It’s no use buying your kids little shiny mountain bikes if you’re not planning on mountain biking with them from time to time. In this post, I share a bunch of tips on mountain biking with kids so you can make every experience out in the woods a pleasant family memory.
What Age is Best for Kids to Start Mountain Biking?
If your child is old enough to ride a balance bike, you can start hitting the trails together. Kids aged 2-5 can and do ride a balance bike, and if they’re interested, let them accompany you as you roll down mellow forest trails.
In this resource, you’ll learn useful tips for helping kids in different age ranges to get started in the exciting world of trail mountain biking.
Related: How to Teach a Kid to Ride a Bike
Going Mountain Biking With 2-5 Year-Olds
I know the question that’s on your mind at this moment. You’re asking, can a 3-year-old really mountain bike when they’re not even mature enough to ride a bike with pedals? Yes, a 3-year-old who can’t even ride a pedal bike can go mountain biking. They only need to have shown interest and to own a good balance bike.
What to Do to Help Preschoolers Get into Mountain Biking
Get them a solid balance bike, one that won’t start falling apart the moment you get onto dirt trails. Some of the best kids balance bikes out there come from Strider, Prevelo, and Woom. You need a well-made balance bike, one with a lightweight but tough steel frame.
Have the kid put on a decent bike helmet for mountain biking. Here’s a list of the best mountain bike helmets for kids. Also, have them them wear good protective knee pads to keep those young knees protected against injuries if they fall over.
The best trails for mountain biking with a preschooler are hiking trails and easy cross country trails. Start them off on the smoothest trails you can access. They’re not mature enough to do any kind of technical MTB, yet, which means you should avoid trails with tons of rock gardens and tree roots.
If your child is 2, riding along may be too tough for them. Instead, walk along as they ride. But if they’re older, say 4 or older, you can ride along. Just lower your bike’s seat a bit and ride the thing as though it were a balance bike. Kids in this age range notice everything as they coast along: beautiful flows on the sides of the trail, tall ancient trees, butterflies, and whatnot.
Your goal at this point is to make MTB feel nice and easy for your toddler. The last thing you want is for them to think that MTBing is a painful experience, a frustrating one. You want the first ride with them to be lots of fun, but they also need to learn simple stuff such as tackling bumps and staying balanced on the bike.
How to Go Mountain Biking With Kids Aged 4-8
Some kids transition to a pedal bike from as early as age 4 while others start at ages 5-8. You can buy them a good mountain bike for kids.
Get them a lightweight bike, preferably a single-speed MTB. In this age range, most kids lack the coordination needed to shift gears properly. Once the kid grows to at least 45″, you can consider getting them a geared mountain bike.
Find the right trails, too. The right trails for this age range are flat trails, but if there’s a few gently sloping hills along the way, that’s OK. The bike needs to have good brakes for safe stopping at any time. And the kid needs to be able to use the brakes effectively and safely.
The most important step to take at this time is to teach your kiddo what mountain bikers call the “ready position.” In the ready position, the child gets on the bike and places the feet on the pedals, and with elbows and knees bent a bit.
The pedals are positioned parallel to the ground, and 1-3 fingers cover the brakes. When one pedal stays forward an the other backward, both offer a stable platform for standing. In this position, the pedals don’t keep hitting rocks, jutting roots, and other obstacles.
The best way to practice the ready position is to do it off the mountain bike. The kid can pretend they’re sitting on some imaginary bike. Then, they can practice this position on the driveway and on grave roads before finally getting on dirt trails, bike park, or cross country trails that aren’t too challenging. You don’t them riding steep trails of any kind.
Before the kid gets to ride on dirt trails with you, be sure they’ve mastered bike control and braking. They need to be able to adroitly maneuver the bicycle and safely stop it in a variety of riding situations.
Make the kid understand it’s OK to get off the bike if they come across a skinny or any other technical feature that feels too technical for them. It’s also OK to walk up hills if they’re too tired or not strong enough to pedal the bicycle uphill.
And if they encounter a really technical rock garden, help the kid lower the saddle a bit and tell them to balance-bike through the difficult terrain.
Teaching 8-12 Year Olds to Mountain Bike
Kids in the 8-12 age range are old enough for a geared mountain bike. Good MTB for kids like these typically cost $400 and above.
At this point of the learning journey, the child can brake properly, has mastered the ready position, can ride at a reasonable level of speed, and can maneuver the bike over moderately tough obstacles.The emerging young ripper is now ready for intermediate-level dirt trails.
They can also comfortably ride up gentle uphills because they’ve learned using gear shifters. They can up-shift or downshift to deal with different riding situations.
