Having never ridden this trail before, I was leading out with my 13-year-old Collin following behind. The single track was steep, loose in sections and sprinkled with a few drops and jumps along the way. When I came up to the largest drop on the trail, a 3 footer into a steep rollout, I didn’t even consider sending the line. The drop being well outside of my comfort zone and beyond my abilities, I began to hike my mountain bike down the ledge. Collin rolled up behind me, took a quick glance at the drop, said, “I think I’m going to try it,” and sent the drop without hesitation.
It was a moment of shock and pride as I realized that seemingly overnight he had become a better cyclist than I’ll ever be.
Whether it is sending big lines in the desert or taking a cruise around the neighborhood, there’s truly something special about bikes for creating shared experiences with our kids.
Collin and I first started seriously riding bikes together when he was five years old. I wanted to try BMX racing and by getting my son into the sport, it would be easier to justify as a family affair. Since then we’ve been riding and learning together. From practicing in the driveway, to attending clinics, to long rides in the mountains, cycling has provided a vast landscape of common ground where our age differences mattered less. It’s been fun to have different experiences introducing my younger kids to cycling and watching with wonder as they make it their own.
With six kids, I’ve learned there are a few essential elements to get kids excited about bikes and create moments that keep them coming back to the ride.
The Right Bike
The most common mistake parents make is getting the wrong size of bike. I’ve learned the hard way that you never, never buy a bike they can “grow into.” Particularly for new riders, a bike that is too big makes it harder to manage and can slow the learning. As they become more serious, match their interest with appropriate investments in their ride. Weight matters a lot for little kids, so buy the best quality, lightest bike that the budget allows.
Let the Kids Control the Ride
Bikes are particularly exciting for kids because it is a vehicle that they fully control. They get to move as fast or slow as they want and go where they want to go. Kids have more fun choosing whether it is a ride to the local park or if they want to go hit the trail. Letting kids choose the route, set the pace, and establish the duration helps promote the feelings of empowerment that come from bikes. With younger riders, some gentle guidance is often required for picking appropriate routes.
End on a Positive
We humans are all about making associations and kids particularly will associate an entire experience with how they felt at the end. If it’s a trail ride, I’ll try to always make a stop on the way home to get a treat for my little riders, if it’s just a cruise around the neighborhood we’ll try to make it a fun “race” against dad back to the garage.
When I began doing cycling more actively with my kids I had a few false expectations. Knowing that we would not be starting at the same skill level and wouldn’t have the same riding goals, I had hoped that through mentoring and learning together that eventually our trajectories would align and if only for a few months we’d be riding at the same level with the same riding goals.
The reality was that our trajectories of riding skill and interest at best only intersected for a quick moment as my son quickly went beyond my skills and he gravitated towards different types of cycling. This has taught me an important lesson of leaving expectations behind when it comes to cycling with your kids. Enjoy each ride for what it is, not as some preparation for a later time, but as a time to share together, actively engage in the moment. We may never be at the same level, but as we take our own independent journey, we grow together on similar but different paths.
Written by Logan Phipps