Velosurance bicycle insurance

Velosurance is a national insurance agency founded by two cyclists in response to the insurance needs of bicycle riders nationwide. We partnered with an A.M.Best “A” rated, US insurance company to provide a multi-risk policy offering protection to all types of cyclists.

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How to get your kid into mountain biking

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health and fitness 07 Apr 2024 By Travis Reill

A few years after becoming a father, I rediscovered and fell back in love with mountain biking. Shortly after, I realized nothing would bring me greater joy than having my kids join me on the trails. The image I had painted in my mind of mountain biking with my son and daughter extended years into the future. These first formative ages of four and six were exciting, but I looked forward to the many years to come when I was trying to keep up with them.

Getting your kid into mountain biking can be a rewarding experience that promotes physical activity, outdoor exploration, and a love for nature. Rocks, roots, and other trail features on mountain biking trails provide practical challenges for a child to face, work through, and conquer. Working through these difficulties can often be applied to other life struggles. Mountain biking can also be a great bonding experience, providing the parent and child with a fun activity that promotes a healthy lifestyle and where both riders can progress together.

family mountain biking

But how do you make your kids fall in love with mountain biking the same way you have? How do you encourage them while allowing them to pursue their interests? Since none of us want to be the overbearing t-ball dads or soccer moms, here are some steps and things to consider to help introduce your child to mountain biking.

Spark their interest

When thinking about how to get your kid or kids interested in mountain biking, the first thing to do is find ways to spark their interest in the subject. The easiest way is to get them out on rides with you! You may think your child is still too young to go on rides, but that isn’t necessarily the case. There are many ways for children as young as toddlers to join you on mountain biking excursions.

There are three great ways to take your kid along with you on a mountain bike adventure that doesn’t involve them pedaling their own bike. First is the more traditional bike seat that mounts over the rear wheel that you may be familiar with. Depending on the type of seat you buy and the bike you have, this seat typically mounts or clamps to the back of the bike, usually through a combination of attaching to the rear axle and seatpost. This seat style almost always has a full harness to ensure the child can’t fall out, but the downside is that they can be heavy. While your child won’t fall out, be careful because the seat will make your bike top-heavy and prone to tipping over.

toddler seat for bicycle

If you have a full-suspension mountain bike, likely, this style of carrying your child won’t work with your bike. Instead, you may consider a tow-behind trailer, which is great because they tend to work with both hardtail and full-suspension mountain bikes, and there are two seats for those of us who have more than one kid. Some tow-behind trailers have an arm with a clamp that mounts to your seat tube; others may connect at the axle. However, the trailer connects, double-check to ensure it will work with your mountain bike.

child bicycle trailer

If it doesn’t connect, which is more likely the case with full-suspension bikes than hardtails, a newer option for carrying a kid on your bike is available and works with basically any bike. This style mounts a child-sized bike seat to the top tube of your bike, with legs extending from the seat and pegs for the child’s feet. With their feet secured onto the pegs, the child leans forward and holds onto the middle of your handlebars. While this can be intimidating at first, I’ve found that this is an excellent way for my kids to feel they are actually engaging in mountain biking with me rather than just coming along for the ride.

child bicycle seat

Another great way to spark your child’s interest in mountain biking is to take them to local events. Local bike races of any discipline are typically fun places where you and your kids can experience bike culture and have a great time. Local races are fast-paced and, although they can be competitive, tend to lean more towards having fun, sharing laughs, and drinking a beer or two. Many races are also accustomed to having families at the event and could have different fun activities for kids.

Taking your child with you to the bike shop can also be a great way to grab their interest. Bike shops host different events throughout the year that are fun for the whole family; some even offer bike mechanic “how-to” classes if your kid wants to learn bike maintenance and repair. If those things don’t grab your kid’s interest, most shops have a friendly dog or two roaming around that your kid can pet while you shop.

