Gum in Your Hair

A blog for parents under the big sky.

Tips for Mountain Biking with kids

:: WRITTEN AND PHOTOS BY JENN ADAMS ::

As the parent of a first grader and a coach for Bozeman Youth Cycling, I can honestly say that biking on trails and paths with kids can be fun, rewarding and at times a bit challenging in equal measure. Here are a few ideas to keep everyone smiling while you’re riding.

 

PLANNING YOUR RIDE AND ROUTE

First, select a ride that’s within your and your child’s ability range. If you can’t imagine your child hiking the trail, then they likely shouldn’t be riding it. When possible, select a trail you’ve ridden before and know well. Similar to the suggested terrain park strategy at Bridger Bowl, start small and build up. This means riding within the comfort level of both you and your riding companion(s). Expect and embrace challenges; just build the skills as you increase the length and technical elements of your ride.

Special considerations for your ride: length, miles and estimated time (double that when younger or novice riders accompany you), potential consequences (rocks, side hill exposure), environmental hazards (prickly pear, wildlife, etc.) and trail conditions (an advance call to the ranger can be very helpful).

BEFORE HEADING OUT

Now that you have your route planned, it’s beneficial to be sure you’re prepared. To me, that means a few things:

1. Snacks: Gummies and fruit squeeze packs are a hit with my crew

2. Water: Either carry extra yourself or find a way to have your younger rider carry it

3. Sunscreen: Watch the brow line so it doesn’t sweat into their eyes

4. Windbreaker: You can wear it or sit upon it to enjoy snacks

5. Bike check: A quick pre-ride brake, tire and helmet check to ensure proper function

 

TIME TO RALLY AND RIDE

Make time for play. Kids are great at this! If the trailhead parking allows for it, encourage your child to ride and practice skills like steering through a little rock slalom, wheel lifts over sticks, stand-up pedaling, etc. This is a great parent hack for giving you time to focus on packing and gearing up for your ride.

On the trail, practice safe riding etiquette. When riding with two adults, ride “sandwich style,” placing one in front and one in back, with kids in the middle. When riding with one adult, place the adult in the front. This is critical to control the speed of your riders and to stop and regroup before approaching something technical on the trail. When approaching another rider, remember that the uphill rider has the right of way, so pull to the side, just off the trail and let them pass. This goes for snack breaks or other stops along the way. Keeping riders and bikes off the trail makes for happy trail users.

Now let the good times roll! While it is mostly fun, at times mountain biking can be frustrating or difficult. Riders differ just as humans do and adding kids to the mix only heightens the variability. I’ve found that it helps to stay positive and not react to their stream of consciousness. Cheering on successes and setting goals like, “Let’s just pedal up to that tree and then take a quick rest in the shade” can be helpful. Or sometimes acknowledging “I’m tired too. This is fun but hard work. We’ll be at the creek in a few more pedals. Let’s take a break there.” When in doubt, high-fives, distracting games like 20 Questions or I Spy and trail-side dance parties can usually shake off the grumpies.

ENJOY THE JOURNEY, AND MAYBE THE DESTINATION, TOO

For some adult riders, mountain biking can be all about the destination. We feel satisfied when we’ve completed the loop or reached our turnaround point. Kids, for better or worse, are not this way. They are so much more invested in the journey than the destination. Kids might also be inclined to “session” or repeat a fun and challenging section of trail. Embrace it! As adults, we should practice this more often. And, though kids may need some prodding to persevere, they may be just as happy to ride to a creek, stop for a swim, climb a tree, chase a butterfly and then ride back. And some of those times, we as adults need to dig deep, plunge in the creek, celebrate with them and then plan the next ride.

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Jenn Adams is a Bozeman-based parent and a coach for Bozeman Youth Cycling. She’s always angling for more time riding her bike, with and without kids.