7 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 are experienced mountain bikers may not be sure how to go mountain biking with kids.

Our family jumped into mountain biking 5 years ago and it was one of the best decisions that we’ve ever made. Keep reading for our best tips to teach your kids to mountain bike.

how to introduce your kids to mountain biking

Mountain Biking with Kids

Boy And Dad Biking

When we decided to start mountain biking with kids, I was very intimidated, like so many of you. 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. However, we had just moved to a new town and it was packed full of great biking trails for families, so we knew we had to give it a try.

At the time, our kids were all really young, at ages 2, 5, 7, 9, and 12. I’ll be totally honest, our first few rides were an absolute disaster, and the only thing that kept my kids trying again was that I bribed them with ice cream bars. However, after the first few weeks, we found mountain biking to be TONS OF FUN!

Fast forward 5 years and our lives seem to revolve around biking. Our teens race for their high school mountain bike team (and have been wildly successful), and our middle son just joined the middle school bike team through our local NICA race league. It has been the most supportive and encouraging environment for our children and has helped them to develop positive character in ways that we had only dreamed of. All of this because we were brave enough to jump into learning to mountain bike with our kids.

Below, I’m going to share 5 tips that I wish I had known when we started teaching our kids to mountain bike. These are the tips and skills that I think make the biggest difference for setting the stage for a lifetime of riding!

Our Philiosphy When Mountain Biking With Kids

There are a few sports that we have decided that we really want our family to love doing together for life. For us, that’s biking and skiing, so we’re very intentional about how we approach things. Truthfully, with both of these sports, I would be really sad if one of my kids didn’t like it, so we do our best to make it a safe, fun, and encouraging environment. Here is how we approach mountain biking with kids:

White Rim With Kids
  1. We keep it fun. Our goal isn’t to ride the hardest or most technical trails, but to show our kids that riding bikes together on the trail is always a good time.
  2. When the kids don’t want to ride, we don’t push them to. If one of our younger kids wants to stay home, we let them, or we take them on a shorter fun ride on a trail they really love.
  3. We make it look like fun, so the kids WANT to go. My husband and I regularly go out on biking dates, and often take our older kids out on solo rides. Our kids see that we’re having fun biking, so it makes them want to go. We tell them about cool things we’ve seen, new trails we tried, and especially, about fun jumps we’ve discovered.
  4. We involve their friends. Our older kids ride on a team and the kids their have become their best friends. We always try to take extra kids with us on rides since the kids have so much fun on the trail with friends. Since it can be difficult transporting extra bikes, we often just invite another family to join us on rides so there are several other kids to have fun with.
  5. Snacks are always involved. My older kids joke that their youngest brother just bikes for the food, and they’re sort of right. We only let him have his favorite granola bars when we’re riding, so he’s usually eager to get out on the trail. Our rule is that he can’t have his snack until he gets to the halfway mark, so that ensures he doesn’t just quit close to the car.
  6. We divide and conquer. Biking is a hard sport to do with different ability levels, and between our 5 kids, we have 4 very different levels. It can be HARD! So we specifically choose bike trail systems where there are different trails for different abilities and split up.

    Our oldest kids will either ride together or solo, and my husband and I will split up between our younger 3. We set a designated time to finish and meet up at the car for snacks before we go home. We also make sure our older kids know where we are going, and they’re great about incorporating part of the easier trails into their rides so they can say hi to the younger kids.

How To Introduce Your Kids To Mountain Biking – A Beginners Guide

Step 1: Start with very basic trails

When introducing your kids to mountain biking, it’s crucial to start with easy trails. Choose dirt trails that are relatively flat, as steep inclines can be intimidating and difficult for beginners. Look for paths with a few gentle turns that allow kids to practice maneuvering their bikes without feeling overwhelmed.

