Riding with Kids – Bringing Back the Fun

As riders, we all know the benefits of cycling: health, transportation, the outdoors, and fun. But as we get pulled into the depths of the sport, sometimes we forget the fun part. It’s a slippery slope where we can quickly focus on goals and outcomes that can make riding a bit too serious. That’s why I love riding with kids. Kids have a way of bringing you right back to the reason we all started—laughter, adventure, and enjoyment. I’ve been coaching 7th to 12th graders for the past seven years, and I am always amused at how much I end up learning each season from them.

HERE’S WHAT KIDS HAVE TAUGHT ME:

  • It doesn’t matter if you have the most expensive pro-level bike. If it’s got two wheels and it works, you’re good to go! You wouldn’t believe some of the trail features I’ve seen kids ride on a hand-me-down bike from the 90s. If you work on your handling skills and have a positive attitude, you can do just about anything on any bike.
  • High fives make you feel awesome.
  • It only takes one common thing (such as bikes) to make a new friend.
  • Having a reserve of good jokes can help you in plenty of ways. Tell a friend a silly joke before they try something new—it can help relieve stress and make them less tense going into a feature. Telling a goofy joke can break the ice with new folks. Bonus: If you share a terrible joke to a group of kids that don’t know each other, it can often break the ice to give them the courage to tell one of their own. Which can help them all bond at how bad of a joke teller you are.
  • Cheer for your friends. Let them know you are stoked to see them succeed and make a big deal when they do.
  • Grunting increases your power by 30%*. *disclaimer: this statement may not hold up to scrutiny.
  • Bright colors and fun socks can make you, and everyone else smile. Bright colors also look great in photos.
  • Playing games with bikes in the parking lot can increase your skills. Next time you’ve got some time to kill, play the ‘foot down’ game with a few friends. Find a way to define a box (examples: parking space, friends standing to form sides of a square, mark a box with chalk). Have everyone get on their bikes and slowly ride inside the box. If you leave the box, you’re out. If you put your foot down, you’re out. Try to push (gently) other riders out. The last one still on their bike wins. This hones in your track stand and balance skills.
  • Don’t be afraid to be silly. Goofing off helps you learn. After riding with kids, my belly aches from laughing so hard all day (bonus ab workout!).

OVERALL TIPS FOR RIDING WITH KIDS:

  • Take them out riding but have realistic expectations.
  • Make sure you have options when riding. Plan a short loop with an opportunity to go farther if they are feeling up for it. Sometimes fun can quickly turn into a suffer-fest, so make sure that suffer-fest doesn’t last longer than needed.
  • Pick a trail that’s appropriate. If you’ve been riding a long time, remember that some of the kids haven’t. Easy things to you may not be so easy to a kid. Fun flowy trails are a great way to get kids excited about riding.
  • Progression is key! Let them learn at their pace and acknowledge improvements no matter how small.
  • Bring snacks, layers, and a great attitude. Keep it positive and fun. If things don’t go to plan, make an adventure out of it, not an ordeal.
  • Take breaks, eat some food, and tell some more jokes.
  • If you’re up for it, bring other kids to make it more fun.
  • Don’t push too hard. Kids typically don’t have the endurance that adults have, so keep an eye on them to make sure they aren’t bonking. Kids aren’t always upfront about how they are feeling, and it may be up to you to read them.
  • Be patient!
  • Celebrate after the ride with some high fives.

TIPS FOR RIDING WITH TEENS:

  • Don’t be condescending! Talk to them as an adult.
  • Ask their opinions.
  • Don’t be boring.
  • Older kids tend to love challenges. Let them session parts of the trail. Help them conquer techy stuff.
  • Let them try things. Try not to coddle them.
  • Try to get them involved with local bike groups, especially if they aren’t into riding with mom and dad.
  • Look into having them join the high school mountain bike team or club. Even if they don’t want to race, there are plenty of high school clubs that have meetups all summer to ride. Your kids will get the opportunity to meet other local riders, and they don’t have to hang with their parents.

NEED SOME ACTIVITY IDEAS? THIS SHOULD GET YOU STARTED:

  • Decorate bikes and make a neighborhood bike parade.
  • Create fun competitions in your yard or park.
  • Race around some cones. Who can hop the highest with their bike? Who can stop the quickest without skidding? The one who can make the tightest circle while riding their bike wins.
  • Check out local bike clubs.
  • Look into local or nearby summer bike camps.
  • Commute by bike with the whole family. Ride to your favorite restaurant, ice cream shop, or park. Ride around town or take the bike path.
  • Throw a biked themed party!
  • Take a family bike vacation to one of your favorite trail systems or a new one.

FINAL NOTES:

A big reason kids don’t bike is because they don’t have other friends to ride with. Try to help them out by finding other biking families, events, cycling groups, or meetups in your area. Hanging out at a skills area, park, or bike park could help meet new riding buddies.

Kids grow fast. Your local bike shop may have a stash of used kid’s bikes at a reasonable price. They also may know of some youth groups and events to get your kids out riding more. Don’t forget to buy a good helmet. If you are tight on funds, your local bike shop may have programs or events that give helmets to kids for a discounted price.

Remember one of PEARL iZUMi’s mottos: “Good cyclists help new cyclists who become good cyclist who help new cyclists.”

So what are you waiting for? Take your kid or one you know for a ride today!

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Jennifer Hess loves riding technical singletrack, fast descents, and getting her wheels off the ground. She is passionate about inspiring kids and women on mountain bikes and spends much of the summer coaching local clinics. Jennifer loves pushing the limits and helping other riders gain confidence on the bike. She believes that any day on two wheels is a good day, especially if friends are involved.

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2 thoughts on “Riding with Kids – Bringing Back the Fun

  1. Hi Jen, I would love to leave close to you and go to your clinics . I’m not a kid but I need to learn and you are a great inspiration for the kids and adults.

  2. This is fantastic. As someone who leads a lot of group rides these are good tips for just about anyone. The pure joy for cycling is really the core of it all. Keep up the amazing work

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