When teaching your kid how to change gears, it’s best to do it on a flat paved surface such as a parking lot or driveway. Once they learn to do it properly there, move to a rougher terrain such as a gravel road. If they can change dears correctly on bumpy gravel roads, they certain can do the same on dirt trails.
The best mountain bike for teaching MTB for little ones in this age range is a hard-trail mountain bike. They’ll encounter some roots and maybe some rocks. And they need a bike with a good suspension system. A good hard tail MTB comes with a front shock and doesn’t have any bump-dampening mechanism in the back.
I’ve seen tons of cheap mountain bikes on Amazon and elsewhere lately with full suspension. A cheap dual-suspension kids’ mountain bike might seem like a good idea, but the shocks are junk for the most part.
It’s better to have one good shock than two bad shocks. Last time I checked, the best full-suspension mountain bikes for kids cost several grands. But this is definitely too much bike for this riding ability.
Which MTB Style Does Your Child Prefer?
Everyone including kids and adults have to choose a specific riding style at some point. So, what will it be for your kid, downhill mountain biking or cross country mountain biking?
Downhill or Cross Country MTB for Kids?
For pretty much all kids, starting off on relatively easy cross country trails is best. The beauty of XC trails is that they have a fair share of flat sections, a bit of downhill terrain, and a decent amount of uphill. Conquering all these terrains molds children into a well-rounded mountain biker. And there’s tons of terrific sights to enjoy while rolling over cross-country trails, more and better sights than you ever get flying over DH terrain.
Good news! The vast majority of public-land MTB trails in the US are cross country trails. Check online to see if there are any free-to-use XC trails in your region. Fortunately, there are apps that provide this kind of information.
A good example of such an app is the trailforks.com. This app claims to provide information on over 450,000 mountain bike trails spanning across over 120 countries. You can download the FREE version of the app first to see how resourceful it is.
Down Hill MTB for Kids
If your kid hopes to become the next Aaron Gwin or Rachel Atherton, get them a good DH mountain bike and a full-face helmet as things can go south pretty quickly in down hill riding. DH mountain bikes are extremely heavy and maneuvering them around berms and really steep trails at breakneck speed requires tons of skill.
DH bikes suck at going uphill. You can either walk the bike up,which most riders find boring and tiring, or you can get to the trail head on a truck or get chair-lifted. You want to start off with the seats adjusted to a lower position for better stability when going down.
Down hill mountain bikers spend lots of time in the standing on the pedals in the ready position. So it’s super important that your kid masters this position before getting into any kind of gnarly hill bombing. Y
MTBing for Teenagers
One great way to bond with your teenager is to ride the trails with them. If they’ve been riding a trail bike for a while, they’ve learned the most important skills: getting in the ready position, riding at speed safely, feathering and braking, tackling age-appropriate obstacles, rolling over bumps and rocks, an shifting gears.
But if they’re a complete beginner, don’t worry. Start them off on paved paths before graduating to non-paved surfaces and finally real dirt trails. The trick is to start nice and slow and to build up difficulty (more uphill, jumps, rock gardens, etc) as their riding ability gets better.
If you don’t feel like you have the ability to teach mountain biking to your teenager, you can always hire a coach for them. Chances are there’s a place that offers youth MTB lessons in your area. You can ask around or ask Google and see which options the search engine surfaces.
Conclusion: MTB Can be Tons of Family Fun
Everyone in the family can get into mountain biking and enjoy all the thrill and fun this exacting outdoor activity offers. Whether your kids are 13-year-olds, 8-year-olds, or preschoolers, they can get into this sport. Give them a proper aged-appropriate bike and introduce to age-appropriate trails and obstacles and they’ll turn out fine.
Don’t allow that kid to get on the bike without proper protective gear, especially a certified bike helmet. If there’s one kind of MTB gear you never want to skimp on, it’s a helmet. Fortunately, all helmets sold in the US meet the CPSC Bike Safety Standard. Not all lids sold online meet this standard so be extra vigilant when buying.
Good knee pads for MTB are also a must-have piece of gear because falls happen.
I'm Esther Moni, a proud stay-at-home mom and a psychology graduate of the United States International University (USIU) . I hate it when anyone calls me a housewife, because what does housewife even mean? Being a mother of two babies and a pup, Bailey, as well as being Ricky's wife tires me to no end, but I still manage a smile at the end of it all. And when my boys aren't done doing mischief, I juggle writing a post on parenting or baby gear performance for this blog and running my little counselling office based out in Nairobi. <a href="https://www.facebook.com/esther.moni/">Visit my Facebook profile here</a>, and this is my <a href="https://ke.linkedin.com/in/esther-moni-3841b573/">LinkedIn profile</a>, and here's my <a href="https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKcVb3NNDrURDH8C0KiAE1g/">nascent youtube channel.