My biggest tip is to avoid big climbs when you’re first starting out, since they can be overwhelming for beginners. Trails with slight banking on the turns are also ideal because they help kids learn how to lean into the curves safely. Additionally, make sure the trail is smooth and free of large rocks or roots that could cause falls or scare younger kids. Starting on simple trails builds confidence and helps your kids develop basic biking skills in a controlled environment. Remember, that you can always try a harder trail if your kid is doing great, but once they’re scared or too intimidated, it’s hard to get them to keep riding.

mountain biking with kids

Step 2: Teach them to ride with their pedals level in the middle

Teach your kids the importance of keeping their pedals level, especially when they are not actively pedaling. This technique, often referred to as the “ready position,” helps them maintain balance and control over their bike. Explain that standing up slightly while riding, particularly on downhill sections, can give them better stability and control. Demonstrate how a pedal strike (pedal hitting the ground or a rock) can occur if their pedals aren’t level, showing them why it’s important to avoid this.

Practicing this position on flat ground first can help them get used to it before they encounter more challenging terrain. For our kids, we usually do a quick little ride around the parking lot, and tell them to practice this while we’re getting gear ready to go. Reinforce the importance of this technique every time they ride, as it’s fundamental to their safety and confidence on the bike.

When I’m riding with my youngest, I sound like a broken record because I’m always behind him saying “pedals in the middle”. It’s a skill that takes a while to become a habit, but it’s one that’s worth constantly reinforcing.

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

Before hitting the mountain trails, it’s beneficial to practice shifting gears on hills in a controlled setting. Find a small hill on a regular road or sidewalk where your kids can learn how to shift their gears both up and down. Show them how to shift into lower gears to make climbing easier and how to shift into higher gears for cruising on flat or downhill sections.

prevelo kids bikes

Explain that the goal of shifting gears helps them maintain a steady pedaling rhythm and makes pedaling easier on their legs. Practicing this skill beforehand will make it easier for them to handle the varying terrain of mountain biking trails. Encourage them to experiment with the gears to understand how each one feels and functions.

I tell my kids that when they’re riding hills, they should be constantly shifting up and down, so much that they’re bike almost sounds like a typewriter 🙂 I also remind them that if they’re pedaling really fast without any resistance on the downhill, they need to shift into a harder gear, because all they’re doing is making their legs tired, without helping their bike go much faster.

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

One of the most important lessons in mountain biking is knowing when to get off and walk the bike. Make sure your kids understand that there is no shame in walking their bike through sections they find too difficult. In fact, we praise them for walking!!

hard trails desert biking with kids canyonlands

Emphasize that forcing themselves to ride beyond their comfort level can lead to frustration or accidents. By allowing them to walk challenging parts, they can observe the terrain and learn how they might handle it better next time. Encourage them to set small, achievable goals for each ride, gradually increasing their comfort with tougher sections. This approach keeps their experience positive and helps them build skills and confidence incrementally.

While learning to walk around an obstacle that’s above their skill level might not seem like a big deal for a beginner, it’s a skill you want them to have for life. You’ll be grateful when your teen sees a giant dropoff, and decides to walk around, instead of just sending it without thinking!

Step 5: Eyes up, looking ahead

When kids are riding their bike, their bike is going to go exactly where they’re looking. WIth so many obstacles in mountain biking, it can get easy for kids to look at the ground directly in front of their tires. This isn’t where you want them looking. Ideally, kids should have thier eyes up, scanning what’s ahead on the trail.

To help kids learn to do this, we either are telling them what to look at from behind, or riding slightly in front of them, telling them to just watch us as we ride down the trail. Especially when kids are going over an obstacle, they’ll need this reminder. A quick look down at where the tires should go, and then eyes to the end of the obstacle to ride is smoothly.

Step 6: 1-2 Fingers on the brake ONLY

Teach your kids to keep 1-2 fingers lightly resting on the brake levers at all times. This technique allows for quicker braking response and most importantly, better control of the bike. Explain that using just 1-2 fingers, rather than their whole hand, helps them to have most of their hand on the handlebars, which is where real control comes from.

If kids have disc brakes, they just need 1 finger on the brake, and if they have rim brakes, they can use 2 fingers. Practice this technique on flat ground so they can get used to the feeling. Show them how to apply the brakes gently and progressively to come to a controlled stop. Reinforce the importance of always being ready to brake, especially on downhill sections or when approaching obstacles, to ensure their safety and control.

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 a month after 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, though we recommend hand brakes whenever possible)
  • 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!  The only downside to getting a mountain bike with suspension is that they always weigh more, so you’ll always find that lighter bikes don’t have suspension.

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.

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 Kids’s Ride Shotgun seat. 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.