot to teach and a lot to learn. "Our websites are communal hubs for sharing cycling experiences, trading adventure stories, and passing along product information and opinions." Francis' favorite bike is the last bike he rode, whether it's a dirt jumper, singlespeed, trail bike, lugged commuter or ultralight carbon road steed. Indeed, Francis loves cycling in all its forms and is happiest when infecting others with that same passion. Francis also believes that IPA will save America.

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  • Ben says:

    My son started on the Strider at 1… Now he’s riding a 12 inch pedal bike with no training wheels at 3. Balance bike are awesome for learning.

  • phil says:

    Great advice…I have two daughters that I am gently pushing toward biking. I bought my now 8 year old a 13″ Specialized Myka for her birthday last summer. She really likes the bike but her main complaint is that it weighs a million pounds. The bike is half her weight? It is like me riding a bike that weighs 100 pounds? I think this outlines a problem with getting kids into mountain biking. Kid oriented MTBs are generally horribly spec’d so you end up with a bike that is horrible when any up hill is involved. Unfortunately, the marketing department generally determined that low weight = high cost, so unless you are willing to drop a minimum of $1500 on a bike for your kid you’ll likely end up with a load of pot metal. Most of the entry level adult and kid oriented MTBs at the LBS barely rise above department store status. Its too bad since the big three could easily build high functioning, profitable bikes for $500. They won’t of course since if you can spend $500, whats another $500 to $1500 for an actual bike. On that note, I changed out the bar on my daughters bike with carbon bar. The stock bar was seriously on the order of 1000 grams. This is from the company that makes the Tarmac? I would never let that kind or junk represent the brand if that were my company.

    • Adrian says:

      Agree Phil. My kid’s Giant MTX 225 looks great, but weighs about the same as my Reign. It has an aluminium frame & rims, but lots of steel in hard-to-notice (painted) places like axles/cassette/spokes/bar/stem/post/chain-guide/derailleurs etc.

      I’d rather Giant dispensed with the utterly useless suspension fork (which isn’t sprung for a kids weight), 2-roller chain-guide, dirt-jump style seat & stem and put a little effort into weight reduction instead for the $500 RRP.

      Simple, light bikes are way more fun for a kid to learn on, but no-one makes them.

  • eb1888 says:

    I’d offer a bike with components I would ride. For a HT 29 a Reba or Manitou Pro fork and light wheels and tires and SLX brakes. These might have to come off my bike for awhile and go on a frame her size, probably a used Marlin or Sette or Hardrock. I’d ride the Suntour fork and heavy wheels to even things out. If it didn’t take the bike could go back on CL.

  • Ben says:

    I do have to say that Strider bikes are very light. My 1 year old can easily lift the whole thing off the ground. My 5 year old struggles a bit just to pull his bike from laying down to up on the wheels (it’s a 14 incher). The Strider just goes to show that it is possible to make a light bike for kids.

  • Francis says:

    Yes Ben, these new balance bikes are made of lighter materials so they’re not an anchor for a child. We’ve been using Glide bikes and they’re all aluminum with lightweight tires. I think it weighs 9 lbs when a normal kid bike is 20 lbs.

  • Mark Klement says:

    Both my kids learned how to ride using training wheels, my daughter was two wheeling by age 3 and my son by age 4. I didn’t find it to be a big deal.

    It is dificult to find good bikes for kids that do not weigh a ton. I have yet to see a useful suspension component on any kids bike that includes a Giant and a Specialized model. It’s the same problem with all the womens mtn bikes out there. The manufacturers make a big deal about women specific frames and components but the bikes are all heavyweights except in the extreme price range.

  • Corey says:

    I think that each type of bike has its place. My son loves his strider bike but he can’t ride it long distances, about a mile and longer, in which case he prefers his bike with training wheels. I didn’t realize that training wheels were so evil. Does it matter as long as the child gets out and rides regardless if they use the latest trend or the “old” version.

  • Nick 1210 says:

    Got my son a Specialized Hardrock when he was six-then his mum took him to Oz-nother story-but I went over there to see him, we went mountain biking, his mum sent me a thing he did for show and tell where he said his favourite thing in the whole wide world was screaming down a dirt track with his dad:) Still get a little lump in my throat:)

  • LB412 says:

    My nine yr old is on a Kona Fire Mountain 26″. 6 yr old was given a Marin 20″ tonight (birthday). I hooked the oldest by shuttling her to the top and taking the fire roads back to the house. she is now up to 7 miles and roughly 600′ elevation gain. 6 yr old made it 5 miles through a relatively flat canyon ride on a 16″ princess bike.

    both are girls…cant wait for the day when they beat daduo the 1000′ inititial climb.

  • Dead Sailor says:

    IMHO, I don’t think training wheels are necessarily a bad thing, you just can’t let them ride on them for very long. I’d say as soon as you see your kid is able to comfortably pedal and use the brakes, TAKE THE TRAINING WHEELS OFF!. The danger is that if they ride on them for too long they become dependent on them and develop bad riding habits that counter what skills are required to ride on two wheels. My friends 7 year old has been riding training wheels for 2 years, but just can’t figure out how to ride with out them, He always leans to his left side because his training wheels always leaned to the right when they where elevated a bit. My approach was to find a grassy field that had very slight slope to it. Then gently push my son slowly. If he would fall over he’d be going slow enough to where it wouldn’t hurt and we would just laugh about it. I even fell on purpose on my bike to show him how funny it was to fall on the grass. Little by little he would go farther with just my hand on his back. Then he learned he could keep from falling by catching with his feet, and he became more confident.Then I’d push and go faster, eventually letting go. He would go about 20ft. Little by little he would go farther. I then found a little steeper slope so he could learn to start getting himself started. This was just a month ago. This past weekend he road 3 miles on a relatively flat paved path.

  • Whitewater says:

    So awesome… I put my eldst (4 YO) daughter on a bike with training wheels and am now working to get her on 2. Got the 2 YO the coaster bike and she hasn’t taken to it yet but it will all work out in th elong run, jet getting out to ride around is the key. Doubt they’ll ever be crushing it like the kids in those vids but as long as they have fun and nurture their bodies I’m a happy papa.

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