Start them young

I’ve heard people say, “If they can walk, they can ride a bike.” While I don’t recommend getting your child on a bike the day after their first steps, you’d be surprised how young they can start riding. The growing popularity of balance bikes allowed kids as young as two years old to begin riding.

If you were a child of the 80s or 90s, your first bicycling experience was likely on a smaller pedal bike. This likely presented two problems: first, it can be hard to get the concept of pedaling down, especially when a back pedal makes you stop, and second, finding your balance equals learning to ride. So much of feeling confident on a bike comes from having good balance, which a balance bike teaches new riders quickly. Because there is no option to pedal on a balance bike, children learn the fundamentals of balancing safely by using their feet to propel themselves forward. Soon, you will see them picking their feet up and riding great lengths, allowing them to step up to a pedal bike much easier because they are confident in their ability to balance. Make sure, however, that their first pedal bike fits them well. A jump from a balance bike to a mountain bike is significant, as most kid’s mountain bikes have 20-inch wheels. That is quite an increase from the likely 12-inch wheels on their balance bike, and they should likely spend some time on a 14 or 16-inch pedal bike before moving on to a mountain bike.

kid on a balance bike

Balance bikes also allow you to ditch the training wheels. Training wheels are bad for a few reasons. First, they don’t teach proper bike balance. Instead, training wheels teach your kid that they don’t need to learn balance because if the bike leans to one side, the training wheel will catch them. Secondly, training wheels teach a child to drastically turn their handlebars to steer rather than lean the bike, which is the proper way to turn a bike. Even at slower paces, drastically turning the handlebars will result in a crash. Lastly, removing training wheels will likely result in a significant step back in your child’s progress. Because training wheels don’t encourage learning to balance, removing them will essentially be the equivalent of your child learning to ride again. If your kid felt like a confident rider before, there is a good chance their confidence will be shattered.

Start with basic skills

Before you hit the trails, work on some of the basics with your kid. Depending on their riding ability level, the skills you work on may vary. For starters, you want to make sure they can balance, steer, and pedal properly—also, a jump to a mountain bike will mean two significant changes for most kids: gears and lever brakes. Find a smooth, flat surface like an empty parking lot or a path around your local park and work on these basics. Focus on how to shift gears and use the brakes; the other skills will be worked on without thinking about them. Parks are perfect places to do this as they are more likely to have dirt areas where your kid can get the “off-road” feeling of mountain biking.

Choose the Right Bike

When you are choosing a mountain bike for your kid, try staying away from big box stores. Department store bikes can often be blamed when a child struggles with mountain biking because they aren’t necessarily designed to fit them. Instead, they are, in many cases, just a shrunken-down version of an adult mountain bike, with little consideration for the child’s body proportions. Department store bikes are also going to be much heavier. A lower price typically means cheaper components and more affordable components almost always mean heavier components. When a child’s weight is compared to the bike’s, it’s akin to an adult riding a 120-pound bike.

Yes, it may be more expensive, but your child may very well have a better experience on a high-end mountain bike designed for kids. Frames are usually smaller, but the bike's geometry is engineered around a kid’s body proportions, ensuring an ergonomic fit that results in more control and more fun. These bikes will also have much better components, which will be lighter and last longer. The components are also designed with kids in mind, like the tires being a bit wider to provide more stability and control on the trails, and the brake levers will be closer to the handlebars so they can reach with their fingers.

When shopping around, consider a brand with a trade-up program. Companies know that your kid will outgrow their bike, so many will offer you a percentage off the next size up when you return your old one. I’ve heard of some companies offering 40% off the next bike.

