5 Mountain Bike Skills Kids Need To Get Started On The Trail

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Ever wondered how to introduce your kids to mountain biking?

Despite the fact that mountain biking is family-friendly, many parents find the sport intimidating or overwhelming to get started in. Even some parents who have experience in mountain biking may not be sure how to go mountain biking with kids.

If you want to learn how to introduce your kids to mountain biking and explore wonderful trails mountain biking with the kids, this post is for you.

how to introduce your kids to mountain biking

Mountain Biking with Kids

Boy And Dad Biking

There’s no doubt that it can be intimidating to get into mountain biking with kids. The gear can be expensive, the terrain is rough, and it takes a good amount of grit and determination for kids to be successful at mountain biking.

2 years ago, we started seriously mountain biking with our kids, and I’ll be honest, I was INTIMIDATED! However, after just a few short rides, we found that mountain biking with kids is so much fun, and with just a few simple tricks, it was really easy for the kids to pick up. Although our kids were all really young, at ages 2, 5, 7, 9, and 12, they’ve all been really successful at mountain biking and it’s now one of our favorite family sports.

How Experienced Do They Need To Be On a Bike Before You Introduce Your Kids To Mountain Biking?

Many parents that I’ve talked to are really scared to go mountain biking with kids or think that it’s a sport that’s best left to teens and adults. The truth is that even the youngest kids can enjoy mountain biking, so it’s a good idea to introduce your kids to mountain biking trails as early as possible.

We started our 5-year-old on simple mountain biking trails after only a month from he had learned to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk.

If you’re trying to introduce your kids to mountain biking, my very best advice is to start them onto a dirt, or gravel road, and then naturally progress to smaller paths with a few more bumps and turns as they go along.  Riding on a dirt road is very different from riding on a paved road, so this is a great starting point for kids to learn how to mountain bike.

best kids bikes

For children to learn how to mountain bike, it’s important that they understand:

  • How to pedal while standing up (for climbing uphill),
  • How to prevent a fall without slamming on the brakes (this is especially important if they have coaster brakes)
  • How to shift gears while riding if they have a geared bicycle. 

What Kind of Bike do You Need When You’re Ready To Introduce Your Kids To Mountain Biking?

Trying to introduce your kids to mountain biking? Start them with any old bike, but when they become serious about it, a lightweight bicycle can make a significant difference.

(Check out our full review of the best lightweight bikes for kids)

Our 5-year-old started mountain biking on his own heavy BMX bike and constantly was frustrated with the things he couldn’t do. Don’t get me wrong, he had a NICE bike, by a reputable biking company, but some kid’s bikes are notoriously HEAVIER THAN THEY NEED TO BE!

So we got him this bike, and his abilities and confidence instantly soared. His bicycle doesn’t have shocks or even large knobby tires, but the lighter weight makes all the difference. If you want a seriously amazing bicycle, this is the one that I recommend to all our friends.

kids riding a mountain bike

If you’re looking for a mountain bicycle for older kids, shocks, gears, and knobby tires are all features that are ideal. But if you’re just starting out, use what you have and just give it a shot! (though gears really are a life-saving feature)

We’ve put together a list of the best overall mountain bikes for kids, best front-suspension kids mountain bikes, and if you’re really getting serious about mountain biking you might want to consider a full-suspension bike.

Do Kids Mountain Bikes Need Gears?

While you can introduce your kids to mountain biking on a BMX bike (we’ve done this several times), it’s significantly easier to learn to mountain bike on a bike with gears.  Most companies don’t start adding gears to kids’ bikes until they are at least 20” wheels, so keep that in mind.  If your child is on the fence on bike sizes, I always recommend sizing them up (or getting a bigger-sized bike, that has a smaller frame).

Kids mountain bike gears make it significantly easier for kids to go up hills and also really boost their confidence when they don’t have to get off and walk when the trail gets steep.  

how to introduce your kids to mountain biking with a front-mounted bike seat

Do Kids Mountain Bikes Need Suspension?  

