How To Have Great Bike Rides With Your Kids

If you’ve found yourself here on the Salsa website, chances are very high that we’re in agreement about the benefits and enjoyment that comes from riding bicycles. It’s less likely though that we’ll remember exactly when we reached the point of no return as cyclists. If we were lucky, it happened early, and we had the freedom to get there partly on our own, and partly from well-crafted, positive experiences shared with the grown-ups in our lives.

For adult bike-riding parents, it’s easy to want to initiate this same journey for your little ones. Who can argue that riding bikes is bad for you? But it’s definitely not always easy. You want to plant the seed in a way that will take root, not be overbearing, and not just make your kids lose interest in cycling altogether.

Not every child will grow to see bikes the way we do, and that’s okay. But we asked some of our friends who’ve had success in fostering a love of two-wheeled travel in their kids what worked for them. Madeline and Craig, Butch and Katie, Josh and Alison, Ben and Amy, Mike and Jen, TJ and Beth, and Chuck and Ellison may not be focusing their efforts on raising future Olympians, but they’ve proposed, nudged, taught, provided, and in some cases, just gotten out of the way on the bike path to enlightenment, and it’s resulted in a shared family activity that brings happiness to everyone involved.

Our bike-parents reached into the bag of tricks they use when they plan an outing, and shared some of them here. Of course, all kids and families are different, but some of these suggestions may lay the groundwork for what becomes a rewarding road or trail to a lifetime of bicycle adventure for your blossoming explorers.

What considerations should you make before heading out?

Craig & Madeline

Teach other safety tips, like alerting riders. And we all yell out when a car is approaching (“car up, car back”) and our daughter knows to go to the side.

Butch & Katie

I carry as much water as I can so that the kids can roll free and explore unencumbered. A liter a person is a good guesstimate; usually that will keep a group-sourced. I’ll also utilize the Internet (family bloggers) if we are going to an unfamiliar spot. If we are going to go for a longer ride, calories are a concern for sure. Once the hunger strikes, you’ve got a bunch of little velociraptors clamoring around ready to tear you to shreds over a Snickers bar. Equipment also makes a big difference if you want to ride as a family. I believe that kids deserve at least as good of a bike as their parent’s ride.

Amy & Ben

In general, before doing any longer day rides or overnights it would be a good idea do shakedowns closer to home. This way, many of the unknowns can be tested ahead of time.

Jen & Mike

How crowded the trail will be factors. My youngest really likes the local mountain bike trail but hates having to pull over to let folks by. It takes time away from riding, and he feels embarrassed to be getting passed, etc. So, we avoid crowded trails on a sunny weekend day.

What things about how kids see this sort of activity are easy for adults to forget?

Butch & Katie

For me it’s distance. Katie is always reminding me that our kid’s strides are half of ours.

Amy & Ben

Their sense of time is vastly different than ours. Their sense of distance also.

Beth & TJ

The best part of traveling with a kid is being one yourself. You don’t have to travel far in order to transport your child to a whole new world. Take them to magical fairy field, slay a dragon, hunt for ancient treasure—you can make a trip to your local park epic.

Chuck & Ellison

It helps to share a goal because kids don’t yet see riding as a goal unto itself.

What are reasonable expectations for parents?

Craig & Madeline

Lower your expectations—trash the thought that rides with your kids will be a workout. Go at their pace, stop when they need.

Butch & Katie

Realize that your kid might hate riding their bike because of you. Too much of a good thing can still be too much even if it’s a bike. Keep it fun. Grow the freedom component.

Amy & Ben

Parents should base their expectations on listening to their kid’s needs and desires. Otherwise, you risk destroying any love for riding and any potential sense of adventure you might otherwise be nurturing.

Beth & TJ

No expectations. Let your kid have a LOT of say. Make your goal to get someplace you can all have fun.

How much detail about the trip should you give the youngster? Does this help or hurt?

Butch & Katie

I try to focus on the details of the journey. Not the time or distance. “Hey! Did you see that eagle? Woah, I bet there are fish there! Think you can catch up with Davey?” That sort of thing.

Alison & Josh

For a five- and seven-year-old, I tell them where we are going, but try not to encumber their little minds with details.

Beth & TJ

Our kid loves detail, but we don’t set ourselves up for failure … We give details/plans about parts that will excite but are malleable should something fail/require reroute.

How do you keep kids motivated when they’re getting pooped?

