Introducing your child to mountain biking.
Mountain Biking with kids may fill you with doubt: cycling up steep hills, bouncing off rocks on the way down, or shepherding the family on bikes across busy roads. Well, it doesn't have to be that way.
On you're bike
The first thing everyone needs is a bike, but it's time to assess everyone's ability and stamina.
Biking for the wee ones
Little ones won't need a bike. A typical rear-mounted child seat will fit the bill. Obviously, you are not going to be doing any serious downhill biking with a child on the back! We've found fitting a bike stand useful with this type of seat.
An alternative is the popular frame-mounted child seat. Your child is no longer baggage on the back, enabling you to point things out to them as you ride.
Biking for smaller kids
As your child gets bigger, the child seat is impractical, but you know they won't get far on a bike. We opted for a tag-along as the next level of progression.
Once again, you'll not be doing adventurous mountain biking, but the options open up with more off-road terrain suitable to this setup.
Don't expect them to contribute a great deal to the pedalling though, and when they get too heavy, it's time to move them onto their own bike.
You can get tag-along adaptors to connect an adult bike to a small child's bike. I'm not convinced about these. Although it appears to be saving some money, the small child bikes are not built for trails (often don't have proper tyres). The child is also left sitting in an unnatural riding position, with the potential to slide off the bike due to how it is tipped up to attach to the adult bike.
Their first mountain bike
Most of us will not be able to get our children bikes separate bikes for the road or school and the trails.
They will also outgrow it in a year or two.
When buying a bike, make sure it is suitable for the trails:
- Proper tyres with good grip
- Decent front and rear breaks
- At least some gears
The number of gears is debatable. The ability to change down to climb or change up to keep pace is useful, though we've found that with their first geared bike, managing gears on the front and back sprockets has been a bit much.
Many bikes come with suspension these days. Suspension can give a more comfortable ride but does add to the bike's weight. For your child's first bike, avoiding suspension may be best.
Where to ride
There are many trails in the UK now that suit all abilities. Most of these are away from busy roads.
Have a look at Sustrans and the National Cycle Network. There are also some great books on cycle routes.
If you have older kids and want to try something more akin to true Mountain Biking, then have a look at the Trailforks. Many of these specially designed Mountain Bike courses have different grade runs, as with skiing, with a black run being the most technical.
You may be lucky to live in a part of the country with good cycle routes leading to good destinations (we're lucky to have such a route!), but often you'll need to take the bikes on the car.
There are many options, from the roof rack to the tow-ball mounted systems.
We opted for this simple carrier. You mount a plate behind your tow-ball, which you leave permanently in place. When you need the carrier, it slots on top, leaving the tow-ball free if you need to tow (though watch the tow-ball weight and clearance).
It takes 3 bikes and folds away easily. You will need to have a plate and lights, as well as secure any bikes in place.
After a while, as the bikes got bigger, we upgraded to a towbar-mounted Thule bike carrier.
Other useful items
One thing we've constantly found useful for a day out on the bike is a handlebar-mounted cool bag.
You attach a fixing plate to your handlebars so the cool bag can be clipped on and off. It also has a strap for carrying on your shoulder and a few useful pockets.
It's never come off the bike, though I don't have it on for serious trails.
It keeps your sarnies cool, and you don't need a sweaty bag on your back!
A final word on safety
You can buy all sorts of body armour and protection, and if they want to go on and do any serious stuff, it is worth considering. But one thing that should be bought, no matter what, is a cycle helmet.
- Get the helmet correctly fitted. A loose helmet is pretty useless, as it will slip off on impact.
- Look after it. Don't give it to your kid to drop and bang around. That will damage and compress the foam inside, reducing the effectiveness of the helmet in an impact.