Safety First

Safety is going to be your number one priority, and, like buying a quality mountain bike, you want to ensure your kid is wearing a quality helmet as well. Again, avoid department store helmets and find a kid’s mountain bike-specific helmet at your local bike shop. Nearly all higher-end manufacturers that make gear for adults also make it for kids; this gear fits better, lasts longer, and looks great. Kids' helmets with high-tech protection technologies such as MIPS are a great improvement over anything you’d get from a big box store. Knee pads and elbow pads, though they may be a bit harder to find, are also a good idea and can help a kid feel more the part.

child mtb safety gear

Making sure your kid understands proper trail etiquette is also smart—downhill traffic yields to uphill, bikers yield to hikers and runners, and everyone yields to equestrians. Instead of waiting for a real-life situation where your child needs to yield to another trail user, practice pulling off to the side of the trail without people there. This will allow them to get a feel for finding an appropriate place to pull over, slowing down, and putting a foot down without the added stress of someone actually approaching and waiting.

Start with easy trails

This may seem obvious, but trail choice is essential, so make sure you choose an appropriate trail to take your kids on as they progress. If the trail is too rough and rocky, they’ll bounce around and struggle, which will likely result in a negative experience. Try to stick to beginner-friendly green trails, as they will likely have less technical features. On the technical features they have, such as small rocky sections, this is an excellent area for your kid to start practicing more technical riding, and it can be a first step to riding more intermediate trails. However, one thing to consider about green trails is how much elevation they climb. A trail can be relatively smooth and easy but climbs significantly, which will be difficult for children. Figure out the elevation gained and avoid the trails with too much climbing—or plan to walk the section with your child, perhaps using it as a much-needed break from pedaling.

Lead by example

Keep “can’t” out of your vocabulary on the trail. Instead, replace it with “yet.” Mountain biking is full of challenging trials that sometimes take years of experience to conquer. Nobody starts mountain biking and rides a 30-mile loop. Nobody hits the biggest jump on their first day or makes it up a technical climb on their first try. Mountain biking can be frustrating, and your child will likely be frustrated. If frustration turns to despair, and they feel they can’t do something, remind them of “yet.” In this reminder, be sure to encourage them with all of the progress you have seen them make, as it is a practical reminder of how far they have come as mountain biker.

father and son mountain biking

Ride alongside your child where the trail permits and encourage them by telling them everything you see them do correctly. Maybe they shifted gears at the perfect moment or chose a good line around a rock—let them know. A little praise can go a long way. Have them take the lead and follow them on more manageable bits of trail. Not only will they feel encouraged about leading the way, but you can help them navigate around any obstacles that may come their way.

Practice makes perfect

Think back to how you progressed as a mountain biker. I imagine you get better by regularly riding your bike, and the reality is that your kid will be precisely the same. So much of mountain bike progression comes from time spent behind the bars.

Find a regular time you can ride with your kid. Weather permitting, try to schedule a weekly ride or more. Talk to your child about ways that you think they can improve, but also ask them what they think they need to improve on and how they want to do that. Make a plan, set a goal, and work toward that goal with them. As a parent, know your child’s riding limits to ensure the goal is safe and attainable, and an attainable goal is a measurable goal. Goals like: “I want to be better” are difficult to measure. What is “better?” How is “better” measured? Instead, encourage them to work on something specific, like doing a reasonably long trail without stopping. This gives you something specific to work on, like endurance, and a specific trail to make your practice trail.

If you’re short on time or heading out to a trail isn’t an option, many mountain bike skills can be practiced in the driveway or the lawn. Grab a chalk and draw a course on the driveway or set up cones on the lawn to practice bike handling skills. Tight turns, emergency braking, track stands, jumps, and manuals are best learned in a controlled environment, such as your neighborhood.

Join group rides or clubs

If you live in an area with a strong mountain biking presence, there are likely different group rides or mountain bike clubs you could join—some may be very specific for parents and kids. Finding a group ride or mountain bike club tailored for kids will give your child their first experience of the mountain bike community and how supportive it is. They will see peers being encouraged by one another and being allowed to progress at their own pace. Riding with other children who are more skilled can also push your kid toward progression, as they may want to emulate a peer rather than an adult.

