Most of us have kids. And obviously we like mountain biking. So how and what can we do to get them interested in the social and health benefits that riding a mountain bike can bring? After all, we need the next generation of 30-something riders to start somewhere!
And who’s that sniggering at the back, when I say social and health benefits in the same sentence as mountain biking?
A while back I was asked by Louis (aka Uncle Riotous) for advice on this very subject (sorry for the slow response Louis). This week I had another email, from a mother who’s 14 year old son is keen to get out there, looking for organised mountain bike rides — i.e. a challenge for him, but with support there if needed.
What to do?
Well first of all, who am I to advise? My own son said to me after my collarbone accident ‘Daddy, when I grow up? I’m not going to ride a bike!’ Sobering I can tell you — now I know my riding doesn’t just affect me…
So take this advice in the spirit it’s intended and use it as a pointer to further discovery. It’s not definitive but just covers a few of the points that seem obvious to me. Remember, you’re responsible for your kid’s safety, not me!
First off, I’ll assume your child actually wants to ride with you. If they don’t, forget it because pushing them to try it when they don’t want to is just going to end in tears — yours or theirs. The best you can do in that circumstance I would suggest would be to ride easy paths with them, down the park for example or across somewhere like Bookham Common which is flat and gives the sensation of being in the wilds without actually being far from civilisation.
If you get on fine with that, try somewhere further afield like Alice Holt Park near Farnham. We’ve been and not only are there loads of trails in the woods and a basic visitor centre with loos and refreshment but there’s loads of climbing frames and 3D sculptures littered every 500 yards or so along the trails for kids to clamber over and keep them amused for hours. Recommended.
As your kids get older I guess you can gradually introduce them to more arduous challenges. Remember though that kids get tired very quickly doing this sort of thing. Not only is the terrain hard work but many kids bikes are either unsuited or hopelessly heavy to manhandle across rough ground. Keep things short and fun!
Personally, although my own kids are quite young I’ve realised that no matter how enthusiastic I may be it will be some time before they’re showing me up off-road, assuming they want to do it at all, as my son’s comment illustrates.
But what about that email from the mother who has reached the point where her son is ready to head off under his own steam, either alone or with company? She rightly wants to make sure he’s in safe company but at the same time knows he is ready for the challenge.
Well, organised rides are an option but the problem really is lack of them. Actually, the problem is more like one of liability I think when it comes to organised rides. We are not a club ourselves, just a group of riders heading roughly in the same direction at roughly the same time. By no means are our rides organised. But to offer to take someone under the age of 18 out for a ride is a whole different ball game and we would have to walk away if the situation arose for fear of legal repurcussions if the worst happened.
It’s a very sad world unfortunately but that is why I think there are so few organised rides available. What options are there?
Well, here’s a few suggestions:
- There are lots of ‘off-road’ rides organised by charities such as the British Heart Foundation which might be of interest even though they may not offer much of a technical challenge. But they are properly organised and supervised which is a start.
- Why not try getting in touch with an organisation like the Scouts or some of the bike advocacy groups like the CTC, who at least might be able to point you toward further help?
- Contact local bike shops for advice — Cycleworks or Head for the Hills spring to mind, again they could give useful pointers.
- Investigate companies that offer MTB courses where they show you around an area for a day and teach you bike skills etc. OK, it’s a one off event and costs money but it could prove an invaluable source for a young rider.
- Learn basic bike skills — a cheap source of info here is bike magazines, both real (print based) and online. Learning how to brake, balance and turn your bike sounds basic but are skills which you will never be sorry you learned properly.
More general advice for kids getting ‘in’ to mountain biking applies equally to adult beginners too:
- Learn basic bike maintenance. You should know how to mend a puncture, fix a chain or make minor adjustments in case the need arises and it’s best to know beforehand than to find out ‘as you go along’.
- Carry a hydration pack with a good supply of water, snacks, multitool, puncture patches and pump plus lights if there’s the slightest chance of you returning in the dusk/dark.
- Wear a helmet that fits, clear sports glasses to protect against mud and unseen branches and gloves to protect the hands — not just for warmth but in case you fall off! It’s a small thing but ripped hands are easily avoided and will make any situation much more serious if they are.
- Never ride alone. I found out the hard way how potentially life saving that point is.
- Remember that mobile phone reception is unreliable (putting it politely) in the Surrey Hills. It may not be the get out of jail card you think it is.
- If you’re unsure of a section you are about to ride, get off and survey it or walk it — better that than a pointless accident.
- If your friends mock you, find different friends. Until you reach our age, by which time our friends have earned the right to make whatever unhelpful comment springs to mind first.
I don’t want to overplay the perception of danger though. Mountain biking is a fantastic sport which brings you into contact with all sorts, nearly all of whom are decent, helpful and friendly. If you take the trouble to ask, someone will take the trouble to help. Mountain biking will keep you fit or get you fitter, you’ll discover some amazing places right on your doorstep and you’ll never look at mud the same way again!
Thanks for reading and I hope this has been of some use. Have fun!!