March 20, 2017

By Amy Whitley

When we first started riding singletrack and forest roads with our boys, we made the mistake of thinking that since our kids can ride a bike, they can also mountain bike.

Well, sort of. Riding a bike is a prerequisite for this sport, of course, but mountain biking takes additional technical skills, gear and know-how.

Here’s what you need to know:

Get the right equipment

The best bike at this stage will depend on your kids’ size and type of riding. Bike shops often suggest all-terrain or hybrid bikes for beginners and small riders.

Make sure kids have quality helmets and gloves (blisters can be common). For more serious riders, padded bike pants help prevent bruising or chaffing. When your kids graduate to steep downhill riding or tough singletrack, that’s the time to upgrade equipment.

Start small and wide

Mountain biking requires a slightly different stance and weight distribution than standard bike riding. Start kids on dirt or gravel forest service roads instead of singletrack trails to ease their transition to the sport. Be sure to bring full water bottles and take plenty of breaks.

Proper equipment like a well-sized bike, helmets, padded shorts and gloves make a big difference for kids just learning to mountain bike.

Try a bike park for skill building

Many ski resorts that feature “gravity-based” singletrack trails—where you can ride up on the ski lift and down the trails—have bike parks where kids can practice navigating turns and bridges before they hit the “real” trails. Paying for a lesson or two at one of these parks is a beneficial investment of time and money for your fledgling mountain biker.

Rent bikes for serious downhill riding

Basic and affordable mountain bikes aren’t built to withstand the bumps and boulders of serious singletrack — rental shops usually provide a fleet of quality mountain bikes that are an affordable way to test-drive brands and provide your child experience on singletrack.

Invest in a quality bike rack

Once your kid is more comfortable riding and you’ve purchased a bike, consider a quality bike rack for your vehicle. It can be fun to find bike trails while on vacation. Even at home, most of your bike parks and trails might be a car ride away.

Join a local mountain biking club

Want to learn where the best local trails are in your region? A local mountain biking club will have the answers — and races, gear swaps and fun events, too.

Look for singletrack and bike parks while traveling

When you travel, be sure to stop at local bike shops to ask for the best places to ride. You can probably rent bikes there, too. My family loves riding new trails and we have found that bike parks in new places allow us to meet others who share our enjoyment of the sport.

Amy Whitley is an outdoor travel writer and family travel blogger at Pit Stops for Kids. She lives in Southern Oregon with her husband and three sons.