Explore nature

Don’t be afraid to stop and look at things. We often get so caught up in the destination or with a specific amount of miles we want to do that we forget the incredible beauty all around us while mountain biking. When your kids are involved, make sure you take it all in. Build forts, climb on rocks, check out waterfalls and streams—allow your child to fall in love with nature. When planning a ride, consider trails that have or end in scenic destinations. Find cool areas to sit and eat a snack, or teach your child what kinds of trees surround you. For some kids, just going on a mountain bike ride may not be that exciting, but having a destination like an alpine lake or a rock formation could turn the ride into an adventure. Teach your child that a mountain bike can be a fantastic tool that takes them to amazing destinations.

kid mountain biking in nature

Make it fun

While I may be perfectly fine riding mountain bike trails for eight hours a day, my kid is likely not. In fact, kids can easily end up feeling that mountain biking is boring if it is the only thing on the agenda. Enjoying and exploring nature is a great way of breaking up what your child may feel is the “monotony” of mountain biking, but there are some other great things to do as well.

Instead of setting out on a ride with a specific amount of mileage as the goal, make “fun” the goal by incorporating games into your rides to work on skills. Find a rocky bit of trail that is going up a hill and hang out there for a while. See who can make it to the top the fastest and then who can make it down the smoothest. Or, rather than making it about who is the quickest, provide a reward, like, “If you climb to the top without putting a foot down, we’ll stop and get ice cream on the way home.” There isn’t much my kids won’t do for ice cream. When that gets boring, move on to the next thing, making the forest and trails your playground.

Alphabet and I-Spy can be great games to play as you pedal along. A bigger event that the kids anticipate, such as riding to a location for a picnic or planning a scavenger hunt, can be a great way to keep them engaged with their mountain bikes and enjoying the overall experience. Studying and learning to identify plants and wildlife is a skill that may transform your child’s understanding of the world and create a more well-rounded individual.

As adults, we often think of mountain biking through a destination-oriented lens—we are starting here and going there. That doesn’t need to be the reality when riding with your kids, so don’t be afraid to switch it up. Bring friends or family along and create your own group rides, set up cones and work on skills in a parking lot, or discuss and work on a new goal your child chooses. If they don’t seem excited about going on a ride, switch things up and rekindle the joy they once found in mountain biking.

Be patient and supportive

Remember that your child will progress at their own pace, just as you did. Support them in their progression, but be okay when they feel like they aren’t ready to attempt a particular feature. Walking sections of the trail is okay. Walk it with them, but take the time to discuss how they would ride the section that scares them, asking for their opinion and input. Mountain biking is an excellent opportunity for a child to learn perseverance and a love for adventure, regardless of setbacks or challenges they may encounter. Following these steps and fostering a supportive environment can help nurture your child's passion for mountain biking and create lasting memories together on the trails.

Consider insurance

Cycling is accessible to most families, and with a little bit of luck and effort on your end, it can become a lifelong hobby for your children too. Just like with any enterprise, there are things worth considering that go beyond simply buying your kid a bike.

Nothing dampens the mood of a cyclist than a theft of the bike. According to the data collected by Project 529 Garage, a bicycle is stolen every 30 seconds, and less than 5% of stolen bikes are returned to their owners. To make matters worse, 80% of cyclists in the US have had at least one bike stolen. If cycling is a part of your and your family’s lifestyle, consider protecting your investment with a specialty bicycle insurance policy, like the one from Velosurance. The policy is designed to address specific risks that cyclists take on as a part of their sport, providing coverages not offered by conventional insurance.

Other than covering the bike for theft and accidental damage, the policy can be extended with optional coverages like medical gap, liability, uninsured motorist, racing, and worldwide coverage. Because the Velosurance policy is “permissive use,” coverages apply to anyone riding the bike with your permission, including underage children.

With over a decade in the bicycle insurance business, our experts can help you customize your policy to cover all risks associated with the cycling lifestyle. A quote can be gotten online in as little as 5 minutes and policies are issued within an hour during normal business hours.

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