No, kids mountain bikes don’t NEED suspension, but it certainly will make their ride smoother.  As kids start mountain biking on more difficult trails, they’ll start encountering roots, stumps, and rocks along the trail.  A kids mountain bike with suspension will allow them to easily ride over those small obstacles without being horribly jostled.  A mountain bike with shocks also lets kids ride downhill faster since it’s easier to get over obstacles!  

Read Next: Best hardtail and front suspension mountain bikes for kids

What’s the Best Age to Introduce Your Kids To Mountain Biking?

When we started mountain biking with our kids, we had another challenge since our youngest had just turned 2-years-old.  Even on his balance bike, he could enjoy simple mountain bike trails and pump tracks.

the best age to introduce your kids to mountain biking

For young kids who want to go biking on more difficult trails, consider a front-mounted mountain bike seat that attaches to an adult bike.  This allows young kids to get familiar with mountain biking, while still allowing the rest of the family to cover some decent ground on wheels.  

Once kids are comfortably pedaling their own bike on the road or sidewalk, they can start trying to ride dirt trails, and often quickly progress to easy mountain bike single track.

Top Tips To Help Kids Learn To Mountain Bike

Since teaching kids how to mountain bike is probably new territory, be sure to help your kids feel confident about their riding skills. Mountain biking may be somewhat outside of their comfort zone, but it doesn’t mean it’s beyond their skill, so plan on being extra supportive and encouraging.

How To Introduce Your Kids To Mountain Biking– Beginners Guide

mountain biking with kids

Step 1: Start with very basic trails. 

When your kids first start out mountain biking, choose a trail that’s pretty flat and has a few fun turns – bonus if the turns are a little banked, so the kids can practice leaning with their bike.  

Step 2: Educate them to ride with their pedals level in the middle and standing up just a little bit.

If they’re pedaling around corners, they’re likely to have a pedal hit the dirt and cause them to crash, so encourage them to keep their pedals steady and in the middle while they’re not pedaling, particularly on downhill segments.

Step 3: Practice shifting gears on hills before you get to the mountain bike trail. 

You can easily do this on a regular road or sidewalk, but if kids know how to shift into lower gears to climb uphill while mountain biking and how to shift into higher gears for the easier parts, they will have an easier time on the trail.  

Step 4: Teach them that it’s fine to walk.

DO NOT force your kids to ride trails they are uncomfortable with, or they’ll probably just end up hating mountain biking. Be patient and allow them to ride harder sections when they are ready.

Step 5: Have them keep a few fingers lightly over their brake, instead of their whole hand.

This will assist them to have quicker response times and also be able to stop fast when they want to, while still maintaining control of the bike.

Our Favorite Hack for Riding Uphill With Young Kids – Tow Straps!

If you’ve never seen someone using a tow strap when biking uphill with kids, prepare to have your mind blown.  NOT EVEN JOKING!  

bike trails in florida

Our favorite tow strap is the Tow-Whee Strap. It straps to the front of your kid’s bike and connects to an adult seat to help pull them up hills. It’s basically a giant bungee cord and helps children get aerodynamic quicker, AND it does not make riding much more difficult for the mature adult. It really helps younger riders due to the fact that they do not use all their energy getting up the hill, so they can ride longer and farther.

Can You Mountain Bike with a Baby?

Yes, you absolutely can mountain bike with a baby.  For babies ages 1.5 until age 5, they can ride on an adult’s bike with a front-mounted bike seat. 

 mountain biking with a front-mounted bike seat

This is a Children’s Ride Shotgun chair. That is hands down the best seat for enabling your toddler to mountain bike with you. It links to the crossbar of an adult bicycle and enables your toddler to see and adventure mountain biking as you do.

Before we got this, we attempted several other bicycle seats and trailers and they were all really rough rides that had our 2-year-old begging us to cease. Since we installed this kids bike seat for mountain biking, he actually can’t stop giggling while we bike together.

mountain biking 101 for kids
how to introduce your kids to mountain biking

How did you introduce your kids to mountain biking? What was your experience teaching your kids to mountain bike? Share with us in the comments

About Jessica Averett

Hi, I’m Jessica, a mom of 5 kids and married to my favorite adventure partner. I love to bike, ski, camp and hike. We've visited over 40 countries with our kids, but are equally happy on the road as we are exploring our home state of Utah.