Craig & Madeline

When they’re struggling to get up a hill, remind them they have the strength, but it’s ok to walk up it too. Our daughter always ranked her rides by how many times she had to walk. When she didn’t walk at all, it was a big celebration in our house!

Alison & Josh

We stop and take a break for stick races in the creek and whip out some snacks. An army marches on its stomach, as does a pack of Lil’ Heathens on bikes.

Amy & Ben

The more you teach them early on to be independent and give them the chance to learn skills, the more they can help you and in turn, stay engaged while on trips.

Chuck & Ellison

Cliff Shot Blocks. Seriously, this is not negotiable. And they better be a flavor s/he likes. And you better have a bunch of them.

What kind of contingency planning should you do for the potential of things not going according to plan?

Amy & Ben

We ride in the woods a lot where there is no hotel or “out,” so making sure we have enough food, warm clothes, and a deck of cards with a chocolate bar is always our plan.

Jen & Mike

Use it as an opportunity to build character (and say as much).

Beth & TJ

This is where traveling as a family is our preferred way since one person can stay with the kid, and the other can do some recon/evac.

What tips do you have for setting up the bike and rider?

Craig & Madeline

Helmets—to encourage wearing them, model it yourself, have kids pick out a cool looking one, decorate it with stickers. Also, letting her ride between us makes her feel safe and experience more.

Alison & Josh

If they are the least bit wobbly, make sure that they can touch the ground while seated. Make sure that the gear is not too big and that the bike fits. Oh, and make sure that they know how to stop.

Amy & Ben

Kids usually know what they like and what they want, so it’s another instance where parents need to listen to the kids rather than push an agenda on them.

Jen & Mike

A lower seat provides more confidence for young riders but doesn’t put them in an efficient riding position, so I inch my kids seats up a little throughout the season without letting them know.

In your experience, do kids like to carry stuff, or do you slowly work that in over time?

Alison & Josh

We got them their own hydration packs so that they could carry their own stuff, and they are really into it. I would not let them carry more than 16 oz of water and a bar though.

Amy & Ben

Teaching kids the skill of packing their bike themselves is a great way to help them learn what they can carry, while also understanding what they really need and don’t need when on a trip.

Beth & TJ

Let them carry their own stuff in the beginning —just their stuff. Give them a small pack though, or you’ll have the entire contents of your house in a bag. Makes them feel in charge and responsible.

What success stories of your own do you have? What about disasters?

Butch & Katie

Our family friends went with us at the beginning of Spring, and we rode an out and back that consisted of 20 miles with a four-year-old, a five-year-old, three eight-year-olds, a nine-year-old and a 10-year-old, and six adults. We had promised an ice cream stop in the middle though. Guess what…ice cream shop was closed. Total kid anarchy for about 10 minutes.

Amy & Ben

On our first multi-day family bike packing trip in the Bighorn Mountains, we had a day where we went 15 miles with about 3,000 feet of elevation. At the end of the day, we had to get over a pass at 10,000 feet. We encountered spots with five plus feet of snow, and a storm was brewing around us in incredibly slow and challenging terrain. The kids were nervous and frantic about the difficulty mixed with fear from unknowns and the approaching storm. When we finally got over and down the other side of the pass, and we were sitting around the campfire that night, both boys said, “Wow can you believe what we did? We are gonna have such awesome stories to tell!”

Jen & Mike

I did take them to Keystone once (lift served downhill when they were like 7 and 9). They had green trails on the map, but they were green for downhillers…first set of high banks, my youngest went over the bars and into the trees…we made it down, but they were not happy…my bad.

Chuck & Ellison

These days, my almost-11-year-old son with his 24″ wheeled seven-speed bike can school some adults on full suspension rigs on the local trails that he knows well—even the ones marked “blue” and some of the “black.” We always warm up with some “green” first, though—the same “green” trails that we didn’t get beyond when we first started this ride on a 20″ wheel singlespeed years ago.

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This post filed under topics: Explore Mark Sirek Mountain Biking

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Sirek

Mark Sirek

I had to live on both coasts a couple of times to realize that maybe being born in the Midwest wasn’t just arbitrary. I’m drawn to the terrain here, and if you catch me with one of this region’s supreme IPAs in hand, I’ll talk your ear off about my favorite spots. I’ll always take every opportunity though to explore every nook and cranny anywhere I can on a bike, because that’s what makes me feel most alive.

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