How To: Getting Your Kids and Spouse to Mountain Bike
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.
Avoid Training Wheels - 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 – Take 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.