A beginner’s guide to mountain biking for kids

6 February 2024

Embarking on the exciting adventure of mountain biking for the first time can be an exhilarating yet slightly overwhelming experience. Whether your child is eager to explore new adventures or you’re a family looking to bond over outdoor activities, delving into the world of mountain biking opens up a wealth of thrilling possibilities for children.

Here's an introductory guide packed with tips and essentials for young first-time riders venturing into the world of mountain biking:

Understanding mountain biking

Mountain biking isn't just cycling; it's an exhilarating sport that involves navigating rugged terrains, diverse landscapes, and thrilling trails. Before hitting the trails, it's essential to familiarise yourself and the children with all of the basics.

Gear essentials

Here are some clothing and gear recommendations for children participating in mountain biking:

Bike selection: Choose a mountain bike suitable for beginners, considering factors like size, frame material, and suspension. Seek advice from experts or experienced riders if unsure

Helmet: A properly fitted and certified biking helmet is an absolute must. It should fit snugly on the head without being too tight or loose, providing adequate protection in case of falls or collisions

Moisture-wicking clothing: Opt for breathable, moisture-wicking shirts and shorts or trousers. Avoid cotton as it retains moisture, making kids uncomfortable during sweaty rides

Padded shorts or trousers: Consider padded shorts or trousers designed for mountain biking to provide extra comfort and protection during longer rides or rough terrains

Footwear: Choose sturdy closed-toe shoes with good traction that fit properly. Cycling-specific shoes or trainers with grip are ideal for pedalling efficiency and stability for children navigating trails

Gloves: Cycling gloves help protect hands from blisters, provide a better grip on the handlebars, and offer some cushioning in case of falls

Eye protection: Sunglasses or sports goggles can shield children's eyes from debris, dust, insects, and harmful UV rays. Clear lenses or those designed for low-light conditions are suitable for varying trail environments

Knee and elbow pads: For added safety, especially when tackling more challenging trails, consider knee and elbow pads to protect against minor scrapes, bruises, or impacts

Weather-appropriate gear: Depending on the weather conditions, ensure kids have appropriate gear such as a lightweight rain jacket for unexpected showers or layers for colder temperatures

Hydration and nutrition: Stress the importance of staying hydrated and fueled during rides. Teach kids to carry water and snacks, take regular breaks for hydration and rest, and understand the importance of proper nutrition for sustained energy

Backpack: A small backpack or hydration pack can carry essentials like water, snacks, a first-aid kit, and additional layers if needed. Ensure it's comfortable and fits well without hindering movement

Remember, comfort, safety, and functionality are key when selecting mountain biking attire for children. Encourage kids to try on and test their gear beforehand to ensure everything fits properly and allows unrestricted movement while riding.

Techniques for safe riding

The following are some mountain biking techniques we recommend children should learn:

Mastering bike control

Braking: Understanding proper braking techniques is crucial. Teach children to use both front and rear brakes effectively. Front brakes provide more stopping power, but sudden or excessive use may cause the front wheel to skid. Encourage applying brakes gradually and evenly to maintain control

Shifting gears: Learning to shift gears is essential for managing different terrains. Explain the basics of gear shifting, such as using lower gears for uphill climbs and higher gears for downhill or flat surfaces. Practice shifting smoothly to maintain a consistent cadence

Balance: Balancing is fundamental in mountain biking. Beginners should practice riding in a straight line, manoeuvring around obstacles, and making controlled turns. Start in a spacious area to build confidence in maintaining balance on the bike

Body positioning

Relaxed posture: Emphasise the importance of a relaxed and neutral body position. Encourage children to keep a relaxed grip on the handlebars, maintain a slightly bent elbow, and avoid locking their arms. A relaxed upper body allows for better control and absorbs shocks while riding over uneven terrain

Centred position: Teach kids to position their body's centre of gravity over the bike's centre, distributing weight evenly between the front and rear wheels. This balanced posture provides stability and control, especially when encountering bumps or obstacles on the trail

Shock absorbers: Explain the role of arms and legs in absorbing impact. Demonstrate how bending elbows and knees allows the body to act as a shock absorber, reducing jolts and maintaining stability when riding over rough terrain or encountering obstacles

Trail etiquette

Yielding and respect: Teach children the importance of yielding (giving space or right of way) to other trail users, including fellow riders, hikers, or wildlife. Instruct them to slow down, announce their presence, and yield when encountering others on the trail. Respecting other users ensures a safer and more enjoyable experience for everyone

Staying on designated paths: Instil the significance of staying on designated trails to preserve the environment and prevent trail erosion. Explain the impact of veering off trails, disrupting habitats, and damaging sensitive ecosystems. Emphasise the importance of leaving no trace and respecting nature

Trail grading and difficulty levels

In mountain biking, trail colours are commonly used to indicate the difficulty level or technical challenge of a trail. Different regions or trail systems may have varying colour-coding systems.

Trail ratings are subjective and can vary between regions or trail systems. It's essential for riders, especially beginners, to assess their skills and comfort level before attempting trails with higher difficulty ratings.

Always check trail maps, ratings, and signage to choose trails that align with your skill level and riding capabilities for a safe and enjoyable mountain biking experience.

Here's a general guide based on the typical trail rating system used in many mountain biking areas:

Green trails (Easy):
Green trails are beginner-friendly and designed for riders with little to no experience. These trails typically feature smooth, wide paths with minimal obstacles and gentle inclines. They are suitable for novice riders, families, and those looking for a relaxed and easy ride.

Blue trails (Intermediate):
Blue trails are for riders with some experience and basic mountain biking skills. These trails offer a step-up in difficulty from green trails, featuring moderate obstacles, varied terrain, tighter turns, and occasional steeper sections.

Black Trails (Advanced):
Black trails are more challenging and suited for experienced riders with advanced mountain biking skills. These trails often feature technical obstacles, steep descents, larger drops, narrow paths, and more demanding terrain.

Double Black or Red Trails (Expert/Extreme):
Double black or red trails are the most challenging and cater to expert riders seeking highly technical and demanding terrain. These trails often feature extreme obstacles, very steep descents, large drops, and extremely narrow and precarious paths.

Take a look at the comprehensive MTB trail grading system from British Cycling here >>

Getting started

Start small: Begin with easy, beginner-friendly trails, either coded blue or green, to build confidence and skill gradually. Look for local bike parks or trails designed for novice riders

Ride with support: Consider joining group rides or guided tours led by experienced riders or instructors. This offers valuable guidance and enhances the learning experience

Have fun: Embrace the adventure! Mountain biking is about enjoying the thrill of nature, so relish the experience, take breaks, and soak in the beauty of the surroundings

By understanding the essentials, mastering basic techniques, and gradually progressing through practice and exploration, your child will soon find themself cruising through trails confidently and enthusiastically.

Safety is paramount, and enjoying the ride is the ultimate goal. Get ready to experience the exhilarating world of mountain biking!

For inspiration on where to take the kids mountain biking, check out these blogs:

Looking to start mountain biking?

If your child is thinking about mountain biking but hasn’t decided on a bike as yet, take a look at the ‘Push the Limits’ mountain bike range from Frog. There are three lightweight models suitable for 8-13+ years, all with lockout and compression control suspension forks that work in line with the rider’s weight to achieve the ultimate performance!

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