When you talk to many couples with younger kids and ask about their hobbies, you’ll hear a lot of “used to”. We “used to” go skiing. We “used to” go camping. We “used to” do this or that. It seems almost inevitable that once you have kids you will automatically put your passions to the side, at least for a time.
For my wife and I, our “used to” was mountain biking. I had started mountain biking in high school, and I quickly bought a bike for my wife after getting married. In the first few years of our marriage, we’d hit the trails on quite a few weekends. Our first anniversary was spent camping and biking in Brown County, Indiana. We even tried a cross country mountain bike race.
And then, our son was born. Priorities changed and life got busy. Then we had a daughter and then a second daughter. Before we knew it, it had been over six years without going mountain biking.
This all changed one fateful afternoon when my son (by then 6) said to me, “Dad, I’d like to ride my bike through the woods.” The next thing I knew I was following behind him on his Huffy at a local trail. He was hooting and hollering, having the time of his life. And I remembered why I had loved mountain biking.
A year or two later, with a bike upgrade or two, we’re mountain biking as a whole family now, even with our youngest who just turned 4. It has been a great experience, providing tons of memories.
We’re still figuring things out as we go along, but here are a few things we’ve learned over the past few years.
1. You can start them younger than you think
I had falsely assumed that you had to wait till your kid was old enough to ride on their own before they could go mountain biking. After a bit of searching, we found this great seat from Kids Ride Shotgun that allowed us to start taking our youngest. We started using it when she was 3, but according to the website, it can be used with kids as young as 2. It seemed scary at first, having my daughter ride in front of me, but she is actually quite stable. And best part is that she loves it. She squeals with joy every ride shouting “faster”.
2. Obviously start mellow and work your way up
Whether your kid is riding with you or is riding on their own, it should go without saying that it is probably a good idea to start on some easier, more mellow trails. As you and your kids get more comfortable, you can progress to more difficult trails. Where we live, in West Michigan, there are two trails that have been perfect “starter” trails for our family: Riley Trails in Holland and Mosquito Creek in Muskegon. They are easy enough while still fun. To find some good trails near you, check out mtbproject.com.
3. Be patient, they will progress faster than you
There are times where biking with your child will be frustrating. There may be days where you’d rather be flying down the trail than slowly following your 6 year old. I’m not going to lie; walking your bike up nearly every hill gets old fast. But take heart. This won’t last forever. The first year we went with my son, we kept it slow and steady on tame trails. But by his second season, he was progressing to longer more difficult trails. By the end of that year, he did 11 miles at one of the more difficult trails in the area. We weren’t setting any land-speed records. But the amount of improvement he made in one year was astonishing. At that rate of progression, it won’t be long and he’ll be leaving me in the dust.
4. Gummy bears are your friends
While it may seem like your kid has endless energy, their energy supply will soon vanish once you are on the trails. Fact is, kids just don’t have the “energy stores” like an adult. They’ll need to replenish calories much more frequently than you. So bring snacks. We’ve found gummy bears are a good mid trail snack for fast and fun energy.
5. There may not be crying in baseball, but there probably will be mountain biking.
Let’s just face it. Mountain biking is hard. There will be times your kids melts down and starts crying. Perhaps they are “too tired” to go on. Or perhaps a certain hill is “too scary” to go down. This doesn’t have to be the end of the world. You can use these moments as learning opportunities to teach you kids that they can do hard things and that sometimes you have to be courageous and face your fear. There is a fine balance needed so you don’t push your kid too far. But if you find the balance, you can not only have fun, but also teach your kids some valuable life lessons.
6. Don’t worry, mountain bikers got your back.
At first, I was worried other mountain bikers would be annoyed having to constantly pass me and my kids on the trail. I imagined people yelling at us “to get off the trail “ as they rode past. My fears could not have been further from reality. The mountain biking community I have met on the trail has been nothing but supportive. As riders pass us by, they give encouragement, and are genuinely excited about seeing young riders getting their start. Another way the mountain biking community has been awesome is through biking events and clubs put on by the local bike shops. One shop in our area, Velo City, puts on group rides and mountain biking classes and camps. I’d suggest checking out your local shop and see what events they put on.
7. While the kids are away, Mom and Dad will play
While mountain biking with your kids is definitely a ton of fun, sometimes you need to leave the kids behind and go at your own pace. Get a babysitter, or leave the kids with grandma and grandpa if you can, and go for a mountain biking date as a couple. Last year, my wife and I spent our anniversary mountain biking, and we had a blast. If you can’t get someone to watch the kids, then trade off with your partner. One of you can go for a solo ride in the morning, and the other can ride in the afternoon. Or you can trade off weekends. Overall though, as much as we love biking with our kids, we’ve also found it good to still make time to bike by ourselves.
At first, trying to take your kid mountain biking may seem like a big deal, but just get out there and have fun!