Nothing beats the joy of getting outside with your child, confident in the knowledge that their passion for riding matches yours, right? For mountain bikers, moving through the natural landscape and embarking on adventures creates memories you'll share forever: from your little one’s very first ride to that picnic in the sun with dramatic mountain scenery, or even the massive grin that spread across their face when they first left you in a cloud of dust.
Keep reading to discover our tried-and-tested ways to ignite your child’s passion and find out everything else worth knowing about taking your child on a mountain bike adventure.
Why is mountain biking so good for your child?
Children have an innate sense of curiosity. They thrive on time spent in the fresh air when the focus is firmly on fun. Mountain biking satisfies their natural urge to play. It's a form of active play that gets them outside and moving their bodies in the fresh air. As an added bonus, it also builds up their motor skills and intellectual aptitude, including reaction time, coordination, balance, agility, endurance, creativity and concentration.
Mountain biking also helps to relieve school-related or social stress. Cutting through the fresh air on two wheels does not just have a liberating effect on the mind, it also releases lots of feel-good endorphins.
But your child also learns how to gauge their ability, sound out their limits and weigh up the risk of what they’re about to do. It’s entirely likely that your child may fall to the ground once or twice during this process. Here’s where it's important to make sure you provide them with the relevant equipment to prevent serious injuries. Talking through situations that crop up is also sensible. Could the crash have been avoided? If so, how? Encouraging kids to push their limits in a safe environment (i.e. protective gear and appropriate terrain) translates into self-awareness and actually renders them less at risk of harm. Through their experiences, they will gain the ability to assess a situation based on an understanding of their level and the risks involved – a skill that transfers to life outside of riding too.
With each achievement on the bike (however minor), your child’s self-confidence gets a boost. It should rightly be a source of pride when they can identify what they have achieved on two wheels. Of course, words of praise from you as their parent or guardian will never go amiss. ;)
And lastly, joint mountain bike adventures strengthen parent-child bonds like little else and bring the family closer together.
When is your child ready to mountain bike?
It’s hard to pinpoint the specific age at which a child might be ready for mountain biking. This depends on their motivation to take up the sport, their motor skills and their size. Some five- and even four-year-olds are already fired up to hit the trails. But they're at such an age when it’s even more important to take a gentle approach. In fact, it isn't until a child reaches the age of six that their tendons and muscles are sufficiently developed for the strain of such physical exertion. Until this age, it’s best to keep a safe distance from any major climbs, descents or rough terrain. Try to stick to mellow gravel tracks, access roads and smooth flow trails. Pumptracks are another decent option, but make sure your child is up to speed with pumptrack etiquette before doing laps. As a general rule, mountain bike endeavours can begin as soon as your child is sufficiently enthusiastic and is big enough to ride a bike with 20-inch wheels.
How to stoke their passion for mountain biking?
Mountain biking should be fun. Like, really, really fun. The sort of fun that really demands a suitable mountain bike that weighs as little as possible. A huge, heavy bike would drastically kill the mood. The weight of a good kids-specific mountain bike should certainly be in single figures, maybe creeping into double figures if you add a suspension fork. A low weight translates into a lot of fun and will let your little one have a go at jumping every now and again.
For the bike mad amongst us, the priority needs to be ensuring that your offspring's first encounters with mountain biking are truly enjoyable, which may mean making some sacrifices when it comes to your own ambitions, because from now on…