Pearl Izumi (Japan) - 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 riding—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 are my tips for riding with kids.
Tips for riding with kids & teens:
Be Realistic, Have Options, Have Fun!
Take them out riding but have realistic expectations. Make sure you have options: plan a short loop with an opportunity to go farther if they are feeling up for it. Sometimes fun can quickly turn into a sufferfest, so make sure that sufferfest 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 beginners on the trail. Fun, flowy trails are a great way to get kids excited about riding.
If you’re up for it, bring other kids to make it more fun.
Don’t Push, Celebrate Progress:
Progression is key! Let them learn at their pace and acknowledge improvements no matter how small.
Don’t push too hard. Kids typically don’t have the endurance that adults have, even if they start out super excited. Keep an eye on them to make sure they aren’t bonking and remember this is their ride, not yours. Kids aren’t always upfront about how they are feeling, and it may be up to you to read them.
Celebrate after the ride with some high fives.
Can’t emphasize this enough: bring snacks! Also pack extra layers, and bring 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 jokes.
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.
Don’t coddle them—let them try new things.
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.
What kids have taught me:
The Best Bike is the One You Have:
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—like riding bikes—to make a new friend.
Be Silly, Tell Jokes, Play Games.
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!).
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.
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.
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 scientific scrutiny.
Bright colors and fun socks make everyone smile.
Plus, they pop in photos!
Need some activity ideas? This should get you started:
Make Bikes Fun:
Decorate bikes and make a neighborhood bike parade. Be creative. Create fun competitions in your yard or park. Throw a biked themed party!
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.
Make Bikes a Way to Explore Life:
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.
Take a family bike vacation to one of your favorite trail systems or plan a trip to check out new trails.
A big reason kids don’t bike is because they don’t have other friends to ride with. Help them make connections through riding 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 motto: “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!
By Jennifer Hess.