Jeff recommends taking the pedals off a child's first two-wheeler; this allows them to learn to balance first, by scooting along and lifting their feet for short distances, then pedals can be put back on later. For Korbin he bought a simple, lightweight wooden kids' bike that came without pedals. He took them both to a grassy area at first so they could have soft landings while getting the hang of the balance trick.
Jeff advises sticking to singlespeeds and coaster brakes until about the age of ten, since "a kid will be a better rider if they learn on that first, then get into the tech stuff much later," and since kids tend to be hard on their equipment. From his bike shop days Jeff found that parents tend to buy bikes too big; they need at least an inch of standover clearance to be comfortable. In his view the geometry of kids' bikes is often wrong, being the same as an adult bike with much larger wheels—fortunately he can avoid that for his own children.
"Keep it fun and simple, let it become whatever they want it to be." He does have to be careful that the kids don't try to emulate him too early; Jeff once found Korbin walking up the stairs with his bike with the intention of riding down, and when dissuaded, he said, "But you do it!"
The Cirilano family was another inspiration for this article. Once they had kids, they didn't abandon their biking lifestyle, but worked to incorporate their children into it. They ride together as a family two or three times a week. Joseph Jr. is 5 1/2, and Mia is 3 1/2.
Joe uses bike riding as an enticement and as transportation. "Getting kids to do stuff they don't like works better when you involve bikes (riding to church, etc.)." Like the Joneses, they also intertwine other activities with bike riding to keep it interesting, such as riding downtown to a fountain at an urban park where the kids can splash around, or taking a picnic lunch to a nice spot. Going places by bike, the kids learn their way around much faster than by car.
They can also be recruited to help with maintenance. "You can sucker the young'uns into helping you clean your rig. They love it and they're good at scrubbing tires. You just have to be careful with the chemicals."
As far as equipment, Joe prefers the type of child seat mounted on a rear rack: "Not only don't you get the 'parachute' effect with the seat (so it's easier for the 'rents) but the kids can see more, and I think they find it more exhilarating to have the wind in their faces—who doesn't?" Then, once they are older, he also uses a trail-a-bike attachment, since "it's so much easier to have a stoker."
Equipment for the Little Ones
Child seat -- A plastic seat with safety harness that attaches to a rear rack above the back wheel on an adult bike. Often includes a cushion, safety bar, and foot rests. Can be easily removed from rack when not in use. Bell and Topeak are two examples.
Trailer -- A two-wheeled, fully enclosed, low-slung cab for one or two children towed behind an adult bike. Usually has mesh screen with rain cover, soft seat with safety harness, passive suspension. Attachment to rear triangle allows independent movement, and will allow trailer to remain upright if bicycle falls over. Often foldable. Burley, Chariot and Trek are three common brands.
Trailer cycle (a.k.a. trail-a-bike, third wheel attachment) -- Like the back half of a kids' bike, attached to the seat tube or rear triangle of an adult bike. Allows the child to pedal or coast at their own speed. Attachment hitch has a joint allowing the trailer to move independently. The Adams Trail-A-Bike and Burley Piccolo (being reintroduced this month) are two popular models.
Child stoker kit (or kidback attachment) -- A kit consisting of a bottom bracket with cranks and timing chain, clamped to the rear seat tube of an adult tandem. Allows a child stoker to reach the pedals.
Safety for Tagging Along
- First of all, check with your doctor to determine if your child is physically developed enough to come along on a ride.
- Also check the laws in your location. In some states and municipalities children must be at least a year old before they can be carried by bike.
- Make sure you are capable of maintaining control while pulling the extra weight.
- Fit your child with an approved helmet. A good bike shop is the best resource for buying and learning how to adjust a kids' helmet.
www.sheldonbrown.com -- Sheldon Brown is a legendary guru on all things bike. His encyclopedia of a website has a "Family Cycling" section with advice on bikes and accessories, how to teach kids to ride, and even an account of a family tour by tandem through the French countryside.
The International Bicycle Fund is a nonprofit promoting bicycle transportation, and their website has a wealth of information in its Education section on how to safely bring little ones when traveling by bike.
The International Mountain Biking Association: The ubiquitous champions of mountain biking promote Take A Kid Mountain Biking Day, which occurs the first Saturday in October, with prizes for groups registering kids' rides.
Trips for Kids: Coming up on its 20th anniversary, this non-profit organization takes kids on mountain bike outings who may never otherwise have the chance to go, teaching environmental awareness and social skills along the way. Marilyn Price started it in Marin County in 1988 and now there are over fifty chapters across North America.
Safe Routes to School National Partnership: A network of groups promoting the Safe Routes to School movement, which aims to help kids be more active by making it "safe, convenient and fun" to bike or walk to school.
Your Local Mountain Bike Club: For example, the New England Mountain Bike Association puts on a series of mountain bike rides especially for kids.
Join the discussion: What have you done to get kids mountain biking this year?
Dirt Rag is an independent magazine with an open-forum format that allows readers and writers alike to participate. Dirt Rag has been immersed in cycling culture since 1989 and has remained true to grassroots, independent coverage of what really matters to mountain bikers: what, where, how and why we ride.
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